Tim Clare is one of those people with an extraordinary amount of talent who makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. He is responsible for the award-winning memoir We Can’t All Be Astronauts, an abundance of poetry including the collection Pub Stuntman, and The Honours, a novel that deals with a secret society in the British interwar years. Its sequel, The Ice House, is out in May this year.

However, Tim first came to my attention with his excellent podcast Death of 1000 Cuts which is all about writing, and in particular the “Couch to 80K” series of exercises he ran in how to get back into writing when things seem hard or appear to have stalled. Tim’s silly but earnest style is contagious and I’ve really enjoyed doing the series and listening to him chat about the world of writing.

On top of all this, 38-year-old Tim also still finds time to enthuse over board games, swim, and be a doting father. I dragged him away from his prolific creative output for a few minutes to ask some questions about his history with books.

What are you reading at the moment?
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi, a manga about a school for superheroes in a world where 80% of the population has ‘quirks’ – special abilities of some kind. It’s silly and well-trodden territory but tremendous fun – and the action sequences are so great!

What were your favourite books growing up?
I loved Max and Moritz, a German children’s book where two naughty boys execute a series of vicious and cruel ‘pranks’ such as strangling a widow’s chickens and filling the church organist’s pipe with gunpowder. It’s horrible, violent and everyone involved comes out of it badly.

Can you tell me some of the books currently on your “to-read” list?
I don’t have a to-read list. To be honest I just stumble through the day-to-day business of writing and occasionally grab something close to my desk in the swamp of my office. I read a bit like a wild forager. Grab whatever’s on the shelf and open.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?
Is it about something cool? Is it good sentence-by-sentence? Does it tell me something I don’t already know? Has the author put the work in?

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?
Any of the first three, really. I was dead against ebooks till my house started overflowing with books. Not keen on Amazon’s monopoly but for books you don’t really have much affection for – especially non-fiction – or out-of-print classics it’s really handy to just be able to read off a screen.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?
Even The Women Must Fight by Karen Gottschang Turner is a really interesting non-fiction book about the 20th century wars in Vietnam and the women who fought in them. I felt admiration and sadness. It’s no great revelation that war is terrible but amazing the resolve and strength of so many people.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?
I cried reading Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. Don’t know whether I was just tired but the sweep of it and the suffering of everyone involved is pretty gruelling. It’s such a nuanced book that it’s hard to know what you feel, and what you should be feeling. I love books like that.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which would you choose?
Ooh gosh. That’s tricky, isn’t it. I’m trying to think of a story where people aren’t constantly in terrible danger. Maybe one of the Mr Men books. I’ve been reading some of them with my daughter, and they seem like fairly non-lethal environments. And weird. Deeply weird. I’d like it if I could be transformed into my own Mr Man for a day.

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner or drinks with?
Good Lord. Do I know they’re a fictional character in this scenario? Like, do I have knowledge of the book? By what mechanism have they come to life? Do I mention it to them, over dinner? Oh, by the way you’re a fictional character given sentience? Do they return to the book after, or carry on in the world? Like, just the fact of the meeting would utterly melt my understanding of the universe. And either all fictional characters would come to life, or by the act of my choosing this one character was given thought. Either scenario is terrifying – the latter because how could I choose? What a responsibility!

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?
Well, it’s not perfect, but I feel like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is just damn interesting and ambitious and funny. I’m so glad it found a wide audience because it’s not quite like anything else, great on the line, long, weird, nerdy, and with loads of jokes in footnotes and a rich world. It gives me hope that maybe the reading world isn’t full of hidebound pack animals after all.


More about Tim can be found on his website, or on Twitter, and his books and podcast are all available in the usual places.

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