My first novel, YOU DON’T BELONG HERE, is about a house.
Well, it isn’t. It’s about a man called Daniel Faint who has stolen a time machine. He’s wracked with remorse about events in his past, and he hopes to travel back in time to put them right. It’s about his disorientation as he tests the machine, his growing certainty that he’s being watched – perhaps by the locals of an unfamiliar town, perhaps by himself from the future, perhaps by his dead brother.
But it’s about a house.
The starting-point for YOU DON’T BELONG HERE, when it was intended to be a short story rather than a novel, was an article about people who had no permanent home, who instead acted as housesitters-cum-curators for vast properties in undesirable locations – warehouses, abandoned retail parks. It struck me that such a setup would be ideal for somebody intent on remaining hidden. No ties, a low profile. In the novel, Daniel Faint believes he’s being pursued, and housesitting a remote Cumbrian manor provides him with cover.
It’s about a specific house, too. My first office job was based in a large country manor that had once been a hotel. When I started, it had only been partially converted, with beds and TVs still in the rooms that hadn’t yet become offices. The swimming pool and golf course were available for use. Peacocks patrolled the grounds and screamed outside every window. It was strange and disorienting and kind of magical.
It was only recently that I realised that houses are central to most of my stories. My first published novella, CARUS & MITCH, is set entirely within the walls of a rural house, based on the home of a family friend from my childhood. BLIGHTERS features a giant alien slug confined to a Cumbrian bothy. My Mars stories revolve around the construction of sand-sculpted buildings, modelled on houses from the colonists’ memories. An as-yet-unpublished YA novel features a virtual-reality replica of the house I grew up in. Another project, still in the planning stages, features a house capable of independent thought.
There’s something practical in this preoccupation, I think. Gaining a clear mental image of a location goes a long way towards ‘finding’ a story, in the same way that pinning down the characteristics of a protagonist is vital. Moreover, characters are shaped, in part, by their surroundings. Your home isn’t just an expression of yourself. It goes the other way, too. It changes you. It makes you.
So, YOU DON’T BELONG HERE may be about time travel, paranoia, and disorientation. But it’s about a house. And it’s a house that, once it wraps its walls around Daniel Faint, refuses to let go.
Tim Major's time-travel thriller novel, YOU DON'T BELONG HERE (Snowbooks) is available now. He has also released two novellas, BLIGHTERS (Abaddon, 2016) and CARUS & MITCH (Omnium Gatherum, 2015) – the latter was shortlisted for a This Is Horror Award. His short stories have featured in Interzone, BFS Horizons and numerous anthologies. He is the Editor of the SF magazine, The Singularity, and blogs at www.cosycatastrophes.wordpress.com.