Sunday, March 04, 2012

An Interview with Tim Jones in Which Men are Briefly Explained

Yes, it's all-poets and all-virtual-book-tours round here at the moment! I "met" Tim Jones when we reviewed his excellent short story collection, Transported, on The Short Review, and we e-bonded over our shared disdain for genre labels. A bit like my previous interviewee, Sarah Salway, he writes in many forms - novels, short stories and poetry, and he's here today to chat about his new poetry collection, the wonderfully-titled Men Briefly Explained.

He kindly agreed to answer my Writing&Place questionnaire (illustrated with gorgeous photos, and some great Lord-Of-The-Rings-related information) and then I tacked on a question I was particularly interested in... and then he has allowed me to reprint one of the poems. I loved the book - hard to choose just one!

TH: Where are you?
TJ: I live in Wellington, New Zealand, in the suburb of Mt Victoria, on the slopes of one of Wellington's many steep hills, Tangi Te Keo aka Mt Victoria. I measure my location by how long it takes to walk to places: 
  •  fifteen minutes to where I work - I have a part-time job in the IT industry, as my writing doesn't quite pay those annoying bills that tend to pile up 
  • ten minutes to the edge of the restaurant district, which transforms into the "drunk teens" district on Friday and Saturday nights 
  • five minutes to the Basin Reserve, Wellington's international cricket ground and one of my favourite places. It was earmarked for a shipping basin until the 1855 earthquake raised it high enough to become a cricket ground instead 
  • maybe 90 seconds to the nearest "Lord of the Rings" filming location 
The floor of the quarry at the top of Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington. In The Fellowship of the Ring, this view is briefly shown when the hobbits look down from Weathertop at the approaching Ringwraiths. Sadly, the cage full of gas pipes was left on the cutting-room floor.

TH: How long have you been there? 

TJ: The short answer is that I've lived in Wellington, and in this house, since 1993. The longer answer is that I was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire in 1959. My family emigrated to New Zealand when I was 2 years old, on an assisted passage - we were what used to be known here as "ten-pound Poms", a term also used in Australia, which proved to be a lucky break for me last year.
The back wall of the quarry above Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington. It may not look like much now, but in The Return of the King, this is where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter the Paths of the Dead. Don't try to follow them, as you would bump your nose on the rocks.

I grew up in New Zealand's southernmost province, Southland, went to Otago University in Dunedin, and moved to Wellington when I got together with Kay, to whom I've now been married for coming up on 18 years. All these places have left their mark on my poetry, most of all Southland.

What do you write? 

I write more types of work than is good for me: poetry, short stories, and novels. I've had three poetry collections, two short story collections, and one novel published, and I've also co-edited an anthology of New Zealand science fiction poetry, Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, with Mark Pirie.

Just to make my "brand identity" even more diffuse, I write both speculative fiction (mainly science fiction, but with occasional excursions into fantasy and horror) and literary fiction. Well - literary fiction is a loaded term, so let's say "fiction that isn't speculative fiction". My one published novel is a fantasy novel.

How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write? 

I think that the experience of being an immigrant, and the places I've lived since we moved to New Zealand, have had a strong influence on my writing, and that it's affected my fiction and my poetry somewhat differently.

I'm not always aware of this at the time of writing, but looking back at my fiction, I see that a surprising number of my stories are about journeys and voyages, successful or otherwise - it's why I titled my second short story collection Transported - and, especially in my early stories, they are often about figures isolated in a hostile landscape.

Looking from the quarry down Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington, where I live. In the middle distance is the Basin Reserve cricket ground, where I first beheld Arwen Undómiel - well, Liv Tyler anyway. She was watching the cricket with her boyfriend and Théoden (Bernard Hill).

Some of my poems are based on what I observe of other people and the world around me, and some on flights of imagination (intergalactic and otherwise), but much of my poetry is based in personal experience, and a lot of those take place outside somewhere: on beaches, in forests. Although I've written poems about Wellington and Dunedin, a lot of these poems return to my childhood in Southland.
Looking from the top of the Ellice St quarry, where several scenes of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed, across the Te Aro district of Wellington, with Victoria University and the hill suburb of Kelburn in the distance.

My father used to work as a fisheries inspector, with a beat that took him right across the southern coastline of New Zealand from east to west. There is some wild country down there, and even wilder seas, and those trips with my Dad are particularly treasured memories, as poems like "Men at Sea" show. The first part of that poem is about a trip my Dad took without me, and the second is about the ferry crossing to Rakiura (Stewart Island), off the south coast of Southland, on which I often accompanied him:

Men at sea, I take my father's hand
as we approach the village, houses
hunched against the glowing skies. 

Of course, these poems are also about my relationship with my father.

TH: You write poetry, novels, short stories - how is the process of writing each unique? I'm starting to write poetry and finding that for the first time I can write about myself, which I can never do in fiction. Do you find this?

TJ: I tend to work on one at a time, with occasional recidivism - at the moment, I'm "meant" to be working on short fiction, but my last writing session was mainly spent on writing poetry instead.

Poems and short short stories are different from the others in that I can complete the first draft of a poem or a short-short story in a writing sessions (if all is going well, I can draft several poems in a session). From that perspective, writing a novel is like writing a long short story - both have to be spread over multiple sessions, but the number of sessions for a novel is rather large!

I have written one published and one unpublished novel. At the moment, due to other commitments - my need to bring in enough income to the household, and also environmental campaigns I'm involved in - I don't envisage starting another novel for at least a couple of years, but I am squirrelling ideas for novels away.

Beyond that, when I get an idea or look back at my ideas lists, I usually have a sense of whether this is a "poem idea" or a "short story idea", or proceed accordingly. A couple of times, I have used the same idea in both a poem and a short story, but that's unusual.

Both my fiction and my poetry are a mixture of work based closely on personal experience, work based on observation, and works of imagination (though usually with some observation and personal experience mixed in). I've noticed that it is the poems based on personal experience that tend to work best with a live audience. (Of course, the male character in the poem you've chosen to feature has nothing at all in common with me. Nothing at all!)

We believe you, Tim! Dear reader, you can make up your own mind, here is Tim's poem, Years With a Husband
Years with a Husband

Stone to her water
his edges eroded slowly
leaving the core in place.
He was immovable
from desk, chair,
or opinion,
the slave and exemplar
of routine.

If she let him
he would wear those clothes —
scuffed fawn trousers,
frayed blue shirt —
till eternity,
till kingdom come.
He would vote the same way,
express the same
lawn bowls, modern art, the very thought
of a Pacific holiday.
Their son
she now saw
was growing stony too.
She blamed testosterone
and private schools.

Still, there was this:
that as she stretched and changed
rode the courses of her life
her husband would always be there,
blunt, imperceptive, abrupt:
her rock.

Thank you so much, Tim, for such wonderful answers, pictures and poetry, it's been lovely having you! 

Here is Tim's full bio:

Tim Jones is a poet and author of both science fiction and literary fiction who was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. Tim was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire and his family emigrated to New Zealand when he was 2 years old. Tim now lives in Wellington, New Zealand. 

Tim's third poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained, was published in late 2011. Among his other recent books are fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007), short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), and poetry anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (Interactive Press, 2009), co-edited with Mark Pirie. Voyagers won the “Best Collected Work” category in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.  

For more, see Tim's blog:
You can also follow Tim on Twitter:

 And info on how to buy the book - which I highly recommend - 

Details of how to buy Men Briefly Explained in print and various ebook formats are here:

For UK readers, Men Briefly Explained is available from as follows:

Kindle ebook:


Large print paperback:

 With all these fascinating guests, I'm inspired to go off and write... or at least try and save up to visit New Zealand! You can read the other Writing&Place interviews here.


Michelle Elvy said...

Yet another interview with the always engaging Tim Jones. Good to see you didn't get stuck in Middle Earth for too long... And also, I like this tour that Tim's on, because if men can't be fully explained, at least they can, perhaps, be briefly explained: even the blunt, imperceptive, frayed-shirt-scuffed-trousers sides of them. Thanks for more great poetry from Tim. Great interview!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Michelle. This tour has been a long and winding road (-10 for unoriginality for Tim), but it's worth it when the stops are as good as this, the penultimate one!

Sue Guiney said...

I'm so glad you guys did this interview. I've "known" Tim for a while on fb and blogging, but I never really felt like I knew him til now. Plus, this got me off my duff and over to the evil empire (ie Amazon) to order his latest poetry collection.

Tania Hershman said...

Michelle, thanks for stopping by, I'm so thrilled to have Tim here finally, and maybe I learned a snippet about men in the process!

Sue, glad to oblige, and you will certainly enjoy the book!!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Sue (and Tania). It's amazing the number of ways and degrees of knowing each other that are available to us now - blog tours not the least!

Rachel Fenton said...

Considering there's so much of NZ without any houses or gas pipes in cages (?) I'm super amazed at your pictures, Tim - real insiders take!

Ahem, but even Middle Earth with the house of Jones in middle distance is not enough to distract from your words. I thoroughly enjoyed Men Briefly Explained, Tim, it's a superb body of work which your humour only serves to emphasise.

And great to see the real Wellington interspersed so magnificently with the (dare I say) fictional Middle Earth. Legend and reality - bit like your poems.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Fab interview but am I any the wiser about men?! Must scrutinise your book Tim. thanks Tania for the interview! Best cat