OR: The Reach of Children/The Everlasting

The first part of a feature on the work of Tim Lebbon that originally appeared in Black Static #7:-


Tim Lebbon is one of the success stories of the UK small press, having started out in magazines like Peeping Tom, Dreams from the Strangers’ Café and Nasty Piece of Work, regarding all of which a few of us will have fond memories, and gone on to be published by the likes of Leisure and Bantam Spectra in the US. He gave up the day job to become a full time writer in 2006, and recently signed to Allison & Busby in the UK, and so his place at the horror/dark fantasy genre’s high table seems assured.

The novella is a form Lebbon has especially made his own. Last time we saw a tally it was nineteen, but that was a couple of weeks ago and he could have produced more by now.

The Reach of Children (Humdrumming hardback, 112pp, £25) is told from the viewpoint of ten year old Daniel, left distraught by the tragic death of his mother. Daniel’s attempt to cope with his grief is not helped by his father, who is too preoccupied with his own emotions and seeking comfort in a bottle. Daniel finds a shoulder to cry on in the figure of his father’s best friend Gary. But then he discovers a large wooden box hidden under the bed in his father’s room, and believes that he can hear a female voice talking to him, as if someone is imprisoned in the box, all of which ties in to hideous local legends of a hermit who preyed on children, and Daniel begins to fear the worst with regard to his father.

This is a short work, but not a slight one. It is a story about loss and grief, of how we deal when the world hands us a blow too terrible to contemplate, when the unimaginable occurs. In the character of young Daniel and the adults in his life, Lebbon gives that scenario concrete form, shows us two individuals who desperately need to reach out to each other, but for whatever reasons do not. Daniel’s father becomes so wrapped up in his own suffering that he forgets his son is grieving too, and Daniel, feeling rejected by the death of his mother, an event his young mind can’t make sense of, is even more thrown back on his own resources, using imagination in the same way his father uses alcohol, a means to reject the reality of what has taken place.

Reach is a keenly felt and compassionate story, one shot through with pain and hints of outré elements that justify its horror ‘branding’. All the same, this is the nearest to the mainstream I have seen Lebbon come and, if there is a ghost in the story, it is the spirit of the absent mother, a trace memory lingering in the text. The ending may feel a bit like a cheat, akin to the ‘it was all a dream’ riff, but there is no denying the intensity of the emotions that precede it, the picture of the family unit in crisis and the faltering relationship between father and son, and ultimately what we get is a precisely written and moving account of love and redemption.

The book has a foreword by Michael Marshall Smith and a revealing afterword by the author. There is also for £120 a ‘Very Special Edition’ limited to 52 copies and complete with all sorts of bells and whistles that you can find out about at humdrumming.co.uk

Loss of a loved one is the point of departure for The Everlasting (Allison & Busby paperback, £6.99, 394pp). As a teenager Scott idolised his grandfather, but Papa killed his best friend Lewis and then himself, and nobody ever found out the reason why. In the days after that double killing Scott saw Lewis’ ghost, and then thirty years later he receives a letter sent by his grandfather, a mysterious text that seems to hint at a discovery that could grant eternal life. Lewis’ ghost returns and takes Scott’s wife Helen off to another reality, telling him that if he ever wants to see her again he must unravel this secret. With the help of Nina, one of a group of immortals, Scott sets off in search of the Chord of Souls, a quest that will take him to many strange destinations, onto another plane called the Wide and finally to the House of Screaming Skulls, all via Cardiff and Edinburgh (I said these places were strange). It’s a journey that will involve considerable danger, with no certainty as to whom he can trust, perhaps not even his grandfather.

The Everlasting is billed as horror and it’s a fair cop, as there are certainly enough scare inducing moments and genre trappings to justify that label, but to me it reads more like a dark fantasy along the lines of Clive Barker novels such as Weaveworld, Imajica and The Great and Secret Show, with its hints of other levels to reality than the one with which we mortals are familiar and the echoes of alien and otherworldly knowledge in the text.

Scott is the solid centre of the book, the character with whom the reader is asked to identify, an everyman cast adrift on strange, metaphysical oceans, and coming to the realisation that the world is very different from how he imagined it to be. Lebbon gives us quiet moments with this outwardly unexceptional man, lets us see the love he has to give, first unconditionally to his grandfather and then to the wife for whom he is prepared to sacrifice everything, and this, more than anything, makes Scott real to us. He is a man trying to do his best for those he cares about, and that is a very recognisable situation, regardless of the fantastic background against which the story is played out. Forced to act, but not knowing which course is the correct one or who he should believe in, if he is doing more harm than good, Scott comes to represent the human condition itself.

There are many showstopper set pieces in this book, such as the fight against a terrible being with a deadly touch, an encounter with a horde of ghosts and the climax within the walls of the dread House of Screaming Skulls. First place in the novel’s bag of macabre tricks though goes to the immortals, characters more memorable than any to be found in the Highlander films, which they mimic to a degree. Nina has lived for thousands of years under many names, a ruthless and amoral creature who now longs for the death that only the Chord of Souls can grant, or at least that is the story she tries to sell Scott. Old Man lives in a cave in the earth and devotes his endless existence to gathering knowledge by arcane means, and for him the Chord represents the ultimate wisdom, an end in itself. Tigre has relieved the centuries of ennui through indulging in violence, an unstoppable killing machine driven by rage, but with the suspicion that even this means nothing to him. Lebbon draws them in vivid detail and sets them in motion toward the novel’s climax, with Scott as the lone diver in this sea of sharks.


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1 Response to OR: The Reach of Children/The Everlasting

  1. Pingback: OR: Fallen | Trumpetville

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