Tag Archives: short story

Interview: Bristol Science Fiction Writer, Tim Maughan

I arrive at the Watershed, armed with a notepad full of questions for local science fiction writer, Tim Maughan. His work – principally the short story collection, Paintwork, but also Limited Edition, written for New Scientist’s Arc magazine and shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Association award – is a glimpse into a possible future, mixing the concerns of today with the technology of tomorrow.

Tim Maughan

His writing is inspired by some of the sci-fi greats, including Neuromancer’s William Gibson, Fahrenheit-451 writer, Ray Bradbury, and J. G. Ballard, most famous for Crash. A copy of Ballard’s High-Rise waits for me at home.

I’ve prepared some less-probing questions, ready to ease Tim into the interview; everyday trivia that’s never going to make it into the final article, but nonetheless breaks the ice and allows us both to get to know each other. Standard stuff. But when we sit down on the balcony overlooking Bristol Harbour, I realise I don’t need that notepad. Tim’s enthusiasm is there from the get-go, and we’re discussing the merits of those classic science fiction authors straight away.

I quickly put the Dictaphone on and, an hour-and-a-half or so later, realise that this interview is something special: certainly the most extensive I’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting.
I touch upon Paintwork’s main character, 3Cube, whose art – graffiti utilising QR Codes – pulls Bristolians of tomorrow back to a more innocent time. I tell Tim I felt somewhat nostalgic at this prospect – but was this his intention?

“I guess nostalgia’s applicable,” he replies, mulling it over. “I think the idea there was that 3Cube’s artwork is maybe too optimistic or naive. He’s told that by one of the other characters in the story. I was really trying to write about authenticity in that story and about wanting to define what authenticity was. There was a review – it was on Good Reads, I think – of someone who really hated that story; they accused me of being a hipster, that I was saying it was only authentic if it wasn’t digital and it was analogue… and that wasn’t it at all. I was suggesting some people feel like that but I wasn’t trying to say that that’s how I felt at all.”

Paintwork 1

This brings me onto an idea that fascinates me: that once your writing is read by other people, it’s no longer yours. Everybody puts their own stamp on it; everyone brings something to it. No text is created in a vacuum – and no text is read in one either.

“It’s something that, as writer, you have zero control over,” Tim concedes. “You don’t. And I’ve seen really positive reviews of my stuff where people have come away with things that I didn’t think were in the story, as well as negative reviews. There was a really good review of Limited Edition a few months ago… I was kind of pleased actually because [the reviewer] came away thinking at times he was rooting for the characters and then he had to shake himself and realise that he shouldn’t be! And I like that. I like that he felt like that. You should be rooting for the characters, but at the same time, you shouldn’t. But it’s not their fault that they’re like that – and that’s the situation they’re in… So you have no control over that and I also like to deliberately be very ambiguous, especially about moral issues and issues like authenticity.”

Limited Edition tells the story of the Bristol riots from a looter’s viewpoint. It also raises an important question about if main characters have to be likeable – and even about whether the reader can be won over. I’m reading Neil Cross’ Burial at the moment, which examines an accidental murder. You disagree with what Nathan, the central protagonist, has done, but due to Cross’ sterling narrative, you root for him regardless. It’s an odd situation to be in. Similarly, I was disgusted at the riots a few years ago, believing that peaceful protest is the way forward. But listening to Tim talk so passionately about consumerism and expectations, and reading his short story, I can now sympathise with Limited Edition’s main character.

Art by Robert Carter

Art by Robert Carter

“I think if readers aren’t coming up with their own takes on my stuff, then I’m probably not being ambiguous enough. And it’s tough in science fiction, because I found a lot of readers and some critics don’t like ambiguity. They’re not interested in it. They want everything to be framed ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ They want heroes,” he explains. “There was a review a few months ago of Paintwork and one of the reviewers wasn’t happy with how I portrayed Paul in Havana Augmented as a hero. And I didn’t know that I had. I hadn’t set out to portray him as a hero. They were unhappy with the ending; he goes into this re-education camp, he’s treated well… But what about all the other people in the camp? It was a fair point, but I didn’t think that I was saying he should’ve been treated well. He was treated well in the camp because he was seen as this national hero – was that right? Have his actions damaged Cuba? But I don’t want to ram points home to people; I want people to come away with their own opinions. That’s fine.”

He argues that this definite line between hero and villain is linked to comic book culture, but says that he’s got used to dealing with what readers bring to his own writing. “It’s always interesting to me to hear what people think about your own stuff [but] I had to come to terms with it a bit,” Tim says, and recalls his main concern initially: “Does this mean I’m not getting my point across or does it mean that I can’t get my point across without ramming it home to people? And I don’t ever want to ram anything home to anyone. I sometimes joke about it with a friend of mine; sometimes, it feels like you can only be ambiguous if you spell out that you’re being ambiguous! I write the stuff, chuck it out there, people like it, don’t like it, have their own opinions on it – I have to learn to live with that. And that’s fine; I’m quite happy with that.”

Paintwork 2

Still, this ambiguity can be an issue when it comes to offending others.

“I got some probably fair criticism for not including female characters enough in my stories, but part of what I was trying to write about was male pride, and the role of young men in urban society; how they struggle with having significance and standing out and making their mark on things,” he says. “It goes back to this idea of showing who you are in a society where consumerism is more important than self-expression.”

The fact is, readers will always bring themselves to a text – and that’s not really a bad thing. “If people are talking about it, then it’s worked,” he concludes.

You can read my full three-part interview with Tim over at Guide2Bristol. In Part One, we discuss his sci-fi influences, most notably Ballard, while in Part Two, we talk about what it means to be Cyberpunk and how celebrity culture has affected his work. And, in Part Three, we conclude by mulling over the relevance of 1980s ideals, if the landscape of Paintwork is the future he wants to live in, and what’s next for Tim.

And you can read Limited Edition here and watch the short film based on Paintwork here.

(Thanks to Tim Maughan and Guide2Bristol’s Rudy Millard.)


Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Books, Interview, Published work


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Manhattan – in 100 words

ADVENT DAY TWENTY-TWO: Christmas. It’s not long away. And to celebrate advent, new content will be added to this blog every day in the countdown to the big day. You’ll see reviews, opinion pieces, links to some of my other work, videos – maybe even a short story! Remember to check back every day (in between the mad rush of packing presents, getting the freezer stocked up and watching Home Alone on repeat).


A monolithic aeon, fizzing at the free air; reaching out, stretching.

Rabbits on the road. An endless river of metal; yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue, red. Cutting corners around jigsaw buildings.

In God We Trust as we Walk, Don’t Walk. Thankfully, every hour is rush hour.


Pulp and pop crack the spinning spectrum, speckled windows burning bright in fearful symmetry. Screaming glass and broken sirens signal the storm in glittering squares and blinking warmth. No matter. Get on with life.

Amidst this, a smile.

People climb and people fall, caught in beams of light. Many hearts with one beat.

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Posted by on December 22, 2012 in Blog Advent - 2012, Short Stories


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How I Prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse

ADVENT DAY ELEVEN: Christmas. It’s not long away. And to celebrate advent, new content will be added to this blog every day in the countdown to the big day. You’ll see reviews, opinion pieces, links to some of my other work, videos – maybe even a short story! Remember to check back every day (in between the mad rush of packing presents, getting the freezer stocked up and watching Home Alone on repeat).

Today, a short story, based on an event I’ve never written about before – quite shocking considering it appears to be a staple for writers!

When I woke up on Monday morning, I realised I was insufficiently prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

This isn’t America, so I don’t own a gun. I’ve seen Shaun of the Dead at least three times, but I don’t have a cricket bat either. In fact, I don’t play any sports apart from the occasional bit of darts down the pub, so I couldn’t even kick a football at the faces of the unsuspecting horde of invaders. The most I could chuck at them would be a loaf of Hovis Best Of Both. A stale one, at that.


I peered into my cupboards and I was right: I wouldn’t last long on the food-front either. Spam could last me a few days, as would the five cans of Baked Beans – but nothing in there would last me a few years. My allotment wasn’t working out, so I guessed a trip to the supermarket was in order.

Naturally, I skipped work for the day, telling Kate, the receptionist, I had one of those summer colds. I put on a rasping sore throat too – not like she appreciated my unerring dedication.

My list of things to get wasn’t too long; it went something like:

  • More Baked Beans;
  • More Spam;
  • Any tinned food;
  • Something to kill the undead with;
  • Birthday present for Auntie Marge.

Monday morning. The supermarket wasn’t busy; just a few drop-outs searching for bananas. One of them got a bit annoyed when I told him the bananas would be in the fruit section, not with the toiletries.

I picked up ample amounts of tinned goods, some eggs (just in case I fancied an omelette) and milk. Couldn’t find anything for Auntie Marge apart from some fancy (-ish) soaps, and they were all out of cricket bats. I drove over to one of those sport shops with a name that doesn’t actually mean anything: Sports Central or Sports International or Sporting Goods and Services. That sort of thing. I got two cricket bats – one for the lounge, one for the bathroom – and some fresh darts. I should really take up archery.


Unloading the car, one of the bags split, and tins of spam went everywhere. Derek, my next-door neighbour with the incessant grin, ran over and helped me gather them up.

“Crikey,” he grinned. “Spam up!”

I laughed; he laughed. When the zombies come, he’ll be the first victim.

Some of the tins had to go out to the garage as my cupboards aren’t extensive enough. Every year or so, I planned to stock up again, ‘cause, frankly, you never know.

I was prepared; ready; waiting – – and damn, I forgot to pick up some bread.

Of course, I was quite surprised to find the zombie apocalypse happened so soon after my preparations… and even more surprised when they got me in my sleep.

Lock the doors, Derek; I’m coming for you.

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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Blog Advent - 2012, Short Stories


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The Immortal Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Ray Bradbury, perhaps best-known for his novels and short story collections including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, died in Los Angeles on 5th June 2012, at the age of 91. He wrote 27 novels and over 600 short stories, a bibliography and success that any writer would love to have to their name.

“When he was 12, Bradbury had a chance encounter with circus entertainer named “Mr. Electrico” who did a wild routine with static electricity. Twelve is an age when young men with imagination are especially impressionable, and Bradbury was enthralled by Mr. Electrico’s act.

At the conclusion, Mr. Electrico pointed his electrified sword at Bradbury and touched his nose, making his hair stand on end. As the sparks flew, Mr. Electrico exclaimed “Live forever!”

Bradbury said when he went home, he began to write his fiction, and he wrote every day for the rest of his life. He later realized that subconsciously, he had found the way to make Mr. Electrico’s command come true.

Through his literature, Ray Bradbury does live forever.”

–          Lou Antonello, RIP Ray Bradbury; The Daily Tribune.

I first came across Bradbury just this year. But it’s incredible how one chance encounter with Fahrenheit 451 has changed my view of the landscape. Though I’d heard of it before, I didn’t quite know what the book was about, but the cover intrigued me, so I picked it up and scrolled through the blurb.

‘FAHREHEIT 451: the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns.’

That first line blazed away any preconceptions that this was just any other book. I read on: ‘Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness.’ I didn’t need to read the rest of the blurb; this dystopian society was haunting and horrible instantly – and an extension of a few concerns that had been batting around in my head for a while.

The Times calls it: “A disturbing tale that explores the maxim, ‘ignorance is bliss.’” Kingsley Amis summed it up as “the most skilfully-drawn of all science fiction’s conformist hells.” Both those statements are true, of course.  But to balance out the hell, there’s also great hope.

Guy is in it deep; certainly from the first few stunning paragraphs, he’s the Man Beyond Redemption. But for book-lovers (and who else would be reading it?), that world doesn’t feel right. In fact, for anyone, that world doesn’t feel right. But maybe book-lovers can feel it more. And we’re represented there, amidst the flames: a glowing dedication and love for this intangible force presented to us each time we open a cover.

I discussed this a few years ago in college. Why are stories important? They make us human. And Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most human books I’ve ever read.

Soon, I found The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories with a bookending narrative about a man whose body is caressed with tattoos – tattoos that move and tell stories. Here, Bradbury presented me with fairytales and wonder, but tinged with a chilling sense of doom. (And notice I say me, not us. Because Ray’s books speak to you personally.) Truths we should all face up to. Here’s the perfect illustration of what Bradbury does:

“Yet the Illustrated Man has tried to burn the illustrations off. He’s tried sandpaper, acid and a knife. Because, as the sun sets, the pictures glow like charcoals, like scattered gems. They quiver and come to life. Tiny pink hands gesture, tiny mouths flicker as the figures enact their stories – voices rise, small and muted, predicting the future.”

Something terrible and magnificent at the same time. And this theme carries on throughout the book. Kaleidoscope gives us a beautiful image that might haunt our subconscious every time we look up at the stars. The Playground feels real and troubling, but also signals the brilliant bravery and love we feel around our family. The Long Rain is creepy and bleak, evaluating what life might be like when we step out onto other planets, but makes you realise how lucky we are.

I was surprised to see that Wikipedia list The Veldt (or The World the Children Made) as ‘children’s literature.’ Opening my edition of The Illustrated Man, it’s an incredible tale that shows what future technology might offer kids as they discover mortality. It’s genuinely shocking stuff.

I know certain themes run throughout Bradbury’s books, inevitably inspired by his life and, in particular, his childhood. This led Spiked! writer, Patrick West to say that:

“The great Bradbury longed for a future that would recapture the past.”

This nostalgia is just part of the rich tapestry that Ray weaves into his stories and, indeed, the world. To paraphrase a different genre of literacy, Sherlock Holmes says that we see, but we do not observe. But Ray Bradbury helps us observe.

Thank you, Ray.

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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Books


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Short Story: Ascent

ADVENT DAY TWENTY-FOUR: To celebrate advent, I’ll be adding new content to this blog every day in the countdown to Christmas; reviews, opinion pieces, short stories… that sort of thing! So make sure you pop back in between shopping, packing presents and nursing a headache.

To mark Christmas Eve – and the final day of the Blog Advent! – here’s a short Christmas story I wrote on the bus up to Bristol to finish festive shopping! Even though advent’s at an end, I’ll still be updating as much as possible. Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone, and thanks, as ever, for looking at my blog.

His moment is coming.

He can hear the crowd screaming for him, adrenaline and excitement coursing through their veins. He can feel it too, but knows it’s not his time.

In fact, he shouldn’t even be here. In this position of power. With so many watching his every move.

As a child, Peter didn’t like being looked at. Sure, he had a lot of friends and they always wanted to be around him, but he never felt the centre of attention. If he were honest, and really tried to remember those days, he was the focal point of numerous groups of friends on numerous occasions. But there were also times that they all splintered away and he was just a satellite to their activities. And he never craved for them to all come back to him; he didn’t have that thirst.

He was an ‘only child,’ as the saying goes, so he never had to compete for the affections of his parents. His Dad wasn’t an alcoholic, and his Mum never left them. They didn’t follow him around all the time – neither physically nor metaphorically – or leave him to find his own dinner at night. They were just normal.

Peter wished for that normality now as someone looked at him and said, “they’re expecting you in five, four…”

Peter had moved into a bigger school, and withdrew from the world further. Everyone was big and loud and accusing. He’d never felt so out-of-place. He could count the amount of mates he had on one hand.


Peter’s hand was shaking.

Even the teachers were intimidating, used to the boisterousness of the class. He used to get home as fast as he could; back to a world where he was the centre of it. But slowly, he adapted. Changed.

He hated those years.


Peter drew in a gulp of piercing air, his chest rising, like he was so proud of himself; defying his feelings.

He still hated those years.

He had to step up. Be somebody. And suddenly, he hungered for attention, almost blind to what he got from home.

His mates lapped it up. He hasn’t seen them since he left education.

Peter would show off. He knew more than the teachers and spent much of his time outside the class; by his own design, whether he knew it or not. But standing, while the rest were sat down… he was superior.


He didn’t think he could stand much longer. He stepped forward, regardless.

Then his ascension came, and he found it wasn’t all it was meant to be. Everyone thought he was in charge – that he held the power – but the strings belonged to someone else.

He didn’t want that attention any more. Cut at it. Take it away.

He stepped out. The crowd went on forever. All eyes on him.

He had practised his speech in front of his wife. Twice, then once for luck. Then the mirror and finally to the crowd.

Pitch perfect. They lapped it up. And the moment of truth: he pressed down and the lights on the Christmas tree to his left made the town glow.

The crowd gasped and rose up with them and the arcs of LEDs sparked into life above them.

“Merry Christmas!” Peter yelled into the microphone and reminded them all that he had a new DVD out.


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Short Story: Yucatan

ADVENT DAY NINETEEN: To celebrate advent, I’ll be adding new content to this blog every day in the countdown to Christmas; reviews, opinion pieces, short stories… that sort of thing! So make sure you pop back in between shopping, packing presents and nursing a headache.

Today, the result of a challenge to write about a place I’ve never been to. So, inspired by An Idiot Abroad, here’s my short story, Yucatan. Obviously, some facts might not be 100% correct, but I’ve tried my best… and I’d like to go there someday. (Karl Pilkington liked Mexico more than any other place he’s been to on the show – surely that’s a huge accolade!) And in case you were wondering, the person who set me the challenge enjoyed the story. Thankfully.

"El Castillo"

Nothing happens here. Yucatan is a very boring place.

We live far out from the town, but we are happy this way, and we don’t go there very often. It has a bad vibra. We are happy in our house. It is made of grey blocks, stacked one on top of another with cement filling in the gaps. We haven’t painted it like some others in the village; we tell them it is because we don’t need yellow and orange and green as we have trees for that, but really, it is because paint is expensive and heavy to carry.

We have room for our dogs and our family, and we can go over the road for food, as there’s a line of trees there with wasp nests. We have a stick to chop down the nests and the wasps go after us. That is fine. We are strong and can run fast and the wasp larvae are worth it. Sometimes, we run out of food and tequila, so we have to go to town.

Last week, we decided to go a pincel, walking alongside the road. It is dusty, but some roads are flat and covered in tarmac. The cars, they fly past, but it is not needed. The side of the road is perfectly fine, as there are Ki to hide from the sun and we can visit friends along the way. Sometimes, we have to dodge accidents where the car has gone off the road and through a house. Sometimes, we see the people who have died and have dirtied the road, but someone is usually there to clean up.

The town has been painted in yellow and orange and green. But there are good trees here too, and so this is just decoration for decoration’s sake. The skulls are fun though, and there are usually new ones each time we go. Some cars are even decorated with number plates with pictures on them. Chichen Itza, it is mostly.

We shouldn’t have gone to town that close to the Day of the Dead. People are crazy; they go to the antro, but that is up to them.

After we left, we heard some fulano got hit in the face. It was just some man, who was collecting food for his family, and a firework went into his eye.  An ambulance took him away and the papers blamed pinche kids on it. Probably borracho from too many tequilas. The man is fine now. His eye is no longer there, so he is fine.

Nothing happens here. Yucatan is a very boring place.


Antro: Club.

A Pinchel: On foot.

Borracho: drunk.

Fulano: Guy.

Ki: Type of plant.

Pinche: Damn.

Vibra: Vibe.

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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Blog Advent - 2011, Unpublished work


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