Cabin Tales Author Interview #7: Tim Wynne-Jones

An interview with Tim Wynne-Jones, author of 35 books for all ages, including novels, picture books, and short story collections, including most recently War at the Snow White Motel and The Starlight Claim. Hear about his love of islands and adventures, his aversion to unnecessary back-stories, and his childhood experience of telling stories around the dinner table. 25 minutes.

Read the full transcript:


Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:25] Interview with Tim Wynne-Jones

CA: There are some writers who do all sorts of exercises and they feel like they have to know everything about their character’s past… 

TWJ: It really is like being at a party. You start talking to somebody. … And then suddenly they start telling you their life story. And the first thing you’re going to do is start edging back towards the guacamole…

Emperor of Any Place cover

[4:05] CA: And then with setting, if you’re using a real place do you like gather maps and work out your setting?

TWJ: Yeah…. In a made-up landscape, for instance in The Emperor of Any Place — that’s an imagined landscape – well, I had to do tons of research on what kind of flora and fauna there is in that part of the Pacific Ocean. … I love that kind of research. … And I love maps. … I’ve always loved making up islands and making treasure islands. …

[6:10] CA: Do you have any favorite words? 

TWJ: Just a million…. I mostly live for capital S Story. … But sometimes you find a book that is so beautifully written that the story … doesn’t have to do an awful lot. …

[7:50] CA: Do you have a favorite plot twist? 

TWJ: Tamar by Mal Peet… sent a chill up my back … like ‘Oh my God of course! Why didn’t I see that?’

The Starlight Claim cover

[8:30] CA: Are any of your stories based on your own childhood? 

TWJ: The Rex Zero trilogy is definitely based on my childhood in Ottawa in the Cold War. … And my short stories. … use an element from my childhood. …

[9:05] CA: You write for children and for young adults and adults. Do you think of your audience while you write? 

TWJ: … Sometimes I feel like I’m writing a scene for one person… And a lot of the time I’m just trying to write for myself… I can’t target a book at an age group. I don’t even like that term because it means like you’re trying to shoot them …

[11:10] CA: And you said sometimes you write just for yourself… 

TWJ: …There are periods when I don’t have anything that I have to say. …The wonderful writer Annie Dillard has a quote about this … just leave it alone; the well is empty; it will fill from below, by groundwater. … Do something else. … I’ve been writing a lot of songs lately and I’ve really been loving it. …But when I’m in the middle of the book, the joy of being a writer, I think, really, is when you get through that first horrible difficult draft… I’ve done all the hard slogging. And now it’s going to be equally hard but in a much more interesting and exciting way. And then, then I love being a writer, for that second draft. That’s just heaven.

The Uninvited cover

[14:20] CA: How much time do you typically spend revising versus drafting? 

TWJ: Well, a lot. …

[15:00] CA: I remember hearing you speak once, and you had been working on a book and then someone advised you, ‘You have to kill the father….

TWJ: … my editor, god bless her. … and she didn’t need to say it more than once before I realized exactly what I’d done — I was protecting the boy…The father would step in front of the boy in every scene … I had to kill this perfectly lovely father so that the boy was face to face with his antagonist. …

[16:50] CA: … You have to have faith that… life will replenish your ideas and your stories …

TWJ: Yeah…. in the Annie Dillard quote … she says … if you’re writing and you have an idea for a scene that’s just amazing, don’t think about saving it for later. … Just use it right away and it will be replenished. … You’re creating ideas by allowing these ones to get out of your head. …

Rex Zero cover

[18:20] CA: I think she says write as if you’re dying as well, and as if you’re writing to an audience of people who are dying because basically–

TWJ: It’s true…. But …I have a favourite saying that the difference between adult books and children’s books is in an adult book it’s all about letting go; and in a children’s book it’s about getting a grip. …

[19:20] CA: Do you have a favorite POV to write from?

TWJ: The story tells me. …When I was writing Blink and Caution… I was 6 pages into it before I realized I was writing in the second person. … I write in first and I write in third and I write in second. The 8th POV I’d like to try ….

[20:40] CA: Did you tell stories around the campfire as a kid…?

TWJ: … The dinner table was the campfire. … And in fact, as little children …we weren’t allowed to sit at the dinner table with our parents until we were interesting. …

[22:30] CA: Do you have a favorite scary story or scary movie?

TWJ: I loved reading Dracula, …the darkness, just pervasive darkness that moves in on the story. … I loved “Dead Calm,” an Australian movie …

[24:05] CA: Do you have any phobias? 

TWJ: Yeah, I’m claustrophobic. …

Blink and Caution cover

[24:55] Tim Wynne-Jones introduces himself

TWJ: Hi. I’m Tim Wynne-Jones. Let’s see. I live in the country on 76 acres of bushland with my wife, Amanda Lewis, who’s a writer among many other things. We have three grown-up children, two boys in Toronto and a daughter in London England. And they’re all married and I have two grandchildren in England. And we have a cat, a wonderful old cat. And I like to cook more than anything in the world, even more than writing. But I wouldn’t want to be a cook for a living. I think it’s even worse than being a writer. And I like to do crossword puzzles and I love to read and snowshoe. There.

[25:40] Find out more about Tim Wynne-Jones

You can hear more creative writing advice from Tim Wynne-Jones on Cabin Tales Episode 1, “Things Hide in the Darkness,” about setting; Episode 2, “Nasty People meet Nasty Ends,” about character,” Episode 7.5, “Author Interviews about Endings,” and Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. Find out more about Tim Wynne-Jones and his books from his website at

[26:50] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with Monique Polak, author of 29 books for young readers who joins us from Montreal, Quebec.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Visit the Cabin Tales home page.


Guest Author:

Tim Wynne-Jones has written 35 books for adults and children of all ages. His books have been translated into a dozen languages and won multiple awards, including the Governor General’s Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, and the Edgar Award. Tim was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012. Find him online at


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