HOW I MAKE IT WORK...

THE SUC­CESS­FUL NOV­EL­IST ONCE FELT “SUF­FO­CATED” BY BE­ING KNOWN AS “J.R.R. TOLKIEN’S GRAND­SON”. NOW, AT 57, HE HAS OVER­COME THE PRES­SURE OF HIS FAM­ILY LEGACY AND WRIT­TEN HIS OWN TALE OF WAR

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents - is out now. as told to Al­ley Pas­coe

Author Si­mon Tolkien on de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions.

When I started writ­ing 16 years ago, I wasn’t try­ing to com­pete with the Tolkien phe­nom­e­non. The Lord Of The Rings movies were com­ing out and I just wanted to make some­thing of my own. Hav­ing been a crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter, I was sure I couldn’t write. Ev­ery­thing I wrote felt re­ally ar­ti­fi­cial and self-con­scious. It took a long time to find my voice.

My first book was a black com­edy about a lawyer. I thought it was great, but when I took it to an agency to be pub­lished, I got a lot of re­jec­tions. I re­alised it was aw­ful. But I car­ried on and have since pub­lished five nov­els.

My books are thrillers, not fan­tasy fic­tion like my grand­fa­ther’s. Peo­ple wanted me to write about a hob­bit, but I couldn’t write about some­thing that wasn’t real to me. I have to write about flesh-and-blood char­ac­ters.

Hav­ing a fa­mous grand­fa­ther has been a real mixed bag for me. I did feel a bit over­shad­owed, but that was no fault of my grand­fa­ther. His ge­nius in­spired me to be­come a writer my­self, for which I am grate­ful. When I started sub­mit­ting manuscripts, I think my last name got my work read more than if I didn’t have it. But I don’t think things get pub­lished un­less they ac­tu­ally have in­trin­sic qual­ity. That’s a les­son I learnt when I was cry­ing over my re­jec­tions.

While be­ing J.R.R. Tolkien’s grand­son has been an enor­mous help to me, it has been a wind­ing road. It’s cre­ated chal­lenges, which I’ve been able to rise to. Ul­ti­mately, I’ve been lucky. He’s a real in­spi­ra­tion, and I feel a strong wish to hon­our him and his achieve­ments.

My lat­est novel, No Man’s Land, has a real nexus with my grand­fa­ther. He fought at the Somme in World War I. None of the let­ters he wrote dur­ing the war sur­vived. He said al­most noth­ing about it to any­body, which was not un­usual. A lot of peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced the Great War didn’t talk about it. He was the kind of writer who never wrote of his own ex­pe­ri­ence, so it made me feel close to him to write a book about some­thing he’d ex­pe­ri­enced so hugely.

Re­search­ing what the war was like, how it felt to be in the trenches and to go over the top, gave me a real con­nec­tion to him. I think I’ve done some­thing he’d be pleased about. No Man’s Land (Harpercollins, $44.99)

Si­mon’s tips for find­ing your voice

Keep a daily di­ary. I did for 10 years and it helped me lose my self-con­scious­ness. Write emails that de­scribe your per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than just com­mu­ni­cate the facts. Keep strug­gling. It’s of­ten hard to find words to con­vey how you feel. But if what you write is truly per­sonal, it can’t be a cliché. 1. 2. 3.

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