Writers

Add to researchTim Lott

Tim Lott

Viking

Born
London, England
Genre
Fiction, Non-Fiction
 
 
Biography
Writer and journalist Tim Lott was born in 1956 in Southall, Middlesex, England and studied Politics and History at the London School of Economics.

As well as journalism, he has worked in publishing and broadcasting, and was editor of the London listings magazine City Limits. The Scent of Dried Roses (1996), a moving account of his mother's depression and eventual suicide, won the J. R. Ackerley Prize.

His first novel, White City Blue (1999), a vivid and comic contemporary portrait of a group of young male friends, won the Whitbread First Novel Award. It was followed by Rumours of a Hurricane (2002), the story of a couple living in Britain at the beginning of the 1980s and their acceptance of Thatcherite values following the British victory in the Falklands. The Love Secrets of Don Juan (2003), explores the search for love and self-knowledge. His latest novel is The Seymour Tapes (2005).


Tim Lott lives in London. His first book for children, Fearless, is published in 2007.

Critical Perspective

Before writing his first book at the not so tender age of 40, Lott enjoyed a successful career as a journalist and experienced life as a mature student of Politics and History at the LSE.

He suffered a nervous breakdown after the break-up of a relationship and lost his mother to suicide. His first work, the memoir The Scent of Dried Roses (1996), is an engrossing and sensitive exploration of the history of depression in his family and addresses the stigma attached to mental illness. It came about after Lott wrote an article on his mother for Esquire magazine. His first work of fiction, White City Blue (1999) is an acute study of male fear, purportedly realised out of a failed attempt to write about Tony Blair. In fact, for many years Lott believed himself incapable of writing a novel. Several years on and after having produced four further works of acclaimed fiction – Rumours of a Hurricane (2002), The Love Secrets of Don Juan (2003), The Seymour Tapes (2005) and Fearless (2007) – Lott can no longer be seen as a reluctant novelist.

A male protagonist is at the epicentre of each of Lott’s books. However, the world is never seen to revolve around these men. Instead, they are like skittles in a bowling alley: constantly being knocked down or hauled up by women, parents, children, friends, work and money. While there is nothing particularly new there, what is refreshing is the honesty of Lott’s sardonic humour, as well as his incisive and unflinching analysis of the male psyche. He finds the squalor and misplaced heroism of masculinity, the many vanities, the confines of pride, and the pressures of the need to manufacture a front of emotional control.

Lott uses a first person narrative in White City Blue and The Love Secrets of Don Juan to engaging and memorable effect. We meet Frankie Blue at the moment he is contemplating marriage and Daniel Savage at the point when he is dealing with divorce. By Lott’s own admission there is a marked autobiographical strain to these novels. In both, he explores with wisdom and compassion the process of adjusting to a new reality, of being, as the author says, ‘ruthless’ with the past.

However, Lott is all too aware that there are no easy answers. We are never entirely convinced by the 30-something Frankie’s dilemma of choosing between ties with old friends and a ‘grown up’ relationship with a woman. Does he really have a choice when his friendships are in the process of imploding? Is finding love simply good timing or a means of escape? The 40-something Daniel possibly fares better, but has to try to accept that ‘life demands forgiveness’ and that ‘mistakes are life’s roughage’ if he is to move on and succeed in a new relationship with a woman who is impressively self-aware.

In fact it is the female of the species who is consistently portrayed by Lott as being the more perceptive of the sexes. Frankie is outraged when his girlfriend analyses his friendships. According to her, Frankie doesn’t like one of his friends, feels sorry for another and has evidently let down a third: ‘You know all this from an hour and a half in the pub?’ he responds in amazement. Yet the subsequent course of events only serves to lend weight to her argument that his relationships are built on unsteady foundations. The male characters in White City Blue are terrified that they will lose all quiddity if the ties to their romanticised youth are severed. Lott’s female characters are better equipped to adapt to change. The ex-wife of Daniel in The Love Secrets of Don Juan, while clearly still in the process of grieving the loss of her marriage, is able to form a new and seemingly sound relationship, while Daniel is reduced to detailing the history of his failed love affairs on a flip chart in an attempt to seek the secret of his un-success. In contrast, Maureen, the wife of Charlie Buck in Rumours of a Hurricane, is at first presented as someone struggling with her life. Maureen is a terminally bored, overweight housewife who dresses up for and lives vicariously through Dallas. However, under the Thatcher government she discovers the joys of work, credit cards, shoplifting and having a lover. She may spend, but she still saves; she may steal, but she doesn’t get caught. Her story is eventually one of success on all levels: a beautiful Thatcherite dream. Meanwhile, Charlie struggles to adapt to the selfish pressures of the 1980s. He borrows, buys and accumulates with the throng, but is deeply sceptical of change and mistrustful of the future. This should be his safeguard against economic recession, but Charlie allows himself to be convinced by his overbearing and oppressive brother that a life of moderation is the life of a coward, and thus sets himself up for a fall.

Rumours of a Hurricane, Lott’s most mature, carefully crafted work to date, reveals him to be an adept social realist. His skilful evocation of the spiritual collapse of the Thatcherite era should be required reading for those seeking to investigate the roots of Britain’s present political system. The novel’s dissection of a very ordinary marriage is all the more  powerful for being set against a decade of social upheaval in the UK. This is a subtle and deeply melancholic tale of an unremarkable family, bound together by history, routine and an affection that can only be expressed in hurried gestures at fleeting moments.

Another ordinary family is at the centre of Lott’s The Seymour Tapes, a novel which examines the contemporary obsession with surveillance: ‘one of the most corrosive obsessions of the modern world.’ Now ubiquitous and used ‘for pleasure and entertainment, even mockery and humiliation,’ surveillance has always been a rich metaphor for storytellers. After all, what is a narrator but the eye of the camera? From hidden corners they allow us a momentary glance at the private lives of others, they satisfy our need for stories, our need to know what should remain secret. The Seymour Tapes is about the alarming collapse of Dr Alex Seymour, who installs hidden cameras in his surgery and home to deal with a number of problems in his life. This is a disturbing novel which deals with a number of ideas: middle-aged angst and paranoia; the sharpness of suspicion; the constant human need for novelty and reinvention; and the need to feel necessary. Dr Seymour’s abuse of his family’s trust is one of many such abuses in this book, the conceit of which is that this is a real case and that Tim Lott has been asked to write about it. The Seymour Tapes takes the form of transcribed interviews and descriptions of camera footage and has the drama and tension of a thriller. What lingers is the manner of Dr Seymour’s collapse, and how each of his attempts to justify his actions to himself are worryingly rational.

Lott’s most recent novel is a departure. Fearless is a powerful dystopian fable, written for children, and featuring a female protagonist. It is a time of reduced freedoms, of language sullied by Orwellian tricks, of actions justified by the threat of terrorism, and Little Fearless is one of thousands of girls working in the laundry at the City Community Faith School. The school is in fact a prison and Little Fearless the one prisoner who has the courage and spirit to refuse to be beaten. Fearless is a compelling, haunting read. It captures the doublethink confusions of contemporary life and dramatises them to heartbreaking affect. It deserves a wide readership.

  
Like Nick Hornby, Tim Lott has given voice to a generation of men discovering their emotional selves. However, while he has a keen interest in male neuroses, he is too aware of how easily the threads can unpick themselves to be glib, fluffy or frivolous. He also has a far greater range than Hornby, who has begun to repeat himself. With his last two books Lott has demonstrated a willingness to try new things. There is genuine poignancy and tenderness to his writing, as well as resilience, bravery and humour. He places his characters in social and political contexts which threaten to overwhelm and undermine their often fragile sense of self, and in so doing, shows how our failure to connect with each other is so often the source of all our problems.

Garan Holcombe, 2008

Bibliography

2007
Fearless, Walker
2005
The Seymour Tapes, Viking
2003
The Love Secrets of Don Juan, Viking
2002
Rumours of a Hurricane, Viking
1999
White City Blue, Viking
1996
The Scent of Dried Roses, Viking

Awards

2003
Encore Award, Rumours of a Hurricane, shortlist
2002
Whitbread Novel Award, Rumours of a Hurricane, shortlist
1999
Whitbread First Novel Award, White City Blue
1996
J. R. Ackerley Prize, The Scent of Dried Roses