Oct '03

Excellent, a good horror writer" - James Herbert... "Powerful, sinister and filled with raw energy" - Peter James... "Great chilling stuff" - Simon Clark... "I almost shat myself... my favourite was about the little demon thingy that took the man on a tour" - Steve Harris... "If you like your horror dripping with atmosphere, Joe's the man for you"- Dave Price

These are just some of the comments made about Joseph Freeman, one of Britain's finest horror writers today. Joseph has been so kind as to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us....  

First I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. To help our members learn a little more about you, could you give us a little insight to who you are and what you do.

JMF Hi Kelly, it's a pleasure, although your first question makes me feel rather like a contestant on Blind Date. I'm Joseph Freeman and I'm the author of books and stories, and now feature films, which scare some people. My first book was 'Love Stories of the Undead', and the follow-up collection 'Ghosts Far From Subtle' will be appearing any day now. In between the two, there's been a novella, a collection of songs, lots of artwork and a full-length novel which has yet to be published.

(Kelly - I have been called many things in my life but Cilla Black, that sure is a first.)

When did you first get into writing and is it only horror/ supernatural tales you write?

JMF I've been creating fiction for as long as I can possibly remember. When I was very young, my first memories are of writing my own stories, making my own books or comics. And my childhood games were very imaginative, exciting and often gruesome, though I must state here for the record that nobody actually died as a result of any of them. It's a love for making up these stories that I thankfully never grew out of.

By and large, the work that I produce falls into the supernatural field, because it's what I feel I do best, and is my true love when it comes to writing. I've turned my hand to many genres over the years, but horror and ghost stories are what I feel happiest with and what so many people seem to enjoy when I do them.

Do you possess any formal qualifications which have helped you in your career?

 I don't believe artists really need qualifications. I don't think you can manufacture talent, or learn how to be a writer or a painter. You can certainly learn your craft, or improve your skills, but I believe the fire has to be within your soul in the first place. At college I studied English Language and Psychology, but I already knew by that point that being a writer was the only direction in life that I wanted to head in. I've never taken writing lessons or classes, or even joined a writing group, because I'm not a huge believer in them. After college I went into training to become a teacher of fitness and exercise, but all the time keeping my writing going, and at this time it would have been the stories that went on to appear in my first book. A couple of years later, I returned to take my Psychology studies even further, it's a big interest of mine, and certainly this understanding of the human mind and human nature can be very beneficial to a writer.

When were you first 'discovered' and what was your first published piece?

JMF My first professional sale was over ten years ago now. I was thirteen years old and sold a piece to an anthology published by Poetry Now, which then went on to win the award for the best piece in the entire book. The school got a very big cheque because of this, and I think some new computers, and I ended up with 20, and some publicity in the newspapers. Still, we all have to start somewhere I guess. I think of my career having started proper a few years later, when I was about 18 years old and started being invited to various horror events through my work on 'Scared to Death' magazine. This got the creative juices flowing again and I started writing now with new markets in mind. Some of the first pieces that began appearing then were 'Homecoming' in 'Terror Tales' magazine, 'Once Again' in 'Oktobyr 98' and 'In The Water' in 'Enigmatic Tales'

You were a founder member of the horror fiction magazine 'Scared To Death', which proved to be very successful during it's seven year run, how did this come about and what did you gain from it's production?

JMF 'Scared To Death' was an extension of the kind of thing that I talked about earlier, my childhood love of creating books and comics and magazines. But the time was right for this one, because by now I was really getting into horror fiction properly, had started going to all the events that I heard about, and was even lucky enough to get to know some of the country's biggest horror writers at that time, people like Guy Smith, Mark Morris and Ramsey Campbell, and later on Steve Harris and Peter James, both of whom I'm still great friends with to this day, amongst many others.

When I first started the magazine up it was rough and it was ready but it was pretty damned good, because there was a real enthusiasm behind it, and I was lucky enough to be drawing in contributions from the big names that I knew, and I was more than happy to be publishing my own fiction to fill in the spaces. At the start I did all the illustrations myself too, though later on I was lucky enough to take the wonderful artist Desmond Knight on board, which was the start of our getting to know one another and working together. By the time I called it a day for the magazine, because I was ready to move on with my own writing, it was doing very well, a fat quarterly magazine, nicely designed and illustrated and featuring good quality fiction from established writers and some very talented new and upcoming writers. There was also reviews, news and letters and the whole production had a great atmosphere and character to it, all of which is why it was popular with the readers and the writers alike.

'Love Stories of the Undead' was your first published book (released back in 1999), can you explain to us how this was accepted by the public and how long it took you to produce?

JMF I explained earlier how I'd come back to my writing seriously when I was about 18 years old, and 'Love Stories of the Undead' is the fruits of that first year's labour I guess. It's really the best of the stuff I was writing when I was starting out getting published in the horror magazines and anthologies, of which there were so many great ones around at that time. I really wanted to see my name on a book, that thought excited me greatly because I was now spending time with new friends who could carry around handfuls of their own books to impress people with when we went on holiday, or out drinking. I had to be able to do that too. When I had enough stories finished that I thought were good enough, I said 'that's it, I've got enough for my book!'.

I hadn't it expected it to turn out quite as well as it did however. By the time it was published early the next year, it had expanded to include a couple of newer pieces that showed a more mature side of my writing coming through, and it had some beautifully eerie illustrations and great production values. And it was such a hit, it really pleased me and still does to this day, just how successful it was. Everybody seemed to love it, including so many people who told me that they didn't even usually like horror. And everybody seemed to have their favourites, and I was being compared by critics to such great authors as Clive Barker, or Ramsey Campbell (both of whom actually asked me to sign their copies at an event the following year). And I was getting fan letters too! There was one darling of a human being who used to write to me quite regular, and every time he wrote he'd read the book again and still loved it! He must've known it better than I did. But I love that kind of connection, and when people are so into what you've created.

'Those Left Behind' is a novel by you, which is yet to be released. According to your webpage, you have a major US publisher interested in it, any news on this and is there a UK release in the foreseeable future?

JMF There's a major UK publisher who wanted first look at the novel. I won't name them in print to shame them - and the editor in particular - because I'm too much of a gentleman, but ask me again later after a few glasses of wine and it'll be a different story. After the novel was complete they were the only publisher who didn't even have the courtesy to respond to me, though from what I hear from some other writers who were with that editor, that's pretty much par for his course. All the other publishers - such as Macmillan, Headline and Harper Collins etc - loved the novel, but wouldn't take it because it was horror, and of course in the past five years horror seems to have become something the publishers in this country would rather choose to ignore.

So the USA seemed worth a try, though I'm ashamed to say that I rather lost the thread of what was happening with it there, because these things take so long and I ended up falling out of touch with the publisher when I moved house. But now the time is certainly right to have another try at placing the book, and after completing the stories that I'm working on now, I'll be going back to revise the novel and set about getting it published. With luck you'll be seeing it, but it's still more than a year and a half down the line, I would think.

You have just released your second collection of stories, 'Ghosts Far From Subtle' which has been published by Rainfall Books. How has it taken off?

JMF Well, as we speak Rainfall have moved the publication date even further back, so we're now a couple of weeks (hopefully) from actually having it released. Early reports are very favourable though. The opening story 'Seen But Not Heard' picked up an award at the end of 2002, and I've been doing readings of some of the stories at my appearances over the past couple of years, and have had others read by friends whose opinions I value highly. Peter James has written the introduction, and he calls the book 'some of the most compelling writing in this genre that I have ever been privileged to read', and seeing as he spends most of the rest of the introduction playfully insulting me, I'm inclined to believe him when he actually forces himself to come up with a compliment.

So things are looking good for it's release, and I think that it will pleasantly surprise a lot of people who enjoyed 'Love Stories of the Undead', because it's quite a progression really. The writing is more mature, there's more development of atmosphere and character and some truly terrifying moments. I really hope people like it, and I'm certainly proud of the book.

Are there any other releases in the pipeline and are you working on anything at this moment in time? If so can you give anything away?

JMF Oh, there's plenty to keep me off the streets at night, at least until the weekends that is. The first thing you'll be seeing from me after 'Ghosts Far From Subtle' is an anthology that I'm editing called 'They Still Scare Us'. The title refers to the fact that it's a hefty book of very long stories updating fairy tales. And we've got some good names in there. There's Steve Harris with what is basically a short novel on the theme of Red Riding Hood. Paul Finch is in there with a wonderful piece, as is Simon Bestwick. There's also Derek Fox, Paul Kane and even something from myself. Don't forget how gruesome fairy tales are, and then imagine them being written for an adult audiences by some of the great dark fantasy writers we've got today. How could you resist?

After that there's a new collection of short stories - my third. That will also appear next year, and again it's probably another step forward from what I've done in the past. There's a good deal of new stuff in there, some of which is still underway, and some of which are pretty lengthy stories that I had to take out of the Rainfall book due to word limits.

And on a slightly different note, there's a movie in development too, with a major film company. I was thrilled when the film company said that they loved my work so much, and when they had the finished product and eventually I heard it was going ahead, I was even more thrilled. It's early stages still, so there's really no telling how long it will take, but let's wish them luck in getting the production going and making it a success.

Being an 'underground' writer and not to forget artist, have you ever had any dealings with vanity publishers and if so, what do you think of their work? 

JMF I've never dealt with a vanity publisher and it's something that I would never do. It's just not for me. Now I guess I'm fortunate enough to be in the position where I can get publishers to take on my work, so in a way I'm speaking from a place of ignorance about this, but I've heard bad reports of vanity publishers from different sources, and what few examples I have seen of their work have been cheaply-produced and really quite gruesomely designed and that will never be seen by the general book-buying public. I'm all in favour of independent publishers and small presses, but when it comes to vanity publishers there's going to be some sharks out there who are just using some poor writer's eagerness to see publication to get money off them. I've never paid to have anything published and I never will. With my background and experience in design and editing and publishing I'd be much more likely to do it myself than pay someone else to anyway, because I like to have a lot of control in what I do.

As mentioned above, not only are you a talented writer but also you are a great artist. Have you had any of you art released commercially and if so how did this come around?

JMF Thank you for your compliments! To be honest, my drawing and painting was always something that I did to relax, it was just a hobby for me. I never really entertained the idea of it being what I was known for, or of it making money for me, but then again neither did Clive Barker until a few years ago. I used to do drawings for people on commission back in school, I guess when I was about 9 or 10 I was something special. But writing was my main love, and I concentrated on that throughout my teens, only occasionally turning my hand to illustrations. If you remember, I illustrated 'Scared to Death' for a lot of its issues, and I also did some illustrating for one or two other magazines after that had finished. I started painting when I was 20, because I liked the sound of it, and it's something that I now do for a break from the heavier side of my work. I occasionally surprise myself by turning out something which really isn't that bad, but as yet I've still to make any commercial appearance with it. It is something that I've considered quite recently. I also get a lot of praise for my sketches, usually figure drawing and erotic art, and my photography, which is something I've always enjoyed. I imagine I will sell some of this stuff, somewhere in some way, and that will be another exciting new adventure which I enjoy my life being full of.

Finally, is there any advice you would like to give to our budding writers and artists?

JMF Keep up the good work! I have a lot of time and admiration for all writers and artists, and anyone who has the genuine love for doing these things and the desire to keep on doing it. Don't ever forget your basics, if you're a writer then study the language and grammar and structure from time to time, because it will help you rise above so many writers who don't do that, and believe me I can be as guilty as anyone else. If you're an artist then take simple lessons every so often, on perspective or light and shading, or anatomy. It's tough but common to see artists who have obvious talent but very little technical expertise. It's art without craft, and it can get messy. Also, learn from what's out there. Read a lot, of everything, and especially that which you admire most and come to know why certain things work or don't work for you. The same for artists, visit lots of galleries or explore the different things that artists are doing, both contemporary and the greats of the past. Believe in yourself, and surround yourself, if you can, with people who believe in and support you. We all need that, otherwise it can be a hard and lonely road.


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