July '11


Interview with Joseph Freeman by Sue Phillips


Your biography mentions that you wrote your first professional piece aged just thirteen, which is impressive; but how much writing did you do before this?

I canít remember a time I wasnít writing: it goes back further than my memory does. I never saw it as anything unusual, any more than making up games to play or drawing pictures Ė though I suspect even these things are much thinner on the ground with the young of today than they once were. Iím thankful that I never grew out of, though certainly by the age of thirteen when I was first paid for my writing, I had a long way to go. Still to this day I believe Iím on a journey of discovery and improvement Ė with my writing as well as much else in life.

Have you written continuously since, or were there gaps in your creative career?

There were undoubtedly periods when I wasnít writing as much, firstly during my mid to late teens, and then later on a few years in my mid 20ís when I was going through a horrible situation and completely unable to focus on myself in any way, let alone clear my mind enough to sit down and write. All this came to a head by 2007 when I turned my life around and took control of it again, which meant some very tough decisions but was immeasurably worthwhile and each year since then has just got better and better for me, both personally and professionally.

Who has/have been your greatest influences?

I take so much from every walk of life that itís a difficult question to answer. I donít dedicate myself to one path, other than the improvement of what I already am. Undoubtedly many people have influenced me in various ways over the years but it would be impossible to name just one, so I suppose in one way Iíve been my own biggest influence. I never had a father-figure as a child, or a mentor when growing up, as much as I might have liked one. I always had an idea of what I wanted to be and headed towards it.

Your latest book looks stunning. How much influence did you have in its design?

I had total control over ĎThe Lost & The Lonelyí and varying degrees of control and input over pretty much all of my books. Iím a lifelong lover and collector of books myself, and I well know the pleasure that taking down an old favourite from the shelf can bring with it, or the excitement of oneís first look at a new title by a favourite author. I want my books as a product to do a service to both myself and the wonderful people who spend money on them. I spend a lot of thought on every aspect of it, from the layout of the pages to the art and colours for the cover, and any extraneous material I can use to add those special touches. I always feel that picking up a book which is nothing more than the manuscript with a basic cover glued on is a huge let-down.

When you launched The Lost and the Lonely, what inspired you to make the launch party a masked ball?

I tend not to do things by half-measures, and live somewhere between fantasy and reality. I enjoy luxury and fine dress and elegance and the chance to revel in it all. Actually my first thought for the party was some kind of gothic horror theme, but trying to put across what I had in mind in words on the invitation resulted almost in an essay. It evolved from that into a kind of Baroque masked ball: a candlelit country house, period music, tables laden with food and champagne, and partying on into the night. Exquisite madness.

Are you planning something similarly spectacular for your wedding, or do you favour a more low key union?

Low-key is not in my vocabulary! The wedding is going to be beautiful, glamorous, tasteful and elegant. A suitable celebration of a wonderful relationship.

Where did you get the idea for the plot of The Lost and the Lonely Ė in fact, where do most of your ideas come from?

Most of my stories have some basis in reality, and certainly in the case of a novel there will be hundreds of different ideas all coming together in the finished product, and plenty that may be there during the planning stage but never make it to the page. This novel was written in 2007 and was the first thing of any substance that Iíd written in a few years, and my attempt to prove to myself that I still could. Unusual things were happening in my life at the time, some good, some bad and some just plain weird, and also my dreams were so vivid and wonderful that the line between them and reality was becoming very blurred. It was a strange, and not altogether unpleasant, state. The more I worked on the novel the more my mind was throwing up imagery which had haunted me over the years, and also themes of moving on with life, of facing up to your fears and not being a prisoner to them. 2007 was the start of what continues to be the best stage of my life, and the novel took me through the first year of that.

You write both long and short fiction. Do you have a preference?

This has certainly changed in recent years, as I used to favour the short story and see novel-writing as the occasional necessary evil, but Iíve come to thoroughly enjoy the long-term relationship that the form creates. The last short stories I wrote were throughout 2008, and though I have hundreds and hundreds of ideas for more, I donít yet have plans to sit down and write them. Iím sure I will return to them at some point in the future, though.

You studied psychology. How has this influenced the way you create characters?

I think to an extent we can turn this on its head and say that my studying psychology was a development from a natural interest in peopleís minds and motivations, and whatever skill I had in those areas. Thereís still a good deal of mystery to the human character that no science will ever explain, but psychology certainly allows some fascinating insights. When I create characters I usually inhabit them, not dissimilar to a method actor in a role. My mind becomes their mind and thatís how they come to life for me. And quite often, the stranger they are, the more fun it is too!

You are known both for your writing and atmospheric photography. Which is the more important as far as you are concerned?

Writing, by far. Itís what I was made to. I havenít done as much visual artwork in the past couple of years as I would have liked to, but that was mainly a relaxation for me. The hours could fly past when I was working on a new piece. It didnít feel like work.

The photographs you take are very atmospheric; how is this achieved (ie Photoshop or choosing opportune moments)?

Most of them are drawn from my travels, and favourite places, and I suppose Iím trying to capture the essence of why they haunt and delight me. I donít meddle too much with the original image. Iíll take a lot of pictures and then select the ones which I think make the most interesting in their own right. Itís then merely a matter of drawing out the atmosphere of the place; which the camera sometimes renders utterly flat. What did the place and the moment say to you when you were actually there? What colours did you see in the sky, on the land around you? How did you feel? Does the image work better in black and white or in colour? Which elements do we need to focus on? I think just about the only thing Iíve ever used Photoshop to do was the lettering on the covers of a couple of my books; I really havenít used it much, donít currently own a copy, and really must one day get to grips with it.

Horror is your forte, but do you write in any other genres?

At the end of 2008 I was having dinner with my friend Peter James and we were discussing our love for horror and the sorry state that itís ended up in at the hands of the publishing industry. A couple of years previously Peter had relaunched himself as a crime writer, a move which paid off well for him, and he was trying to encourage me to do the same. At first I wasnít interested, but a seed had been planted in my mind and within a few weeks I put the novel which Iíd been about to start writing on hold and instead spent 6 months on a thriller called ĎVermilion Dawní. Though it could certainly be marketed as a crime novel, I was eager to avoid the overdone detective novel formula, which just didnít interest me at all, and make it something which I could enjoy writing. As it turned out, it was fun and easy to write and Iím very pleased with the end result. Time has yet to tell how commercially successful it will be.

What kind of books do you read for pleasure?

Everything. Horror, naturally, and I have a fantastic collection of first editions in the genre. But I read widely and obscurely, as I suspect many authors do. Anything that catches my eye and interests me at any given moment, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, pleasure or research.

Have you ever suffered from writerís block, and if so, how did you overcome it?

I canít imagine any artist in any field hasnít at some time succumbed to a spell of self-imposed inactivity. But the more one fears writers block, the more likely it is to happen. Itís mental impotence. Writing can at times seem a very mystical process: the words come from nowhere and become a kind of reality. So itís very easy to fear the day when they donít come anymore. You just have to keep ploughing on, and treat it like a job. Some days youíll struggle to get the words out and your prose will feel awkward, but quite often itís nowhere near as bad as you imagine, and if you just keep going youíll get past your sticking point before long. But if you leave what youíre doing and back away from it, youíre setting yourself up for further trouble.

Do you have a favourite author?

The authors I find most reward in include Ramsey Campbell, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood and Conan Doyle. I could certainly include a few more in that list but they have longed ranked amongst my favourites. Ramsey first appealed to me because of the playfulness of his prose, which could make it either exquisitely funny or unbelievably disturbing in turn. James showed me what ghosts could be, whilst Blackwood showed me what the ghost story could be. Conan-Doyle is just a solid and pleasurable storyteller, whatever heís writing about.

Have you ever read a story so good that you wished youíd written it?

Iím not sure that I ever have. I absorb so much of what I enjoy reading that no doubt elements of it will eventually filter through into what I do anyway, in trying to reconstruct a certain mood or effect that a piece of work has had on me, in much the same way that I do with real-life experiences.

What next for Joseph Freeman?

In terms of books, thereís a new short story collection due as soon as Iíve finalised the illustrations for it, and then two further novels which have already been written; ĎVermilion Dawní and ĎThe Cold Heart of Summerí. What Iíll actually be writing next is a novel called ĎArcadia Lodgeí, which Iím currently researching and structuring in my notebooks. Iíve got a series of talks lined up at the end of the year, after which Iíll be travelling in Switzerland and the Black Forest, with more European travels to follow the next year. Personally thereís so much to look forward to. Life for me is about constantly moving forwards in the right direction, always learning and continuing to indulge in what gives you greatest pleasure, and also about developing and improving as a person.

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