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.
written continuously since, or were there gaps in your creative
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
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
latest book looks stunning. How much influence did you have in its
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
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
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.
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
write both long and short fiction. Do you have a
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.
studied psychology. How has this influenced the way you create
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!
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.
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.
is your forte, but do you write in any other genres?
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
kind of books do you read for pleasure?
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.
ever suffered from writerís block, and if so, how did you overcome
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.
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
ever read a story so good that you wished youíd written
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.
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