Child's Play - an interview
with Joseph Freeman
by Simon Bunter
from winning the 'Best Author' category in the recent Dead Of Night
Awards, Joseph Freeman follows up last year's successful collection 'This
Is My Blood' with a rather more eccentric book - one of stories written
whilst he was still a youth...
been a while.
It has been a while. Good to see you.
looking well, leaner and meaner.
Meaner, certainly. It's funny, the weight is something everyone comments
on. When I run into people at readings who I haven't seen for a couple of
years, one of the first questions is 'are you
eating?'. I'd like to reassure everyone that I'm eating.
'October's Child'. Can you tell us what this book is?
Just before 'This Is My Blood' came out someone asked me if I would bring
out a second volume. I answered then that since this was my best short
fiction, a second would have to be called 'This Is My Shit'. This is not
that book! What it is is a collection of work from way back in my boyhood
years - the kind of thing I was getting up to when I was young.
must have been quite a trip for you Ė do you remember writing these
It has been quite a journey. The past two books Iíve done now, both this
and ĎThis Is My Bloodí have allowed me to look back over the years.
ĎThis Is My Bloodí took me back over the past ten years Ė as it was
then Ė to what I thought of as the real start of my writing career. And
this oneís taken me even further back. Itís funny because itís not
just the writing I remember when I look back over these times but
everything thatís happened to me and everything that Iíve been through
on the journey, people Iíve known and places Iíve been to. Itís been
quite a time.
do remember the stories, and much more came flooding back to me whilst I
was working on them for inclusion in the book. Iíd always had vague
memories, atmospheres and suggestions, which had lingered with me from
them over the years, which was one of the reasons I wanted to see the
stories put together like this. But it was amazing how fresh it all seemed
once I actually immersed myself in them again.
you change anything?
Nothing at all. I corrected the spelling mistakes and so forth, but
nothing beyond that. It would have been too easy to fall into the trap of
rewriting or even just improving the tales and that would have defeated
the whole purpose of the exercise. Trust me, thereís a lot of rough
edges in this book, a lot of unintentionally hilarious points, and if
Iíd removed them it would have been a much duller place!
did you put the book together?
I guess in a way I was paying tribute to what I was doing back then. It
was a very genuine love of horror that I had as a child, and that I still
have to this day. I produced so much work, and some of it was good and
some of it was awful, but I wanted to preserve what I could of it. You
know, there was a point where I feared that pretty much everything before
í97-98 was lost, and the more I thought this, the more sad I became
about it. It was wonderful when I was finally able to unearth the stories
again after all this time. And beyond myself, hopefully other people will
get some enjoyment out of the book too. It shows the making of what I am
so far, the start of my journey. Thereís a nice range of ideas in it, I
was pretty fearless back then in my naivety, in a way that Iím probably
not now. If I had no idea about how the world worked I wasnít afraid to
write about it anyway. Added to which, itís damned funny.
a very good looking book, yet again.
Thank you. I think itís important for a book to look nice. So many
people who spend money on books, especially this kind, itís not just
about reading whatís inside. Hopefully thatís a very large part of it!
But people want to be able to keep these things on their shelves for years
to come and take them down and look at them and still get pleasure from
them. But so many publishers put so little thought into packaging a book,
and it does take a way a good deal of the experience. Thatís why on the
past couple of books weíve gone much further than just coming up with a
piece of art to stick on the front cover. Thereís been this total
wrap-around effect which ties in the back covers too, the interior artwork
on this one and the background art for the interior of ĎThis Is My
Bloodí. Book design shouldnít just stop at a cover illustration,
though of course a lot of them donít even make it that far.
shows a lifelong love of horror, what started this?
I was interested in monsters and ghastly things like any normal, healthy
child and Iím glad that I never grew out of it. Eventually I came to see
that some people spend their lives doing this, and I realised it was what
I was put on this earth to do and the longer I do the more I believe that.
Everything else is secondary. But I developed my sense of horror, refined
it. There is a great aesthetic pleasure to be gained from the thrill of
the supernatural, this sense of awe, of worlds just beyond the everyday,
and brushing up against them as we all do from time to time. Itís a
total thrill-ride, itís a roller coaster, itís exhilarating, itís
life-affirming. Itís the greatest show on earth!
Is My Blood', published last October,
was your horror Ďbest ofí Ė how did it feel putting that together?
It was nice to be able to put together everything of mine that I thought
was worth reading in the one place. My earlier books were out of print and
people were still asking about them, and I had quite a lot of newer stuff
which hadnít been gathered together yet. Iíd had the idea of the 10th
anniversary collection for some years though, along with the title. It was
fun to look back over the work Iíd done in the time, and of course the
personal journey Iíd been on too, because when youíre 18 youíre just
coming out of boyhood and thereís a whole world still waiting for you,
whereas when youíre heading towards 30 youíve hopefully found your
place in the world and starting to settle into it.
are you writing next?
Iím well into my current novel ĎVermilion Dawní, quite a
lean and grim thriller. After that comes a
book called ĎThe Cold Heart Of Summerí, which has been about six years
in the making. Itís a vast supernatural canvas, a huge book, containing
pretty much everything that you can think of. Itís something Iíve been
wanting to write for a while and the longer it sits in my mind, the more
it grows and grows.
we see more short fiction from you?
I used to
have a definite preference for short stories over novels, both as a reader
and as a writer, but Iíve learned to love the longer-term relationship
and commitment which writing a novel brings, and also the magic spell it
has of its own when you continually immerse yourself in this world of your
own creating, and get to know your characters and who are your favourites
and which ones you prefer to spend time with.
But there will be more short stories too. I spent most of 2008 writing
new short stories, some of which were very good, one of which won an
award, one of which is coming soon in All Hallows magazine. A lot
of them were ideas Iíd had for years when I wasnít as productive as I
am these days, so it was good to finally set them down on paper.
happened to the collection which was due after ĎGhosts Far From
Subtleí? I remember seeing a title of ĎNothing Is Familiarí promised
at one time, I think?
Thatís right. That book just sort of dissolved and the longer I sat on
it the less certain I became of its merits as a collection as it was. A
lot of the stories from that have ended up in ĎThis Is My Bloodí and
thereís a few which Iíve still yet to put anywhere because I just
donít see how they fit in with my usual work. Theyíre not supernatural
stories, or even horror stories. Thatís where that title Ė ĎNothing
Is Familiarí came from, because the collection would have been a rather
unusual range for me. I had ideas of tying the pieces together through
fake news-clippings and notices, journal entries and odd segueways, like
some kind of concept album.
had two books published last year and two scheduled for this year, are you
catching up for lost time?
Not consciously, no. I was aware that until then Iíd had only 4 books
published from í99 to 2007 and didnít think was a particularly good
score, whereas this year Iíll be up to 8 books in 10 years which is much
better. But it all happened naturally, it's not as though I have a big
backlog of material from those years. ĎThis Is My Bloodí was gathering
together stories from over that ten years, and the photography book came
out just before that, when I reasoned I had enough pieces worth showing.
ĎThe Lost And The Lonelyí was accepted for publication last year after
being written throughout 2007, and ĎOctoberís Childí is just a fun
little thing to put out, not a major book of course. Iím certainly more
productive than I used to be, my life is more settled and Iíve got my
priorities right and Iím able to put my work first and just keeping
doing it day after day.
are you enjoying Suffolk life?
Suffolk life is great. I enjoy the peace and quiet, the wide open spaces.
I like the romantic ruins and the quiet beaches. The woodlands and the
castles, the villages and the ghosts. The sun coming out of the sea in the
morning and the dramatic sunsets from my library window of an evening. The
fact that the only sounds I hear from my house are birdsong and church
bells. I feel at peace at here. Itís a beautiful place.
inspires you to write?
Absolutely everything. Iím constantly fired up. My mind works overtime,
wherever I am and whatever Iím doing. I have notebooks going back years
which are still full of unused ideas, and some which have mutated into
almost unrecognisable forms before theyíve been written. Ideas are not a
problem for me. I travel a lot, and everywhere I go I seek out locations
and legends that interest me. I read a great deal, and I watch a lot of
films. I listen to a lot of music. I immerse myself in art and
imagination. The kind of work that I do and the kind of life that I live
are so closely tied that one just feeds the other. Itís a great thing in
one way to have this source inside oneself, but then again there are times
where Iím trying to get to sleep, or even just relax, and my mind
wonít stop putting out. But I wouldnít want to change that. Itís a
healthy and rewarding relationship that we have!