May '09

Child's Play - an interview with Joseph Freeman

Questions by Simon Bunter

Fresh 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...

Itís been a while.
It has been a while. Good to see you.

Youíre 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.

Now, '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.

Putting this together must have been quite a trip for you Ė do you remember writing these tales?
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.

 I 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.

Did 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!

Why 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.

Itís 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.

It 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!

'This 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.

What 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.

Will 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.

Whatever 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.

You 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.

How 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.

What 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!


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