19 May 2014

Interview with novelist Joe Sale

After the publishing of his first novel, The Darkest Touch, student Joseph Sale is looking to graduate on a high. I caught up with the author to find out what it’s like to be a novelist and student.

University of Birmingham student Joseph Sale recently released his debut novel, The Darkest Touch. Paperback copies sold out in the first week of publishing, and it reached #6 on the Horror bestsellers list for Amazon’s Kindle.

The twenty-year-old student has self-published works in the past, but The Darkest Touch marks the first of many success stories in a promising literary career. I caught up with Joe to talk about his novel.

'I find the idea of the Apostles compelling: a group of astonishing individuals who become friends because of one even more astonishing person. But I wanted to invert it for my own story – imagine what it would be like if the Apostles, or indeed my own band of friends, went dark.'I asked Joe first of all to outline the plot. Put simply, it’s about a post-nuclear world conflict in which people are gifted with terrible powers. He told me he wanted the story to be believable, and so the powers and evil forces within the book are brought home in a way that makes us identify with them: I suppose that at its heart, the novel’s about evil. It’s about what it takes to become a villain and not recognise yourself in the mirror.

The writing process, he explained, had to be methodical when balancing it alongside his English with Creative Writing degree. Joe wrote every day until the project was finished, then he forgot about it for several weeks and edited it with 'fresh eyes’. I asked him what the hardest part of the writing process was. 'Probably the first edit. Rewriting a scene always feels hard – more so than writing new material or even cutting material. But maybe that’s just pride.'

'Tell me,' I asked, 'what’s your earliest memory of writing a story?' Year 6, he told me, English Language. A story about a soldier sitting on a defensive barricade, smoking his last ever cigarette before an invasion of out-worlders came to wipe away the last dregs of humanity.Joe tells me that he holds Tolkien, Stephen King and Edmund Spenser amongst his biggest literary influences. 'I think Tolkien has always been the big one for me. Some of his scenes are so powerful they shake you down to your deepest core. In the film [The Return of the King] there’s only a pale shadow of the horror of the episode with Shelob. In the book it’s nightmarish; the darkness of the cave is beyond imagination. It’s not that the light of Galadriel is a convenient torch, it’s the only light that could possibly perforate that blackness, and even then, it fails at the last moment.'

'I was damn proud of it. When I handed the story to the teacher she looked at me over the rim of spectacles. "Are the out-worlders aliens?" she said. I said they were. She gave me the story back and told me to "stop writing about silly things".'

So what does a story about a post-apocalyptic world offer the reader? 'A cracking good read', Joe replied. 'People are always talking about their ‘rights’ these days, but in a post-apocalyptic world you have no rights, only what you earn.

Joe told me that The Darkest Touch is an 'entertaining story with interesting and entertaining characters. People have said once you start reading you have to get to the end, and that makes me prouder than anything else.''It’s more old fashioned, obviously more dangerous, and it starts to expose who’s got what it takes to carve out an existence in this life and who really has any moral integrity.'

What advice does Joe have for aspiring writers? Make time and write every day. 'If you wanted to be an Olympic athlete but weren’t prepared to train every day you wouldn’t get very far. Just like a runner: the more you write, the longer you can write for and the higher the standard of the writing.

'Juggling writing with other commitments is tough. Normally, I say to write every morning and get it out of the way before anything else, even breakfast. That way you always get your quota, and it also makes you feel really good about yourself.

'My advice is to set yourself a very small quota – only 400 words. That way you don’t feel the chore of doing a huge task, but once you start, you almost always will write more because it’s hard to stop.'

'Publishing is always a delayed thing', he tells me. 'I wrote The Darkest Touch around two years ago.' After graduation, Joe plans to continue working at home in Bournemouth with Quantum Card Services, whilst working to get the next novel published. 'Oh, and I want to take my girlfriend on a massive holiday. God knows she deserves it.'

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