1. What’s your bio?

Joseph Sale is an editor, novelist, and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his love-letter to fantasy: Save Game. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as You Are Not Alone (Storgy), Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize.
 You can get an eBook copy of The Meaning of the Dark for free, along with other goodies, by signing up to his mailing list The Mind-Palace. 

2. What do you think made you into a writer?

This is a great question and one that’s quite hard to answer too! There are several really important factors in my life that influenced me as a child, and I think moulded me into a writer.
Firstly, my father and mother introduced me to wonderful literature and worlds very early on. I must have read children’s books, but I cannot recall very many of them. My father was a teacher for many years, though he quit before I was born, and his attitude was very much one of allowing the student to determine how far they went. He did not impose artificial limits. Never once did my father ever tell me “This book is too hard for you.” As a result, this led to us having lots of quality time reading some pretty hefty literature together. Of course, I didn’t understand all of it, but he was able to help me through and even more importantly show me how to figure things out myself. My mother was no less instrumental. Whilst my father was very interested in classic literature, through my mother, I came to know the joys of 2000AD and modern fantasy authors such as Terry Pratchett, David Gemmell, Margaret Weiss, and David Eddings. Where my mother and father overlapped was Tolkien! Through them, I developed a joy of consuming books and stories, a joy which has never left.
However, this alone did not lead to me wanting to become a writer. And although reading is a vital tool for any writer and all great writers read voraciously, I needed a lot more to “get me” to the point I could write.
When I was growing up, I really wanted to be an actor and bent a lot of time and energy towards that pursuit. But the more acting I did, the more I realised than unless I was performing Shakespeare, which I adored, I was really often unhappy with what I was saying on stage. I kept wanting to make little changes, either for the sake of rhythm, or impact, or just to deepen the character a little bit. Over time, I began to realise that there was a disparity between the literature I idolised – Paradise Lost (which I first read aged eight or nine years old with my father), the Germanic epics such as The Nibelungenlied, and of course fantasy novels – and what I was being asked to perform. In the end, I became more interested in what words were being said rather than how I was saying those words. Both are art-forms, of course, and this is not to knock acting at all. But I found a personal preference in working on the words themselves. I also quickly realised I was a lot better at telling stories than being an actor. I was never a chameleon who could bend to any role.
Later I would find my acting experience very helpful, however, for getting into the heads of my characters in a very intense way!

3. What would you consider to be your biggest influences on your writing style or approach to storytelling?

That’s an interesting question. I think there are always three dimensions to consider: head, heart, and soul.
In terms of my head, I have to say: the biggest influences on my work are the classics. I am often surprised how few modern authors read them now. I don’t mean this in a snobbish way – I’m not academic elitist who believes one has to have read all of Homer to even be a part of the literary discussion. Far from it. But, as far as I can see: there is a reason many of these texts endure, a reason we keep re-reading them, and a reason that even thousands of years on they remain relevant. Surely that’s worth learning from? It’s one of the aspects of Japanese anime I love so much: they clearly have learned so much from the Western epic, but they completely re-interpret it in their own fashion. Seven Deadly Sins, for example, is an Arthurian re-work. Attack on Titan is more like something from an older Greek myth. The authors of these manga and the creators of the accompanying animes really have a feel for the scope, majesty, and pathos of “epic”; something we’re losing in the West, I feel.
Epic is hard to describe succinctly and I’ve written volumes trying to pin it down (including a course called the Epic Bootcamp which you can find here), but I think what it boils down to is that most people sitting down to read wish to engage with the mythic, whether consciously or unconsciously. We are inundated continually with the trivial anecdotes of daily life. When we read, we want more than that. We want heroes and dragons – though of course these may be metaphorical, unexpected, or subverted. People often forget that Homer’s heroes are far from boring two-dimensional models of virtue. They are complex, conceited, and far more ambiguous than they first appear.
My personal favourite epic of all time is The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser. It’s a lesser known work of horror-fantasy that paved the way for all subsequent fantasy literature, and probably inadvertently created what we describe as “epic fantasy” today. It’s a tragic masterpiece, and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s not easy reading, but the benefits far outweigh the effort. Next to the classics, I love the work of authors such as Clive Barker. I think Barker in particular really showed me how to do “mythic” in the modern day, whilst keeping the horror levels high. He was a blazing light who was, and is still, paving the way; one of my favourite living authors.
In terms of my heart, the biggest influence has to be my friends. Without them, I would have no stories to tell! They are modern-day epic heroes, and I can only see them that way. They have enriched my life with joy and redeemed me from past faults and mistakes.
And finally but by no means least importantly: the soul. Corny as it sounds, I do believe we all have a Muse, an inner voice we need to listen to. By discovering this inner voice, we can become most fully ourselves. When I began writing, I was a series of influences, not really my own man. All writing is influenced by others, of course; we stand atop the shoulders of giants. But, we also bring something uniquely our own to the table. Discovering what this unique something is, is one of the hardest parts of writing. I am still discovering it, needless to say!

4. What’s the hardest thing about being an author?

Unlike being on stage, where you receive immediate feedback in the form of laughter, groans, applause, or that deathly stunned silence – being a writer is very difficult because feedback is always delayed. It takes time for people to read a whole novel and then review it and let you know their thoughts. If you’re following a traditional publishing route, then it could take half a decade for the book to get to print, let alone for you to have audience feedback. I think that makes staying motivated as a writer hard. Of course, most of us love the creative process itself (or at least I do), but even so, we are, at the end of the day, writing with the intention others will read our work. I do sometimes miss the stage for that sole reason that the response is so instantaneous!

5. What the best thing about being an author?

Creating new worlds! There is nothing more joyous to me than bringing a universe full of interesting characters to life. At the point at which those characters take on their own identities and become nearly independent agents from me, dictating the story, then I know my work is done; it is a euphoric feeling.

6. What attracts you to horror/speculative fiction?

As I said earlier, I spent a lot of my childhood reading fantasy and classics. Of course, the classics have got horror a-plenty, from Macbeth unseaming an enemy soldier from the knave to the chops, to the brutal wetwork of Achilles. But I didn’t really come around to writing horror until a bit later, after I read The Stand by Stephen King.
After reading that, it was like a whole new doorway had been opened in my mind. I think the most attractive thing as a writer was it was extremely liberating to realise that I could write about the darkness without inhibition. In terms of being a reader, discovering there were authors out there who were unafraid to plumb the darkest depths of the human psyche was incredibly appealing; they offered insight I couldn’t get anywhere else. One other thing to note is what King observed that Horror is the only genre defined specifically by an emotion. When I started reading more and more horror, the emotional intensity of it was addictive.
Previously, I had always held back in my writing and refrained from certain topics and themes, perhaps due to being self-conscious, embarrassed what others would think, or just lacking the model to understand how to do it. All of this led to my self-expression being somewhat stymied, and my writing was drab and stilted as a result – but horror shattered the dam, and let it flow! I nearly lost my father to cancer when I was eighteen, and I also experienced my first bouts of dreadful suicidal depression, but learning that I could put these experiences onto paper, that I could harness those dark energies to create something new, set me free. I love fantasy, but before I read Stephen King, and Barker for that matter, I was ultimately writing poor imitations of Tolkien. Horror was the necessary ingredient that gave me the framework for expression I so needed.
Later in life, I’d discover the psychological horror of amazing authors like Christa Wojciechowski. Her work opened a whole new set of doors I’d never before seen through. That’s one of the beautiful things about horror and speculative genres too – they are truly diverse, with something for every taste, and mine is eclectic!

7. What’s your all time favourite horror movie and why?

That’s a great question! There are so many amazing horror movies. Alien and The Thing spring to mind swiftly. I adore both of those movies for very different reasons. Sigourney Weaver was, and still is, my hero. Nothing will ever be more bad-ass than her, covered in shit and blood, burning a xenomorph with a flame-thrower.
More recently, I love Mandy. It’s deeply screwed up, but has this awesome mythical quality to it that haunts for days after. Se7en has to be mentioned, even though some might say it’s a thriller not horror; some of Se7en’s scenes are etched into my mind forever.
In terms of my favourite horror of all time though: it might have to be The Shining. King purists may be outraged, but as a piece of cinema, holy f-cking God, there are few films with the intensity and whirlpool suction of Jack Torrence / Nicholson’s descent into madness. There are so many unsettling details in that film that still freak me out to this day. For example: Who opens the store-room door? Because everyone is accounted for when it swings open. The supernatural is implied, ever-present, but always elusive.
Dan – I haven’t seen Mandy yet, but I’m 100% with you on all the others. 

8. Which character from someone else’s fiction would you most like to be?

This is an epic question. I mean, my immediate thought was Solid Snake from Hideo Kojima’s epic Metal Gear Solid seriesbut Snake, though a bad-ass, lives a pretty tragic life! Also, I guess I already have been him, in the sense the games put you in his shoes! It would be pretty amazing to be Melmoth The Wanderer – you’d get to see 150 years of history, to travel across the world in a blip, to turn invisible, to unlock any door, to know the secrets of heaven and hell – the only downside being after your 150 years are up, you have to become Lucifer’s toyboy…

9. Do you believe in the supernatural?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve had many supernatural experiences. Some of them were very positive and uplifting, others less so. All my life, I have felt close to something ineffable and vast and frightening; but wondrous too. Some people say that our “openness” to what may lie beyond earthly understanding disappears after you grow up, but I don’t think it has for me, and in recent years I feel it more strongly, if anything.

10. What scares you as an adult?

Many things scared me as a child: hornets were an obvious real-world one. I was stung as a baby, and though I don’t consciously remember the moment, there is something residual in my mind that finds even the buzz of their wings intolerable. I’m not scared of bees at all. My brain can instantly distinguish the sound they make from the wasps’ drone. It’s really weird. But, of all the things, I think failure scared me most of all. I was terrified of letting people down and letting myself down. And of course, the more you fixate on something, the more likely it is to come to pass, and I often shot myself in the foot that way.

11. What scares you as an adult?

DAN – Oh yeah, you’re my kind of guy. Black Mass and Enlightenment’s Wake by the British philosopher John Grey, as well of course Orwell and Aldous Huxley, are must reads for me.

12. Where did the idea for your last book come from?

Many of my best ideas come from dreams, or from the point “in between” being awake and
sleeping, just before you slip off. Some dreams I’ve had are so real that they are more vivid than any memory and remain with me decades on. Not just their feeling, but specific details they contained. The brain cannot distinguish fantasy and reality which means our dream experiences are, in some ways, equally valid as waking ones. I’ve trodden so many bizarre worlds in my dreams, and often I try to set them down in written form, difficult though that is.
At my wedding, one of my best men gave a speech where he said, “Me and Joe grew up inhabiting worlds known only to us.” At that, we both broke and wept. It was a beautiful, public recognition that it was fantasy and imagination that had saved us both, and neither of us would be alive today if not for those worlds we built and occupied.
Dark Hilarity partly comes out of that one line. It is a book about friendship and imagination, and how they can heal a broken life.
Dan – Dark Hilarity is a great book. I really enjoyed it and recommend checking it out if you’re into a fantasy-horror-epic journey mash up. 

13. You are something of a badass editor. Does working so much with other authors affect your own work in anyway?

You are very kind indeed good sir! Thank you. Yes, I think it does affect my work. I believe part of being a good editor is knowing when not to edit, if that makes sense. Knowing when to respect someone else’s style, and not try to enforce your own style on them. My editor strapline is “Not to point out what is wrong with a piece of work, but to see what the author intended and to help them achieve that.” Many authors present me with marble blocks that have been partially chipped away. But I can see the shape of the angel they intended to sculpt, and often they are very close, perhaps even closer than they thought to freeing that angel. I help them do that. So, to bring it back to your question, being hyper aware of other people’s styles makes you also very conscious of your own. Of course, you learn a trick or two from others writers – I’ve learned so much from my clients – but you also see them doing things and think “I’d want to do it this way.”  It’s quite fun and exciting, like engaging in a kind of literary dialogue.

14. What’s the best thing about working with authors on developing their work?

The best thing is seeing progress. That might be a little bit cliché, but it’s the honest truth. There is nothing more amazing than when a writer comes back to work with me a second or third time, and I see what is sometimes a complete transformation in terms of confidence and prose-style. That’s a magic moment. I’ve seen several authors grow into real powerhouses, and it’s so beautiful to see.

15. What are your plans for the next year of writing?

I’m working on a new and very peculiar project, which is taking me in some previously unexplored directions. I’m quite scared and excited. Meanwhile, I’m launching my novel Dark Hilarity (out January 31st, 2021). I’ve also co-written a narrative RPG experience, Dead World: Desecrated Empires which is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and that’s coming out later in 2021 as well. So lots of releases and working on new things too.

16. What book of yours should people start with?

Good question! I think the best book for people to start with is probably The Meaning of the Dark. It’s a novella, and the story takes place in a very intimate setting: just one man alone on the edge of space. The real horror of it is simply the human mind and what it does when it has too much time with itself. Many people still regard it as one of my best works, and I’d have to begrudgingly agree. It’s quick to read and I think it gives a real sense of who I am as a writer, the themes I like to explore, and the dark journeys you’re in for.
Dan – I love a bit of sci-fi horror and I have this bad boy on my Kindle already.

17. Have you got a newsletter/reader magnet?

Yes! And you can get a free copy of The Meaning of the Dark by signing up to the newsletter over at!

18. Where can people stalk you online like a serial killer?

I can’t promise that if you stalk me I won’t stalk you back… bear that in mind! When you look into the void, it looks back into you. The best place to find me is on Twitter @josephwordsmith. I share all my blogs, news, reviews, and writing there. I’ve also got a Patreon, where I upload monthly “lost relics” – weird bits of fiction I’ve written, never-before-published, that have a weird story behind them. A lot of my supernatural experiences come into play here! I also release behind-the-scenes videos packed full of data on how and why I do what I do.

19. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just to say a massive thank you for having me over, Dan. I love your work and it’s a real privilege to chat horror and all things weird with you.
Dan – thanks, mate. Same to you. Everyone should check out Joe’s work if you haven’t. And if you are an author, I can personally recommend Joe as a story development editor. He’s a wizard (I think possibly both figuratively and literally – ask him about D and D:).