Every other Monday, we will introduce you to a writer from the Writers’ Mastermind. Today, we have Joseph Sale, a novelist and editor (aka The Mindflayer).
Meet Joseph Sale
Joseph is a prolific novelist and editor. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He is published with The Writing Collective and 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.
He edits non-fiction and fiction, helping fledgling authors to realise their potential. He has edited some of the best new voices in speculative fiction including Ross Jeffery, Emily Harrison, Christa Wojciechowski, and more. 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.
He is obsessed with Attack on Titan and Community.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you now? What has your life been like?
I’m Joseph Sale, sometimes called The Mindflayer, and I’m from Bournemouth, a little seaside town clinging to the southern coast of England. It’s a strange place, at once beautiful and Innsmouth-esque. Now, I’m a little further north, in the historic town of Winchester, where one of the many alleged round tables of King Arthur resides (I have to say, it’s bad-ass; it’s hung up on the wall of a castle, and makes for a pretty imposing talisman). My life has been a series of incarcerations and liberations; imprisonment in an awful school in which children were being brutalised on a daily basis – then freedom from it. Incarceration in meaningless work, then liberation from it. And finally, the incarceration of my own limiting beliefs and – though hard won – a mental liberation. The strangest and most wondrous thing about my life is that after twenty seven years, it has only just begun.
2. What kind of stories do you write?
I am fascinated by encounters with the divine, the indescribable, the ineffable, the demonic, the eldritch, and how these experiences change who we are forever. As a result, the genres I write in vary greatly, but there is always a theme of the supernatural, or supra-normal. Sometimes this takes the form of cosmic horror, and there is a lot of horror in my work, but fantasy is equally if not more important.
3. What sets you apart from other writers in your space?
This is a tough question to answer without slipping into ego. However, I think what separates my work is style and form, and then the flood of emotion that bursts through that. Most writers, I find, are writing the story as it manifests in their head; they’re “setting it down”, which is awesome. However, because I’m a freak and a weirdo (cue Radiohead song), I’m more approaching the writing from, I guess, a poet’s standpoint: how is X or Y word going to affect the reader? How can this sentence mimetically embody the meaning of what I’m trying to say? For me, language is not a means to an end, it is the end.
4. What drives your writing? What do you mean to accomplish with your stories?
Words are a form of magic, an incantation, and they should be used as such to cast an emotionally healing spell upon the reader. My hope is that, in reading my stories, people will see not only an emblem of their own condition, but a way to become liberated from it, even if momentarily. The Greek word for this is catharsis, and I think it’s certainly my ultimate aim. I don’t always achieve it, but it’s always what I’m striving for.
5. Who are you favorite writers and books? What are your other creative influences?
There are so many favourites it is hard to know where to begin! In terms of big names, I love the phantasmagorical wonder and horror (and also eroticism) of Clive Barker’s mythopeic epics. Barker is surely a prophet, glimpsing a universe beyond our mortal bounds.
I adore the heartfelt, spellbinding narratives of Grady Hendrix. His My Best Friend’s Exorcism is, in my mind, one of the greatest novels ever written.
I’m a big fan of the classics too, and Edmund Spenser is an overlooked genius of the Elizabethan era, whose fantastical epic The Faerie Queene was a huge inspiration for my upcoming project Virtue’s End.
In terms of indie writers, well, now there are so many names I am surely going to miss a few, but I think the indie scene is really where there is an abundance of talent and some of the most exciting literature emerging. My favourite authors here are Christa Wojciechowski (your good self), surely one of the best writers alive today, indie or not: psychological insight, supple and beautiful prose, characters one adores, and fathoms of depth. Ross Jeffery is a phenomenal writer, though I am biased as I’m his editor! I also love Dan Soule, a truly classic horror author; Iseult Murphy, whom I’ve already mentioned; S. C. Mendes, who writes phenomenal occult thrillers; Nikki Noir, who writes erotic, occult horror (it’s as incredible as it sounds); the mysterious Gordon James, a Writing Collective author, and criminally underrated; I also love the YA fantasy epic Hecctrossipy by Bia Bella Baker. She’s a master world-builder.
There are so many more, but to list them all would take up a book’s worth of space!
6. Do you write in silence? Background noise? Or music? What kind?
I used to write to music, but I generally find that now I use music to kind of “hype up” for writing a specific scene, and the writing itself takes place in silence. Music is a very important part of who I am, I think. I listen to an eclectic range, from Tupac to Avenged Sevenfold to the gorgeous baroque of J. S. Bach and Vivaldi. I wrote the entirety of the final Black Gate book listening to “Et In Terra Pax”, which is arguably one of my all time favourite pieces of music. That was an instance the music was on. Because there were no words to distract me, I could just let the melodies wash over my ears, and hypnotise me into the trance I needed to be in to see and feel the ending of the story.
7. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not writing?
Nerd stuff!! I love to play video games, Magic: The Gathering, and to paint miniatures. But if I had to say one thing: I am a Game Master and have created my own unique RPG system known as Dead World: Desecrated Empires (which for the first time ever is being released onto the world July 2021). We play over Zoom (it was a godsend during lockdown!) and have sessions every week. We’ve occupied this fantasy world for so long, it feels real to us in the same way that a regular holiday destination does to others.
8. Who is your current celebrity crush?
Oh no. Don’t do this to me. Last time I played this game with my wife she almost killed me… Okay, well, they say honesty is the best policy, right? Alexandra Daddario would have to be my crush. I think she’s an amazing actress with charisma overload; she was mesmeric in We Summon The Darkness as a psychopath with serious, serious daddy issues, and in True Detective she managed to make a character who could have been so forgettable absolutely iconic. Why are you looking at me like that? It’s her acting, dammit! That’s the reason for the crush. No other reason!
9. Why do you think it’s important to write fiction?
Where to begin? Narrative is a form of therapy, which is why even people without a creative bone in their body can get a lot of relief by simply journalling, speaking to someone about their problems, or perhaps even going so far as to write a biography. But fiction trumps non-fiction and biography in one key way: it allows us to use the power of imagination to visualise an alternative outcome. In other words, we can, quite literally, re-write the narratives of our lives. It is not easily done, I hasten to add, but when it is achieved, this can be more potently healing than merely chronicling or “reflecting”. Reflecting is key, because it leads to self-awareness, the first step of any true healing or awakening. But in and of itself it’s “dead” because it lacks movement or transformation. Fiction allows us to transubstantiate the stale and rotten bread of our lives into the living flesh of Christ. It is only by taking this final step, of removing the veil and worship of “reality”, that we can transcend our fears and reach true healing. When we do this, we become something greater.
10. Who would be the best writer, alive or dead, to tell the story of your life?
Oh that’s an interesting one! It would have to be someone very good at writing the supernatural, let me tell you! Someone like Barker would probably be a great fit, because he would understand the British cultural elements, the frustrations with the hierarchy and classism of our society, the friendships and loves formed from striving in the gutter, and the encounters with the divine. But equally I think someone like Ross Jeffery would do an amazing job. He regularly visits Bournemouth, so he understands a little bit of the lingo and feel of the place in which I was raised, and he also has a great feel for the supernatural and the spiritual.
11. What are you working on right now?
So many things! I always tend to be two or three books ahead of myself. My next release will be announced in full soon, but suffice to say it’s a short novel called The Tunnel, about a camgirl going up against a gigantic two-tonne killer crocodile on a murder-rampage in London. I’ve got Desecrated Empires, my RPG book, which is now in proofing stage and coming out July time. I also have my occult fantasy epic, Virtue’s End, which may come at the end of 2021, or early 2022. I am still editing this. It’s vast in scope, and undoubtedly the most ambitious and beautiful thing I’ve ever done. Finally, I’m working on a new book which might become a series, quite daunting but exciting. I am not entirely sure what it is going to become yet, but it has supernatural and occult elements…
Tara Dufrain and Nicola Morgan are eleven year old girls growing up in the ‘90s, obsessed by Valentine Killshot, a metal screamo band. In particular, they’re enamoured by the lead singer, the mysterious yet charismatic Jed Maine who bears the epithet “The Cretin”. In Jed’s lyrics, he describes a world beyond the Dark Stars that he hopes one day to reach. The girls think it’s all just make-believe they share together, until a freak, traumatic incident makes this world very real. As adults, Tara and Nicola try to come to terms with the devastating catastrophe that changed their lives growing up, but to do so they will have to step once more into Jed Maine’s world, and confront the man who took everything from them. Dark Hilarity is My Best Friend’s Exorcism meets The Never-Ending Story, a fantasy that explores addiction, depression, and the healing power of friendship.
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