Fade Into Fantasy:
Q&A With Joshua Winning
What part of the writing process is the easiest/hardest for you?
I always say that I love writing, but it doesn’t love me. The hardest part for me is the gap between knowing I need to write something and then actually opening a Word document to start. I usually find a million mundane things to do before I even attempt to open that document (clean the kitchen, play with the cat, organise drawers stuffed with years’ worth of trash, clean the bathroom, play with the cat some more). When I finally sit down to work, though, I usually get into it quite quickly and then spend hours happily clacking away.
If you could be any kind of creature (other than human), which would you pick and why?
Easy: a unicorn. I’m pretty sure I’ll never write about unicorns (they’re more high fantasy, whereas my writing is grounded in modern-day reality), but they’re pretty much the coolest fantasy creatures ever. They’re horses with horns! I loved when a unicorn turned up in horror movie Cabin In The Woods and stabbed somebody with its horn.
If you could no longer write, what career would you choose instead?
If I couldn’t write anymore, you might as well bury me with my laptop. I’m serious.
Where did the idea for your book come from?
I started writing Sentinel when I was 16. I’m 29 now, so it’s been a long time coming! I’m a huge film fan, which is probably why scenes and stories normally come to me in images, and that’s how Sentinel began. I had an image of two women sat in a room together speaking with spirits. Which turned into the prologue of the book.
Nicholas’s story evolved in a slightly more complicated way. Fantasy tales about young characters usually have to find a way to get rid of the parents, and the easiest way to do that is to kill them off early. During the process of writing Sentinel, though, I lost my own mother, and the book became both an outlet through which I could tackle my own grief, and a way to add more depth to Nicholas’s journey. It was a tough thing to do, but in the end it was better than therapy.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received in your life?
This isn’t advice that was directed at me personally, but there’s this Joss Whedon quote that goes: ‘Write it. Shoot it. Publish it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.’ I found that so inspiring that I have it as my desktop background. If I’m feeling energy-zapped or uninspired, a quick glance at that always fires me up.
Can you tell us about the moment you decided you were going to attempt to write your first book?
I probably wrote my first book when I was 13. It was called The Mirror and it was a kind of spooky ghost story about a family who move to a new house. The daughter starts seeing the ghost of a girl in mirrors. It was pretty terrible.
I don’t think I ever decided to write a book. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember, whether that was playing in the back garden as a kid or writing stories in an exercise book. I genuinely think you’d have to be mad to decide to write a book on an intellectual level. You write a book because you can’t not write a book. It’s molecular and pure insanity.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee. Always. There’s a type called Lazy Sunday that’s like pure joy in a cup. Massively addictive, though.
Paper book or ebook?
Paper book on a train, ebook in bed.
Summer or winter?
I’m a winter baby so I crave the sun. That was another therapeutic aspect of Sentinel – it takes place in a never-ending winter, which is pretty much my idea of Hell. I basically wrote it out of my nightmares by putting it onto the page.
Morning person or night owl?
I’m pretty much braindead by 9pm every day, so I’m definitely a morning person.