Joshua Winning Sentinel Q&A at Sea-anan Empire

1. Please tell us the name of your book. Sentinel, which is the first book in the Sentinel Trilogy.

2. Can you tell us what your story is about? It’s a dark contemporary fantasy full of monsters, mystery and action. It starts with fifteen-year-old Nicholas losing his parents in a tragic accident. He then discovers that they weren’t exactly who he thought they were, and sets off on a quest for answers along with Sam Wilkins, a 71-year-old family friend. Along the way Nicholas is forced to question not only the reality of the world he grew up in, but also the part he has to play in saving it. It’s an old-fashioned good versus evil set-up with some big twists and unconventional heroes.

3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? My parents always gave me a feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to if I just set my mind to it. That being said, I realised quite early on that earning a living as a writer is a difficult thing to do, so I wrote mostly as a hobby. I remember first writing stories when I was about seven, and I haven’t stopped since. What I write about has changed as I’ve gotten older – during my teens there was a lot of very bloody horror stuff. Now I feel quite settled in the fantasy genre, though I definitely want to try new things at some point, too. I’m sure there are a few good horror novels in me, and maybe a couple of dramas.

4. How long did it take you to write this story? I started writing Sentinel when I was 16. I’m 29 now, so it’s taken a bit of time! I let the story rest for long periods before picking it up again, mostly because those years were so busy with university and job-hunting, plus making the big move from Cambridge to London. It worked out quite well, though, as the book – and the trilogy – have evolved with me. The gaps in working on Sentinel allowed my writing to mature, and there are story elements that just didn’t work when I was younger that I wasted no time snipping out during re-writes last year.

5. Are you self-published? I am, and it’s a great feeling. It’s amazing that authors can put their work out there without going through soul-shattering conventional routes now. There are some brilliant indie authors working today that I really respect. That said, being an indie author can be tough – it occasionally feels like it’s me against the world. Luckily there are some amazing readers out there (a lot of them on Goodreads) who really support and actively help indie authors in getting exposure for their work. They’re so valuable to indie authors like me and I can’t say thank you enough.

6. What has been the most difficult part about being a writer? It’s a slow process. I’m pretty meticulous and I like things to be right, and that takes time. I’ve definitely gotten faster recently (I’m now six months and 40,000 words into Ruins, book two of the Sentinel Trilogy, which would have taken years before), but I’m aware of rushing for the sake of it. I really want to get book two out there, but I don’t want to let readers down, so I owe it to them to do a good job.

Life also gets in the way a lot of the time. I’ve made it a priority now to write for at least an hour every day, come rain or shine. It’s paying off so far, and I really hope I can keep that up. Fingers crossed!

7. Where do you get your inspirations? All over the place. I’m quite a visual person, so I’ll take visual cues from everything – movies, photos, taking a walk and writing down what I see. Other stories are also hugely inspiring. Obviously I’m not in the business of ripping anybody off, but sometimes a sentence in a movie or a book can trigger a story idea for something entirely different. That’s why it’s good to keep a journal (or the Notes app on your phone) handy for those sudden flashes of inspiration. It’s amazing how difficult it is to remember them just a few hours later. Strike while the iron’s hot and all that.

8. From all your positive reviews, which was the best compliment you received? Kyra Halland wrote: “I’m not a big YA reader, preferring adult characters and an adult voice, but I found myself deeply engaged in and satisfied with reading Sentinel.” That was great. I didn’t write Sentinel thinking, “This is a YA book,” I just had a story to tell and when I was done, it happened to slot into that age group/genre. Luckily, there have been lots of non-YA-age readers who have taken to Sentinel, which is great. Why get boxed in like that? Hopefully Sentinel has the same crossover appeal as Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

9. We have all gotten at least one negative review. How does a negative review make you feel? Frustrated. Writers are hugely fragile creatures plagued with self-doubt. We never think we’re good enough, so it’s disheartening to have those fears compounded by a negative review. Suddenly you begin to wonder if you really are as bad as the voices in your head say you are. Luckily, positive reviews of Sentinel currently outweigh the negatives by 16/1, and I can live with those odds. I try to remind myself that I’m not writing for the person who didn’t like my book; I’m writing for the ones who love it. I actually wrote a blog post about that here: https://thesentineltrilogy.com/2013/07/24/wednesday-warble-do-readers-really-need-spoon-feeding/

10. After receiving a negative review, what do you do to stay positive and not lose faith in your writing skills? Retaliating against the negative reviewer is the worst thing you can do. It’s tempting to leave a comment or contact the reviewer to point out exactly why their review is totally and completely wrong (oh so tempting!), but you’re the one who’ll look like a douche. Instead of going on the offensive, I choose to ignore it. It doesn’t exist. I might even re-read a few positive reviews just to remind me who I’m writing for. Other than that, just keep going. That’s all you can do.

11. What is next on your agenda? I’m in the middle of writing Ruins, and then I’ll be jumping straight into the third and final book in the Sentinel Trilogy. I also have a few ideas for some other books, but I want to wrap up Sentinel before I start on anything else. It’s a good time to be an indie author, and I’m really excited to keep writing.

This interview was originally published at Sea-anan Empire on 25 November 2013.

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