Tag Archives: Elisha Owen

Interview: Joseph Sale, Author of ‘The Darkest Touch’

University of Birmingham student Joseph Sale recently released his debut novel, The Darkest Touch, with American publishing house Dark Hall Press. If having a novel published at twenty-years old wasn’t enough, all paperback copies sold out in the first week and the novel reached #6 on the Kindle Horror download bestsellers list. Elisha Owen talks to Joseph about his writing process and experience with publication. 

Q. A huge congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. Tell us a bit about yourself.

A. Thanks very much! This is always one of the harder questions. I suppose to start I’m currently in my third year at the University of Birmingham doing an English with Creative Writing degree and about to graduate this year. I’m a fencer and a musician and I work in Bournemouth at Quantum Card Services. I loved books and literature since I was little and, unless I’ve been inserted into an artificial dream-tank, I’m a novelist and author of The Darkest Touch.    

Q. You’ve self-published novels in the past. What made you decide to try a professional press, and how did you go about doing that? 

A. The issue with self publishing is that you have to become an entire publishing house on your own: editor, reader, artist, marketer, salesman, copywriter, all at once! Unless you have an incredible understanding of the market and how to promote your work without alienating people, you ultimately can’t reach an audience. Self-publishing has become a more respected industry and professional writers are starting to use it for side projects or more experimental works, but it still doesn’t have the seal of approval that a professional publication has, and doesn’t get you the reach you need. Getting readers is more important than making money, at least for me. I want lots of people to read my work because I feel I have something to say which might change the way they think, even help them. I knew that professional publication was the way to achieve that. 

Getting your book professionally published requires a lot of work. Most people think about perfecting their manuscript, but in a way, I found that wasn’t the major issue. It was learning how to write a good cover-letter (which needs to have an elevator pitch style snapshot – something to get them excited), learning about what publishers expect from a manuscript, and learning about where to send my work that were the real challenges. Luckily for our generation, almost all of the information you need is online, you just have to find it. Though it took me roughly 1 ½  years to finish The Darkest Touch (not the first draft, but a fully edited capacity), it’s really the sum of 5 years of research. 

No one gets picked up straight away. It got rejected from one other publisher before it was accepted – but only because it didn’t fit the publisher’s aesthetic. That’s when I knew it had at least a shot. I sent it off again, just the first three chapters and a pitch, to Dark Hall Press. They said that if I didn’t hear back in 3 weeks they weren’t interested. On day 21, I’d given up, but at 9:00 in the evening they sent me an email saying they’d like to see the whole thing – talk about cutting it fine! 

Q. Give us a brief synopsis of the novel. 

A. A nuclear World War 3 has happened. From the radiated ashes of this calamity, a group of individuals ‘touched’ by a dark power assert their control over the ruined New York city, slaughtering any baby or child that displays signs of the ‘touch’. But voices speak in the deep. Rebels gather. One of the touched goes rogue. The fabric of their reign is starting to unravel. All it needs to topple is one, soft, touch. 

Q. Where did you draw inspiration from and what other writers influence you? 

A. Where to begin!? Originally, I was heavily influenced by fantasy writers – in particular Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. Several times I tried to recreate their epic fantasy worlds, but without any success. Then I encountered Stephen King and I realised that I had a whole different story inside of me I hadn’t been able to see before. 

King is quite simply a genius storyteller, and really understands how to shake you with language. Most people think horror is full of cheap scares, but King will make you laugh, cry, weep, and sing – there’s life in his writing. Everything feels so real you can touch it. The Stand, his 1800 page epic post-apocalyptic masterpiece, was obviously a huge influence on the choice of setting for my story. The stand helped me see the ancient, the fantastical, the biblical, the mythical in our own world – it was a liberating experience. 

The other thing that heavily influenced The Darkest Touch was the Bible. In fact, the whole text, in a way, stems from one quote from the Gospel of St John: “In him was life and that life was the life of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5). The darkness does not understand the light. It’s such a profound statement. How many suffering people do you know who have rejected your help a thousand times? Who will not accept help? How many people are blank to your pleas to be reasonable? We live in a world of darkness, and occasionally, just occasionally, a light shines in – a mercy, a grace, a justice – but it’s too bright and brilliant for us to get hold of. 

Whatever your beliefs, the personal, symbolic truth of the biblical stories, at least from my experience of the world, is irrefutable. Christ speaks figuratively and in parables, and the Bible as a text is hugely symbolic. These symbols speak to us in a way that scientific fact never will. Adam and Eve’s tale of lost innocence will always resonate with more emotional impact than a list of facts about puberty. Stories create truths, and the Bible is perhaps one of the deepest roots of story we know.  I wanted my own book to echo (never recreate – that’s impossible) this deep, profound mythic source and create its own web of symbols that the diligent reader might uncover. 

Q. Writing a book, while also completing your degree is extremely impressive. How do you manage balancing writing with your other commitments? 

A. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. I try to write every day – that way you build momentum and can finish projects in good time. You also don’t lose your train of thought, or lose sight of the threads you’ve woven together, so you have a clearer picture. It’s also good practice. If you want to be an Olympic athlete you train every day. Writing’s no different. Every day I’m training and hopefully improving. I never believe I’ll stop learning. 

Q. Do you have any advice for budding writers? 

A. Yes. Write every day – 500 words or 1 poem or one scene from a play/script. The first two weeks will be hell. You’ll be tired. In fact, you’ll be more exhausted than any time you went on a training camp or competed in a sport or did a midnight shift at work, but the third week it’ll get easier. Like a marathon runner you’ll have built up stamina. Writing every day is the single most important step to getting better. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Write. Write as if you’re trying to save your life. That’s how I started anyway. When you’ve finished something big, or a collection of shorter works, then you can take 4-6 weeks off and edit. 

Q. In three words, why should people buy your book?

A. It’ll change you. 

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The Darkest Touch is available in paperback from:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Check out Dark Hall Press at – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dark-Hall-Press/320319528012123 

Tweet Joseph Sale @josephwordsmith

 

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Article 19 present: Jerusalem @ The Guild of Students

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Article 19’s adaptation, directed by Elisha Owen and Nicole Rixon, was my first taste of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and it was a distinctly bittersweet one.

Set on St George’s Day in a fictional country village in Wiltshire, the play tells the tale of old, local waster Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron and his motley crew of mates. Away from the country fair celebrations, Rooster has twenty-four hours until he is evicted from his mobile home. Thus the three-hour play, dense with dialogue, passes with the tension of a ticking time bomb.

The short time span and single set made for an absorbing portrait into Rooster’s world. The set’s attention to detail was outstanding and the old caravan, stained sofa and empty beer bottles that greeted the audience gave a taste of what was to come. Staged on the same level as the audience’s seating, the play also created the impression that this was not a performance we were seeing but a slice of real life.

The play boasts an eclectic mix of characters, brilliantly played by an excellent cast. Sam Forbes was especially comical as the whimsical professor who has lost his dog, whilst Ciaran Creswell gave a great performance as Wesley, the straight-laced landlord turned stoned Morris dancer.

However the lead character, in an absorbing performance given by Jack J Fairley, is the hardest character to pin down. Essentially a low-life, surviving on drink and drugs in his squalid caravan, he is certainly not a hero- not even likable. Yet, in comparison to local thug Troy, he is not a villain. Something of an anti-hero, he simultaneously sickens and seduces the audience- just as his eloquent words and magnetism wins a kiss from his ex-wife, Dawn. In his battle against the district council to evict him, we instinctively fall on his side- but uneasily so.

Most mesmerising of all, for me, was Rooster’s seeming inability to grow up and his refusal to take responsibility for his actions, from his six-year old son to his smashed up TV. When his friends tell him he smashed it up himself the night before he replies, as he does to anything they accuse him of, ‘Bollocks!’ His crew of teenage companions further reflects this character trait and it is ambiguous whether he corrupts or protects them- plying them with drink and drugs, but providing them with a space where they feel safe.  The audience begins to lean towards the latter as the play unfolds, especially as it begins to appear that Rooster is being used. For me, the play’s most painfully sad moment was when local thug Troy laughed as he told Rooster how his so called friends pissed on him whilst he was passed out. And whilst he is certainly not fit to be a parent, the tender moments with his son persuade us that he is essentially a good man and that society is the monster.

Whilst Jerusalem is ultimately a play that explores ‘Englishness’, for me it was more about the dullness and disillusionment that accompanies growing old. The character of Lee, who is set to leave for Australia the next day, highlights the stagnant nature of the other character’s lives- particularly Rooster’s.

The play ends ambiguously, with the constant overbearing pressure of the eviction never fully resolved. I left after three hours feeling absolutely overwhelmed and utterly confused. As such, my first experience of Jez Butterworth’s work is one I’m still trying to make sense of.

By Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

The Bridge @ The Guild of Students

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Making a film can’t be easy. Making a film really can’t be easy when you’re a student, so Cassiah Joski-Jethi’s The Bridge is a triumph for just existing. Written and directed by Joski-Jethi, co-directed and produced by Nicole Rixon and Elisha Owen respectively, and featuring a cast of almost exclusively students, The Bridge follows Lynn (Stephanie Rendall), an eighteen year-old woman whose dreams of being a dancer are interrupted by family tragedy, incompetent adults and an inescapable neighbourhood.

The most striking thing about the film was its stunning shots. Selly Oak and Edgbaston are substitutes for London, and while the landmarks are recognisable for any University of Birmingham student, the shots set up by Joski-Jethi are beautiful. Lynn’s isolation is a key part of this film, and Joski-Jethi utilises space, depth and blurring to add to this effect. The canal-side scenes are perhaps the most visually-arresting, and should make anyone who lives in Birmingham reconsider the city’s beauty. Nick Charlesworth’s original score is equally as beautiful, creating a sense of tranquillity in the troublesome world of the film.

The film is host to some good performances, and an excellent balance of the humorous and serious. The Officer (Jack Robertson) and Jane (Anna Roberts) offer some brilliant and much needed comedic relief throughout the film, while Lynn’s relationships with other characters explore connections more seriously, focusing on obligation and trust. The interactions between Lynn and Bobby (Ethan Owen), her younger brother, are particularly enjoyable to watch: the script wonderfully captures the sibling dynamic.

In her pre-screening speech, Joski-Jethi stated that she felt the film was a time capsule containing the houses her cast have lived in, buildings that no longer exist and streets that we walk down daily. This astute way of identifying the film can encompass the film as a whole: undoubtedly, when some of the cast and crew have made their names in the film or theatre industry – as the hard work and performances indicate – this film will contain their early work; perhaps one day it will gain a cult status.

Not only were the audience given an exclusive viewing of the film, we were lucky enough to watch the ‘Making of’. In a film where most of the characters are isolated, or seem to lack true friendships, it was lovely to see the cast and crew of The Bridge working together harmoniously and having fun.

Post-screening entertainment also included a performance from the recently formed a capella group the J Walkers. Their original arrangements of popular songs including Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ and Ray Charles’s ‘Hit the Road, Jack’ were incredibly impressive and enjoyable to watch.

The evening was concluded with a sketch show set from comedy duo Jacob Lovick and Tyler Harding. The pair’s comedic timing was on point and their comradery palpable. The duo’s set was well-rehearsed, and incorporated the slight technical glitches well. Student comedy can often be quite self-referential, but Lovick and Harding’s set moved outside the university sphere, making it all the more entertaining.

What The Bridge premiere showed was an extraordinary amount of talent in the university’s community. This talent is varied, but when used effectively in a team, projects one might have thought impossible come into existence. If this is just the starting point for this group of creative individuals, I am excited to see where they go next. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

The Gentlemen Press presents: Poetry Espionage

The event is held downstairs in the Six Eight Kafé, Temple Row, Birmingham. There are small tables with small chairs and small candles. Cosy and kooky; your perfect location for a gathering of new musicians and poets.

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Joseph Sale is hosting. Humble as ever, he recites just two of his marvellous poems tonight and only picks up a guitar during the interval. His warmth and buoyancy creates an atmosphere of genuine intimacy and unity between performers and audience.

Max Merrick-Wren is my new favourite musician. He wields guitar and harmonica as if they’re extra limbs, for the most part with his eyes closed. His voice is soothing; his passion consistent throughout. I prefer his own songs to the Dylan cover, especially the gently powerful ‘High Horse’, with its climactic ending. The only constructive point I have is for him to inhale more quietly. I can’t wait to get hold of an album.

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Joseph Sale performs ‘The Necromancer’, a haunting piece about raising the figures of history, listening to the ‘silence that became their voice’. Like the mysterious woman I am ‘wonder-morphed’, both by the ideas Joe evokes and the words with which he (appropriately) brings them to life.

Carl Sealeaf gives us two-and-a-half poems, due to an endearing bout of memory loss. The first half of ‘Growth’ is wonderful, expressing his fear of ‘acting out someone else’s definition of growing older, broader at the shoulders but still shrivelled at the heart’. His last piece about macaroni, festivities, ‘stale air’ and ‘oil-smeared hands’ culminates beautifully with a sad and simple point about family. I am left uplifted by his art but saddened by the things it says.

Next is the Italiano Duo, playing for the first time together in this country. Their covers include ‘New Shoes’ by Paolo Nutini, ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse, and ‘Warning Sign’ and ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay. Their nerves show a little but their gift is undeniable; Winehouse is obviously their favourite since their attitude and the volume are cranked right up. They shouldn’t be shy; their talent deserves confidence.

Elisha Owen offers us six poems in a voice perfectly suited to recital. She carries us with a quiet pensive joy through the vivid Spanish landscape of ‘Handprints’ where ‘the water creates a rhythm that foreigners dance to’. She reads ‘Prostrate Shadows’ where Muslim men are ‘sentinels beckoning the sunrise’, ‘Racing’, ‘Long Jump’, ‘Origami’, in which a seven year old boy  tries to sell her his art, and finally, ‘In the Days Before They Made Them Biodegradable’, where one plastic bag is transformed into a family treasure.

Sean Neil performs three songs; solemn, honest and touching. His strumming could flow better and he needs to use his diaphragm more, but bearing in mind that I can’t sing and play to save my life, that he wrote all of his own songs and that they’re very good ones, I hardly have a right to comment. His work is reminiscent of Damien Rice without the Irish accent, which suits me fine.

386765_299333770097854_1784160791_nNext is Giles Longley-Cook. We flit through dreary rooms in ‘Reflections in Jordan’ and the joys of alcohol in ‘The Budweiser Gita’, while he drinks pointedly from a bottle. After a disturbing piece on the politics of the Holy Land, Giles pauses to let us listen to the whirring of a fan and the sounds of the café above before stating, hauntingly, that ‘I have never fully known silence’. This poem strikes me in a fresh and thought-provoking way before he thunders on into a mock Christmas carol for his finale.

Aliena and Peter follow up with a few covers as well as some of their own compositions (lyrics by Chris who sits bashfully in the audience). The guitar is a bit too loud but Aliena uses this to her advantage and blows us all away with her vocal power; Peter is both talented and utterly unassuming. My favourite song is ‘Avenue of Cosmonauts’, sullen and gripping and very bass-y.

Ben Norris reads a delightful poem derived from his lecture notes on the European Novel. It is sharp and witty, diving from humour to seriousness and back again. The wonderful twist is that although lecture notes in poetry is an innovative idea, the piece insists that nothing is ever truly original. ‘Meaning is contingent’, he claims, ‘his name is Echo’. Ben proceeds with a touching poem ‘Southern Hemisphere’, and then reads ‘After Babel, After Pisa’ concerning theories of the University Library’s reconstruction, and a lovely piece about keeping hold of somebody by collecting physical memories.

Joe rounds the night off with ‘Circles’, a farewell poem that reminds me of Bilbo’s ‘The Road Goes Ever On’. Profound and heart-warming, it weaves in circles of thought about this little gathering of artists and the common desires that brought us together.

‘We must not shake,’ he encourages us, ‘we must not fear, to seek the dream that brought us to this place’.

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A special thanks to The Gentlemen Press for running this event. We hope to see more from you soon.

For more information, visit www.gentlemenpress.com

By Danielle Bentley