So, Joel, you’re a writer. In case my readers don’t know who you are, can you give us a potted biography – what you’ve written, what you like writing, etc?
I’m a Brit living in Finland who writes lots of different things depending upon which hat I’m wearing. I’m a partner at a communications agency called Ink Tank, so one day I might be doing copywriting, the next blogging, the next scriptwriting. As for fiction, I’ve been into short stories for about six years, though there’s been a lot less time dedicated to that pleasure since the arrival of two little Willanses, Eliot and Lotte. Despite their wonderfully energetic presence, I’ve managed to write stories for about two-dozen anthologies and had a couple broadcast on BBC radio.
You’ve recently been putting together a collection of stories for Route, called Spellbound. Can you tell us about that and how it came into being?
It came into being from another collection, which got shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2010. I was very pleasantly surprised that it made that list and, after it lost out on gold, I decided to try and polish it up, take some things out, write some new stories and send the new improved version out into the wild. Route had a call out for manuscripts at the end of 2010, so I sent it to them. I eventually met up with Ian Daley of Route in September last year and we sat down and went through the manuscript over a beer or two.
It was a fascinating experience to have someone really dissect the stories, and after a few hours it became clear that they weren’t linked by the themes I’d thought, but by the way women weave their magic, both good and bad, over men. After some more editing and some more new stories added and some others taken away, there are eighteen stories all together. The main characters include everything from pimps, janitors and music journalists to old sailors, composers and bricklayers. The one thing they all share is that women are messing with their minds.
It’s taken quite some time to get everything ready, mainly because my daughter was born the month Route agreed to publish the collection. I discovered very early on that sleep deprivation really isn’t conducive to editing. Thankfully Route were really patient with me and Spellbound is now due out at the end of October.
You’re here as part of a blog-tour for the Pangea anthology. How did you get involved with that, and what is it all about?
To be honest, it was mere good fortune. A few years back, I was a member of Writewords. It’s a fantastic online writing community full of really supportive people. During that time I shared a lot of my stories with people to critique and a couple caught the eye of Rebecca Lloyd, a great writer who really helped me out at the time. Her and another Writewords member Indira Chandrasekhar wanted to put together an anthology to showcase some of the fiction that comes out of the community. Pangea is the result. It includes thirty-four stories from writers from all over the world and is, even if I do say it myself, a fine read.
What’s your writing process? How do you go from idea to finished piece?
It really depends what I’m working on. For short stories one of my favourite ways of writing is from prompts. This is great to do with a group of like minded writers, a list of random words or phrases and a time limit, normally an hour. Sometimes I can knock out a complete story like this, more often I conjure up a thousand words of rubbish. Yet in the cold light of day even this can be useful. The first draft of one of the stories I have in Pangea was written like this and maybe half of those in Spellbound. The great thing about using this writing technique, for me at least, is that I don’t have time to self edit as I write and the stories are totally different to those I’d write if I sat down at the keyboard with a plan in mind. I know some writers who call this “writing drunk” because you give the creative right side of your brain the freedom to go crazy. I think it sums it up perfectly.
What’s your next project?
The novel that’s been sitting on my hard drive since last May is waiting to be edited. I haven’t read it since then and this week I plan to print it out and see how it sounds. Now I’ve finally finished everything to do with Spellbound I’m more enthusiastic about novel writing than I’ve been for ages. I love short stories, but I really want to finish a decent novel and get it out there. I hope this one has a shout. It’s a very modern adventure – a road trip story, which takes the main characters from London to Peru to Finland. A friend who read it said it was like Bright Lights Big City meeting The Beach. Not sure I totally agree, but I took it as a compliment nonetheless. It was great fun to write the first draft. Hopefully, when it’s finished, publishers will find it great fun to read, too.
Thank you for that, Joel, best of luck with Spellbound, Pangea and all your other endeavours!
For more information about Joel, go to http://fictionaut.com/users/joel-willans.