With his debut novel, Meat, Joseph D’Lacey burst onto the horror scene with a novel that prompted Stephen King to exclaim, “D’Lacey rocks!” We recently got to sit down with Joseph to talk about his career and the return of both Meat and Garbage Man via a brand new publisher.
The first pertinent question for any professional wordsmith is exactly what got them into pursing creative endeavours for a living. For D’Lacey, the love for writing had always been there, but took time to fully blossom.
He mused, “I think I’ve always had a writer’s nature, I suppose, and the thing for me was that I didn’t really pursue it until later in life. I was probably around thirty, really, before it got started. I’d always been a diarist, a journalist and written poetry and all those sort of things, but I didn’t really turn my hand to fiction until probably when I was thirty, which was quite a while ago now. It’s one of my regrets, I suppose, that I didn’t get started earlier.”
“I was doing more writing. I started off writing children’s verse, believe it or not, and had a friend who was illustrating the stuff that I was coming up with. Predictably, we got turned down by every house in the UK – as always – and I kind of packed it in then. But because I’d been writing quite regularly, then I started to think about doing short stories – and the first story I wrote, I sent it out and it was accepted straight off the bat, and I thought well, if I can do that, maybe I can write a chapter or two, and if I can write a chapter or two, then maybe I can write a novel, and that’s kind of how it started.”
Moving from children’s stories to the world of truly disturbing horror seems like a big leap – so how was it that such a drastic change was in store? D’Lacey explained, “I was probably writing adult poetry as well… I started with fantasy and then moved into horror as I started to remember the things that I’d enjoyed reading when I was a youngster. So I went from writing kids’ poetry to adult poetry and then to writing fantasy and horror.”
On the topic of his debut novel, Meat, we asked for a little background on the journey to getting it onto shelves: “It was the first published novel, yes (laughs). It was actually the sixth novel that I’d written. I’d been at it for a while then, and it had gotten to the point where it was probably going to be the last thing I tried before I packed it in, you know what I mean? If I’d started writing novels in 2000, Meat was my sixth so I’d written one a year and been submitting everywhere and had no success whatsoever, even with the help of an agent at that point. So yeah, Meat was make or break, really.”
The content of Meat can be pretty grueling stuff for even the most experienced horror hound with its frank and mechanical depictions of slaughterhouse processes given a particularly grim slant. We wanted to know what kind of effect the research and planning of D’Lacey’s story had on him on a personal level. Quite a lot, it would seem – and not just for him: “I’d come to a point where I decided that I was going to write the grimmest horror novel that I could come up with. So that was one very definite motivation, but at the same time I had a lot of thoughts in my head about the ethics of killing for food, and I had thought about that for years just as, you know, sometimes issues that you think about that don’t go away and just keep recurring.”
” So that was in the back of my mind, and it seemed like if I came up with an idea where humans were farming a lesser form of human for meat, that could have a lot of potential for a story. So I started researching it, just by watching footage of factory farming and slaughter, animal transportation – and it was a life-changing book in lots of ways because not only did I end up being told by lots of readers that they’d become vegetarian as a result, or even vegan, of reading the book, but I too became a vegetarian within a few months of completing the novel. So, yeah (laughs), it’s had a big influence, and I suppose the ideas had been brewing for a little while. It’s always a collision of things, you know; it’s not just one idea. It’s usually an idea, and then it’ll be perhaps a scene that you’ve had in your head for a while. The opening scene of Meat, with Shanti running with his pack on his back, started out as an exercise that I did when I was in a writing group. The little things come together and build and, hopefully, become something greater than the sum of its parts.”
For some time now, first-hand copies of D’Lacey’s novels Meat and Garbage Man have been in scarce supply, having gone out of print. Now they’re back, courtesy of brand new editions from Oak Tree Press. We asked Joseph whether this was something he was actively pursuing or a response to market interest. He replied, “I had managed to keep the books in circulation for a little while, and then I had a new agent in the summer of last year and she’s been a monumental force in redesigning, or re-envisioning, my career. Really, from sort of 2009 onwards until 2011, 2012, nothing was happening. I was still writing, but I wasn’t getting anything published. She totally turned that around… as you know, there have been other novels and things that have come out like a collection of short stories and all that sort of thing. She found a publisher, all the rights have returned to me and the books technically had been withdrawn, and she got a new publisher interested and so we gave them a new lease of life, which is just the most fantastic thing.”
“I’d always believed that of the two books, ‘Meat’ was the one that had the potential to stay in circulation because I think it was just the kind of book that people would talk about and then tell their friends, and they might buy it. So even if it’s only a few copies a year, I think people will always be interested in the book in some sense, so it’s great to see them back again with the new covers and everything. It’s great; wonderful stuff. But no, I wasn’t doing anything but my agent unbeknownst to me was working hard on my behalf, which is always wonderful.”
For the first time, too, both books are available in e-book format (Kindle, to be exact), but that’s not all as D’Lacey informs us “… the e-books will be enhanced with video content… I’ve got a feeling that they will also be released as audio books as well, so they’ll be available on all formats.”
On the topic of digital distribution for books, we asked D’Lacey for his thoughts on the undeniably game-changing effects on the industry – from self-published success stories to the boon of lower quality amateur writers and the impact of digital piracy becoming a prevalent threat: “It’s like everything new that happens. It has a good side and a less positive side. If there’s a writer with talent who’s been trying to bang the door down for five or ten years and had no success, nowadays since Kindle has come along – and there are other ways of releasing books, of course – that guy or that girl can have a shot at getting their work out there, which can only be a good thing. But by the same token, people with less skill but no less self-belief can also get their work into the public arena. I think you live and die by the love of your readers, so if nobody wants to read the stuff that you think is amazing, the truth will out, won’t it?”
“I think that things like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, and any of the other e-book sensations that you can mention, they’re news because they’re unusual. They’re not news because anybody can have that sort of success in that short space of time, and we all forget that because we see the news every day and the news look like, ‘Oh my God, look, someone else has made it, why can’t it be me?’ It does your head in, and I suppose it upsets people in the traditional route because they’ve worked away for years, submitted in the traditional way. They’ve got to deal with a traditional publisher, and they’re only getting eight percent or twelve percent; whereas, with e-books you’re looking at at least fifty for a decent deal and with Kindle you get seventy. It’s a big ol’ discussion, but having said that, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If people only want to buy e-books, then they can buy my books as electronic formats and that’s fine with me – I still get paid. One of the issues that arises is when people don’t pay for their e-books and can get them on Torrent sites and things like that. That’s a definite issue; I mean, we’re issuing takedown notices all the time, for what little good it does because the things just pop up somewhere else. How much revenue I’m losing as an author I don’t know, but I don’t make much money in the first place so that’s a definite issue.”
“I’m going to be doing a horror slot on a new UK TV program called ‘The Book Show’, and one of the things I’m going to talk to my guests about will be how they feel about the digital publishing changes and things like that, because I just think it’s fascinating. I don’t think we should be stuck in a feeling or an impression about it because it’s constantly changing, and I think we need to stay open-minded, don’t you think?”
Having been hugely impressed by his chapbook Roadkill (review here), published by This Is Horror, we also queried D’Lacey about last year’s novel Blood Fugue, which itself has garnered extremely positive word of mouth. He told us, “That was the first horror novel I wrote. It took me ten years to sell it. It has been so edited… actually if you have a look at my blog (click here), I kind of did a reveal on ‘The Truth Behind Blood Fugue’, but I probably cut close to 40,000 words out of that book. Now it just zips along because it’s action only, nothing else. It was a fun write and sadly it just didn’t get very much lift, so I don’t think a lot of people even know it’s out there. I was really pleased with the response from the people that did read it, but you always just want more people to see what you’ve done.”
So what’s in store for the future for Mr. D’Lacey and, in turn, his readers? “I’m re-writing the second part of the Black Dawn series. The first one was ‘Black Feathers’, and this one’s called ‘The Book of the Crowman’, and that completes the series. As soon as that re-write is out of the way, I’ve got a commissioned short story to write for the second ‘A Town Called Pandemonium’ collection, and then I’m going to be thinking about my next novel. I’ve got about four contenders, I think, for what I’m going to do next. This TV work on ‘The Book Show’ will be interesting – we’ll see how long it lasts, but it should be fun.”
“I can sense that I’m going to be working more in dark fantasy. I know some people associate dark fantasy with paranormal romance, okay, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’ll be a fantasy with a horror edge to it, but I still do have some real nasties up my sleeve that I haven’t written yet. If in the end I have to release them in a different way or under a different name, I don’t know… but there’s more grue up there too, but yeah I can see myself straying a little more into fantastical territory for the moment.”
Our sincerest thanks go to Joseph D’Lacey for taking the time out to talk with us. You can catch ‘The Book Show’ on both Sky and Freesat platforms starting 6pm on Sunday 24th November. Keep an eye on ‘The Book Show’ website for more information as the date approaches, and be sure to head on over to Amazon US and Amazon UK to check out D’Lacey’s printed work. You won’t regret it!
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