Joshua Winning has reached two landmarks in his life already. Hitting the grand age of 30 he can call himself a bestselling author to boot. Well at least that what I tell him as I chat to him at his London home that he shares with his boyfriend and their two cats.
You may ask how can an author be a bestseller before the book drops into shops? The answer is simple, he first released it digitally via Amazon.
Josh says the uploading it was relatively simple, follow a few simple instructions, click, click, click and BAM there you have it. A staggering 5550 downloads in 2 days made it to top position of the Amazon Free Book chart.
However Josh does have a few words of warning.
“Be sure to check that your book is 100% ready to go. There are people out there who are quite happy to point out ANY mistake you might have made. Edit, edit and edit some more.”
If releasing a novel is ‘simple’ then it seems writing it is hard! An avid reader since he was a child Josh devoured any book that was rooted in the dark and mysterious. As Josh puts it: “The darker the better – it’s more interesting that way.’”
It seems that Josh would lose himself in various made up worlds, dallying with the fantastical and going so far as creating his own fantasy maps “like they were going out of fashion”.
Josh would devour anything that twisted the everyday into fantasy. One source of food that Josh ate up constantly are the works of Robin Jarvis; there are numerous novels of his crammed lovingly onto the bookshelf.
The process of writing Sentinel started in 1997 when Josh was 16 years old. “I’ve written stories, long and short since I was young, but nothing that I really thought anybody should ever read“ he says pouring another cup of tea. “Was the idea of Sentinel the same that you had then to the one you ended up finishing with now?” I ask. The response was not what I was expecting. “No. It was a hot mess!”
We then chat about the three specific characters that Sentinel revolves around. The first being the young protagonist Nicholas. “I toyed with the idea of rewriting Nicholas as a girl,” Josh says. “There weren’t that many tough girl protagonists in books at the time, and even though I was basically the same age as Nicholas at the time of writing, I wasn’t sure I could convincingly write him as this rough and tumble boy, something I never really was! Now, of course, there are loads of fantastic female characters in young adult fiction, so I’m glad I kept Nicholas as he is. It helps him stand out from the – very distinguished – crowd.
“He’s a young boy who has experienced the horror of losing both his parents, but life doesn’t stop for you to grieve. Life goes on. It just so happens that Nicholas’ life takes him off in a very strange direction. Even so, there’s no point in him just throwing a wobbly for no reason, even if he is a teenager!’” It is quite refreshing to read. Nicholas doesn’t have time to dwell or act up, he has secrets he wants to find out, with or without help – the pace is breakneck fast at times.
At the mention of help we move onto Sam. At 71 he is there to help Nicholas whilst fighting evil and age. “Sam was the most fun to write. He’s such an old soul, a curmudgeon with this gruff rashness and eternal optimism who always tries to find the positive no matter how dark it is or how mangled the bus ride may be. ” Considering the things that Josh throws at him during the story, I was genuinely worried for Sam’s health and hoped he would survive. I won’t say if he did or not, you’ll have to go out and read the book!
The reason for the will he / won’t he die is the next topic of our conversation. Malika is one bad ass villain. However that wasn’t always the case as Josh explains. “ She was never meant to be a major player. She was originally meant to be a dogsbody for the more major evil… As her character developed, though, I realised that every one of her actions is influenced by a self-serving motivation. Malika doesn’t do anything unless she knows she’ll get something out of it eventually.” Which is a sentiment that I share with Josh; she has her own ulterior motives. She’s one to watch. Though she almost wasn’t as Josh adds, “Her role in the sequel was originally meant to be smaller, but as I got into the story I found new ways to keep her relevant and interesting without over-using her. I don’t want to overly sexualize her for the fun of it.”
The notion of sexuality is the final topic we discuss. Whereas a lot of novels, regardless of genre, incorporate a romantic relationship, that isn’t true of Sentinel. It’s absent for a reason. “Romance doesn’t always add something to a narrative, ”remarks Josh when I grill him on it. He’s right. Josh throws a lot in front of Nicholas and Sam to deal with, and a romantic interest would only get in the way of finding out who are the Sentinels?
Which leads us to the book’s mysterious epilogue, which alludes to an intriguing new character. I have my own suspicions and after many, many attempts Josh will not budge and divulge.“”Gotta keep you interested, ”he says.
Sentinel is published by Peridot Press and was released on the 19th May.
Photo by Robert Gershinson