Interview With an Author: Josh Winning

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Josh Winning and his latest novel, Burn the Negative
Author Josh Winning and his latest novel, Burn the Negative. Photo of author by Tom Pepperdine

Josh Winning is the author of the critically acclaimed The Shadow Glass. He is a senior film writer at Radio Times, has written for Total Film for over a decade, and is the cohost of movie podcast Torn Stubs. During his years as a film journalist, he has been on set with Kermit the Frog (and Miss Piggy), devoured breakfast with zombies on The Walking Dead, and sat on the Iron Throne on the Dublin set of Game of Thrones. Josh lives in London with his cat Penny and dreams of one day convincing Sigourney Weaver to yell "Goddammit!" at him. His latest novel is Burn the Negative and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Burn the Negative?

The spark of the idea was meeting Lorraine Warren, the paranormal expert who was played by Vera Farmiga in the Conjuring movies. I was working for Total Film magazine, and I interviewed Lorraine at her home, which was a pretty fascinating experience! I knew that one day I wanted to write a book about a psychic, and the idea only really solidified when I thought about pairing a psychic with a journalist to investigate a creepy mystery.

Are Laura, Amy, Beverly, or any of the other characters inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Now that would be telling! Laura is definitely a version of me—I have been a film journalist for a long time, so a lot of her experiences are based on things that have happened to me (luckily, not the curse part). When I was writing Beverly, I was actually picturing Winona Ryder, as I think she would bring some very cool energy to that character.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I write quite short first drafts, so the revisions were all about going deeper into Laura's back story and fleshing out her relationship with her mom. Also, a lot of my beta readers Hated Amy, which surprised me, so I tried to soften her a little bit and show her vulnerable side. There wasn't really anything lost along the way, aside from a final scene I never liked anyway—and also, one character originally made a surprise reappearance at the climax, but I'll leave you guessing who!

Was there a specific film (or films) that inspired "The Guesthouse"?

I had a whole load of films bouncing around in my head. The big one was The Innkeepers, directed by Ti West, but I was also thinking about The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, Hellraiser, and the "Hush" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which starts with Buffy having a dream about a creepy kid singing a song.

Are you a fan of the Horror genre? What are some of your favorite authors, novels, films, and/or filmmakers?

If I ever got a tattoo, it would say, "I LOVE HORROR." One of my earliest book memories is reading Grinny by Nicholas Fisk, and being absolutely petrified. I then went on to devour Christopher Pike (Remember Me is still a favorite) and RL Stine, before graduating to King. My favorites at the moment are Adam Cesare, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Ally Wilkes and Riley Sager. In terms of films, I’m a sucker for 90s slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream and Candyman.

If you could choose, is there a film that you would like to see re-made or developed into a series? Is there one that you hope is left alone and never re-made?

I would really welcome a legacy Urban Legend sequel if Alicia de Witt and Loretta Devine were involved (little secret: I wrote a fan sequel when I was a teenager, which picked up the story with Natalie years after the first film—I even sent it to John Ottman, who directed Urban Legends: Final Cut. He was very nice about it). I also think an Alien streaming series could be quite fun, but only if Sigourney Weaver is back!

Do you believe in curses? Do you have a favorite story about a cursed object, location, event, etc.?

My logical brain says curses don't exist, but then I do believe that it's possible to think things into existence—I wanted to be an author, and now I am one! In terms of cursed objects, the Annabelle doll is a fun one. I've been in a room with the real thing (at Lorraine Warren's house), and it really did just look like a doll to me, but then I might have felt differently after nightfall…

What do you think it is about Horror that draws you, as an author and/or reader, to these types of stories?

Everybody likes to be scared—and everybody likes to see good triumph over evil. I think Paul Tremblay said in an interview a while back that there's no horror without hope, and I think that's such a great insight into the genre. Horror stories draw a lot of people in because, I think, we ultimately want to know that everything will be okay in the end. And as an author, I just love scaring people!

What's currently on your nightstand?

Aside from my sleep guard and glasses, The Perfume by Caroline B. Cooney, which I'm re-reading for a podcast, and Wise Creatures by Deirdre Sullivan, which is out in September—she kindly sent me an advance copy, and it is really spooky.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, which is set in a tiny fishing town in the north of England, where a psychic boy gets drawn into a fight against a murderous witch. I was obsessed with Jarvis growing up and wanted to write stories just like his. He wasn't afraid of going to really dark places, even though his books were technically for kids, and there are so many moments that are burned into my mind because they were so visceral.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Anything by Stephen King! Like most King readers, I went in on his books really young (like, twelve), and I knew there was stuff in there that my parents wouldn't want me to read.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Robin Jarvis, Stephen King, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Riley Sager, Christopher Pike.

What is a book you've faked reading?

Hmmm, I'm not sure I ever have! Maybe a rulebook for a board game?

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor—the UK cover is Brilliant.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Half Bad by Sally Green I bought it at a literary festival in 2015, at a time when I was really struggling to get back into reading, and that book cured me and then some. It's such a fast-paced, beautifully written novel that upturns witch cliches and also features an LGBT love story, which, for me, is like catnip. It's the book that made me want to be a better writer.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

The Outrage by William Hussey, and not just because he’s my friend! It's set in a near future where being queer has been outlawed and ruthlessly policed. It's such a scary time at the moment for a lot of queer people, and this book is a terrifying glimpse into a possible future and a warning of where we could be headed. (But it's hopeful, too!)

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. That book completely swept me away into a bygone era of Hollywood. The characters were so fantastically rich and specific, and I fell totally under Reid's spell. In my eyes, she can do no wrong.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I'm super late to this party (fashionably late?), but I'm almost finished watching The Last of Us and it's brilliant. It's like what The Walking Dead used to be, only better. Love that cordyceps is getting its moment to shine again after The Girl With all the Gifts, and the pairing of Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascale is perfection.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

This would change from day to day depending on my mood, but I love hiking, good food, and cozy pubs, so it would probably involve a combination of those three things, capped off with a movie. Did I mention Sigourney Weaver is there, too?

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

Usually, I'm hoping I'll be asked no questions, and I can go curl up on the sofa with a book and my cat, Penny.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on my second horror novel for Putnam, which has a similar "fun horror" vibe to Burn the Negative, but is also completely different (vague enough for you?!). I'm excited to hear what readers make of it when it lands next summer!

Book cover of Burn the negative
Burn the Negative
Winning, Joshua