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Writer Josh Helmer on His New Self-Published Dystopian Novel, Dark Wonders

19 June 20 interview: Kate Hewett

With life currently feeling like it’s been torn from the pages of a dystopian novel, now seems like the perfect time to release a novel exploring themes like technology, society and the future. Luckily for us, that’s just what Joshua Helmer has done with Dark Wonders. We caught up with the Nottingham writer to discuss his self-published debut novel...

What influenced you to write Dark Wonders?
My novel started as a bunch of short stories, but I realised they all tied together. I decided that once I'd written two of the individual stories, there was something behind them that I was trying to say. A wider view of how humans and technology are interacting, the rapid pace of change that is going on all the time and what happens when our capacity to make new things overtakes our capacity to cope with change. Dark Wonders is about considering the changes that are coming in the future. 

I was inspired by what happened around the time of the last general election campaign, I wrote a lot of this book at that time. That very much influenced the ethos behind how we look at information and how information is divulged at different points of time. 

Does your work draw any conclusions about what the future might hold?
I wouldn’t say there are any specific conclusions to be drawn. I think that the general message is to be careful as things happen in the future. We can see the future coming towards us but it doesn’t mean we are all prepared for what happens when it hits you, there are all these changes that are going to come and land on our doorstep. It’s a meditation on the idea that we should be prepared for change and try to understand its impact. If you don’t think ahead then you are not really putting yourself into a good position as a society. 

Are there any specific writers that influenced Dark Wonders?
I have been emboldened by writers such as Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut. They present these fantastical scenarios in real-life situations. Also, I want to make sure there is a strong element of humanity, when I write I don’t plan to write these types of scenarios – it just so happened that way this time. 

Why did you choose to self publish your novel? Did social media have an impact on your decision
I have friends who were in the publishing industry, and they’ve supported me through this. The publishing world has gatekeepers, and they play a vital role in ensuring there are ways for quality to be found and produced. There is a part of me that thinks I should go through the gatekeepers for validation.

However, I just want to write books and make stories and I want to create things that people can enjoy. I don't think I need to put any limitations on myself if I’m capable of finding ways to make this happen. On this occasion, I decided to be self-published. It’s not that one is better than the other, but I had a friend to do the artwork and another one who edited the book for me. I had enough support around me to have a go at publishing it myself. 

I am going to be reliant on social media to build upon the kind reviews that have come in about my book. In terms of pushing myself further, I started with people who surround me and who were interested in my book. After that, I released the book to everyone. Social media is also going to be huge in terms of promotion. One of the great things about the platform is that it has enabled people to take control and release their creations into the world. 

How has being in lockdown affected the process?
I had a first draft completed at the start of the lockdown, and I knew I would have to be very disciplined about my use of time. Also, with the technology we have, I am still able to start advertising my novel and edit a second draft. Although lockdown is very draining and comes with a large emotional strain, it has afforded me more time.

It’s a meditation on the idea that we should be prepared for change and try to understand its impact. If you don’t think ahead then you are not really putting yourself into a good position as a society

How would you describe your writing process? 
I’m a creature of habit and, for me, my best periods of writing came when I had the resources to write every day. I would write all day Monday to Friday and, as I went through the week, I would gain momentum. By Friday I would be writing my best work.

Did you have a target audience and a specific genre in mind during the writing process?
I did have a target audience, which is people who are interested in technology, the future and the human interaction with change. I started off by writing a story I would like to read, and I would classify this novel as Speculative or Dystopian fiction because the novel is set in the world we are in, rather than a grander departure from our reality. 

What are your future plans?
I’ve got pages and pages filled with outlines and a few thousand words for different novels. However, now I am aiming to start and finish projects. At the moment I have started a novel titled What Never Burns, it’s the story of a mother and daughter caught up in illegal farming in the southern United States in a semi-abandoned world with a food shortage. The mother and daughter go on the run and have to find a way to be safe. 

Are there any particular milestones you’d like to reach with Dark Wonders?
I read that published books sell an average of 186 copies. As long as I sell more than that, I will reach my initial target. But my overall aim is to turn writing into a full-time career. 

Dark Wonders is available to buy now
Josh Helmer website

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