Writer vs. Writer: Joe Haward

Here we are with Joe Howard. Rev Joe Haward is an author, poet, and heretic. What made me approach Joe for an interview was not only his writings but his journey through life. Born into an Indian family, Joe was adopted with his identical twin brother and grew up on a small island off the coast of Essex, UK. For many years Joe worked with his father as an oyster fisherman, the eighth generation in the Haward family to do so. Joe now works writing horror, dark fantasy, noir, and transgressive fiction. As his new horror anthology will come out next year and a novel in 2024, I would like you to get to know him more.

Hi Joe. I'm so glad to have you here with us today. As I read about your life adventure through a fantastic bio that you've shared with me I was wondering whether you're ever considered writing an autobiography?


It’s interesting because this is the third time in as many months that someone has asked me this question. Until recently, an autobiography is not something I had ever considered writing because I’ve always wondered what purpose it would serve? Am I writing this because it’s a good story to tell, inspiring others, perhaps even helping some people? Or is this an act of ego, narcissistic pursuits to inflate my own sense of Self? Maybe it’ll always be a mixture of both, no motive ever really ‘pure’; but does it really need to be? Perhaps I should begin the process. Who knows, maybe a publisher would take my story on?


I believe it can be an amazing book. The purpose for me would be to learn about life and culture through the eyes of the author. You had a different background than writing. Then in all the swings and ups and downs and all the experiences in life, what is it about writing that you pursued?


I’m a deep thinker. All day, every day, I examine the complexities and nuances of the world, internally asking questions as to why things are the way that they are. I read widely, and love delving into the works of ancient writers, voices that continue to feel relevant, loaded with truth about human nature. All that reflection is exhausting, and I needed to find an outlet. I began using preaching as that opportunity to share ideas and reflections, but it became apparent that churches aren’t looking for complexity of thought, or unanswerable questions. So I began writing a blog, which in turn became a theological/philosophical book, providing me the space and opportunity to clearly lay out my perpetual stream of thoughts. Poetry and fiction writing developed as a result of the passion and energy writing provided for me. And fiction felt like an act of freedom whereby there were no barriers or rules I needed to follow; theology has parameters and limits, and I have always tried to push past those, challenging such ideas. But that comes with a cost. With fiction I could write whatever the fuck I liked, creating any world or scenario I wanted to. It is that freedom, the opportunity for your imagination to go anywhere it likes, is why I love writing.

fiction felt like an act of freedom whereby there were no barriers or rules I needed to follow

That makes sense. How do you define your writing style?


A review of my first book—which is a theological and philosophical exploration of what it means to be human—described my writing as “beautiful prose.” I love language, crafting words together to create images and symbols that leave the reader feeling as though they have had an experience. As a writer, my go to fiction genre is horror, but whatever genre I write, I try and leave poetic trails through the story, moments that linger.


Can you tell us a bit about your latest book? What is it about and how did you publish it or will be publishing it?


My latest book is called Heresy, published by Uncle B. Publication, a publisher committed to the pursuit of authentic voice. They are not interested in censoring, but in the freedom of language. Heresy is a brutal collection of poetry that explores the abuse and hypocrisy of institutional Christianity. I’m an ordained Baptist minister, so this collection is told as an ‘insider,’ sharing the truth of what I have seen and witnessed. At the end of the book I have written an Afterword, explaining something of my own story, and why I wrote Heresy. I’m tired of the abused and abandoned being silenced by the powerful. Each poem is a story within itself, highlighting various ideas, themes, and experiences. I’d love to hear people’s reflections and how they interpret each piece. My hope is that Heresy will provide victims of the church institution a sense of being heard.


Poetry or prose? Why?


I know I have just released a poetry collection, but I am going to choose prose. It’s not an easy decision because I love the way you can really play with words and symbols in poetry. For instance, I recently wrote a line that said, “The illusion of dreams, asthmatic aspirations wheezing on the polluted air of enlightenment.” But, personally, I find prose gives my imagination more of an opportunity to go to unimagined places. And I always try to use poetic language within my prose works. I’ve just written a story called, The Table, and I loved the challenge of creating a painful, poetic, and grotesque world set within a single room and nothing but a table. I hope it worked.


I agree with you. I prefer prose for the exact same reason. I saw your posts on your website mostly covering theology and philosophy. How can you connect such subjects with your fiction writing?


Yes, my articles use theological and philosophical ideas as a way of making commentary upon the world, particularly within politics. That might sound strange, but history rhymes, and human beings have a habit of repeating the same behaviors, over and over. Theology and philosophy, at least in the way I approach them, can provide insights into human nature. Those ideas make for great stories. My fiction writing might never explicitly use theological/philosophical ideas, yet they often bubble beneath the surface. For instance, I recently had a horror story called “Jack,” published over on The Quiet Ones. That story deals with ideas around memory and human identity, whilst also introducing monsters and blood!


I wonder what specific subject attracts you most?


I have studied the theory of scapegoating for a number of years. French literary theorist, René Girard, developed something called Mimetic Theory. He argues that all human behavior is imitative–I desire what you desire. Such desire leads to rivalry, that in turn leads to violence, namely, the expulsion and/or death of the scapegoat. Girard argues that religion and human communities can all be traced back through these ideas. It felt like an immensely significant moment when I discovered his writing. I was a religious fundamentalist, and then Girard’s work completely tore me apart, and transformed my understanding of religion, culture, and humanity. I’d love to write a novel that explored these ideas.


Insightful. This is all new for me. You mentioned about transgressive writing. How transgressive are you?


Some of my writing, especially stories coming out in 2022, are very transgressive, exploring ideas around taboo and sex. And, honestly, parts of the Bible are some of the most transgressive works ever written. Heresy, as a collection, is a work of transgressive poetry. It holds your face to uncomfortable truths, and breaks apart ideas of respectability and acceptability, especially in regard to what an ordained Reverend should be writing about. As a person, I do wonder what it even looks like to be transgressive? We live in a society of confusion, where identity, community, and humanity are unfathomable concepts. What does it even mean to break the rules of acceptable society nowadays? If I love my neighbor, pursuing compassion, acting with kindness, even to those who hate me, is that not a transgressive act? I will always be against the institutions though, whether religious, political, corporate. To me they represent the worst of power and human greed. My writing will often find ways to attack the corridors of power.

parts of the Bible are some of the most transgressive works ever written

I've heard that from our other interviewee Natalie Wigg-Stevenson that bibble includes such elements. Do you have any books you’re working on currently?


I am just wrapping up a transgressive story/poetry hybrid collection called Sweat and Blood Between the Cracks. I also have a horror anthology collection called Breath and Blasphemy coming out in September 2023. I also have a two-book fantasy horror novel that I’ve nearly completed. They are due out 2024/2025. There are another couple of books I’m also developing that I’m hoping will be out in 2024. So plenty to keep me busy!


Thanks, Joe. It's great news and looking forward to reading your works. Thank you so much for joining us Joe and hope for future collaborations.


If you're interested to know more about Joe please visit the following links:


Website

Twitter: @RevJoeHaward

Instagram: @hereticwriter

Goodreads


Heresy (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heresy-Uncle-B-Publications-LLC/dp/1957034068/

Heresy (US): https://www.amazon.com/Heresy-Uncle-B-Publications-LLC/dp/1957034068/

All Printed Work: https://www.joehaward.co.uk/printed