Interview: Joe Butler

Joe Butler lives and works in London, but dreams of living and working elsewhere. He spends his time between writing things, as an occasional musician, artist, and avid player of video games.


Twitter: @writelikeashark


While we’re always happy to get the chance to ask a few questions of some of the authors we’ve published so far, being able to ask Joe a question or two is particularly special. Joe was one of the very first authors we published, way back in our free-to-purchase Pamphlet, and has been a staunch support of us ever since. We like to thing we’ve been a strong advocate for Joe’s work also.

Told through the setting of an unnerving dystopian society of compliance, A Small Life is an impactful and thought-provoking commentary on regimented government and lifestyle, with an intriguing Christ-like protagonist silently flouting rules and altering live.

You can read A Small Life in our latest issue, Bandit Fiction Presents… Issue Three. And if you use the code JOE50, you can get it for half price.

A Small Life is the second story you’ve published with us – can you tell us a little about it? Was it inspired by anything?

That story was inspired by what’s going on in China at the moment. I look at what is happening over there and that seems, to me, to be the closest realisation of an Orwellian dystopia I can see. I wanted to play around with the idea of what would happen if a Christ like religious figure appeared in that type of society, and how they wouldn’t know what to do with that sort of person.

At the moment, my reading list is insane.

A lot of the stuff I write deals with the idea of control being taken away from the individual. I guess it’s one of my biggest fears when I look at the news nowadays. Sorry! Quite a depressing answer. It’s also set in a more extreme version of a universe I created for the collection of stories that I have just finished, and am looking for an agent for.

I really enjoyed writing the story though. I wanted it to be dark, but hopeful in some way, and I feel like the ending captured that.

Pamphlet Cover (1)
Away is available for free as part of our Pamphlet

And can you tell us a little bit about Away, which we published way back in our very first publication.

With Away, I wanted to write a dark fairy story around a theme of loss. I had the initial idea about a grieving mother finding a book on her child’s bookshelf that she didn’t buy, and it leading into a fantastical mystery. I also wanted to leave it open ended enough, so there is room for interpretation as to whether or not what she believes happened actually did.

What’s currently on your reading list?

At the moment, my reading list is insane. I’ve been burning through all of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books and all of the side stories. They are so good. I’m not normally a reader of fantasy, but those books are so engrossing and well written.

Joe Butler, A Small Life

I also have the following books lined up:

Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Adjustment Day Chuck Palahniuk

Melmouth by Sarah Perry

Venison by C Scott Frank

Who are some of your biggest inspirations in life, both in terms of writing and from your personal life?

Writing wise, I would say my biggest inspirations are Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk, Amy Hempel, and Philip K Dick. My ultimate goal with my own writing is to sit somewhere between McCarthy’s beautifully lyrical prose and Palahniuk’s minimalist writing style. I absolutely love the concepts that PKD wrote about.

I think Neil Gaiman is there too, not so much for his writing, which is great, but more for the way he is. I love the way he always seems really positive and encouraging, and seems a genuine a force for good.

I really enjoyed writing the story though. I wanted it to be dark, but hopeful in some way, and I feel like the ending captured that.

Real life wise, I am constantly amazed by the dedication and hard work of my TLDR Press colleagues. It sounds cheesy, but we are all essentially working a second job for free, building an incredibly positive community of writers and putting out collections for charity. There isn’t any competition, and everyone’s success is our success. It’s sometimes really hard work, but always inspiring, and the TL;DR Press board members are really amazing people.

Is there anything as a writer that you’ve always been interested in but never tried?

I have a bit of a fear of public speaking, but I’d absolutely love to do a live reading. In terms of writing though, I don’t think so. I really enjoy experimenting with genres and forms, and I’m not really afraid to try stuff out.

I’d also really love to put together an illustrated collection of the ghost stories that I hide in hotels.

You’re a key player behind TL;DR Press – can you tell us about that? How did it come about?

TL;DR Press started from a post on the r/writing subreddit on Reddit. The post brought a group of writers/redditors together on Twitter, and we all started following eachother. There was a really tremendous feeling of support and momentum. Before that post, my twitter account had barely any followers, and no one apart from family and friends visited my writing site. Shortly after, Twitter became my main social media platform.

To keep the momentum going, I floated the idea of putting together an anthology of short stories. Someone in the community suggested that we donate the funds to charity and I started pulling it all together. Writers in the twitter community offered to help edit and take up other roles.

One of the main things I wanted to bring to it was a positive experience for everyone involved. I didn’t want it to just be a cold yes or no to submissions as I had experienced in the past. So, I came up with the idea of working with the submitting writers and offering feedback before any kind of scoring took place. The editing team made suggestions on how to improve the submissions as well as picking up typos and grammar issues, and the writer would submit a final version of their story for scoring.

So, ten of us founded TL;DR Press, and now we have around 100 members. It honestly feels like a genuinely special and creative space that is a force for good.

We named the collection TL;DR, A Redditwriters Mixtape in honour of where we came from. After it was released, someone in the group suggested a Slack group to give the community somewhere to go to chat and have our own space. So, ten of us founded TL;DR Press, and now we have around 100 members. It honestly feels like a genuinely special and creative space that is a force for good.

It’s really busy at the moment, too. We regularly hold workshops, write ins, beta reading, craft chat, and general chat. We’ve also just put out a Women’s Anthology with the proceeds going to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, putting the finishing touches on a Horror collection in aid of the Pilcrow Foundation, which is a children’s literary charity. We have also just released a call for submissions for our Family Collection.

Have you learned anything as a writer from being involved in the publishing side of things?

I’ve read and edited a lot of submissions and I can see what works (for me) and what doesn’t quite get there, and I bear that in mind when I write. Nowadays, I think a lot more about flow and pace. Cutting out the non-essential stuff that stands out to me when I am reading other writer’s work. I’ve also learnt a ton of stuff about the non-writing side of writing from my colleagues at the Press.

Joe, thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to seeing what you do in the future.

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