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An Interview with Joe Wilson

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

Congratulations on the publication of the brilliant The Island That Didn’t Exist! Are you able to give readers an idea for what’s in store?

Thank you very much! I hope it’s an adventure that keeps surprising people. It all begins when 12 year old Rixon Webster, to his amazement, finds he has inherited his own island. He then discovers, to his crushing frustration, that the island doesn’t actually exist. Or at least, that’s what everyone tells him. The way the island has been hidden and the reasons for the extraordinary secrecy then form the basis of the story. There are all sorts of dangers to Rixon himself. But there are far bigger forces at work too, with global implications!

What three words would you use to describe The Island That Didn’t Exist?

Oh, that’s an interesting question, let me think… ‘Exciting, surprising, endearing.’ I hope those all apply.

What was the original inspiration behind The Island That Didn’t Exist and did you undertake much research during your writing process?

I can remember very clearly how the idea first emerged, I was walking along a stretch of coastline and there was a sign pointing towards a small island in the distance. The island was closed to visitors and uninhabited, according to the sign. It made me think, ‘how does anyone know it’s uninhabited if nobody goes there?’ It made me think that an island could be a brilliant place to hide something, or someone. Over the course of writing the book the plot took me into all sorts of details that I tried to research; from the workings of an outboard motor to the history of mineral mining. But, sadly, I didn’t visit any secret islands. Or, at least none that I can reveal!

Rixon, Faith, Thorn, Rose and Russell are all brilliant diverse and resilient characters, where do you get your inspiration to write your characters?

Thank you, I’m so pleased you think that. Well, I suppose I just tried to make them as real to me as I could. One of the things I wanted to ensure was that their relationships shift, their personalities sometimes clash and sometimes blend at various points in the story. The dynamic between them can change in an instant. The island children are very different in their individual personalities but they share a traumatic life experience. It means there is a uniquely strong bond on the island. Rixon is an immediate threat to that. So, he has to adapt very quickly. One of the beauties of the island setting is that it strips away all the trappings of modern life. All the devices and distractions are gone. That allows the children to be far more resilient and autonomous, they have to be!

This is your debut children’s book, which I read took you fifteen years to write! Do you have any tips or advice for someone writing their own debut?

Ha, that’s true! It was about fifteen years from the genesis of the idea to the publication of the book. But there were many years over that period when I did nothing other than store the idea somewhere in the back of my mind. It takes a lot of commitment to write a whole book. There are so many other things going on in life, family and job to name just two! So, my main advice would be to write something that you enjoy. My imagination just fitted perfectly with this age group and genre. I wanted my writing to be an escape in itself. In terms of actually getting the story to publication having an agent was crucial, Becky Bagnell was so much help. Although I have been a professional writer, of a very different type, for 25 years I was so grateful to get advice when it came to writing a novel. So, retain control over every word you write but embrace feedback from people who really know the industry; that would be a tip from me. Keep taking a deep breath when it comes to rewriting, plough on and keep trying to enjoy the process!

What was your favourite part about writing The Island That Didn’t Exist?

I think there is a unique thrill to reading back something that you’ve written yourself and thinking ‘wow, that works – that’s good!’ There were still passages that made me smile and parts that made my heart race, even after all the fine tuning and redrafting. Then, finding that the characters and ideas chime with other people, that’s a thrill too. The positivity from Oxford University Press, the cover design by George Ermos, it was really remarkable when people were so enthusiastic about a project which has lived so long in my imagination.

You touch on a lot of important topics through The Island That Didn’t Exist, including the wielding of power and the current climate crisis. What do you hope readers take away from reading your book?

That’s another really interesting question. I didn’t set out to write a book about enviromentalism but I just think its inescapable. It is the commanding issue in our lives. So, it just seemed natural that it should crop up in the plot. It’s really up to readers to take whatever sticks in their mind from the book. But two points occur to me. Firstly; if there is a solution to the climate crisis then whoever controls it controls the future. Secondly, if it’s going to be the defining issue of young people’s lives then young people should be empowered to solve it. Both these ideas are there in the book.

If you could take any one item to a deserted island, what would you take?

A really firm pillow.

2020 has already proved to be a difficult year, but I always like to ask, what else is on the horizon for you this year?

I will be adapting, like everyone else I think, to the new normal, whatever that is. I’m hoping there are some lasting, fundamental, changes to what we value and prioritise in society. But I expect 2020 will also proceed as it has in previous years; I will be working hard to be the best Sports Correspondent I can be and trying to maintain my other creative outlets in my spare time. My family will hopefully continue to put up with me. And, just maybe, the dog will finally work out she cannot squeeze through a three centimetre gap beneath the fence to reach the neighbour’s cat.

Any plans of writing a second children’s book? I don’t think I could wait another fifteen years for your next book!

Well, I have lots of ideas and one story already finished. I am really excited about it, actually. I think it has all the gripping ingredients from The Island That Didn't Exist but mixed together in a very different setting. I sincerely hope you don't have to wait 15 years to see it in print. Now I've got started I fully intend to keep going.

What are your favourite children’s books at the moment? A childhood favourite and a current one!

I’m generally led by my own children when it comes to current books. So, I dipped into Ready Player One and enjoyed its vision of a virtual world with all the inherent pleasures and pitfalls. When I think back to my own childhood I seem to have spent my days reading stories written long before my birth. Tintin was a big favourite and there were passages in Jennings Goes To School which made me cry with laughter. His life was very different to mine but it was so well written by Anthony Buckeridge the words transcended everything. And that’s the point of books, isn’t it?

Joe and Viv Richards

And finally, my favourite question I like to ask, if you could invite any five people – past and present – to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

Well, what a captivating question! I have been rewriting my guest list all day. I suppose I am rather like Rixon Webster in The Island That Didn’t Exist; fundamentally I want everyone around me to get on. So, I’ve selected five people who I think I would find fascinating. But I also hope they would enjoy each other’s company. In no particular order…

Viv Richards, Julie Walters, PG Wodehouse, Joan Armatrading, Roger Bannister.

Joe Wilson has spent much of his life reporting on sport for the BBC. From dressage to darts, from Arbroath to Ahmedabad he’s followed the stories. Joe forged a path to journalism having failed in his initial career choices of shoe salesman and non-league goalkeeper. He likes to stare out to sea and wonder if the world is completely as it seems. He often hopes that it isn’t. Joe lives in the east of England with his wife and two children where he is part-owned by a half-poodle. The Island That Didn’t Exist is his first book. You can find out more about Joe on his website

Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeWilsonwords.


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