The Kendall Reviews Interview
Steve Stred talks to Jonathan Edward Durham
Throughout 2021, I’ve read so many amazing books (even listened to one!) and I gotta say, the level of storytelling that us readers are getting is top notch and simply amazing. I’ve submitted my list to Kendall Reviews of my Top 21 of 2021 but I wanted to take the time to spotlight one of those books that I absolutely adored.
I snagged this one for review based on the cover art and the synopsis. When I dove in, I had no idea that I’d be entering a world that will stay with me forever and has easily slotted itself on my list of ‘All-Time Favorite’ Books.
With that in mind, I reached out to the author, Jonathan Edward Durham, to ask him some questions regarding his debut novel ‘Winterset Hollow.’ I must admit, this was also done selfishly, as I desperately wanted to know more about the creation of this fantastic novel!
‘Winterset Hollow’ is your debut novel and as you know, I believe it to be a phenomenal read. You’ve said in a few other interviews that you storyboard your ideas for plotting. Did ‘Winterset’ start out as a book or were you looking at writing a script?
Winterset was a book from the get-go. It kind of just so happened that the idea started to germinate right around the time that I was trying to decide which of my stories I wanted to turn into a book, so it just seemed to make sense to pick the brand new story to kick off a brand new direction in my storytelling career. Additionally, once the concept of writing the book within the book really started to click, I realized that WH was going to be something of a love letter to all of the classic fantasy books I loved as a kid (but super dark and twisted because I can’t help myself lol), and from there on out I was certain that a novel was the right medium for it.
How long did it take you to write it? You previously said that it started as a kernel of an idea and then you dove in. Did it go through many versions before being released?
To be honest, it was pretty much the same story from the time I was done storyboarding to the time we published it. I try to do enough development work that there’s not much guessing to do by the time I sit down to type…I just work better that way. So, I would say that it took about two months of development, five months for the first draft, and then another five to seven of editing with some huge speedbumps along the way, but we’ll get to those later on in the interview, I’m sure. I write pretty fast, which is something of a double-edged sword, but it’s the only way I know how to do things, so I need to make sure that everything is turn-key story-wise before I start cranking out chapters.
You moved from the East Coast to the West Coast not so long ago. Did that change of scenery inspire this book?
Yes and no. It’s impossible for me to separate that change of scenery from the growth that I experienced after my move across the country…impossible to untangle those two things in a way…impossible to see that cause and effect of it all. Moving away from the area that I grew up in certainly gave me the freedom to accept certain things about myself that I had been running away from for years, and that kind of inner honesty opened up a whole new world for me as a writer that I otherwise never would have had the chance to see. So, did Los Angeles inspire this story? Not really. But did my years in Los Angeles teach me things that made it possible to write this story in the first place? Absolutely, yes.
The book within the book is just outstanding. Was that the hardest aspect of writing the completed novel? It is essentially a rhyming novel within a novel that tells the backstory or ‘the real book’ that the characters have read and grown to love.
It was hard to get the nuance of all of that to really be in lockstep with the rest of the book, I’ll give you that…it was a really delicate balance of leaving some things to the imagination and hanging a lantern on others. It was a big logic puzzle at times, but I absolutely love puzzles, and one of my favorite moments when I’m working on a project is when I stumble upon a puzzle that I know will take the story to another level if I can just solve it in the right way…and the relationship between my book and Addington’s book was just one of those puzzles. So I’m not sure if it was necessarily the hardest part of writing WH, but it may have been the trickiest.
Let’s talk Barley Day. Was that something that drove the narrative as far as the book within the book? Did you need to come up with that particular aspect to make things click?
I think so, yes. After a few weeks of development, it started to become clear that I needed something to really anchor all of the story pieces that I had floating around in my head. The narrative was missing a tether and it all felt a bit piecemeal until I landed on Barley Day as a springboard. It immediately answered a lot of questions that I was hung up on and kind of sewed everything together…it just made everything a bit more special—the visit to the island, the interior of the Manor, the crux of Addington’s book, the sense of history, the sense of tradition—Barley Day was really the moment it all began to fall into place.
In previous interviews you stated that fantasy had always been something you’ve enjoyed, as well as books from authors such as C.S. Lewis etc. The usage of the animals within ‘Winterset Hollow’ was superb. Was there a specific book that influenced this aspect the most? ‘Wind In the Willows,’ or ‘Winnie the Pooh’ etc?
One hundred percent Winnie the Pooh. I suppose Disney had a thing or two to say about all of that as well, but Winnie the Pooh was a favorite of mine as a kid…and there was just something about those characters in particular that seemed so human. Nothing in their design or their performance or anything like that, but more so in their issues. Their problems. Overeating and depression and loneliness and ADHD and it was all just so plainly there and so accessible even for the youngest of audiences. One day I found myself sitting around thinking, “What would those characters be like sixty years later?” And then I thought, “I bet they’d be super messed up,” and then I wrote Winterset Hollow lol. And just between you and me, the Hundred Acre Wood was always the inspiration for Addington Isle, but don’t tell anyone else.
The dialogue in the book is so fun to read, especially between our old pals frog and rabbit. When I read it, I had them speaking in a British accent for some odd reason. Did you base these two characters on any real people? Their relationship was the highlight of the book for me.
No, they weren’t based on anybody in particular, but they should have read a bit British, because if you think about it…they probably learned the bulk of their English from Addington and his family, who were Brits living in the U.S. And their relationship was one of my favorite parts of the story as well…I really love to write banter and the dialogue between the two of them is a prime example. To be honest, the chemistry between the two of them was probably one of the things that changed the most as I actually wrote WH. I didn’t have anything special in mind for the two of them initially, but it just kind of started turning that way and it felt natural to lean into it, so I did…and eventually they ended up as something a bit more meaningful than just a pair of friends in my mind, but I wanted to leave that ambiguous enough that different readers might draw different conclusions. I like it when details are flexible in that way.
The essence of the story is about these three friends who go to this remote island to visit the location their favorite book was written. If you were to take a trip to visit your favorite book’s location, where would you be going? Would you be bringing any friends with you?
That’s an amazing question. Unfortunately, most of my favorite books take place in the past or in places that don’t really exist, so I’ll go ahead and make this one a hypothetical, if you don’t mind lol. I have two answers for this—the first is that I’d like to go to Narnia for the express purpose of eating Turkish Delight. I still remember reading that passage about Turkish Delight as a kid and for some reason thinking that it must be the most delicious things in the whole wide world…and I’ve still never had the chance to try it…so that’s the first thing I’d like to do. My second answer is that I’d like to go to Paris during the days of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast and just hang out and be a worthless bohemian artist for a while. No friends along for the ride, just me and a bunch of dirtbag expats drinking the days away and writing and talking junk about the other artists in our circle. Pure ego fuel and no responsibilities and lots of aperitifs and cigarettes. Heaven.
The cover art is beautiful and to have a blurb by Diana Gabaldon (Author of the Outlander series) must have blown you away. Did you have any say in the cover design? Was it your publisher who arranged the blurb or did you have a connection with Diana?
So the cover was pretty much my design actually. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted from day one—something clean and simple and elegant and striking. There are so many beautiful book covers out there that I wanted something that was a statement in simplicity and on the minimalist side. I kicked around a bunch of different ideas before I landed on ‘barley for eyes,’ and after that I knew I had something interesting. As far as the blurb, it was amazingly kind of Diana not only to take the time to read an early draft, but to let me borrow a few of her kind words for the cover. She’s a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, and even though we’ve never met before, I took a shot and you can imagine how utterly shocked I was that she actually responded. It was truly an act of charity and I’ll never forget it, and it just goes to show how absolutely deserving she is of all of her success, because kindness like that isn’t an accident.
Truth time! Who was your favorite character to bring to life? I loved Bing the Bear but adored the relationship of your rabbit and frog!
Well, I hope you’re ready for yet another twist, because my favorite character to bring to life was actually Edward Addington…the only one who wasn’t actually living. Again, this speaks to my puzzle fetish, but that’s what his creation was for me…another puzzle that was integral to making WH special. I love it when there’s an important character who isn’t really there…it gives me a chance to really develop a history and to use that history as something of a Rorschach test for the characters who are there. It’s a way for me to world-build in a confined space and a confined time, which are two things that are common to a lot of my stories. I tell small stories, so I need to find a way to make them feel bigger than they are…and the ghosts of those who are no longer there are great conduits for that kind of thing. History and the scars it leaves and all that.
How did you end up working with Credo House Publishers? Had you submitted the novel to a number of places previously?
I shopped it around a bit for sure. Actually, I signed with another publisher (who shall remain nameless) before Credo, and we actually got all the way through the editing process and were just about to start proofing when I pulled the book over creative differences. It just didn’t feel like the finished product that I wanted, and I was losing faith in those people that were making the decisions, so I took a step back and made sure that the next home for WH was going to be a place that would back my vison and trust my instincts, and Credo House turned out to be that place. So it was a bit of a bumpy road, but then again I’m not sure there’s any other type of road when it comes to being a creative professional lol. Just gotta keep upgrading your suspension.
What’s next for yourself? I saw on Instagram you’d started plotting a new book. Do you have anything finished and releasing before then?
Nope. Next one will be out hopefully later this year or early 2023, and I don’t have anything else coming out before then. I think a book a year is about my speed, so that’s the plan I’m gonna try and stick to going forward. But after the next one will probably be a return to the world of Winterset Hollow. I think a prequel or two is in order, but I wanna give WH a little time to breathe and make sure that I pick the right story within that world for the second book. But between you and me, you might wanna mark Barley Day 2023 on your calendar 😉
Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.
Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book—a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It’s Barley Day . . . and you’re invited to the hunt.
Winterset Hollow is as thrilling as it is terrifying and as smart as it is surprising. A uniquely original story filled with properly unexpected twists and turns, Winterset Hollow delivers complex, indelible characters and pulse- pounding action as it storms toward an unforgettable climax that will leave you reeling. How do you celebrate Barley Day? You run, friend. You run.
Jonathan Edward Durham
Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits.
He now lives with his partner in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences. His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, an elevated contemporary fantasy with a dark twist, is mined from that same vein and is currently available everywhere.
Find out more about Jonathan via his official website www.jonathanedwarddurham.com
You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @thisone0verhere
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak fiction.
Steve is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve has appeared alongside some of Horror’s heaviest hitters (Tim Lebbon, Gemma Amor, Adrian J. Walker, Ramsey Campbell) in some fantastic anthologies.
He is an active member of the HWA.
He is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife and son.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here