The Tunnel: Joseph Sale
Reviewed By Steve Stred
I’ve long been a fan of Joseph Sale’s work, starting with his sci-fi/horror story ‘Gods of the Black Gate.’
Through reading a number of his works, I’ve always loved his willingness to invent and create these amazing, fully formed worlds where the sky’s the limit and Sale’s imagination can work in overdrive.
When I saw the release news on his latest ‘The Tunnel,’ I was excited. Here we were going to get some sort of portal story, a London time-travel type narrative.
But it turns out I was completely wrong. Not sure how I came to that conclusion, but instead what we get with ‘The Tunnel’ is Joseph telling us a straightforward creature-feature tale of a massive 30-foot crocodile savaging the shores of London.
I was stunned.
What I liked: ‘The Tunnel’ follows Georgie, a thirty-year-old woman who operates a webcam. She’s had a falling out with her father many years back and struggles to reconcile that she doesn’t have the same relationship with her parents as her best friend does with hers. At the same time, bodies begin to appear along a local river bank and soon it becomes obvious that something massive is out there killing people. When the creature makes itself known, Georgie feels a pull that she’s the one that must kill it.
Sale has layered this novel thoroughly. We get a morality narrative where our main character battles between what she does for a living with how society and others perceive her chosen profession.
We get a redemption/closure narrative where our main character has to look within themself about her past and her relationship with her parents.
And we also get a good versus evil narrative; our main character versus this creature.
Throughout, Sale makes sure to not neglect any of these aspects and the book is all the better for it. This isn’t a story told over two or three days. Things take time and we see that not only in the chapter headings but also in the events themselves.
I must also add – unlike many Hollywood blockbusters where we get a big build up only for the bad guy to be easily dispatched, the finale here is brutal, bloody and not a paragraph long. The results are handled really well and I was so happy to see this instead of the creature-feature norm.
What I didn’t like: Maybe it was me expecting more normal Sale type stuff, but I was expecting more from the experience early on with our main character and her father. I want to remain spoiler-free, and maybe I missed something, but other than the letter later on we didn’t get much closure regarding those events.
Why you should buy this: This is a creature feature with emotional depth and a fantastic character arc. Think ‘Creature’ from Hunter Shea. The action scenes involving the croc are fantastic and Sale masterfully handles the human versus beast moments really well.
This very well might be Sale’s most solid writing effort to date, and that’s saying a lot, but it is also his most grounded and mature effort and for that the reader benefits.
Steve Stred Talks To Joseph Sale
Kendall Reviews: Please note there are slight spoilers for ‘The Tunnel’ in this interview.
Steve Stred: With your latest release (the fantastic ‘The Tunnel’) I would say of all of your work I’ve read, this is the most grounded in reality. Obviously, there’s a giant crocodile on the loose, which you do ground by mentioning the lore of Gustave the man-eater, but was this a conscious decision to write a non-sci-fi style story?
Joseph Sale: This is a really astute observation. Thank you for reading so closely! You’re absolutely right that ‘The Tunnel’ is my least supernatural/science fiction story. I didn’t really set out with the intent to write a “grounded story”. The idea for ‘The Tunnel’ came about during lockdown. I had been trying to write for a while post Dark Hilarity, but nothing was coming out; it seemed the well of inspiration was well and truly dry. I kept attempting these big epic fantasies and none of them were working. They were the very opposite of grounded!
Then my good friend, Robert Monaghan, who is a brilliant storyteller and writer (and more importantly a brilliant friend) came up to see me during one of the brief gaps between our first and second lockdown in the UK. We sat out on the porch drinking gin and he started telling this weird and rambling story about the killer crocodile Gustave. I could not for the life of me believe this was true, and Rob has a gift for embellishment, but lo and behold, as I later disappeared down an internet rabbit hole I discovered it was very real!
At the time Rob came up to see me and told me about Gustave, I had also been reading a lot of books about Jack The Ripper, including Alan Moore’s sensational From Hell. The idea of a killer crocodile in London who might well be the reincarnation of Jack just kind of clicked from that point on. I’ve often maintained that a great book is always born from the intersection of two great ideas, not one. The killer crocodile alone is not interesting enough, but combine it with Jack The Ripper and conspiracy theories and I suddenly found I had my mojo back!
In my original plans for the story, there was more supernatural agency involved, but I ultimately steered away from it, because I felt the symbolism of the crocodile and the other elements was strong enough to stand on its own without being made more literal, and it also allowed people to read interpretations into the story in ways that taking it into that supernatural territory overtly wouldn’t facilitate. It gave the reader more room to breathe, and to explore ambiguities. It pleases me that there is already one conspiracy theory developing about who – or what – Jack really is among beta readers. A writer cannot wish for more!
SS: Your books are typically massive in scope and layered with numerous themes and narratives. For this one, you seemed to reduce the scope but up the emotional layers and depth. Similar to ‘Save Game’ but tightened in where it took place. Was that something that organically occurred or did you plot that with an outline that emphasized those elements?
JS: You are very kind. Thank you! Again, you are absolutely bang on. Whereas the “grounding” of the story was not intentional, the reduced scope of the story certainly was. I really wanted to focus on one character: Georgie. In the past, I have been accused of skimping on character development. I think that’s a little harsh, but I do think that I become excited, as you say, by themes, philosophy, and the landscapes of unexplored worlds. These can sometimes detract from the characters and their interiors. So, this time around, I really wanted to put as much effort as I could into developing Georgie. And Jack, to an extent. I like to think that the crocodile has a personality that more subtly comes through as the story goes on. One of my favourite lines in the whole book is, “Jack had a sense of humour.”
Interestingly, you mention ‘Save Game’, as that was another book idea that came from a wonderful friend of mine: Hugo Haub. We were playing Dark Souls 3 together, and he was far less experienced at the game than me, but during an invasion from enemy players, he made this absolutely epic play, taking on these over-levelled and deadly assassins despite being so significantly underpowered. He didn’t have a hope in hell, but all he wanted was to give me and the other players time to complete our quest. That became the inspiration for Hugo The Third’s final and epic return at the end of ‘Save Game’, which is still one of my all-time favourite scenes I’ve written!
SS: Within your other works, as I’ve mentioned, oftentimes we get other worlds and new species etc. With ‘The Tunnel’ we follow a woman whose primary occupation is WebCam Operator. As I mentioned earlier, this seems to really ground this story significantly. Her internal struggle between taking pride in her job with how people perceive her was interesting. Did you reach out to any WebCam women to get insight on this? How did you approach this?
JS: This is a really good question. I did speak with a few women. Though none of them were hardcore WebCam models, they had all dabbled, and it was interesting to get a range of perspectives. One of my key aims with this book – and philosophies in general – was to portray the character in a completely compassionate way without glossing over the difficult psychological realities of the work.
Though I have never been in a job like Georgie’s, I felt there was a small point of connection I could relate to, in that Georgie’s choice of work has precluded her from other realms; she will forever be an outsider to normal society as a result of what she does. When I made the decision to quit my job in 2017, people told me I was insane, and some still hold me at arm’s length as a kind of dangerous madman who is going to corrupt their nice middle-class family members into doing risky and outlandish things like quitting their jobs. It sounds far-fetched, but to some people, the creative industries are just as dangerous or threatening as porn or criminal activity!! So, whilst I can never fully know what it’s like for these women, there was definitely an element I could empathetically tap into.
The last thing to say is that thematically it was very important for the hero of this story to be in this industry, because in every Jack The Ripper mythos or story I’d read, the prostitutes or ladies of the night he targeted were always heavily victimised, helpless, and weak. It makes sense that the original Jack The Ripper would indeed have targeted the more vulnerable women, of course, but I was keen to show what one of these women fighting back might look like. It’s pretty obvious from even the blurbs, but both Dark Hilarity and The Tunnel are attempts to explore feminine heroism and energy (unlike the Black Gate, which was predominantly male-focused). I hope I have succeeded, and I welcome any feedback from women critics or authors.
SS: Additionally, the main characters best friend is a blacksmith with a massive Instagram following. I loved how you discussed the unseen struggles of her job and following. Do you personally struggle with social media? I know you at one point decided to minimize how much time you spent on the platforms.
JS: I’m so glad you mentioned it, as this was a very important thing to me at the time of writing it, and still is. Tracey was such a hard character to write and thankfully I had a lot of guidance from a friend of mine. But I absolutely love her; she might be one of my favourite characters.
I felt it was really important to show the other side of a career like hers; social media is so deceptive, and it is so easy to believe that everyone on there is living these perfect lives, whereas in fact they’re not, they have ups and downs like anyone else.
Last year, 2020, I did have to take some serious time away from social media. It all got too much for me. I was drained of life force by the relentless information pouring in. It was starting to distract me from my work, and my spiritual practice, and to really get me down. There was also a catalyst where I said something on Twitter that caused harm. It was certainly not my intent to hurt anyone; it was a mistake born out of exhaustion and my own confusion about what was being said. But I realised that if I didn’t do something about this, it was going to get worse. At one point, I was only allowing myself a single day of social media a week. Now, I’ve relaxed that a little as I seem to have established a healthier equilibrium with it.
Don’t get me wrong, however, social media can be great. I met your good self and Gavin via social media, and many other fantastic people whom I feel honoured to call friends. But, like any tool, it must be used with respect and caution.
SS: The book follows a fairly faithful good versus evil story arc. What are your personal favorite stories that follow that arc?
JS: This is such a hard question to answer as there are so many! I love My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, and that book definitely was a huge influence on both Dark Hilarity and The Tunnel. Exorcisms in general are a classic good versus evil premise that facilitates a real dialogue between the two sides.
People will be sick of me talking about this book, as I always seem to work it into an interview, but The Lord of the Rings I think is arguably the most archetypal renditions of good versus evil ever (although it also has that wonderful grey element embodied in Gollum)!
I also really admired how you explored evil in The Navajo Nightmare and The Stranger. In both of those stories, you showed how people can open themselves up to evil. It isn’t that they’re evil to begin with, per se, but more that through a process of immoral or heartless decisions they become vessels for something else which is evil. Or at least, that was my reading. It’s very deep stuff.
Whilst some people may feel good versus evil is simplistic, I think there is something in it that appeals to the deepest part of our psyche: it is the light of the campfire pushing back the encroaching shadows. The mythology of good versus evil is inside us like DNA.
I also think true and pure evil really does exist, and without oversharing I feel I have experienced some of it firsthand. I know many like me share this experience, and so these stories will remain forever relevant, no matter how enlightened we believe our society has become.
SS: I loved the giant crocodile aspect and mentioning of Gustave. Funny enough, my son and I have been watching “big” animal videos on Youtube lately. So, big crocs, big snakes etc. Any videos that you may have come across that made you go wow!
JS: Auryn has wonderful taste! I think most kids go through a phase of it, right? Or maybe that’s just me! When I was a kid, I was obsessed with sharks and snakes, and I remember watching Blue Planet for the first time and having my tiny mind blown apart when they went into “the abyss”. The angler fish, siphonophore, the nine-meter long sharks, and the crevasses down into absolute oblivion… it all fuelled my imagination! Then, when I was at sixth form studying drama, we used to reward ourselves after the long days of rehearsals by talking about big dangerous animals afterwards! It was so much fun. I’ve always, I guess, had a soft spot for big creature features (just thinking of the crabs in Dark Hilarity!), but normally they don’t take centre stage in the story. With The Tunnel, the big boy got his turn!
The Gustave story is stranger than any fiction! It’s so mental. I was very keen to portray the true story elements with respect and authenticity via Jean-Claude. JC is actually heavily based on someone I know who did not wish to be named for various reasons, but they are an amazing and inspiring individual.
My recommendation for a video is to type in “The Bloop” to YouTube; no matter how many times I hear it, it never fails to freak me out (deep-sea creatures must be the apex of uncanny, right?). I remember hearing about The Bloop ages ago, but my dear friend and co-author on an upcoming project Edward Kennard put me back onto it. Essentially, it was a sound emanating from the deep ocean that was recorded quite literally across the world. It’s some truly terrifying Cthulhu-esque shit. Like, what could be big enough to make that sound?
SS: Lastly, what’s next for Joseph Sale?
JS: This is a very kind question! Thank you! There are two major projects I’d like to talk about coming up. One of them I have mentioned before, which is my upcoming fantasy-epic Virtue’s End. It’s actually an epic poem, although I hope that won’t put people off! I like to think it’s written in a very pacey and accessible way. The idea of the poem is that it continues and “finishes” Spenser’s legendary Faerie Queene, which he sadly died before completing. Despite this, Virtue’s End is really a very personal piece of work written after I had a spiritual epiphany in Glastonbury. It focuses on two rival sorcerers battling for the fate of the magical land of Ethismos. I really think it’s one of my best pieces of work, and certainly, it is one of the most autobiographical, as my experience in Glastonbury related to some traumas I’d experienced as a child, and which I feel I processed for perhaps the first time.
The second project I have held off speaking about for a while, as I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off, but now that I have gotten to a certain stage in the project, I feel more confident I can finish it. And so, I’d like to exclusively reveal it to Kendall Reviews now!!!
I am currently working on a book called The Tower Outside of Time. It is essentially a sequel to both Dark Hilarity and The Tunnel! It’s set in 2022, post-Jack’s killing spree, and picks up the threads of both stories. I have a habit of writing a few books with similar themes and then realising that there are links between them I want to explore more deeply (this happened with the third and final Black Gate book, as well). I think there is more of a link between The Tunnel and Dark Hilarity than initially meets the eye. And certainly, this third book pulls them together in a kind of intertwined double-helix. I don’t want to overhype it but I have genuinely shocked and even stunned myself with some of the content emerging from this narrative fusion. It’s been quite revelatory.
The overall premise of the story came to me after reading several occult tomes (those who are deep in this field may even know which book my title is referencing), and experiencing an intense dream-vision that shook me to my core. I think, if I can do it justice, it will be a devastating ending to several arcs, and it addresses some unanswered questions of Dark Hilarity. I am nervous to be even talking about this book because it’s going to be very hard to finish and “get right”, but I feel now is the right time to reveal it. I anticipate it will come out in 2022.
I must just say thank you again for asking such thoughtful and specific questions. I’m truly humbled. I love your work, love Kendall Reviews, the good you do for the horror community is immeasurable.
SS: Thanks for doing this!
A monster haunts London.
Some believe it is the reincarnation of Jack The Ripper, come to clean the streets once again. Others believe it is merely a freak of nature. Whatever the case, London’s waterways, sewers, and coasts are no longer safe.
As the death toll mounts and the creature grows bolder, a young WebCam model, Georgie, begins to realise that there is a terrifying connection between her and the darkness stalking her city.
World-class hunters are unable to stop the beast. The million-pound bounty on the creature’s head has proved ineffectual. Only she has the power to end the reign of the terror, but to do so, she will have to enter the tunnel…
The Tunnel is a novel about the traumas we endure in childhood, the way the things we fear most return to haunt us, and the healing power of forgiveness.
Joseph Sale is a novelist, and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his love-letter to fantasy: Save Game. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
To explore more occult-related phenomenon, then why not head over to his Patreon, where he is forever delving into the sacred and profane.
If you’re curious about his writing, you can get a free copy of his eBook novella The Meaning of the Dark by signing up to his newsletter.
You can follow Joseph on Twitter @josephwordsmith
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here