I’m pleased to be joined by Joe Hakim today as he steps into my author spotlight. His book, The Community, will be published by Wild Pressed Books next month and you can pre-order a copy online here: The Community. My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour.
Welcome Joe. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Hello. I’m Joe Hakim. I’m a writer and I live and work in Hull. The Community is my first novel, but I’ve been trying to scrape by as a freelance creative-type for a few years now. I’ve worked a lot in spoken/word and performance poetry, and I’ve also dabbled in theatre and short fiction.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve had an interest in reading, and by extension writing, from an early age. That’s down to my Grandma Topsy. I spent a lot of time with her, and I became a member of Carnegie Library on Anlaby Road in Hull. Every Saturday I’d go on road with my Gran, she would do her shopping, we would go to the library, and then she would take me to the newsagent to buy comics. This instilled me with a lifelong appreciation of words, so in some ways I suppose it was inevitable I’d try it.
As a kid, I was an avid fan of the British scifi comic 2000AD. Unlike the other comics I’d read up that point – things like Whoopee and Whizzer and Chips – the stories in 2000AD would credit the writers and artists, and would sometimes even feature interviews with them. I think up until that point, I’d never really thought about where books and comics, stories, came from. I mean, I was really young, like 7 or 8 years old, so reading about creators like Pat Mills and Alan Moore, and finding out about how they worked on scripts, their influences and such, made a big impression. I suppose it was the first time I realised that some adults had jobs creating these things I enjoyed reading so much.
Tell me about your journey to publication
It was long and complicated. It’s taken about five years. Although I’ve been working as a writer for a while in different mediums, this was my first attempt at a novel, so it was a huge learning process, so much so that it led me back into education. I enrolled on an MA course at the University of Hull.
I hammered out the first draft really quickly, in a number of weeks, but it’s taken four years of redrafting and rewriting to get it right. I made a lot of wrong turns, hit a lot of brick walls, and every year I would tell myself I was going to stick it in the bin.
I knew that it was never going to be a mainstream commercial novel, so I quickly abandoned the idea of going the traditional route of submitting to agents and publishers early and tried to focus on getting it right.
There was no chance of self-publishing, because if you’re serious about making something the best it can be, you need collaborators, editors, people who aren’t afraid to challenge you. And people who are as passionate about your work as you are. It was going to be indie all the way. The small presses, the independents, are the future. They’re producing the best stuff.
I was very lucky to meet Tracey and Phil at Wild Pressed. Not only are they lovely people, they’ve put the graft in. The design of the cover (based on one of Tracey’s paintings), the editing, the marketing, everything really. I was ‘off’ the whole thing when I met them, and their enthusiasm for it brought me back around to it as a piece of writing.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
It’s scif/horror novel set in Hull. It’s about a group of estranged friends who are brought back together by a mysterious, sinister force.
It’s got aliens and UFOs in it.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Titles, along with character names, are the bane of my life. In its first incarnation it went by the working title of ‘Greys’, and after the first major rewrite it became ‘The 5th System’ and then it went through a multitude of names before settling on ‘Community’ and eventually ‘The Community’.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I have a collection of short stories, ‘Full of Pins’, which is currently being rejected by all good agents and publishers everywhere.
I’m working on an interactive theatre piece called ‘Omni-Science’ with Brick by Brick theatre company. It’s wild, check it out:
I host a weekly arts and culture show on BBC Radio Humberside every Thursday 7-10. Tune in, I need the listeners.
I’m about to embark on a project with photographer Graeme Oxby.
I’m in the very early stages of what I hope will be my next novel. It’s set in a very specific time period, so I’m having to do a lot of research, so I’m consulting with my Wise Owls at the moment.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I’ve been reading a lot of what I refer to as ‘bath and bus’ books lately, cheap paperbacks you pick up in 2-for-1 deals at various high street outlets. I call them bath and bus books because I read them when I’m either on the bus or in the bath. I try not to do both at the same time. ‘Ziggyology’ by Simon Goddard and ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ by Ted Chiang have been a couple of notable highlights.
But without a doubt, the best book I’ve read in a long time is ‘Black Car Burning’ by Helen Mort. It’s an incredible novel. Go read it. It’s a great story, and she doesn’t hold back. She takes these complicated characters, puts them in complicated situations, but does it in a way that makes them instantly relatable. And the way she makes the landscape into a character is masterful.
In terms of poetry ‘Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe on The Streets’ by Dean Wilson should be owned by everyone, everywhere. Beautiful, funny, tender poems. Reading them makes life better.
And the best collection of short stories I’ve read recently is ‘We Know What We Are’ by Russ Litten. Russ is a good mate, and I’m constantly in awe of what he can do with character. When you read his stories, you feel like you know the characters, that you’ve met them somewhere before.
What are you reading just now?
It’s July, and I’ve just got the final proof, so I’m reading ‘The Kraken Wakes’ by John Wyndham. It’s endearingly twee. I read ‘The Day of the Triffids’ when I was really young, and I also remember being freaked out by the TV adaption of ‘Chocky’. They left a big impression on me. Wyndham gets a lot of stick for being really mild and middle-class, and he absolutely is, but he was an incredible storyteller and that’s all that counts. When I started work on The Community, just the fact that it’s a story that features aliens and a look back at youthful experiences meant that those Wyndham-esque elements were going to emerge, so I embraced them.
It just felt right to revisit his work as a sort of celebration of hitting a landmark with the novel, and I’ve never read it before so I picked it up. It’s funny, because the first thing I noticed is that it’s split into three phases just like The Community. I honestly never knew that before I started reading it.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Difficult one. I read Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut when I was a teenager, and it’s one of the few books that I’ve re-read more than once. I think if I was stranded on a desert island, doomed to slowly die of starvation and exposure, Vonnegut would be the way to go.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
You can find me on that twitter @JoeHakim_ . Remember the underscore at the end, or you’ll end up harassing some poor guy in America.
Keep it clean. And nice.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I’d be Thomas Jerome Newton in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. I know I’d be alienated, drunk and slowly going insane, but I’d also be filthy rich and look remarkably similar to David Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase, so I’d say that’s a fair trade.
From the back of the book
A northern coastal city. A sinister, extra-dimensional intelligence is taking hold…
Joe Hakim draws the reader into the heart of a disenfranchised community impacted by strange forces beyond its control. A group of friends: separated by time, choices, and circumstance are reunited by their shared encounters with an uncanny presence that looms over their lives. The seeds were sewn in their childhoods, now they must try and understand what is happening, before it is too late.
Raw and uncompromising, The Community fuses social commentary with a dose of sci-fi horror, to cast a light on an existence spent in the Void.
About the author
Joe Hakim lives and works in Hull. As a performance poet, he’s performed at venues and festivals around the UK, including Latitude, Big Chill and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
He was co-host and organiser of Write to Speak, a series of spoken word events and workshops that took in place at Hull Truck Theatre from 2009 to 2013. In 2016 he toured and performed with LIFE, a Hull-based punk band, performing on the UK leg of the Slaves European tour.
In January 2017 he travelled to Trinidad with The Roundhouse and Wrecking Ball Press as part of the Talking Doorsteps project, assisting in the delivery of workshops and helping to forge international links between spoken word organisations and projects. This culminated in a performance at the BBC’s Contains Strong Language festival in September 2017, which featured young people from Trinidad’s 2 Cents Movement working alongside young people from Hull’s Warren Youth Project and Goodwin Community Centre.
Theatre work includes co-writing and developing Omni-Science with Brick by Brick, performed at Assemble Fest 2017, and Come to Where I’m From, developed in association with Paines Plough performed at Hull Truck in May 2017.
He is currently working with schools in Hull as part of First Story. The album ‘The Science of Discontent’, his second with musician Ashley Reaks, was released in 2018.