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Josh Winning Interview

A cursed movie remake. A child-star-turned-journalist all-too familiar with the original film’s sordid history. In Burn the Negative, Josh Winning crafts a suspense novel tailor-made for horror fans. If you’ve ever sat up at night googling “cursed movie sets” (I most certainly have, more than once) then this one's for you.

Read the full interview below.

First off, I love the title, Burn the Negative. Did it take a while to come up with it or was it one of those instant revelations?

Thank you! I did a little brainstorming session in order to reach that title—I think I had a list of around five or six different ideas, some of them very silly indeed, and Burn the Negative hit that smart/silly sweet spot! I liked that it evoked the self-help genre, which is reflected in the struggles of the book’s main character, while also having a cinematic meaning. It’s a plot beat, too. I’ve been a film journalist for over a decade, so I love a good pun.

This novel is steeped in slasher tradition. Have you always loved horror movies?

Yesss! I’m an eighties kid, so I grew up in the video store, working my way through the horror section. I’d grab any of the Halloween, Hellraiser, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street films I could get my hands on, which meant I watched most of those big franchises out of sequence. Also, I had to beg my mum to rent a lot of the films for me, as the “18” certificate in the UK meant that a lot of horror films were off limits to me—which, of course, only made me more determined to watch them.

You are Senior Film Writer at Radio Times and you have a film podcast, so you obviously know movies. Are there any areas in Burn the Negative that you weren’t as familiar with that required more research?

My geography is terrible. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the U.S. a lot over the years, but I had to research things like the various neighborhoods in L.A., as well as the terrain outside of the city, the names of freeways etc. Other than that, my decades of being a horror fan served me pretty well—I was able to draw from that in order to sprinkle a lot of scary easter eggs throughout the book.

The “cursed” film at the center of this story was made in the 1990s. Did you pick the 90s intentionally or was it the era you needed to use based on the protagonist’s current age?

I partly picked the 90s because of Laura’s age, and partly because I love 90s horror films. I was a teenager in the late 90s, so I was all about films like Scream, Candyman, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. They had an awareness about them that I wanted to mirror in Burn the Negative—a lot of those films knew that you knew all the rules of horror, and had fun playing with your expectations.

For this novel you had to create an entire mythos around a fictional film. What was it like constructing an entire story within the overarching story? Did it ever feel like writing two books at once?

I definitely felt like I had given myself twice the work—but fun work. I did something similar with my previous novel, The Shadow Glass, which is about an 80s puppet fantasy film (think Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal). I have a notebook that I use to brainstorm and plan, so I spent a lot of time coming up with the story of The Guesthouse, which is the so-called “cursed” film in Burn the Negative. I plotted out the entire movie, including all the death scenes, and I then had to come up with the “real world” circumstances that grew out of the movie, and eerily mirrored it. It’s a fun, labor-intensive process with lots of moving parts, and I just hope it paid off!

There are a ton of cursed movie set rumors throughout cinematic history, especially in horror. Is there one in particular you’ve always been fascinated by? For me, the behind-the-scenes stories from The Exorcist (1973) have always been eerie.

The thing I find fascinating is that people immediately jump to the word “cursed” whenever misfortune befalls a movie. I think one reason for that is the idea of “movie magic”—this feeling that something more powerful is at work during the making of a movie, something more than people just doing their day jobs and creating entertainment. For me, stories like the misfortune that the cast experienced on Apocalypse Now is interesting because it tells us about the massive pressure inherent to movie-making. But the mythology around movies where people actually died—such as Poltergeist and The Exorcist—makes me uncomfortable, because real people lost their lives. Do people call it a “curse” because it helps them make sense of tragedy? They can find meaning in random chance? That’s sort of the reason I wanted to write Burn the Negative—to explore just why the idea of a “cursed” film is so compelling, and what it means for the real people who get caught up in the legend.

In Burn the Negative, an old film is being remade as a television series. This feels very apropos given that we live in an age of remakes and spin-offs and sequels. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Remember that scene in Scream 4 were Hayden Panettiere reels off a breathless list of horror movie remakes? There are so many of them now that they’ve become a genre of their own, and I think that’s a fascinating part of the horror landscape that gets sort of neglected. One of the things that I really wanted to do with Burn the Negative was interrogate the idea of history repeating itself, and what sort of emotional, real-world repercussions a movie remake could have. In Burn the Negative, the main character, Laura, has literally remade herself. She created a new identity for herself after the events of her childhood, and that was the most interesting aspect for me to explore—a human being as the physical embodiment of remake culture.

Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?

I’m currently working on the second draft of my next horror novel with Putnam. It’s another delve into the dark side of popular culture, with some very different horror material as inspiration. It’s due out in summer 2024. I’m also working on a YA novel that has a cool 90s vibe inspired by a lot of the TV shows I love from that era, but I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to jinx it!

What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.

I loved No Second Chances by Rio Youers—it’s a breakneck thriller that reads like a movie. And Maeve Fly by CJ Leede absolutely blew my socks off. It’s a horror novel about a woman who works as a Disney princess by day, but has a secret murderous streak that she’s struggling to keep under control. It’s gory, shocking and BRILLIANT. We’re living in such an exciting time for horror.

Q. And what’s a favorite recent horror movie you’ve seen? It doesn’t have to be a new release, just something you’ve watched recently for the first time and loved.

I really enjoyed M3GAN, which did something fun and fresh with the “killer doll” concept, and Smile was a neat little shocker with a brilliantly simple premise. Oh, and Knock at the Cabin was a great adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World.

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Thank you for having me! Happy haunting!

Burn the Negative hits shelves on July 11, 2023.

Josh Winning is the author of the critically acclaimed fantasy novel The Shadow Glass, and horror thriller Burn the Negative. During his years as a film journalist, he has been on set with Kermit the Frog (and Miss Piggy), devoured breakfast with zombies on The Walking Dead, and sat on the Iron Throne on the Dublin set of Game of Thrones. Josh lives in Suffolk, England with his cat Penny and dreams of one day convincing Sigourney Weaver to yell “Goddammit!” at him.

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