Welcome to the first night of a four-night run with, I think it is safe to say, the one and only, Mr Jasper Bark!
I think anyone who has either read any of Jasper’s books, interviews, guest posts or been lucky enough to meet the man in person would tell you that he is a genius in so many ways.
Some would say a bit eccentric. Others would say just plain nuts. I think when you read this interview you will find a position somewhere in the middle. The one thing that is very clear is that this man is probably one of the most intelligent men I have ever interviewed. Read on to see what I mean.
Tonight, is Part One of the interview, with Part Two coming tomorrow night.
On Wednesday night, we will be posting my review of one of his latest books, Run To Ground followed by Chad’s review of the same book on Thursday.
Confessions likes to give you more than one opinion when we can!
Nothing left to say at this point other than go grab some nibbles and a drink and sit back, and most of all……enjoy!
CoaR – So, who, and what is Jasper Bark? Tell everyone a bit about yourself in general?
JB – I’m a writer of hideous and horrible stories, tales so terrifying they would wilt a nun’s wimple. I’m also known for having a fairly uncontrolled imagination, chances are you may not have read anything like my books before (and yes, I know that’s rather grand claim, but please put me to the test). I want to take you places you’ve never been, show you sights you haven’t seen and scare you in ways you’ve never imagined.
I’m best known for writing novels and graphic novels, mainly in the horror genre, but I’ve also written sci-fi, crime, fantasy, erotica and even historical fiction. In addition to that I blog, I host a regular ghost walk in the medieval town where I live in the UK and I also have a YouTube channel which you can watch here.
CoaR – Do you have a boring pay the bills job?
JB – No, all my income comes from writing, which is a sometimes precarious, sometimes rewarding position to be in. In fact, I’ve been in this position since I sold my first novel back in 2005.
Prior to being a full-time author and scriptwriter I was a film and music journalist and a cable TV presenter. Though I lost that last job for pulling a banana out of my trousers while live on air. I also worked as a copywriter and editor during this period. Before that I toured Europe and made lots of blink and you’ll miss me TV appearances as a stand up and performance poet. Other than that, I worked for a year in a book shop and briefly in a porn shop and for about half a year as a bottom model, in that, I got paid to have my naked bottom photographed for various promotions and magazines.
Major kudos has to go to my amazing wife, Veronica, for putting up with all the above over the years, especially the economic roller coaster that is writing full time.
CoaR – Is Jasper Bark your real name or a stage name or did you get it off one of these porn star name generators?
JB – It’s my honest-to-goodness name. I come from Romany gypsy stock and my father, like his brothers, was a bit of a rogue and a hooligan. He gave me the name ‘Jasper’ based on the Boy Named Sue premise (like the Johnny Cash song). I grew up in a very rough, blue collar town and he thought I would have to be hard, to get away with a name like that. Besides, Jasper was a villain’s name as he saw it. Sadly, I disappointed him by becoming neither a villain nor a hard-man.
When I was a kid and other kids first heard my name, they’d say: “Jasper? That’s a dog’s name. What’s your second name?” To which I would stare at my feet and sheepishly reply: “Bark…”
CoaR – You have had a very varied life thus far. From political activist, to theatre darling, to journalist, to writer. Why writing? Why eventually decide on that as a career?
JB – I think I had always decided on that career. I’ve written stories since I learned to read and write at age four to five. Around the age of eight I think I formally decided I was going to write for a living when I was older. Most of the jobs I’ve had involved some form of writing, it’s just that I have a bit of genius for prevarication, which is why it took me so long to get around to doing it properly. My family motto was: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can hold over till next week.”
CoaR – Take us through your process for a story. How do you start it and follow it through to the final product?
JB – I start at my laptop. I write down the bare bones of the idea and everything to do with the story that came to me in that first flash of inspiration. As I’m writing all this down, other ideas about the story might occur to me, so I jot them down too.
When I’ve gotten all that down, I start puzzling over all the unsolved complexities of the plot. I tend to type endless questions to myself about various plot and character points regarding the story. Then I attempt to answer these questions, typing paragraphs of rambling stream of consciousness answers as I attempt to puzzle out what’s going on.
Sometimes I’ve typed as much as thirty thousand words of this before I sit down to write a novel. On other occasions, I realise it’s of no use and I have to get started on the story as soon as possible.
The first draft is a blind fumble through the story, something I have to get through in order to see the shape of the story. Unless I am desperately behind on my deadline, and have to show my editor something, then no one ever sees my first draft.
After that I’ll extensively rewrite the story/novel over the course of three further drafts. The second or third draft is where I do the most extensive rewriting and re-thinking. The fourth draft is usually just a polish. After that I send it to my editor and then, when I get my notes back, I rewrite a little more.
Finally, my editor, or a hired lackey of my publishers, comes around to my office and snatches the manuscript from my grasping fingers as I whine and moan and plead for just a few more days to make it even more perfect. This imploring falls on deaf ears, and the thing is then published and I angst about the impending end of my career until the first reviews come in.
CoaR – Kids books as well? Forgive me, but having read some stuff of yours and knowing some of the people who are fans, I can’t imagine what they would be like. Care to elaborate?
JB – I began my fiction writing career in comics. I wrote for just about every comic company in the UK. As you know, we have a long tradition of anthology comics here in the UK such as The Beano. I read comics obsessively as a kid and I wanted to encourage new readers of comics, just as I’d been encouraged when I was younger. So, after starting in adult comics I also moved into kid’s comics. Then I had children myself and spent many nights reading to them, whereupon I discovered that I could probably do a lot better than at least half of the other children’s authors I read. So, I began to write and publish children’s books. The pop-up book I wrote – The Inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, was translated into nine different languages and became a best seller across Europe and the series of graphic novels I wrote Battle Cries, to help improve literacy in middle school readers with a high interest but a low reading age, won an Educational Readers’ Award. Aside from these books I’ve written for all ages from pre-school to young adult.
CoaR – How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you carry a notebook with you everywhere or write stuff on the back of your hand?
JB – I have a PVC clad gimp, with a photographic memory, who follows me wherever I go (including to the john). Whenever I get an idea, I scream it excitedly into his ear and he keeps it warm for me, until I can get near a keyboard, or a notebook. On the two weeks a year that he takes a vacation, I will nick a vein and then scrawl the idea on the back of one of my royalty checks in my own blood.
CoaR – Is there any video evidence of the time you were sacked from the Cable TV job for pulling a banana from your trousers…..on air?
JB – That’s a very good question, and the answer is – I don’t know. The company I was working for was run by a former gangster who tended to try and manage the company by striking fear into the hearts of all his employees. He called me into his office and threatened to take me out the back and work me over with two of his colleagues. The only reason he didn’t is because I screamed back in his face the whole time, a bit like staring down a rabid dog.
As I was leaving the building, my phone rang and it was a head-hunter, asking if I’d like to go and work for a rival company. When my former employer found out, he invoked certain contractual clauses meaning I had to work for both companies for a while. After I finally parted, they wiped a lot of my work. That doesn’t mean copies of the incident don’t exist, just that I don’t know of them. I sadly don’t have one.
CoaR – Can you tell us if any of the characters in your books are based on people you have come across in your life or maybe even yourself?
JB – The thing about genre writing is that it’s all autobiographical, in one way or another, even when you’re writing about the most outlandish things. It’s just that you don’t always realise that until many years afterwards.
Most of my characters are based on real people to a degree, but never one person in particular, they generally tend to be composites of several people I know. I also borrow the names of friends and colleagues to christen my characters from time to time. Every character in Run To Ground is named after a writer who works on the Gingernuts of Horror blog, and I sneak in many other names to other stories.
CoaR – Talking of pulling things from your trousers…..you tube videos where you appear naked? Care to elaborate again?
JB – I was young and I needed the money.
Okay, I wasn’t that young, but I write for a living, so I always need money.
Basically, I got very sick and tired of the usual boring book trailers and wanted to do something a little different and more amusing. I managed to talk a bunch of professional film makers into working with me for free and, even more extraordinarily, I managed to get my publisher, Abaddon Books, to pay for the rest of the shoot.
CoaR – Who would be the authors you would give the credit of being your influences and who do you just not “get”?
JB – I think just about everything we read influences us, and, interestingly, the writers we most admire, or enjoy, may not be the ones who influence us the most. The horror writers that had the most seminal effect on me, were probably Robert Bloch, Stephen King, Clive Barker and H P Lovecraft. I read them all before I became a teenager and their work affected the way I conceive of writing horror. I get different things from each of them. What King showed me was the elements of style, I think he’s one of the greatest living stylists when it comes to prose, but he also excels at characterisation. Bloch also taught me a lot about style, more importantly he showed me how to build a story and also how to end one most satisfactorily.
I put aside Lovecraft for many years, after reading him avidly when I was young. When I came back to him, what I saw was how much he’d influenced the way I structure a story, something at which, for all his perceived flaws (not all of which I agree with) he is a genius. The way Lovecraft structures a story allows the reader to slowly suspend all their disbelief, bit by bit. So, that by the time you reach the conclusion you’re ready to accept the most outlandish and outrageous concepts, and to find them especially chilling. He also had an incredible imagination. As does Clive Barker. It was Lovecraft and Barker who encouraged me to take my imagination off the hook and let it run as far as it could, before it dropped, panting with exhaustion at a story’s end.
Non-horror influences on my work would include Philip K. Dick and J G Ballard, who were able to blend literary and philosophical influences into their work, without making it self-conscious and overly pretentious, and James Ellroy, who is a master stylist also. Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Yukio Mishima, Jerome K Jerome, Donna Tart, Ursula Le Guin and Jonathan Franzen have all had an effect on my writing in different ways.
Contemporary horror authors, who’ve influenced me, would include Jack Ketchum, Poppy Z Brite, Laird Barron, Adam Nevill and Mike Carey, both his graphic novels and the novels he writes as M R Carey.
CoaR – What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
JB – Nothing about writing is easy. Simply getting started is difficult enough. Plotting is also extremely hard sometimes. I don’t always plot in advance, some stories call for it, others don’t.
When I do plot things out first, it can be an extremely frustrating experience. It’s like flying over a pitch-black terrain that I have to map with intermittent flares to light the ground below. So, flashes of the territory appear below me, but I often have no idea how they all connect. I get one part of a story, and then another disconnected part, and I have no idea how one leads to another and it takes a lot of work to get something I can use.
Perhaps the most difficult thing, however, is just getting through the first draft. As I’ve said, I rewrite as much as possible, honing and polishing the work as many times as I can, to get it into shape. The great thing about writing is that, so long as you’re not too up against a deadline, you can always go back and change what’s not working. However, this means that you have to keep up the momentum with your work and slog through it, even if it’s not going brilliantly. Soldiering on with the first draft, even though you know it needs a lot of work, and not going back to constantly tinker with it, is very hard. Writing something that you know isn’t up to scratch, even though you’re aware you will go back and fix it, that you just have to get it down, however bad, before the work of refining it really starts, that’s probably what I find most difficult.
Well, unfortunately, that is the end of Part One of the interview.
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow night for more madness from Mr Bark including specific questions about Run To Ground from both myself and Chad.
He will of course be taking on The Ten Confessions and as you can imagine, there are a couple of interesting ones!
Thanks again for visiting Confessions of a Reviewer!
CONFESSIONS REVIEWS JASPER BARK
Jasper Bark is infectious – and there’s no known cure. If you’re reading this then you’re already at risk of contamination. The symptoms will begin to manifest any moment now. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no itching or unfortunate rashes, but you’ll become obsessed with his books, from the award winning collections ‘Dead Air’ and ‘Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts’, to cult novels like ‘The Final Cut’ and acclaimed graphic novels such as ‘Bloodfellas’ and ‘Beyond Lovecraft’.
Soon you’ll want to tweet, post and blog about his work until thousands of others fall under its viral spell. We’re afraid there’s no way to avoid this, these words contain a power you are hopeless to resist. You’re already in their thrall and have been since you began reading this bio. Even now you find yourself itching to read the whole of his work. Don’t fight it, embrace the urge and wear your obsession with pride!
And for more about Jasper, visit his site or find him on social media: