Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Confessions of a Reviewer’s second interview with the legend that is, Mr Jasper Bark!
This interview is HUGE, so we won’t bore you with too much of an introduction. Tonight, it’s all about Nev talking with Jasper, about his life in general, and the new book, Quiet Places.
Tomorrow night sees Jasper being interviewed by Kevin J Kennedy about his new graphic novel, Parassassin, and Jasper becomes the first victim to come up against Jo’s Awkward Question Time.
Wednesday sees a review of Quiet Places and on Thursday, Kev reviews Parassassin for you all!
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, most of us know everything about you but for those that don’t, and those that haven’t read the first interview with you (how very dare they), tell us all a bit about yourself and what you are about?
JB – I’m a writer of stories so dark you’ll get lost in them, and never want to come out. The type of fiction that works its way under your skin, wraps itself around your brain, and bleeds slowly into your soul. That slips deftly into the back of your mind and makes a little nest there, whispering to you throughout your day, in the most inopportune moments, so you can never really forget about it, especially not when it comes out to play in your dreams. The sort of fiction you pick up for kicks and thrills, but soon find yourself hopelessly addicted to.
This fiction comes in the form of novels, comics and graphic novels, short stories and even kid’s books. I’m best known for horror fiction, but I’ve written sci-fi, fantasy, crime and even WWII espionage thrillers. Before I was an author, I was a film and music journalist, a stand-up comedian and even a cable TV presenter for a while.
In addition to the books and graphic novels I write these days, I also have a YouTube Channel, a regular blog and a webcomic. I also do a lot of bookshop readings, convention appearances and I run a regular Ghost Walk in the small medieval town where I live.
CoaR – I previously asked you if there was any video evidence of the time you were sacked from the Cable TV job for pulling a banana from your trousers…..on air. I can confirm I couldn’t find it anywhere online. People have asked me, to ask you, if you could re-enact it. Any chance?
JB – Will this do?
CoaR – If you had to be a character in one of your books, which would it be?
JB – I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t want to be any of them. Most of the characters in my books come to quite hideous ends. That might be a good idea for a story though, to have an author sentenced to suffer the fates of every poor character he has ever tortured or executed in his stories.
If you were to force me at gunpoint, however, I would probably go for the lead character of A Fist Full of Strontium, the first novel I ever wrote, back in 2004, with Doctor Who, and Micronauts, writer Steve Lyons. The novel was a work-for-hire commission, about cult 2000AD character – Johnny Alpha, who was a childhood favourite of mine. He’s a mutant bounty hunter, in a far future, where mutants are sent to do the jobs real humans won’t accept. He has curly hair and very strange eyes, so I think there’s already a few similarities.
CoaR – If you could co-write a novel with any author. Who would you choose?
JB – That’s a good question, but a tough one. I think, if it was a horror novel, rather than choose a perfect writing partner, I would prefer to build one. Stitch them together Herbert West style.
I would start by grafting H.P. Lovecraft’s visionary, but prudish, imagination onto Clive Barker’s fertile and sensuous mind. Then I would add, as a beating heart, Robert Bloch’s droll humour. As a backbone I would add Jack Ketchum’s visceral storytelling, along with Poppy Z. Brite’s dark, decadent skeleton. For a face I would stitch on Stephen King’s perfectly crafted prose style, and for skin I would choose Lisa Tuttle’s atmosphere of dread. Finally, I would clothe my writing partner in the dark poetics of Ray Bradbury’s wistful story telling.
Of course, having created such a literary behemoth, my big problem would be keeping up with my erstwhile partner, and maintaining my part in the collaboration, having very possibly made myself utterly redundant. On the other hand, knowing what writers can sometimes be like, I may well have created a neurosis ridden ego-monster of whom it might be impossible to rid myself. Trapped forever with my creation, fighting over a single type writer, as we float on a sheet of ice, like Victor Frankenstein and his creation, at the North Pole.
CoaR – What would you want for your last meal?
JB – Well, if it was my last meal, before they led me away to be lethally injected, and if they couldn’t go ahead with the execution, until I had finished, I would want a never-ending bowl of soup. Something, quite rich and luxurious, like cream of wild mushroom soup, with a poached quail’s egg and parmesan shavings.
However, this may well soon turn from a gourmet delight into a gruelling dilemma. Because, in order to stay alive, and stave off my execution, I would have to keep on eating and eating, no matter how much my stomach ached, because the moment I put down my spoon and admitted defeat, I would surely die. Yet after a few hours the meal would lose all of its savour and I would be like a goose being fattened, and force fed, before the butcher’s knife descends.
CoaR – Being serious for a moment and moving on to Quiet Places, what is this one about? What did you want to achieve with it?
JB – Quiet Places is a blend of Folk Horror and Cosmic Horror. It’s set in the Scottish Highlands, in a tiny, remote town called Dunballan. It’s a town that sits on a knife edge of imminent disaster, harbouring a terrible secret. A secret that draws David McCavendish, last in a long line of Lairds, into its inescapable clutches. The only person who can save David from this secret, and the Beast that haunts the primordial forests around Dunballan, is David’s partner Sally, who follows him to Dunballan from London. Much as she loves the forest, and the countryside around Dunballan, Sally feels lost, isolated and alone in the face of the townsfolk, and the Beast that seems to terrify them. But just when all seems lost, Sally finds an unlikely ally, in the face of a mysterious woodland force, unlike anything she has ever encountered.
I wanted the story itself to harbour its own deep, dark secrets about the nature of creation and our true place within it. To be a series of revelations within revelations, just as it contains a series of stories within stories, each of which reframes and redefines the last one. It’s the sort of story that should sink into the synapses of your brain, like a mental filter that changes your perception of everything, and opens whole new vistas of understanding. Once you’ve read it, it will stay with you forever, just below the skin of your soul, and its terrible truths will seep irrevocably into every part of your existence.
CoaR – It is totally different from anything I have either read or heard about from your extensive catalogue. Was this a conscious decision or just how it flowed?
JB – If I’m doing my job right, then I would hope everything I write is different, to a certain degree, from anything else in my catalogue. Quiet Places started out as a short 5k word story, but it was incomplete, and it needed more work. I put it away in a drawer and when I was approached by Steve Shaw of Black Shuck books, a few years later, about submitting something to the first Great British Horror anthology, I took it out and dusted it down.
As I began to rewrite the story, I realised that it was a lot longer than I had originally thought, in fact it wouldn’t stop growing. I went way over deadline and way over my word count and I wrote to Steve to warn him. Like the true gentleman he is, he told me not to worry, and to keep writing, and he’d hold the anthology open for me as long as he could. I only just scraped in.
However, I’d been working as fast as I could on a story that was expanding organically, and I think in this instance, the deadline didn’t help. I handed in a story that wasn’t quite ready to be published. When Crystal Lake offered to republish it, I saw this as my opportunity to get the story into proper shape. This turned out to involve an almost total rewrite, that added a further 12k words to the story.
As this process unfolded, the story chose its own path and dictated its own tone and structure, I just dutifully followed what it wanted, and watched with a mixture of hope and excitement. As the Alfred Bester, the near genius author of The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, once said: “the book is the boss”.
CoaR – Some of the background and history talked about in the story, particularly during Matthews scenes, are extremely convincing. Any of it real?
JB – It’s fair to say that almost all of the story, including the passage you mention is true, even if you’d have some difficulty proving it’s real. There is an awful lot in Matthew’s journal, one of the stories within the story, that can be verified by outside sources. Just Google those bits you suspect are real, if you want full confirmation. There was, for instance a gentleman’s club, in Edinburgh, in the 1700s, called ‘The Beggar’s Benison’. There is a magical text called The Picatrix and it was translated by Marcello Ficino for the Medicis. It does also mention the city of Adocentyn. I could go on, but I think it would be more fun for people to do their own research, once they’ve read the book.
CoaR – Following on from that, there is a scene where Sally is chanting something in an old language. Is this just made up stuff or does it actually mean anything?
JB – It is, in fact, a real, honest-to-goodness Anglo Saxon spell of banishing. It comes down to us from the very early middle ages. It’s included in several academic collections of early Anglo-Saxon writing. I haven’t used it in its entirety though, and I have slightly adapted the context in which it would have normally been used.
CoaR – The format you use for the chapters when the story jumps around a lot in terms of the timeline is very effective. Why use this? Did you not worry about it putting some people off?
JB – I quite honestly worry over every detail of all my books. Yes, I was concerned it would make it harder for the reader to get caught up in the flow of the story, and I took every possible measure to minimise that.
However, over the years, I’ve learned to trust my instincts when it comes to the way a story is told. If you let it, your story will unfold in the way it wants to, occasionally you’ll have to make tweaks to the structure in later drafts, but essentially, the story knows where it wants to go and how it wants to be told. Your job, as an author, is to listen to it and to follow its lead.
One of the key components of storytelling, is presenting your audience with the right information, at just the right time for it to have the biggest emotional impact. The way that you present the scenes, and the order in which you present them, is a key facet in a story’s ability to grip the reader’s attention and keep them hooked until the last page. Sometimes, this means using non-linear narrative, which can create a sense of engagement with the characters, and their situation, that’s different to the more traditional linear narrative.
Not all of my stories are told in a non-linear way, but it is a noticeable feature of my work. You mentioned earlier that you thought Quiet Places was a bit of a departure from my usual body of work, and you were right. However, one of the things that makes it recognisable as one of my stories, I think, is the use of non-linear narrative. The other, I would hope, is the slightly off the hook imagination, and the fact that the story endeavours to show you things you probably won’t have encountered in a story of this kind before.
CoaR – Is there more to come in this story?
JB – Yes, but not from the characters, this will be the only place you encounter them. Quiet Places is part of a story cycle, with a shared cosmic backdrop, involving the same gods, monsters and mythical beings. You might notice that the Goddess Monanom, whom you first encountered in the story How The Dark Bleeds, which was reviewed on this site last year, appears at a key point in this story. There are also references to lots of other beings and concepts that appear in other books in this story cycle.
So, certain things that I introduce in this book, will find their way into other books in the cycle. It won’t be in the ways that you expect though, and it will cast a whole new light on the concepts and beings that appear in this story.
CoaR – Back to the not so serious stuff. If you were stuck on a deserted island with three books, which ones would they be?
JB – This is almost a nightmare question for me. I read voraciously, and in a good week I can get through three books. If I was stuck on a desert island, for the rest of my life, with only three books to read and re-read, it would be like hell for me. Three whole Kindles, packed to their very capacity with hundreds of books each, might just do it.
Otherwise it would have to be the collected works of three different writers whose entire collected works I’ve yet to read. So maybe, the collected works of the meta-textual Italian author Italo Calvino might be one. As would the collected works of the Argentinian magical realist Jorge Luis Borges. I also love comics, so my third work would have to be some form of collected graphic novel. I think for this I would choose the collected works of the violent and surreal Mexican film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who has written hundreds of graphic novels for the European market.
CoaR – Who is your favourite author, and what is your favourite book; either by them or another author?
JB – Again another nightmare question. I’m very promiscuous in my reading and I’ve never committed to being a constant reader of any one author’s work. I’ll tend to cherry pick their very best work if I can. So, I haven’t had a favourite author since I was quite a young child, and in that case, it was the excellent Diana Wynne Jones.
I tend to go through reading fads and, at any one given time, I’ll have up to ten different authors who have enthralled me and whose work I’m avidly reading, whether it be crime authors as various as Don Winslow, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Iceberg Slim and Jim Thompson, or sci-fi writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, Sheri S. Tepper, Robert Sheckley, Gene Wolfe or Philip K. Dick, or contemporary literary authors such as Donna Tart, Audrey Niffenegger, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen or Jeffrey Eugenides.
CoaR – Which of your stories would you most like to see adapted as a film or a TV episode?
JB – I think the difficulty here, is that it would be very difficult to adapt a lot of my novels or stories to TV or film, because I don’t write to the limitations or specific strengths of those mediums. I write prose works and comics, and I try to push the boundaries of what’s possible even in those mediums. This said, the possibilities of film and TV are growing more each year, so there is more scope to adapt all kinds of stories.
At the moment, of all the stories I’ve written, the three that I think would translate best to the screen would be the satire The Castigation Crunch, which first appeared on the audiobook collection Dead Air, and later in the collection Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts, might make a good episode of an anthology TV series such as Masters of Horror or classics like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. The extreme horror novella, and lead story of the aforementioned collection, Stuck On You might make a good indie horror film, pushing taste levels to the very limits. While the novella, Bed of Crimson Joy which was published as a standalone book, and was subsequently collected in Years Best Hardcore Horror Vol. 2, might make a really good, but rather disturbing low budget horror movie.
CoaR – Who would you like to play your favourite character that you’ve written?
JB – When my work does finally make it to a big or a small screen, thankfully these decisions will have to be made by the casting director and not me. I think the actor, comedian and voice actor Peter Serafinowicz, who is currently playing The Tick in the Amazon Prime series and who also appeared in The Phantom Menace and Guardians of the Galaxy, might be good for all three main roles of The Castigation Crunch.
CoaR – I have always wanted to do a promo video for Confessions but I am too camera shy. Could you possibly do it for me ala your naked promo video period?
JB – I’ll see what I can do.
CoaR – Just in case you missed it!
Well, unfortunately, that is the end of Part One of the 2nd interview with Jasper!
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow night when Jasper will answer questions from Kev Kennedy about Parassassin, and will cringe at Jo’s Awkward Question Time!
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: