What series of events created Jasper Bark?
This is a question that has vexed philosophers, scientists and many upstanding members of the community since November of 1969 Jim. It’s possible that genetic engineering has taken some odd and terrifying side roads to which it never wants to return. It’s also been suggested that some rumours are so vicious they grow flesh and start calling themselves wild eyed authors of the macabre. There are even one or two people that claim it all started when two river gypsies fell in love one afternoon, after one of them fished the other out of the Thames at a boat yard in Teddington Lock. It’s been whispered that the initial result of this somewhat watery union was the writer in question. Then again, some people will believe anything, won’t they?
What is a day in your life like? Can you walk us through the minefield?
I tend to wake fairly early when the blunt object my wife has thrown connects with my head. Usually this is either because the kids are driving her psychotic, or she’s found the writer with his throat torn out that I left in the middle of the lawn the previous night (when the cats do this with their prey it’s considered cute, but apparently when I do it, it’s psychopathic – double standard anyone???).
When the kids are safely delivered to school or, if it’s the weekend, safely locked in the basement with the power tools and the matches where they can’t distract me, I’ll settle down in my office to work. I tend to begin my day by writing a list. Lists are great ways of pretending to work without actually doing anything and they bring a completely unearned sense of achievement. I’ll start with a ‘to do’ list to which I’ll subsequently pay no further attention, then, if I’m about to embark on a new endeavor, like a short story or a script, I’ll write an ideas list like this one:
LIST OF IDEAS …
1) Erm ….
2) Err ….
3) How about …. no that’s a bit obvious …
4) Well I could always … no I couldn’t – God what was I thinking!
5) There’s always the old one about …. no, everyone’s used that …
6) Does an inappropriate thought about the Creature from the Black Lagoon actually count as an idea???Once that’s successfully accomplished I may even write another list as a direct consequence of the last list. Such as this one:
LIST OF POSSIBLE REASONS WHY I’M GOING TO MISS THE DEADLINE:
1) I’m on the run from the CIA – again! (this has possibilities).
2) Look, it’s women’s problems alright! You wouldn’t understand. (not sure if I can pull this one off – fnarr, pull this off, snerk).
3) I’ve just suffered a rectal prolapse due to a civil war between the microscopic alien races inhabiting my lower colon. (might need to work on this one, fnarr – work on this … oh wait that’s not an innuendo).Once the serious business of list making is out of the way, along with other important admin tasks such as ‘liking’ every lame picture of a cat that I can find on Facebook, it’s time to settle down to some serious writing. First I open a new document. Next I spend two or three hours staring alternately out of the window and at the blank screen of my laptop. At some point during this vital stage in the process, my wife will walk in and say something devastatingly witty like: “working hard are we?” I’ll then spend half an hour contemplating whether I should draw up a list of snappy comebacks for the next time she cracks this particular howler, but failing to come up with anything in the least bit ‘snappy’ or ‘comebackable’ (yes that is a word) I’ll abandon the idea.
After eating a light lunch I’ll return to my desk for a concerted hour of weeping tears of bitter frustration, interspersed with kicking my desk and weeping tears of pain from the injury I’ve done to my foot. Then I’ll lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling and bemoan the fact that I was stupid enough to enter a profession for which I obviously have no talent and my children will undoubtedly starve as a consequence.
Remembering that my children will soon have to be picked up from school (or released from the basement) finally spurs me into action and, fueled by sheer panic, I manage to rattle off a thousand words or more before I have to down tools and resume my role as a parent. In the 30s and 40s at the Disney Studios, the sixty minutes before the animators would clock off for the day at 5pm was known as the ‘golden hour’. This was the time when all the guys in the studio would stop giving each other hot foots, or drawing penises on each other’s cells when they weren’t looking, and knuckle down and do some serious work. It was estimated that the majority of work that you see on the screen from that period was drawn in this single hour.
That’s how it is for me too. I’d like to say that all the preamble leading up to this hour or so is an integral part of the process, but even I’m not that self deluding. In fact one of the main reasons for having a routine is not so much to encourage myself to write, but rather to avoid all those things that stop me writing (namely just about everything). Don DeLillo said: “A writer takes earnest measures to ensure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.” Which effectively says in seventeen words what’s taken me nearly a thousand.
In all your years of writing have you ever come across a book you wish you had written?
There are novels and graphic novels that have come close, but nothing that so uniquely encapsulates my world view in a way that I would have killed to have written it myself. I read voraciously, albeit not as quickly now that I write, and I come across many novels that make me want to write something as equally well constructed or profound. Recently I was very impressed with Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. In the past I’ve treasured and been blown away by books like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, Jorge Luis Borge’s A Brief History of Infamy and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. The graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson left me wondering if I could ever write something to equal it, as did Jodorowsky and Moebius’s The Incal.
Have you ever written something so truly, deeply frightening that you scared yourself?
If you’re going to successfully scare your readers you need to be able to scare yourself. You need to probe those parts of your psyche that you’re normally too afraid to explore. You have to confront those irrational impulses and deep seated phobias, that fester away under the skin of your mind like an abscess, and use your fiction like a scalpel to lance them and bleed off the poison. If it works for you, it will work for a fair number of your readers.
One story that did deeply disturb me was How The Dark Bleeds. The idea for the story originally manifested in a graphic novel I was pitching to an American publisher. One of the subplots contained a concept that increasingly unnerved and disturbed me. It grabbed hold of the darker side of my imagination and tortured it incessantly, until I was both in love with and terrified of the concept all at once. I had never seen this idea anywhere before and I knew I had to write about it. The only problem was, as amazing as this concept was, the graphic novel I was pitching was better off without it. So it was with great reluctance that I took it out.
At around the same time I was stuck for an idea for the short story I was contracted to write for the anthology For the Night is Dark. Well not so much stuck, I had plenty of ideas, it’s just that none of them were as good as I thought they ought to be. The pay for writing short stories is frankly lousy, so I always figure that, if I’m going to go to the trouble of writing one, it better be something I really want to write.
Then I remembered the concept that enthralled and unsettled me, the one I’d put in the bottom drawer. If anything, it had grown stronger since I’d dropped it into fictional suspended animation. I found it had been waiting for me and it wanted to take me to places far darker than my fiction had ever been before. It forced me to confront and record the taboos I’d previously shied away from and to enter those territories I’d always thought of as ‘off limits’ – even as a horror writer.
The experience of writing this story was both exhilarating and excruciating. There were several moments during its composition when I wondered not only if I wanted to finish it, but whether or not I wanted to write another piece of horror fiction as long as I lived. Ultimately, I did live to tell this tale and I will certainly tell others.
With hindsight, I’m glad that I did. The story turned out really well. It scared my publisher and made my editor queasy. It’s going to be collected in Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts the short story collection I have coming out in June from Crystal Lake Publishing.
How are those two goddesses you call your daughters?
Thankfully they’re not entirely traumatised by having me as their father – just yet. They tend to use humour as a way of coping with me. I was hoovering a little while ago when my youngest Ishara looked at me askance and asked: “Dad are you gay?” To which I said: “I’m married to your mother and I have two children, what does that tell you?”
“That we’re adopted?” replied Freya my eldest.On another occasion Ishara was dragging her feet on the way to school. I told her to pick her feet up and stop being such a pain in the backside. She started to sing: “Pain in the backside/Pain in the front/Mummy is a slack bride/ Daddy is … Daddy is … Daddy, what rhymes with front?”
Do you think they’ll put you in an old folks’ home soon or have you convinced them that a man of your age isn’t actually old?
I’m hoping that by the time I reach an ancient and decrepit age they’ll be so warped, through long term exposure to their father, that rather than inflict me on the residents of an institution, they’ll think nothing of slaughtering a few virgins so I can bathe in their blood and rejuvenate my aging flesh.
Have you let them read any of your work yet or are they still too young to be traumatized in such a way?
I’ve written over 12 books for young children, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of kid’s comics, so they’ve been exposed to the stuff that’s appropriate for them. As for my horror fiction it’s something that Freya, the budding horror fan in the family, is looking forward to being old enough to read (she’s not quite there yet). Ishara on the other hand is not so certain.
In order to intimidate any possible suitors do you show the prospective beaus your books before or after you show them your shiny knife collection?
I’d be more likely to show them the many videos on youtube of me eating the brains, and tearing out the throats, of my fellow writers, not to mention lying naked with zombies. Quite frankly I don’t think I’ll have much of a problem intimidating them. In fact I think the problem I’ll face is reassuring the prospective beaus that I’m stable enough for my daughters to bring them home for a visit. Other wise the poor dears will be celibate until they’re old enough to date professional cage fighters.
It’s a well known fact that all horror writers are psychopathic serial killers. Are you more like Norman Bates or Hannibal Lechter?
I’m probably an uneasy hybrid of both. My public face tends to be closer to Hannibal Lechter, bedecked in a smoking jacket and surrounded by zombunny girls. But this is only the character that takes over my psyche in times of stress, such as private investigators coming to ask about adulterous receptionists who’ve called round my house with a trunk full of stolen money. Or when I have to do an interview with a particularly prying fellow writer (ahem).
The rest of the time I’m more of a Norman Bates, hunched neurotically over my typewriter talking to myself, surrounded by the desiccated bodies of all the small animals I’ve stuffed (taxidermically that is – ahem).
I’m not insinuating that you have, in fact, ever brutally slaughtered an innocent victim, but if you had, where would you hide the bodies? I promise that I’m not under duress from any law enforcement agency when I ask this.
I’m not going to give away my hiding places. However, I will say that being a writer with a notably macabre imagination you can bet they’re quite ingenious and in full public view. The main reason I won’t give them away is because we writers are not above purloining ideas from one another. When I do need to pull the perfect crime I’ll discuss the details with a particularly plagiaristic colleague. Then when he’s made off with the plan for his own fiction I’ll tip off the police. “After all, the only person who would know so many details about this murder would be the person who committed it, wouldn’t you say officer?” Thus, in a stroke, a literary rival is undone by his own underhand ways.
What were you thinking when you took an urban legend and turned it into a delightfully twisted story called Stuck on You?
Mostly – “Gee, I bet this will make ’em toss their cookies” I wasn’t actually sure it was an urban legend when I stumbled across it on an obscure forum while researching something else. The person posting it seemed to think it was a true story. In fact the tale first appeared on the Darwin Awards site, which is devoted to deaths that are so dumb the victim is given an award for not muddying the human gene pool with their decided lack of smarts. So there’s some debate as to whether it actually happened or not (my guess is definitely NOT).
It was one of those little snippets of information that stuck to the seamy underbelly of my imagination and wouldn’t let go until I wrote a story to get rid of it. Taking the Piss, another story that’s collected in the forthcoming Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts was just the same. It was inspired by something hideous I read about that just wouldn’t leave me alone. I sometimes create stories as little traps for the vile and hideous notions that infest my psyche, so I can be done with them and pass them onto my unwary readers. Think of it as a public service.
Will there be other stories based on urban legends that will also bear the grandiose name of Jasper Bark?
Well there is one I heard, about an unstable British writer who just snaps and murders an American writer for Mass Movement magazine who asks him too many questions. Then, to cover up his crime he tells his plan for the perfect murder to a plagiaristic colleague who steals the idea for a novel and ends up becoming a patsy for the British writer, because he appears to know too much about the killing but refuses to admit that he stole the whole idea in the first place … Wait, that’s not an urban legend … just yet …!
What other writing projects do you have waiting in the wings?
Quite a lot of things actually. The wheels sometimes grind incredibly slow in the world of publishing, so although I work at a steady rate, the release of my books doesn’t always reflect this. Sometimes I’ll work for nearly a year with no significant releases then five things will come out all at once, making me look like I’ve had a sudden spurt of prolificity.
Aside from Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts I have a chapbook coming out from Knightswatch Press called The Final Cut and another called Cutting Room Floor from Spectral Press. I’ve also got a slew of anthology commissions coming up, including four entries in Crystal Lake’s non fiction writer’s guide Horror 101.
I’ve written a horror/crime hybrid graphic novel for Markosia called Bloodfellas which has been drawn by Mick Trimble. Number one digital comic Aces Weekly, are currently serialising my sci-fi graphic novel Parassassin, with art by Alfa Robbi and Yel Zamor. Plus I’ve also been working with the artist Cynthia Martin on a whacky superhero/sport series, for Silver Phoenix Entertainment, called Roller Derby Drama. Finally I should be launching an ongoing webcomic with This Is Horror later this year. So watch this space (and others like it).
Well Jim, thanks a lot for having me here at Mass Movement. Now … could you take my leg out of this bear trap … like you promised …