Jason Arnopp has written all sorts of things; from novels, to audio plays, to films, as well as interviewing folks for the likes of Doctor Who Magazine.
Next year sees the release of his new creepy novel, The Last Days of Jack Sparks. I forced the poor man to answer the following questions:
How do you approach your novels; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a guy?
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ll work out the basic skeletal structure and as much Important Stuff as I can, then dive in between the bones and start installing the flesh, blood and vital organs, re-assessing everything as I go, while trying to keep moving forward at all times. Quite often, I’ll have new ideas while writing which change the structure. The problem with working out everything in advance, for me at least, is that it’s so very difficult to properly put yourself in your characters’ heads until you’re actually writing with your nose pressed up against the coal face.
What’s the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another author? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things?
At root, I’d have to say Doctor Who. When I started watching as a kid, it was during producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s ‘scary gothic’ era, which clearly influenced the kind of things I like to watch, read and write. My favourite horror film John Carpenter’s The Thing surely cemented my fascination with bodily possession and uncertainty as to what’s going on in other people’s heads (and bodies). Author-wise, Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk are two of my favourites.
Your new novel, The Last Days of Jack Sparks, is released in March of 2016; how long has this story been creeping its way out of your subconscious for?
It’s been a few years. The first germ of the idea was a man obsessed with a creepy and mysterious YouTube video. The rest came from there. And oh God, it took quite some time for it all to come together. Quite. Some. Time. And now The Last Days Of Jack Sparks is about an arrogant celebrity journalist who writes a book aiming to debunk the supernatural, only to wind up dead. Along the way, he becomes obsessed with a creepy and mysterious YouTube video.
You’re no slouch when it comes to a scary tale, but which books have made you wary of slipping out of bed after reading and tip-toeing to the loo in the black of night?
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot has certainly achieved that, in both its book and TV adaptation forms. Same goes for The Shining. More recently, I can think of Mark Z Danielewski’s amazing House Of Leaves, which scared me mainly on account of the book’s sheer expansive, unbridled madness! This year, the creepiest book I read was Paul Tremblay’s excellent A Head Full Of Ghosts, which packs in some plain horrible concepts which you’d really rather forget.
What was your favourite book as a kid?
The Doctor Who Target novels and Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree series. Also the Fighting Fantasy books, Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! books and the many imitations they spawned. Loved all that Choose Your Own Adventure type stuff and still do.
You collect obscure genre titles on VHS; firstly WHY MAN, WHY?! Secondly, which titles are the pride and joy of your space-consuming collection?
I love VHS primarily for its glorious packaging. It’s the vinyl of movies. Collecting tapes is part nostalgia – creating my own video shop – but I also really enjoy exploring all that super-obscure stuff. There are so many films, still, which haven’t made it onto DVD and probably never will. So there’s an archival element, I suppose.
What comes first for you, concept or characters?
Concept, nine times out of 10. Character then suggest themselves. There are probably a thousand online ‘think pieces’ about why that’s the wrong approach, but I couldn’t care less. As long as the end result works, it doesn’t matter how you get there.
You’ve written in existing properties, like Doctor Who and Friday The 13th; are there any other existing story worlds you think it would be fun to write for?
That’s a good question and one I hadn’t considered, funnily enough. In terms of existing TV shows, it would be wonderful to write a Walking Dead novel. Plenty of great characters on that show and it would be great fun to climb inside their heads.
How many abandoned novels do you have gathering digital dust on your laptop?
There’s a couple from two decades ago, when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Whenever I peek cautiously back into those files, I see that’s the writing itself is vaguely presentable, but the story is pretty directionless. There’s another novel from more recently, which hasn’t been abandoned permanently and which I intend to renovate! But first I need to write my second novel for Orbit Books.
You’ve recently started a page on Patreon, which has been a place some people, like Amanda Palmer, have utilised to great effect. What was it about that site that made you decide to give it a go?
I love the way Patreon fosters creative independence and allows creators to engage directly with people. I support several creators on there, including Amanda Palmer, and it’s a good feeling. My main goal, right now, is to connect with new readers. Patreon doesn’t achieve that on your behalf, but instead provides a way for readers to support me if they like. I love the idea of having the back-up of an amazing publisher like Orbit Books for the Jack Sparks novel, while also having direct contact with readers via Patreon. That feels like a really good balance.
Part of your Patreon pledge is to release a new story, for free, every two months. Did this come about because of your decision to go with Patreon, or is this a snazzy marketing idea you were already planning to try?
The free-books idea came first. Free stuff is a good way to find new readers, partly because people on social media are more likely to share a link to free stuff. And then I thought, ‘Why not let people pay for this stuff if they want to?’ So that’s where Patreon came in as by far the best way to make that possible. And of course, if people support me, they get exclusive perks, rewards and all that jazz. I see it as a real long-haul thing, in terms of attracting pledgers. There’s no rush. Patreon’s just a tip jar that sits in the background.
What are you reading/watching/hiding from right now?
I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s collection of short stories, Make Something Up. Chuck’s great at short stories and you can learn a lot from that side of his craft. Until recently when the mid-season finale happened, I was watching and hiding from The Walking Dead. The most hideously tense TV show I’ve experienced since Spooks or The Shield. My favourite TV shows tend to be those in which anyone can die at any given moment. The Walking Dead creates this feeling to such a degree that I’m not even sure if I enjoy watching it, in the strict sense of the word ‘enjoy’. But I love it.
What’s your favourite Doctor Who story?
Jesus: just one? That’s really tough. But I think it’ll probably always be Earthshock. Those Cybermen were my Cybermen, as a kid, and they’re still my favourites, voices and all. Earthshock is just such a cool, hard-edged story. It takes no prisoners.
The free stories you’re going to release, what kind of things can people expect to look forward to?
All kinds of horror/thriller delights, whether supernatural or otherwise. I have a fair few ideas on the boil, but I suspect that I haven’t even begun to dream some of these stories up yet…
You’ve written stories for a variety of mediums, but in your heart, what do you consider yourself to be? Novelist? Script-writer? Or a story-teller, and the medium is whatever fits the story best?
Yeah, technically, I guess it’s that ‘story-teller’ thing. But in reality, I’m starting to feel like I could happily write novels for the rest of my existence. I love the freedom of novels and the way that your every move doesn’t have to be agreed by committee. People don’t sit around in Soho cafes talking about getting novels made while sipping Cappuccinos: novels just get written. And the trust, respect and sheer boundless enthusiasm I’ve received from Orbit Books has been a real shot in the arm, I have to say. They rock.
What, for you, is the best horror film ever made?
John Carpenter’s The Thing. An incredible film in every way. Apart from anything else, it’s a great argument that gore and scares are not mutually exclusive. There’s a great behind-the-scenes story, available somewhere online, of how Carpenter drastically changed the story during production. Just goes to show what I was saying earlier: doesn’t matter how chaotic the journey might be, it’s the getting there that counts.
D’you listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasant white-noise babble? Or d’you DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.
I go through phases where I listen to music while writing, but it can equally be silence. When I’m listening to music, though, it can only ever be stuff I know really well, or it will distract me. Slayer’s thrash metal classic Reign In Blood is a great choice for me when I want to type extra fast. I can loop it about 10 times while barely noticing it’s on.
What does the long-term future hold for you? Apart from adding a new wing to your home to house mountains of musty smelling VHS boxes?
Yes, the new VHS wing is important to me. It must happen! Actually, just owning my own home feels like a crazy, far-off dream. Maybe one day. But in terms of work, I intend to keep trying to write the most compelling, scary, funny, surprising and downright essential stories I can possibly muster, until my fingers melt clean off and I have to resort to nose-typing, then finally sophisticated speech-to-text programs. Thanks for the chat, Genre Reader!
Order The Last Days of Jack Sparks HERE
You can find out all about Jason’s free stories and Patreon stuff HERE
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