A few months ago, I read Jasper Bark’s newest novel Quiet Places. In case you missed the review, you can read it here. The synopsis piqued my interest right off the bat, and the disturbing plot made my stomach turn. Of course, this is not a bad thing in horror. The story unfolds exquisitely and stayed with me long after I read the the last sentence. This is the kind of story that I love, and it piqued my interest on Jasper Bark, a talented “new to me” author. When I got the chance to chat with him, he went above and beyond my expectations when answering my questions. I actually had extra questions and he wanted to answer those as well. Read on for this insightful and fun interview with Jasper Bark!
PopHorror: Thank you Jasper for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start with this one. When did you begin writing career?
Jasper Bark: I’ve always written, since about the age of five years old. I think I was about 10 when I decided I was going to write for a living. I didn’t go to College/University. Instead, I ran away to join the theater, working for minimum wage as both a writer and a performer from about the age of 19 onwards, so I guess that’s where I first got paid to write something.
After a few years of working for various theater companies, I became a stand up/performance poet/general performer, living from gig to gig throughout my early 20s. In my late 20s, I talked my way into a succession of jobs as a national film and music journalist. I was being paid to write and also to go out for a living, which was fun, but it wasn’t the writing career I’d envisioned. So, I started using my contacts in the film and music industry to take top UK comics editors and publishers out to gigs and film premieres. This got me started in the world of European comics and led to my first novel commission. Eventually, I quit journalism altogether and lived the precarious life of a full time author and comics writer.
PopHorror: What a crazy ride that must have been! WOW! What was your first story to be published?
Jasper Bark: Back in 1997, I saw an advert in a national paper for erotic stories for a newly launched women’s magazine. Some of the stories I’d been writing at the time were very erotic, so I sent one in and they bought it. It was called A Yearning for Horns.
PopHorror: Interesting! Can you tell us where the idea came for Quiet Places?
Jasper Bark: It started life as a 5,000 word short story, which I was initially very proud of, but when my wife read it, she pointed out a lot of flaws, so it went back in the bottom drawer. Then, about a year later, Steve Shaw approached me for a story for the first Great British Horror anthology. So, I dug out the story and thought I’d brush it off, add a few details and rewrite it a bit. As I did so, I realized that the story was much larger than I originally thought and contained all kinds of possibilities I hadn’t originally considered. It grew from a short story into a novella. However, when the anthology was published, I realized that it still needed work. When Crystal Lake Publishing offered to publish the anthology as a stand alone book, it was the perfect opportunity to get it into proper shape, so I set to work rewriting it and in the process added another 10,000 words.
PopHorror: It seems that sometimes when you put your writing to the side and come at it later with fresh eyes and thoughts, you have a chance to write the story you really want. How long did it take you to write Quiet Places?
Jasper Bark: The initial short story took about a week to write. My first stab at the novella took about five weeks. My second go, when I rewrote it all over again, took another four weeks. That’s not counting all the time that I spent thinking, worrying and obsessing about it, when I wasn’t writing it though.
PopHorror: That is a great point to make. Much of the thinking, worrying and obsessing is just as big a part as the actual writing. With that in mind, what are some challenges when you write? How do you overcome those challenges/obstacles?
Jasper Bark: The biggest challenge I face, and I think many writers are the same, is not giving in to distraction. Staying focused and getting through your daily word count is the hardest battle that any writer has to face, especially in the digital age when we have phones and tablets and Facebook all vying for our attention. It’s so easy to get sidetracked, to lose an hour on social media, to get up to run a chore, or simply doing anything other than write.
The only way to overcome this obstacle is to keep a close and vigilant eye on yourself and to be as firm and disciplined with yourself as possible. It helps to develop an inner Sergeant Major who barks at you the minute you pick up your phone or a magazine, or spend too long on a bathroom break. You have to be ruthless with yourself, or at least I do.
PopHorror: I am guilty of all of the above. So many distractions, Facebook *coughs* that easily provide a time suck instead of writing. I will have to work on developing that inner Sergeant. Are you a “panster” or “plotter”?
Jasper Bark: To be honest, it depends on the story I’m writing. When I began writing novels, the publishers I worked for demanded a full chapter breakdown before they’d commission the book, so I became plotter by default. I carried that over to my more personal work, but after a while some stories would get impatient with me. They’d be raring to go and they didn’t want me to sit down and work out all the finer points before I got started. They just wanted me to sit down and write them and that’s what they demanded, so that’s what I did.
Now I find that some books and stories really do need to be plotted out in advance before I can get to work on them, whereas others require a higher degree of risk and spontaneity. For those works, I don’t bother to plot, I just start with the idea and the characters and I let the story tell itself.
PopHorror: That definitely makes sense. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where the characters and story take you. If you could be transported into the world of Quiet Places, which character would you want to be and why?
Jasper Bark: To be honest, I wouldn’t want to be any character in the story and I can’t think of anything worse than being transported into the world of Quiet Places. By the end, it conjures up what Kit Powers, in his review in Gingernuts of Horror, described as “an existential hellscape to rival that of the last chapter of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.” Being transported there sounds like some hellish punishment I would face if I was unlucky enough to find myself sentenced to the underworld after death. Who knows, maybe that’s what awaits me, perhaps I’ll be forced to live through the fates of all my unfortunate characters… Now there’s a horrific thought.
PopHorror: I agree that this would be some sort of punishment. A hell on Earth kinda deal. Don’t worry though. You won’t end up there. What advice can you give aspiring writers?
Jasper Bark:If you decide you want to write for money, you should determine, in advance, whether you want writing to be a primary or a secondary career. If you make writing your primary career, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of financial insecurity, and that’s not for everyone as it can be very stressful. You’ll also have to master a lot of marketing skills as your publisher will most likely only have a limited budget to promote your books and when that’s spent, it’s up to you to push them. You’ll have to spend almost as much time selling your books as you will writing them. These days, that’s just an unavoidable part of the job.
If this doesn’t sound appealing, then make writing your secondary career or a fun hobby. In many ways, it will making the writing more fun because you don’t have to rely on it for your income. You won’t get to write all day, every day (but then, very few full time writers are lucky enough to do that), but you will get to see yourself in print and your income from writing can be an added bonus that pays for holidays and fun things like that.
PopHorror: Those are wise words. Let’s talk about your amazing author photo! How did you get the idea? Did you design it yourself?
Jasper Bark: Thank you very much. The idea was inspired by the covers of the classic publication The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In the ’50s and ’60s, they would occasionally devote an entire issue to the work of an important author like Fritz Leiber or Theodore Sturgeon and they would paint a rather surreal portrait of the author using science fiction or fantasy motifs from their work. I thought it would be fun to do something like that for my website, so I commissioned the incredibly talented artist Emily Hare to draw one for me. I wrote her a brief of what I’d like to see and she brought it to life with incredible charm and style.
PopHorror: I love it! Emily Hare is talented and captured you well. What is one thing you would like readers to know about you?
Jasper Bark: That 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.
PopHorror: Quiet Places definitely did that for me. I found myself wondering if there was a place like this out there and how horrifying that would be. Why horror? What draws you to write that genre?
Jasper Bark: I have actually written in a wide variety of genres, from science fiction and fantasy to super heroes to post apocalyptic fiction to even WWII espionage fiction. Back in 2008, my publishers Abaddon Books asked me to write a zombie novel just before the whole craze really exploded. The resulting novel, Way of the Barefoot Zombie, was one of my most popular books to date. While writing it, I remembered that I had a real affinity for the horror genre, and that while growing up, my favorite books, film and comics were invariably all horror. So, I decided to embrace the genre as a writer.
What appeals to me most about horror is that it allows us not only to acknowledge and accept the darker sides of our nature, it also lets us play with them. We can admit that we have thoughts, feelings and impulses that we’re far from proud of, and, what’s more, we can let them have a free reign in a safe environment that won’t harm us or anyone else. I like to think of it as dancing with my dark side.
PopHorror: I really relate to the that statement. To accept the darker sides and have an opportunity to play with them where no one actually gets harmed. Any other genre you are itching to try your hand in writing?
Jasper Bark: I have always fancied turning my hand to historical fiction, and I’m sure I will at some point. Historical fiction seems to appeal to a lot of horror writers. I think this is because, like horror fiction, it requires a certain amount of imagination, in this case to recreate the past authentically, but it is also grounded very much in reality, as is most horror fiction.
Another genre that has always fascinated me is the time travel story, one which I was able to explore with my latest graphic novel, which first appeared, as a serial, in the pages of David Lloyd’s award winning on line comic Aces Weekly and has just been collected, revised and expanded by leading UK publishers Markosia.
It’s a time traveling political thriller set on the distant planet of Sedulon, and it’s not like anything you’ve ever read before. Three possible futures hang in the balance, two end in total annihilation, and one assassin’s bullet will decide, as a rogue band of time travelers and scientific misfits fight to save the futures of two worlds.
It has a lot of bizarre characters you won’t have encountered before, such as Doc Hydrabus, a brilliant scientist whose body splits into a crowd of his past and future selves, he lives in one present and many futures all at the same time. Cassindra who is 900 years old, impossible to kill and every bit as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s travelled back in time to change the world. And Rushaar and Shartara, alien beings made entirely of gas with one simple plan, to use time travel to assassinate the leader of Sedulon and save their planet Eidolonia.
Each of them must put aside their differences and come together to find a new future for all their worlds, one that lies in the most unexpected of all possible places.
PopHorror: Thank you very much, Jasper! It was fun getting to know you. I can’t wait to read more of your works.
Jasper Bark: Thank you for having me on PopHorror, Jennifer! It really has been a blast talking to you as well.
Thank you again, Jasper! I can’t wait to read The Final Cut. Be sure to stay tuned here for the upcoming review.