VERY happy to be taking part in the Jack Sparks blog tour today – ESPECIALLY as it allowed me to throw some questions at the beautifully crazy but blatantly hugely talented Mr Jason Arnopp. Here is the result of that and details on the book and link to my review follows. You should absolutely not miss this one – one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
First of all TOTAL genius but before going further tell me – in your opinion and with a nod to Shakespeare – ARE there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?
Thank you! And yes, there are more things, most definitely. In the grand scheme of things, we know nothing. Or at least, very little. We certainly know next to nothing about what happens when we die, so I don’t really understand why anyone feels the need to place their bets, so to speak. But that’s my personal response. I mean, I can understand why placing your bet might make life’s mysteries slightly less frightening, especially if we decide that death will yield either a glorious afterlife or nothing at all. Maybe such declarations of faith make us feel as though we have more control. Hooray, death! Starting the interview with an upbeat swing! Woo, and indeed, hoo!
“The Omen for the Social media age” is how the highly talented Chris Brookmyre described it – as a tagline its pretty spot on. So is that a good way of describing the intention? Or to put it in the usual boring way (sorry but people do actually like to know I promise) what originally inspired Jack Sparks as a concept?
I definitely set out to write a scary book about ego, belief and certainty, and how those elements interact in the age of social media. The very first seed for The Last Days Of Jack Sparks was the concept of a man who becomes obsessed with a creepy YouTube video and tries to hunt down its makers. From there, I became interested in how much certainty people seem to express in an increasingly chaotic world – particularly on social media, where the final taboo is to confess to not having an opinion on any given topic. Jack Sparks was born as a man who professes instant certainty on any given topic, and who represents the more egotistical sides of journalism and celebrity. The final main ingredient was the book’s format, because I liked the idea of formatting a supernatural thriller like one of those rather contrived non-fiction books where the author accepts some form of challenge, then tries to see it through, usually while travelling around the world. At least, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks follows that style for a while, before the format and tone change pretty dramatically…
Let’s talk about social media for a moment- Through the medium (yes I really did that) of Jack Sparks you’ve managed to get some witty insightful commentary on the use of Social Media, especially Twitter. I’m always mildly bemused by Twitter whilst being actually addicted – How do you view it (and other platforms) Mostly a good thing? Or a hotbed of horror?
If you’d asked me this about eight years ago, I probably would have said Twitter was 80 per cent great, 20 per cent not so great. These days, I might be tempted to reverse those quotas. The great stuff includes meeting new people, being able to reach an audience with ease and keep abreast of the news. The not so great stuff includes anyone who isn’t a straight white man receiving abuse whenever they offer an opinion on the world, disinformation spreading just as fast as information spreads, and so many users seemingly having switched to Permanent Broadcast Mode instead of Broadcast/Receive Mode. I don’t know: maybe it’s a 60/40 split, but I also don’t like the way social media becomes addictive, even when you don’t particularly want to be looking at it. There’s something disturbing about that.
Here’s a quote. “You should ask yourself Mr Jack Sparks, what the devil thinks of YOU” – So Mr Arnopp – what do you reckon the devil thinks of YOU? Hmm?
The Devil probably thinks I’m an obliging enough guy. I certainly try to namecheck him/her whenever I can – what more can a supernatural entity ask for, eh?
Ok so we should probably talk about poor Jack. And about plotting. And characterisation. Even Jack’s witty asides couldn’t save him, I really loved how the little inserts showed his experiences in a very different light. It feels like you wanted to scare the bejesus out of people (job done) but also allow them to go pale and wan from a humorous place of relative safety – True? False? Am I reading it right? How DO you hatch your dastardly writing plans. And frankly you were just plain mean to poor old long suffering Jack. Who is not the nicest of people. Deliberate?
One of the pleasures of the book, hopefully, is to see Jack pay the price for his arrogance and for this presumption. But I also hope that the reader comes to feel at least a hint of sympathy for his plight, and also for the people around him, who are affected by the consequences of laughing at the Devil! Humour is a useful tool, I think, for luring people into a scary place, then lifting some dark veil or other, so I definitely enjoy employing that. The key to blending fear and comedy, for me, is to never allow humour to seriously undercut the threat. And lastly, in terms of how I plan books, I tend to build a skeletal structure, then wander around inside, trusting my subconscious mind and trying to listen to what the characters want to do as much as what I’d assumed they might. Which can produce good results, but can also be a nightmare.
Pacing too – perfect pacing – As the story draws to a conclusion you change things up and down with what feels like gleeful abandon – do you read back, change things around, or does it all just flow from that twisted (in the best way) brain of yours…?
Thanks Liz! Oh God, yes, writing’s all about the rewriting. Your very first draft is all about trying to figure out what the story is. Then the subsequent drafts are first and foremost about getting the story right, along with its infernal twists and turns, then finally polishing up the writing itself. And of course a writer’s nothing without their trusted beta readers who offer honest suggestions and questions. These people bring a crucial sense of perspective and overview which is quite simply priceless to the writer.
So. Who would play Jack Sparks in the movie version?
I’d like Jake Gyllenhaal, Bradley Cooper or Ryan Gosling, please. I’ll let the universe get on with making that happen. Thanks universe!
A few famous names dropped into the narrative as themselves. How did you go about getting THAT gig. (This is where you get to tell us about your illustrious career – and it is just that)
Well, the great indie film-maker Roger Corman is one of the people who pop up for a cameo, and it was wonderful to weave real-life folk into the narrative. When it came to scenes where real people had actual lines, I approached them and asked for permission. Roger’s people said yes very quickly, which was a lovely surprise. In general, I find that the most successful people are the easiest to deal with on things like that. If I’d included some middle-ground film-maker in the book, chances are they would have had some micro-managing rep who said no when I approached them! One of the other icons who I’m very glad I included in the book, albeit very fleetingly, is Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. I wrote the book before he so sadly died, which makes me even more glad that he’s immortalised in The Last Days Of Jack Sparks. Not that he needed immortalising, of course, what with being a total legend!
And what is next? Please tell me. Or maybe don’t tell me. Not sure I can cope. Oh go on then…Just a hint?
The next novel will be a standalone story and completely different from Jack Sparks. Although, hmm, will it be completely different? Hard to tell at the moment, because I’m neck-deep in it. But it will be a supernatural thriller. And hopefully it will be scary and a bit funny and trigger emotions in the reader’s brain. That’s the plan, anyway.
I loved Sherilyn Chastain. I think actually the whole book should have been about her. And Jack. Oh Jack. Ok it’s fine I’ll let you off but she must be based on someone from real life right? RIGHT?? Can I meet them?
Ah good, I loved Sherilyn too. The Aussie combat magician is a lot of fun. She’s indeed based on real people, and you’ll notice the plural there. As I say in acknowledgments, Sherilyn wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing a combat magician were it not for the assistance of retired combat mage Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent. He helped me literally put a great deal of words in her mouth. But Sherilyn also wouldn’t have been as convincingly Australian without the help of my friend Dijana Capan!
You had fun with this story did you not? It shows. Just how much fun was it? Or did it drive you nuts? I mean more nuts obviously…
Oh yeah, I had a great time. The overall concept of a guy investigating the supernatural allowed me to employ some of my favourite scary stuff, so that was a treat. And I suppose I found Jack worryingly easy to write – it offered me a chance to unleash the ego that exists in all writers, but is usually counterbalanced by the extreme doubt that also plagues us. It was only the book’s entire middle section that drove me nuts, because it was so hard to get right, for various reasons. I rewrote that whole thing many, many times, accompanied by index cards on the wall and visual aids like that. But hopefully it came out all right in the end.
Tell us 5 random facts about you.
1) I collect films on VHS video and have between 1500 and 2000 of them. They’re great to look at, but a real nightmare when it’s time to move flat.
2) I was once held at gunpoint in Vatican City, by the Pope’s enraged security guards. Probably shouldn’t have taken the Satanic metal band Cradle Of Filth there for a rock magazine’s photoshoot…
3) Like Jack Sparks, I was born in Suffolk and grew up there. And also like Sparks, my childhood home genuinely did have a creepy dark room in the middle of it…
4) Doctor Who got me into writing. As a kid, I would draw Doctor Who comic strips, write Doctor Who stories, all that stuff. I eventually got to write official Who fiction for the BBC, before heading off to try and build my own fictional empire.
5) I like cheese a great deal, let me tell you. Whatever happened to walnut cheese – a kind of hard cheese with small bits of walnut embedded in it? Did I dream that? I can still taste the sheer majesty of that stuff, but it seems to have vanished for DECADES. Perhaps your readers can help.
Thank you for watching. Please comment and subscribe 😉
No, I insist: thank you for reading, Lady Barnsley! 😉
About the book:
Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days.
In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances.
To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone.
It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy.
Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.
Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours.
You can read my original review HERE
And as I said before…..
I would absolutely NOT go and find out more here (oh go on then…)
Or follow the author on Twitter here ( perhaps you’d better, might be safer)
If you are brave (and very savvy ) you can purchase Jack’s story HERE
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