INTERVIEW: Jason Arnopp, Author of ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’

It’s quite common for us to pester authors for their wisdom and honest advice. So we bugged Jason Arnopp, and he kindly agreed to do an interview for us. Just don’t tell him we only do these things because they’re easy for us – we’ve managed to keep that much a secret, so far.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! I am quite literally Jason Arnopp, a British novelist and scriptwriter, whose background lies in journalism. Specifically, rock and entertainment journalism. Since the turn of the millennium, my focus has overwhelmingly been on writing fiction. I’ve written for the worlds of Doctor Who and Friday The 13th, scripted a film called Stormhouse and 2016 saw the release of my first novel for Orbit Books, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks. I live in Brighton, by the sea. Which is nice.

What do you write?
My main focus seems to be scary supernatural fiction, but it’s not as if I’d ever reject one of my own story ideas if it lacked ghostly behaviour. I’m very much into human psychology, especially the different layers of the human mind and how very adept we all tend to be when it comes to denial. I write about denial a lot, so God knows what that says about me. But I’m also a fan of full-blooded horror – my favourite horror films are The Evil Dead and John Carpenter’s The Thing – and so I also like to deliver the ‘goods’ every once in a while. A lot of contemporary horror/supernatural fiction tends to down-play scares or shocks, and I like to do that too, but sometimes I’ll floor the accelerator and hopefully surprise the reader. Keeping the reader entertained and surprised is one of my main goals. That, and making them feel afraid in their own home, of course.

Why do you write? What inspires you?
I think most writers write as a form of self-therapy, and I’m certainly no different in that respect. It’s possible that I think about death more often than the average person, for instance, and so that certainly seems to fuel a lot of my work. My novel The Last Days Of Jack Sparks is about quite a lot of things, for instance, such as ego, belief and certainty, and how those three things interact in the social media age. But at root, it’s also about death and what, if anything, might lie beyond the veil.

What do you like to read? And why do you read what you do?
Like any self-respecting author, I’m a Stephen King fan. I love his easy storytelling style and his ability to be unflinching. My favourite King novel (that I’ve read so far, anyway) is Pet Sematary, precisely because it takes a concept and sees it through to the end without flinching for one moment. It’s a shame Stephen now seems to disregard that book somewhat.

My other main favourite author is Chuck Palahniuk, again for his unflinching quest to examine the absurdity of the human condition from every possible angle. I also really appreciate the minimalism of Chuck’s writing, along with the way that he unapologetically has his own style. Other authors I enjoy very much include Joe Hill, Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, Sarah Pinborough, Bret Easton Ellis, M R Carey and William Peter Blatty.

Do you have any weird writing quirks?
Hmm, it’s probably tricky to identify your own quirks. I’m still working hard to cement both my own style and my own writing process, so that’s really hard to say. Every book certainly seems to present its own unique set of challenges. Sometimes it feels as though you have to learn a whole new skillset every time.

What are you working on at the minute?
I’m writing my second novel for Orbit Books, currently untitled. It has no connection to the first novel, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks. It would be difficult to write a sequel to that book, since Jack Sparks ends up dead. That’s not a spoiler by the way, but the whole premise of the book – it’s about an arrogant social media celebrity who sets out to debunk the supernatural and ends up dead as a doornail. The second book will hopefully hit the same kind of scary and blackly funny targets that Jack Sparks seemed to hit for many readers so far. I’m also about to start work on the script for the movie version of Sparks, the details of which I can’t announce in full just yet. Readers might want to follow me on Twitter or, better yet, sign up for by mailing list.

Did anything surprise you about the writing process when you first started?
God, when I started writing (as a rock journalist), dinosaurs roamed the Earth, so it’s hard to remember. But I guess the question’s mostly about fiction, so let’s see. Thinking about it, I’d say the writing process constantly surprises me! It can never, ever be taken for granted, and requires constant hard work and refinement. When we all start writing, I feel as though there’s a tendency to underestimate how hard it’s going to be. So many writers, and I was the same, tend to show their work to ‘gatekeepers’ too soon, before they’ve really devoted all the thousands of hours of work necessary to truly write with authority and instinct and confidence. Writing is a really bizarre balancing act between extreme ego (you will read all these words I’ve written!) and extreme self-doubt (no-one should ever read all these words I’ve written!).

Ebook or paperback?
I honestly like both. As a reader, I’ll buy either, although I do have a preference for an actual paper book. I tend to buy Kindle books when they’re discounted, and paper books when I have an inkling that this one will be a keeper. And as a writer, I love the ability to self-publish, parallel with forging a great relationship with a publishing colossus like Orbit. Before writing Jack Sparks, I released a few short-form indie ebooks like Beast In The Basement, A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home and Auto Rewind. I plan to write more, with an associated Patreon page (Patreon.com/JasonArnopp), and eventually release a collection, both digital and physical.

Any advice on writing or marketing?
One of my pet pieces of advice on writing, is to focus on stories that connect to you in some way, ideally emotionally. Chuck Palahniuk has said, “Write what upsets you”, which is great advice – and incidentally I feel like so many reviewers don’t take that intent into account when casually branding him a misogynist. So, write what makes you feel things, and hopefully your readers will feel things too. Also, strive to mine the unique essence of yourself. It’s all too easy to look at some successful writer’s work and think how you could never have thought of that concept, or written that book. And you’d be right: you probably couldn’t. But equally, that successful writer would never have the same ideas as you, because you’re a one-off with a unique combination of preoccupations and worries and fears. Use them!

What is your ultimate goal?
To reach as many readers and viewers as possible, while still writing exactly what I want to write. If I was to draw a Venn diagram with two circular fields of Maximum Audience and Maximum Integrity, where I want to be is right there in the middle, where they overlap. You’ve gotta have a plan and that is mine. Thanks so much for this interview, you wonderfully cultured vultures, you!

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