Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Jason Arnopp?
He’s an author and scriptwriter, with a background in journalism. I started out as a rock journalist and spent over a decade in that field, which set me in good stead for presenting a music journalist as my titular character in The Last Days Of Jack Sparks. I mainly write supernatural fiction, hopefully with an edge and also the odd laugh. On a more personal level, I love horror movies, thrash metal, collecting old VHS videos and other fun stuff like gaming and conjuring.
Your excellent debut novel, The Last Days of Jack Sparks, was recently published by Orbit. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but how would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Thanks – I’m really glad you liked! I’d tell a potential reader that the book’s about an arrogant celebrity journalist who sets out to debunk the supernatural with his latest non-fiction book, only to end up dead. And on a more pretentious, thematic level, it’s about ego, certainty and belief, and how those three things intersect in the social media age. Oh, and death.
I’d describe this book to the potential reader as a supernatural thriller. And if they say they don’t like that genre, I’d say it’s a dark fantasy tale. And if they say they don’t like that genre, I’d call it a heartstopping chiller. And if they say they don’t like that genre, I might give up. Or just say horror.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general? How were you introduced to genre fiction?
The very first seed for The Last Days Of Jack Sparks was the notion of a man who became 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 certainty 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 then 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 quite dramatically…
For me, inspiration tends to come from thinking and worrying way too much about life, death and the human condition in general. It can come from something online or something in the real world. The only thing that unites all this stuff is that it’s nigh on impossible to remember exactly how these sparks (no pun intended) ignited in your head. They just come.
I was introduced to genre fiction as a kid by good old Doctor Who, which taught me that there’s always something malevolent lurking in any given patch of darkness, and it usually wants to either possess people, kill them or suck the very lifeforce from their bones. From those early days on, I was doomed to forever write about the darker side of things.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
To be frank, being a writer can be everything from ecstatically wonderful to utterly miserable. The latter tends to happen when you’re struggling to make something work, or don’t feel the sense of authority and confidence you need in order to ‘fly’ while writing. But there’s plenty of wonderful stuff – more good than bad, for sure – and it feels like a real privilege to work in publishing. I could happily write novels for the rest of my days… with the odd inevitably miserable spell tucked away in there. It’s all part and parcel of this bizarre job, which requires you to write with supreme confidence and then edit with all the icy self-doubt you can muster.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Shortly after getting into Doctor Who, I would write lots of stories in prose and comic book form. So that’s where it began, at around the age of four. I still have all those exercise books full of endlessly energetic tales and do indeed look back fondly on those early splurges of pure, unfettered imagination. I mean, obviously, they don’t make a lick o’ sense, but still…
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Horror seems to be in pretty rude health. I’d like to encounter more fiction that scares me, but that’s also true of all the other forms of entertainment media. In book publishing, horror is the genre that dare not speak its name. ‘Horror’ is rarely a term used by publishers themselves, but I’m actually fine with that, for two reasons. Firstly, because you offer horror to some consumers and they shrink away in alarm, having decided they don’t like the genre… and then they go back to watching The Walking Dead. If horror has become synonymous with gothic castles and boring vampires droning on about immortality, then I’m fine with being labelled something else, so that readers and booksellers won’t automatically reject my work. The second reason is that I think it’s quite subversive to smuggle horror into people’s bookshelves. Horror can, after all, be a flavour as much as it is a genre.
In terms of where my work fits in, it’s hard to gain perspective on that. I write contemporary supernatural fiction and aim as close to the cutting edge as inhumanly possible. I also like to deliver hard-hitting horror goods from time to time. The main thing, for me, is to embroil the reader in a world where it seems that almost anything can happen and nobody’s safe. Fear thrives on uncertainty. I also prefer to write stories that are about something, even if it’s buried under the surface.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my second novel for Orbit Books, which is a standalone affair unrelated to Jack Sparks. Wheels are also in motion for a movie adaptation of Jack Sparks, so watch my Twitter and bloggery for details on that when I’m in a position to announce. Believe me, this year has served up more than one surreal moment as a result of this proposed adaptation!
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Annoyingly, I don’t seem to have time to read anything but non-fiction at the moment, namely research stuff for this second novel. And telling you the topic of these books would reveal the novel’s setting, so this is a really disappointing non-answer. My apologies to you.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
That’s tricky. But because it’s a cult affair, if someone was open to mad stuff, I’d definitely recommend House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. An enormous book, both physically and in terms of its deranged ambition! It’s also very scary and very funny and very meta. It would be my desert island book I think, partly because there’s so much of it that I could probably spend the rest of my life noticing new stuff.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a vegetarian horror writer. Several years back, my teenage conscience returned and I decided I wanted to have as little to do with the daily massacre machine as I could. Going vegan is an ambition of mine. I have the greatest respect for vegans.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Finishing this damn second novel! Not to mention hopefully writing the screenplay for a Jack Sparks movie. I can’t allow myself to think beyond those two prospects right now. They seem more than sufficiently joyous and challenging to keep me occupied for the foreseeable future!
Jason Arnopp‘s The Last Days of Jack Sparks is out now, published by Orbit Books in North America and the UK. For more on Jason’s writing and novels, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.