The Bring Jasper Bark to Justice Blog tour – Day Four

For too long now award winning author Jasper Bark has been allowed to skulk in the shadows committing his unspeakable acts. If he isn’t tearing out the throat of acclaimed author Joseph D’Lacey or eating the brains of best selling novelist David Moody he’s detailing some of the worst acts ever committed to fiction.

This has to STOP. We have to expose his checkered history to the horror blogosphere at large. Recently we at Crystal Lake Publishing tied Jasper to a chair and beat a confession out of him. The results of this cross examination can be found below.

jasper_bark01What attracts you to writing Zombie/Apocalyptic fiction?

Although both those genres have become conflated thanks to Romero’s excellent Dead movies, none of the Zombie fiction I’ve worked on has been post apocalyptic. The appeal of each genre is quite different for me.

What I like about zombies is how malleable they are as a representative icon. As society trades old nightmares for new, with each advancing decade, the zombie keeps adapting and changing the things it stands for in our collective unconscious. In the 30s when the zombie was first introduced to western culture it stood for the western colonial fear of the nations it was exploiting. Over the years the zombie has come to represent mainstreams fears of everything from communism and terrorism to sixties radicalism and growing economic unrest. This makes it very appealing to writers like myself who have an interest in writing social commentary and satire.

The thing that appeals to me about post apocalyptic fiction, on the other hand, is that it allows you to study society as a whole in microcosm. As we view the shattered bands of survivors trying to rebuild their life in the aftermath of the collapse of civilisation there’s a huge opportunity to examine the everyday tensions and conflicts of our current society. The backdrop of a lost and ruined world allows us to view these opposing forces in a more naked and honest light, outside of the contexts and allegiances of our contemporary culture. This throws them into sharper relief and allows us a fresh perspective of the problems they’re causing us and the long term consequences of certain courses of action.

Plus err … zombies are totally awesome. They eat brains, they never wash and they always, always win. Vampires and Werewolves might be in an eternal conflict but Zombies can kick both their butts. A vampire or a werewolf can bite a Zombie as many times as they like and it’ll still be a zombie. A zombie’s only has to bite them once and you’ve got a zompire or a werebie. (Is it just me or does a ‘werebie’ sound like a creepy undead furby fetishist?)

Do you think horror has a purpose, above giving people a comfortable, entertaining scare?

I really do believe it has. In my opinion the best horror stories use the weird and other-worldly as a metaphor for a deeper or more personal truth. I also think that the world is quite a scary place at the moment and because of this the tropes and motifs of horror are some of the best ways of addressing the contemporary world. A lot of the horror writers coming up at the moment seem to be interested in social commentary in the same way that the New Wave and the early Cyberpunk writers previously used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment.

Have you ever written something so truly, deeply frightening that you scared yourself?

If you’re going to successfully scare your readers you need to be able to scare yourself. You need to probe those parts of your psyche that you’re normally too afraid to explore. You have to confront those irrational impulses and deep seated phobias, that fester away under the skin of your mind like an abscess, and use your fiction like a scalpel to lance them and bleed off the poison. If it works for you, it will work for a fair number of your readers.

One story that did deeply disturb me was How The Dark Bleeds. The idea for the story originally manifested in a graphic novel I was pitching to an American publisher. One of the subplots contained a concept that increasingly unnerved and disturbed me. It grabbed hold of the darker side of my imagination and tortured it incessantly, until I was both in love with and terrified of the concept all at once. I had never seen this idea anywhere before and I knew I had to write about it. The only problem was, as amazing as this concept was, the graphic novel I was pitching was better off without it. So it was with great reluctance that I took it out.

At around the same time I was stuck for an idea for the short story I was contracted to write for the anthology For the Night is Dark. Well not so much stuck, I had plenty of ideas, it’s just that none of them were as good as I thought they ought to be. The pay for writing short stories is frankly lousy, so I always figure that, if I’m going to go to the trouble of writing one, it better be something I really want to write.

Then I remembered the concept that enthralled and unsettled me, the one I’d put in the bottom drawer. If anything, it had grown stronger since I’d dropped it into fictional suspended animation. I found it had been waiting for me and it wanted to take me to places far darker than my fiction had ever been before. It forced me to confront and record the taboos I’d previously shied away from and  to enter those territories I’d always thought of as ‘off limits’ – even as a horror writer.

The experience of writing this story was both exhilarating and excruciating. There were several moments during its composition when I wondered not only if I wanted to finish it, but whether or not I wanted to write another piece of horror fiction as long as I lived. Ultimately, I did live to tell this tale and I will certainly tell others.

With hindsight, I’m glad that I did. The story turned out really well. It scared my publisher and made my editor queasy. It’s going to be collected in Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts the short story collection I have coming out in June from Crystal Lake Publishing.

Can you write under any conditions or do you need peace and quiet?

Peace and quiet is essential to the act of creation. Staring into space for long periods of time is an unavoidable part of writing for a living. Even if we can never get our loved ones to understand this. If we don’t get the time and space to do this properly then countless hours of work can be lost.

At an integral point in my story I might suddenly hit a brick wall, triggered by an unseen plot hole such as: “how does my protagonist obtain a frozen blood sausage in the middle of the Sahara?” This is the point in the proceedings when I look up from my screen and use the time honoured technique of staring into space. My train of thought might go something like this…

“So how does my protagonist get a frozen blood sausage in the Sahara desert? I mean it’s not like the nomadic Tuareg raiders have a traveling blood sausage tent or anything. How would they freeze the sausage if they did? Can you get a camel powered freezer in the desert? Could you fit a freezer in a camel’s hump?

“My editor is seriously going to get the hump if I don’t get this story in, I’m two weeks late already. If my protagonist was a writer who’d missed his deadline maybe he could sharpen his blood sausage on the heated edge of his editor’s rage. Is that even possible? Perhaps I’m coming at this from the wrong angle. Maybe I need to think about this thematically.

“What does the blood sausage represent?

“The phallocentricity of Victorian society?

“His father?

“His father’s phallocentricity?

“If the blood sausage represents his father’s phallus, and he wants to penetrate the vampire’s chest with it, does that mean the vampire’s cold heart is his mother? If the blood sausage melts as it pierces the undead organ will the liquid blood impregnate the vampire’s heart causing an unholy hybrid sausagepire to grow inside the slaughtered vamp’s chest cavity?

“Wait a minute… I’ve got it… that’s it… oh my god, that’s the most amazing idea I’ve ever had… the vampire sausage hybrid is a…”

“Working hard?” my wife might say popping her head round the door at just this moment.

“What?”

“I said are you working hard? I popped in to see if you wanted a cup of tea and you were staring out into space.”

“I’m not staring into space I’m doing important mental work and I’ve just made a breakthrough. Do you realise that the vampire sausage hybrid is really a… a…”

“The vampire sausage what?”

“No, you don’t understand the blood from the sausage is… it’s going to… I mean… oh no, I’ve completely forgotten. I had genius dancing at the ends of my fingers and now it’s gone. Dead and gone as surely as if you’d hammered a sharpened blood sausage through its unbeating heart.”

“So… does this mean you want a cup of tea or not?”

“Aaaaargh!”

At this point I will most likely throw an unholy tantrum and lock my self in my study for the rest of the day. On reflection it’s most probably this behaviour that causes my wife to invite workmen into the living room while I’m swinging naked from the bookcase.

Is it true that your most embarrassing moments was reviewing pop videos with two puppets called Zig and Zag on the UK TV show The Big Breakfast? 

It’s the most embarrassing moment that I can publicly admit to.

A friend of mine, who is quite a famous stripper, recorded a copy for me when it went out. As she was doing this her bed partner of the night before burst a blood vessel in his penis causing the condom he had just put on to fill up with blood like a water balloon. My friend, bless her heart, refused to take him to the hospital until she’d finished taping my segment.

This is a true story!

I did the spot with the Australian comic Mark Little who used to play Joe Mangel on the soap ‘Neighbours’, which is famous for launching the careers of Kylie Minogue and Guy Pearce. Mark started the interview by saying: “You know I’ve got a little Jasper” To which I replied: “Never mind, they have plastic surgery for that nowadays”.

“No,” Mark said. “I mean I’ve got a son called Jasper.”

“Oh,” I said, and an embarrassed silence followed, in which my customary wit completely deserted me.

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Jasper’s website can be found right HERE. His latest eBook novella, Stuck on You, is available from Crystal Lake Publishing.

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Guest Post: Author Peter Liney (The Detainee blog tour)

Today, I am proud to present Speculative Assessment’s very first guest post by Peter Liney, as part of his The Detainee blog tour – so take it away, sir!

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STORY by Peter Liney

I saw J.J. Abrams being interviewed on TV about, not just being the director of the latest episode of Star Trek, but soon, Star Wars as well. The assumption being that he must be a real SF aficionado. However, apparently it’s not true, what he really loves is ‘story’, no matter what the genre.

I can relate to that. The story might not be everything, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the overwhelming majority. I have friends who get excited by the rhythm of music, the ‘atmosphere’, but for me it’s all about the melody. ‘I like a good tune,’ as I’m sure one of my aged relatives must’ve said to me at some time. Me, too. And I like a good story, too. I remember the sheer thrill of reading Leon Uris as a fifteen-year-old. Coming to the end, the climax of the story, and giving out with cries of frustration because I couldn’t turn the page quickly enough. That’s a story. Of course, I hadn’t learnt about ‘literature’ then, the pretentiousness that often seems to come with being a teenager, the need to be cool. I didn’t realise I was reading commercial pap, that there was no style, little subtext, all I cared about was that it was making my heart beat faster than the new girl who’d moved in with her family across the street. The thing is, readers will fill in the spaces lacking in description for you, they’ll even colour in your characters, but they can’t make up your story.

Well, perhaps a little. Perfume by Patrick Suskind is one of my favourite books of all time. I remember talking to someone who knew the author quite well and saying how much I loved the part where he backs himself deeper and deeper into a cave. What a profound and disturbing image that was: him all alone down there, backed up against the wall, as far as he can go, surrounded by nothing but darkness. Turns out – or at least according to her – that he actually didn’t know what to do next and was indulging in a little stalling. Oh well, it worked for me.

But story, of course, does need character, because without it we don’t truly understand motivation. What a lesson that is to learn. It doesn’t matter what it is (SF, shopping-lit, murder mystery, even pornography) if we don’t ‘feel’ why someone’s doing something, if there’s no ‘reason’, we don’t get involved.

Where SF and fantasy score over all other types of fiction – at least for me – is that they seem to naturally lend themselves to when you ask that golden question of all writers ‘what if?’ For me, it’s not ‘what if we could travel to other planets, or had supernatural powers’, but more sociological change. ‘What if we couldn’t afford to look after the weaker members of our society any longer? The sick, the old, the young, the poor – what would happen to them?’ Or ‘how invasive or brutal would the state be prepared to be to protect itself?’ Put those together, add in love and a dozen lesser ingredients, a handful of spices, and you have THE DETAINEE.

I do hope that the effort of turning those pages has its occasional moments of frustration.

peter liney

Peter Liney was born in Wiltshire but has spent a large part of his life overseas . He has written sitcoms for ABC and Channel 4, and drama for the BBC and South African radio. He lives in London. 

Peter Liney’s The Detainee will be published by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK on July 4th 2013. The Detainee blog-tour can be found at the following sites…

July 9th – J For Jetpack

July 11th – GavReads

July 12th – Ranting Dragon

A review of the book will be following in due course!