The Scariest Part: Jasper Bark Talks About THE FINAL CUT and RUN TO GROUND

Run to Ground front cover

This week on The Scariest Part, we welcome back Jasper Bark, whose new novel The Final Cut and novella Run to Ground, both of which form part of an ongoing story cycle, were released this summer. Here are the publisher’s descriptions:

The Final Cut

The Final Cut is a genre busting mash up of crime, horror and urban fantasy. An imaginative and thought provoking tale that explores our need to watch and make horror fiction, examining not just the medium, but the purpose of storytelling itself. Taking in everything from ancient myth, to modern atrocity, this novel will entrance, mystify and appall you in equal measures, haunting you long after you’ve reached the very last line.

In an East London lock up, two filmmakers, Jimmy and Sam, are duct taped to chairs and forced to watch a snuff film by Ashkan, a loan shark to whom they owe a lot of money. If they don’t pay up, they’ll be starring in the next one. Before the film reaches its end, Ashkan and all his men are slaughtered by unknown assailants. Only Jimmy and Sam survive the massacre, leaving them with the sole copy of the snuff film.

The filmmakers decide to build their next movie around the brutal film. While auditioning actors, they stumble upon Melissa, an enigmatic actress who seems perfect for the leading role, not least because she’s the spitting image of the snuff film’s main victim. Neither the film, nor Melissa, are entirely what they seem however. Jimmy and Sam find themselves pulled into a paranormal mystery that leads them through the shadowy streets of the city beneath the city and sees them re-enacting an ancient Mesopotamian myth cycle. As they play out the roles of long forgotten gods and goddesses, they’re drawn into the subtle web of a deadly heresy that stretches from the beginnings of civilization to the end of the world as we know it.

Run to Ground

Jim Mcleod is on the run. He’s running from his responsibilities as a father, hiding out from his pregnant girlfriend and working as a groundskeeper in a rural graveyard. He’s running from a lifetime of guilt and bad decisions, but principally he’s running from the murderous entities that have possessed the very ground at his feet.

Jim has no idea what these entities are, but they’ve done unspeakable things to everyone in the graveyard and now they’re hunting him down. There is nowhere Jim can hide, nowhere he can walk and nowhere he can run that isn’t under the lethal power of the things in the ground. If he stands any chance of survival he must uncover the link between his murderous tormentors, three mysterious graves and an ancient heresy that stretches back to the beginning of time.

Run To Ground is a tale of extreme folk horror. It opens the reader’s eyes to a terrifying new breed of gods and monsters, but be warned, within these pages you’ll find blasphemy, brutality and unbelievably depravity the likes of which you’ve never read before. Think that’s too grandiose a claim? Why not put us to the test. Go on, click the ‘Buy now’ button, we double dare you …

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jasper Bark:

In an advance review of my novella Run To Ground, in Mass Movement Magazine, noted music and book reviewer Jim Dodge wrote: “I’m not sure if it should be categorized as ego or genius but Jasper Bark is in the process of creating his own mythos.” In that single comment Jim summed up one of the scariest parts of my latest project. I’ve started a story cycle, beginning with the novel The Final Cut and the novella Run To Ground, which were released last month by Crystal Lake Publishing, and continuing in the novella Quiet Places, which appears next month in the anthology Great British Horror. Each tale is linked by a dark mythology that details a whole new pantheon of goddesses, gods and monsters.

As Jim rightly points out this could be considered as monumentally egotistical. Particularly when you consider that I’m following in the footsteps of genre giants like Lovecraft, Barker and Lord Dunsany. Comparisons to these writers are inevitable, and given their immense contributions to the field, it’s scary to think how my own work might stand up. It’s also worth noting that neither Lovecraft nor Dunsany was intentionally creating a mythos. The term mythos was only applied to a group of their stories years later, by other writers like August Derleth. So my efforts might be seen as doubly pretentious. As scary as this prospect was however, it wasn’t the scariest part of writing these books.

My mythos revolves around a historic blasphemy I learned of called the ‘Qu’rm Saddic Heresy’. This is an archaic set of beliefs that were considered old when the earliest records were written down. No writings by the heretics are known to exist, but we know they were persecuted as long ago as Ancient Mesopotamian times. Their beliefs and practices must have been unbelievably taboo to have been suppressed for over 5,000 years, and there’s something both scary and alluring to me, as a writer, about the heresy.

One of the things I like most about horror fiction is that is that it often touches on the theme of ‘forbidden knowledge’. Even as a small kid, the idea of learning something man was ‘never supposed to know’ fascinated me. Whether it’s Doctor Faustus summoning Mephistopheles, or Doctor Pretorius firing up the resonator in From Beyond, my favourite parts of horror fiction are those giddy moments of ecstatic revelation, when the veil of reality is torn asunder and the unknowable truths of reality are presented to the protagonist. Of course it invariable goes horribly wrong, and they pay a high price for that knowledge, but I still get an illicit thrill at the thought of it.

This may be one of the things Lovecraft was alluding to when he said: “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. What is more ‘unknown’ than things we haven’t learned yet, or were never supposed to know? Some of the most important discoveries, and the most essential knowledge, can only be attained by taking a flying leap across the gaping chasm of all that’s unknown and unknowable. What could be more scary than that?

Even still, that wasn’t the scariest part of writing these stories. The scariest part was allowing myself to write something I’d wanted to create since I was a child.

A while ago I cleaned a load of old notebooks out of my parent’s attic. Stolen school books I’d filled with stories, my first steps towards becoming an author. The earliest one dates back to when I was around eleven or twelve years old. It was filled with notes and story ideas for building my own mythology. From the youngest age I’ve been fascinated with mythology, from Greek and Norse tales to old Anglo-Saxon and African mythology. Most of my life, it seems, I’ve been gearing up to create my own mythology. It’s probably my longest held writing ambition.

You might be asking yourself what’s so scary about realising a life long ambition? Well, everything I guess. There’s nothing scarier than the realisation that the one thing you always hoped to do one day, is the one thing you have to do today, because you’re running out of time and you’ve run out of excuses.

For one thing, there’s the fear that what you produce, as a writer, will be so far removed from what you originally conceived, you might as well not have bothered. Nothing you write is ever as great as it appears in that white hot moment of inspiration and the longer you put it off, the more you worry you’re going to mess it up. There’s also the fear that you’re just not up to the job. That you’re never going to have the skill or the talent to make it happen. That was the scariest part of writing these stories, but it wasn’t scary enough to stop me altogether.

Because eventually I realised that unless I faced those fears, I was never going to be the writer I always wanted to be. If I didn’t try to realise my lifelong ambition then what was the point of being a writer in the first place? Yeah it scared me, but being a horror writer I should have realised that the best things I’ve ever done with my life (getting married, having kids, starting my dream project) were always the most scary. That’s why, as I’ve said before, the scariest part of writing anything is always the most important.

Jasper Bark: Website / Facebook / Twitter

The Final Cut: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Run to Ground: Amazon / Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Jasper Bark is infectious — and there’s no known cure. If you’re reading this then you’re already at risk of contamination. The symptoms will begin to manifest any moment now. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no itching or unfortunate rashes, but you’ll become obsessed with his books, from the award winning collections Dead Air and Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts, to cult novels like The Final Cut and acclaimed graphic novels such as Bloodfellas and Beyond Lovecraft. Soon you’ll want to tweet, post and blog about his work until thousands of others fall under its viral spell. We’re afraid there’s no way to avoid this, these words contain a power you are hopeless to resist. You’re already in their thrall and have been from the moment you clicked onto this page. Even now you find yourself itching to read the rest of his work. Don’t fight it, embrace the urge and wear your obsession with pride!

R.I.P. Gene Wilder

Young Frankenstein 2

Devastating news. Gene Wilder has passed away at the age of 83.

Goodbye, funny man. The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are all iconic films, but Young Frankenstein will always be in my top five and so much of that has to do with Wilder’s presence, timing, and delivery. In fact, I found him to be a warm and welcome presence in every film he was in. Rest in peace, Dr. “Frahnkensteen.”

The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1

The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1 by Al Feldstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This gorgeous, full-color omnibus collects six issues of SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, hokey thrillers in the inimitable EC style. Each tale comes with a twist ending that might have been original and startling in the 1950s but is now more likely to elicit embarrassed giggles and eye rolls than shivers. Most of the twists come in the form of karmic comeuppance: A bear hunter with a bear skin rug in his cabin is killed by a bear and turned into a human skin rug — Noooooooo! Some twists, oddly, require no punishable transgression on the part of the characters and seem to come out of the blue just to be mean: A man accidentally contacts a beautiful alien woman on his monitor screen, over time they talk and fall in love, she finally crosses the galaxy to be with him on Earth, and it turns out she’s actually 200 feet tall — Noooooooo! Of more interest are the morality plays that appear in each issue, EC-style, twist-ending examinations of thorny societal topics like police brutality, violent nationalism, and racial and religious bigotry. In one, an anti-Semite and his friends harass, beat up, and ultimately kill a Jewish couple who move into his neighborhood, only to discover he himself is adopted and actually Jewish, at which point his friends turn on him and beat him just like they did to the couple — Noooooooo! The earnest hokeyness is part of the charm of revisiting these old comics, of course, and fans of the twist-in-the-tale style of suspense and horror will get a kick out of this collection. The introduction by Steven Spielberg, who grew up as a nerdy kid who loved the escapism of reading EC comics, is quite touching.

View all my reviews

The Scariest Part: S.J.I. Holliday Talks About BLACK WOOD and WILLOW WALK

bw1_original

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is S.J.I. Holliday, whose first two novels in the Banktoun Trilogy, Black Wood and Willow Walk, were both just released in the U.S. Here’s the publisher’s description of Black Wood:

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for S.J.I. Holliday:

I was mulling over what to write for this blog, and whether to tell you about my latest book (Willow Walk), or the first one in the trilogy (Black Wood) — both of which have only recently been made available in the US. I thought — what do readers of this blog really want to hear about? It became immediately obvious… You want to hear about that time that the guy who was fixing my roof told me there was a ghost in my house, right?

Thought so.

Picture the scene — I’m writing Black Wood — my first novel set in the fictional claustrophobic Scottish town of Banktoun. It’s a psychological thriller, with some police procedural in there and a hint of the supernatural — they sort that leaves you wondering if it’s real or just in your head (my favourite kind). Anyway, I’m in my very old house (built c1900), which we are still in the process of fixing up. It’s been months of awful work with builders and all sorts of dodgy tradesmen (I could tell you a few horror stories about that) — and I am finally ensconced in my fantastic little room, lined with books shelves, a comfy couch, a real old fire. I’m writing about this old creepy cottage — Black Wood Cottage — where my main character, Jo, has returned to after many years. It’s in a state of semi-abandonment, with creaky floorboards, whistling water pipes and doors that have a habit of slamming shut. I’m listening to one of my favourite CDs (yes, I’m in my 40s, I still like CDs… and vinyl, but that’s another story) — it’s called “Dark Side of the 80s” and it’s all The Cure and Sisters of Mercy and Echo and The Bunnymen (it’s the best CD ever — you should buy it). I’ve just thoroughly creeped myself out with a whispering ghost type part, when there’s a knock on the door…

“Hi, I’m just back round to get the first instalment of the cash so I can buy the felt for the roof.” Smile. “How’s your daughter today?”

“Oh…” *confused face* “I don’t have a daughter.”

“Sorry, my mistake. Was she a friend’s little one then? The girl who was here yesterday?”

“Yesterday?” *racks brains for rational explanation* “Oh — next door had their grandkids round. They were making a bit of a racket in the garden…”

*Roof man slowly backs away from the door, points at a space next to the dining room table* “No… she was sitting on the floor. She was… right there.”

ACTUAL SHIVER DOWN SPINE.

“Um, OK.” *trying not to panic* “Are you sure? I mean… there definitely wasn’t a little girl here yesterday…”

*With wavering voice* “I’m telling you. She was there. Next to the table. Just doing some colouring.” *Pause* “Look, I have to go now. I’ll be back to finish the job in a few days.”

*Rising panic* “Wait… WAIT!”

Oh, he’s gone…

So now I’m in the house on my own. Well, at least I thought I was. I decide the best way to deal with this is to put it on Facebook (obviously). “This weird thing just happened… the roofer reckons we have a ghost. LOL” Within seconds, I get a private message from a friend who came to a recent barbecue at our house: “Was it a little girl? In your dining room? Don’t worry, she’s happy.”

Well…

You can take what you want from like. The roofer did come back, by the way. He was still pretty shaken up. He said he’d discussed it with his wife, and she’d told him he probably sees ghosts all the time, what with all the houses he visits, he just hadn’t realised before. VERY reassuring! We went down to the church in town that had a gift shop and purchased a little angel ornament. I put it on the mantelpiece and left it there. It made us feel better, and I can’t say I ever saw anything… but neither of us walked through that room with the lights off again.

We live somewhere else now. A new place. No way we’ll have any ghosts here, I thought. Until another friend asked what the land was used for before they flattened it and built these new flats. I looked it up… a Victorian school.

S.J.I. Holliday: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Black Wood: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Willow Walk: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

S.J.I. Holliday grew up in a small town near Edinburgh, Scotland. She spent many years working in her family’s newsagent and pub before going off to study microbiology and statistics at university. She has worked as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry for over sixteen years, but it was on a six-month round-the- world-trip that she took with her husband ten years ago that she rediscovered her passion for writing. Her first novel, Black Wood, was published in 2015 and her second, Willow Walk, is out now. The third in the trilogy, The Damselfly, will follow in early 2017.

 

 

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