Don’t be so sure… The author tells us why it’s best to keep an open mind
The former SFX writer has published his new novel – he tells us how it feels.
In a world where Katie Hopkins makes a living as a columnist, it’s fair to say that being firm in one’s opinions is having a moment. As Jason Arnopp reflects, this isn’t necessarily great for our wider culture. “When was the last time you saw someone on Twitter say, ‘Actually, I don’t know what to think about this issue now, let me get back to you’?” he says, a rhetorical question that’s also posed in his new novel, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks. The book, he says, was born when the idea of someone becoming obsessed with a YouTube video, and setting out to find its makers, collided with thinking about the sheer amount of certainty you find displayed on social media. “Everyone has a firm opinion on everything, every minute of every day,” says Arnopp. “Perhaps because the world is steadily becoming more chaotic, I think we respond by clinging to certainty all the more, which most likely means clinging to extremes.”
Which brings us to Jack Sparks. Arnopp’s creation is a self-serving journalist, broadcaster (“even though no one really knows what broadcaster means”), and the author of such books as Jack Sparks On A Pogo Stick and Jack Sparks On Drugs. An outspoken atheist with a love of excess, Sparks is “a kind of cross between Richard Dawkins, Louis Theroux and Hunter S Thompson”.
THE EXORCISM FACTOR
In the novel, he’s a man on a mission to “debunk the supernatural”. “This gave me the perfect excuse to include some of my most cherished ghostly behaviour, and exorcism really seemed to fit the bill,” says Arnopp, a man who knows his 1970s horror movies. “Perhaps because it ties so well into the theme of certainty, or the lack of certainty. Exorcism is a great example of not knowing what’s going on in someone else’s head. So the sceptic Jack attends the exorcism of a 13-year-old girl, practically having decided what he’s going to write before he gets there. When he bursts out laughing during the rite, certain parties are displeased…”
The title of the novel offers some clues as to what ensues. But there’s a risk with such a plot: this is a supernatural thriller that could easily have come across as trying too hard to locate the pop culture zeitgeist. Praise for the novel from the likes of Mike Carey, Sarah Lotz, Christopher Brookmyre and Chuck Wendig suggests this hasn’t occurred. Alan Moore, no less, has called the book “a magnificent millennial nightmare”.
“I still haven’t quite got my head around that,” says Arnopp, who has also given a copy of the book to the comedian Stewart Lee after one of his gigs. “God knows if he’ll ever even read it, but just as I felt with Alan Moore, I’ll be happy if the book ends its days propping up a wonky table in his home.”
LEAP OF FAITH
If this Sparks-like awareness of the value of famous people praising your book suggests Arnopp understands how the media game works, that’s certainly not coincidental. (Full disclosure: Arnopp is a former SFX contributor.) He started his writing career as a rock journalist.
“I had a great time, jetting around the place, drinking booze and interviewing rock stars,” he says. “I worked my way from freelancer to acting editor of Kerrang!, before ultimately realising that what I really wanted to do was dive into the ridiculous waters of fiction. That was a big, painful decision, not taken lightly. From that point on, I earned quite a bit less money, but was generally happier.”
His first novel, the franchise offering Friday The 13th: Hate-Kill-Repeat (Black Flame) was published in 2005. “God only knows how well that book reads these days, but I do know I went all-out with the gore and the body count,” he says. “That thing now sells for stupidly high sums online, because it never saw a reprint.” Subsequently, Arnopp also “wheedled” his way into Doctor Who tie-in fiction for BBC Audio and Big Finish, “which was tremendous fun for this lifelong Who fanboy and nice for the CV”, but he always wanted to create work set in his own fictional worlds.
Working with film director Dan Turner was key here, as the duo collaborated on two short films and a supernatural horror feature, Storm house (2011). “We lived in a Suffolk military base,” says Arnopp, recalling the shoot. “Every night, I slept on an airbed on the floor of one character’s office. It was utterly remote and pitch black at night, with hardly any phone reception. Great for the actors, because it really did feel like a genuinely haunted military base.”
Arnopp also went down the route of self-publishing his fiction, including “A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home”, “a short story which is set in the home of whoever reads it”. All this activity attracted the attention of literary agent Oli Munson, who also represents Lauren Beukes, and a two-book deal with Orbit was the result.
Arnopp is working on the second book now. Jack Sparks doesn’t feature, “because he’s dead”, but the idea of eldritch happenings is again to the fore. Arnopp: “It once again bounces around inside the supernatural thriller zone, but in a completely different way.”
The Last Days Of Jack Sparks is published by Orbit.