JASON ARNOPP

Don’t be so sure… The au­thor tells us why it’s best to keep an open mind

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Joe Branston

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.

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