Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jack Rollins

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jack Rollins: I live in Newcastle in the North-East of England. I have three children: a daughter and two sons. I’ve been writing for about twenty years, in which time I have worked in government jobs, the financial sector, adult education, and social care, as well as started and sunk a couple of businesses. No matter how many times I’ve reinvented myself, writing has always remained a part of me.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jack Rollins: This is difficult, because I’m known to share quite a lot with my readers across my social media.

  • I run a head shop/new age gift shop.
  • I was divorced by the time I turned 23.
  • I love to sing.
  • My favorite fictional character is Sydney Carton, from A Tale of Two Cities.
  • I love a good board game.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jack Rollins: I remember a little Ladybird Books, skinny hardback of The Golden Goose. I loved that story, the artwork in the book was amazing. I read it again and again. I could only have been a boy of about four or five at the time. The first novel I can remember reading was Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which I was very happy to read again last year, to my sons, across several bedtimes.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jack Rollins: On my Kindle app, I’m reading The Hidden, by Fiona Dodwell. I love this story as it’s set in Japan, and I’m a sucker for Japanese culture. I loved the J-horror movies of the 90s and early 00s, so this story takes me back to that time, you know, seeing The Ring and Audition for the first time.

In paperback, I’m reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I love the movie, but I never did get around to reading the book. So I’m correcting that now, and I’m pleased to say, my familiarity with the movie has not diminished my enjoyment of the book at all.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jack Rollins: I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. To this day it remains one of my favorite books. The movie adaptation was a travesty. They butchered that book. Someone should’ve been tried for murder when they produced that thing.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jack Rollins: At school, I always used to mutate creative writing assignments to whatever I wanted to write. Often the teachers would give feedback like: “Entertaining, but has little connection to the brief. Excellent effort.” I took that as a win. If out of all thirty stories they read when they marked their work, they were still entertained by mine, I didn’t give a shit about the brief. That was a win as far as I was concerned. I got more serious about it in my twenties, but didn’t consider myself a writer as such until my early thirties, when I wrote The Cabinet of Doctor Blessing.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jack Rollins: When the shop is quiet, I get a chance to write. I’m trying to forge out a bit of a routine now, so I can really rack up the word count on some long-languishing projects. But anywhere I can write with minimal distraction becomes, by default, a special place to me.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jack Rollins: No, I just battle my lazy brain, or anxious, depressed brain, whatever it is my head tries to throw at me, and then I settle down and hammer the keyboard. I’m trying to ensure I don’t need any little rituals, because not having those down perfectly can become a reason not to write. We have so many distractions these days, don’t we? So it could be easy for me to go down a Twitter rabbit-hole and get lost for 2 hours and realize I now don’t have time to write, because I have to go shopping, or pick my kids up. I need to just be disciplined and write without any bullshit excuses.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jack Rollins: Remaining free of distraction, and being in the moment enough to find the flow. Some scenes I write can be a bit bumpy to get started, I’m not into it. Then I get going and the characters sort of take over and direct me.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jack Rollins: I’m satisfied just to get anything finished. It’s been a hard slog this last few years, I don’t mind admitting. A story like Tread Gently Amidst The Barrows was satisfying because I’d never even considered writing about trolls. I enjoyed learning about the mythology of those creatures and thinking of ways to make it mine. You know, how can I take this idea and make it feel like a Jack Rollins story?

It was the same with Anti-Terror, trying to feel my way around a briefing which was as simple and as complex as: write a story for an Extreme Horror collection. So I had to decided, what is extreme? What’s extreme for me? What are the things that I normally flinch away from in my writing, and how do I get it across in a way that still feels like my story?

In my current work in progress, Carsun, I created a new villain to help me get past the block that prevented previous incarnations of this story from being released. I wrote a scene in which this evil presence is revealed to one of the good guys, and when I finished writing that part, I sat back, very happy with myself and very satisfied that this new addition was the piece that will bring this story right out of development hell. That one scene, when I hit the end, was one of the most satisfying things I have written and when Carsun is released in early 2020, I feel really positive that horror readers will get right into it.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jack Rollins: I try not to be over-influenced, really. I remember noticing that when I was starting out, when I was reading David Copperfield, the character descriptions in my writing at the time, became overly-long and out of step with what a modern audience would expect. I try to read for pleasure as opposed to inspiration.

The exception would be Adam Nevill. He inspires me to dig deeper, work harder and really get to the core of the words that will send a shiver up a reader’s spine. Every (fiction) book that I’ve read with his name on the cover has at least once, caused me to feel fear. That’s how into his stories I get. No other writer has every caused that kind of reaction in me. I often wonder if he and I share some common fears. So I think he’s a good role model for me to have as a writer.

In terms of work ethic, I have a lot of respect for Matt Shaw. His extreme style has a huge following and, while it isn’t my favorite subgenre of horror, it’s Matt himself who I find inspirational. His work rate is incredible, banging out novels, novellas and stories while developing movies and all sorts in the background. I’m proud to call him a friend and I look at him to remind myself what’s possible if you just get sat at that keyboard and get to work, and keep working, and keep working.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jack Rollins: Probably the same things as anyone else. Good plot. Engaging characters. Natural reactions to unnatural events.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jack Rollins: I try not to get too precious about my characters. I found that if I became too attached to them, I pulled punches in my stories – like not wanting to hurt a person that I’m fond of. Instead, I try to remain dispassionate, a casual observer, and cover my eyes and ears when the blood starts flying and the screaming begins. And if I’ve done my job correctly, then the reader will hopefully have developed the attachment to the characters, and they’ll want to look away… but they won’t be able to.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jack Rollins: I’m not going to say. But he sometimes pops up in my stories, and I tend to make him my worst side. If the character is presented with a choice and I could turn left or right: left is get what you want, but to hell with anyone else; right is try to get what you want, but do your best to inflict no harm. I would like to think that in real life, I’ll go right. He will always go left. He takes the options that occur to me, but which I would never really want to choose. In that way, he’s not like me, he’s just a more expedient version of me. He’s the devil version of me on my shoulder saying, “Take a short-cut this time. Fuck everyone else.”

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jack Rollins: I almost always judge a book by its cover, because once I’ve read what’s inside, it becomes a spine or a piece of art staring out at me from my shelf, so I like books that have had some thought in their design.

I had the most input with The Séance because the image was designed by one of my brothers, and the demonic face you see on there is a distorted version of him. So I got to make some suggestions. Generally, though, I’ve worked with cover artists who I can make a suggestion to, show them some cover art styles on other books that I like, and then leave it to them. They’re the experts after all. I have to be comfortable with the product of course, but I respect that they do what I can’t.

I’m having a bit of an artistic binge at the moment, trying painting and sketching. In the long-run I’d like to be able to produce one or two of my own covers with more complexity than say, what I produced for Hard Man.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jack Rollins: I’ve learned a lot about Victorian medicine, farming and the age of credulity. From the business side of things, I’ve learned a lot of practical skills about websites, marketing and the creation of the files required for e-books and paperbacks. One of the most important skills I picked up when I ran my ill-fated small press Dark Chapter Press, was typesetting – ensuring the best possible reading experience for the customers at the end. I spent hours tweaking the gaps between words and individual letters to make sure I eliminated ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’ (for those who don’t know, this is when you have lines or whole pages with one or two words on them, the skill is pinching back tiny increments of space throughout the chapter, to draw those words back into a more eye-friendly alignment).

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jack Rollins: They’re all hard to write, for different reasons. I was working on a sequel to Dead Shore, and I had tears in my eyes after writing one particular sequence. It struck a nerve with me about when my youngest son was only three weeks old and we nearly lost him to a nasty case of bronchiolitis. I didn’t finish the story in the end. Not because of the upset, just because it’s hard not to turn a story like that into another shitty episode of The Walking Dead.

Some scenes are hard to write because you’re trying to find the flow, like I mentioned earlier. It’s not emotionally hard, it’s just the mental act of putting thoughts in order, trying to get the hook, and then physically getting words on the page.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jack Rollins: My stories tend to be full of characters you can relate to, or at least feel like you know someone similar to them. I want to sell you the people first, and their activity. So a mother walking her toddler along the beach, and him saying things and playing exactly like a toddler of that age does, and the mum thinking the things the mum of a toddler thinks, is going to feel real to you. Then when the weird stuff starts to happen, you’re already locked in. You already care.

I work hard to find emotional hooks in the characters I present you with, so you can go along for the ride without it being spoiled by jarring, uncharacteristic behavior that skips an ocean of character development. The hero isn’t a hero until they’re pushed to become one. And even then, it won’t come easy. And even then, as in Doctor Blessing, they are still going to do things that push them lower in your estimations of them.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jack Rollins: The title is of vital importance, for building mystery but not giving the game away. I have no formula. The titles just spring from the story. Sometimes it’s right at the beginning, sometimes the title doesn’t reveal itself until the book is finished.

Over the years of working on the various books that have resulted in Carsun, there were titles such as Matt Carsun: Saturnine, Matt Carsun: Man, Matt Carsun: Zero. When the time came to dust him off again and produce the definitive version of the story, the one that I would unleash on the public properly, I dropped most of the elements of the titles from earlier incarnations. Carsun. It’s about him. It’s about his dad, his brother. It’s about what it takes to be him and to remain him by the end of the book. Like the pace of the story, the title suggests urgency, like we’re shouting for him. But are we angry at him? Or do we need him?

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jack Rollins: I enjoy writing novels and novellas more than short stories. I always consider myself to be trying to write. If I sold a million books, I’s still be trying to write, to refine my work, to tell better stories that leave a mark on readers. The day you stop trying to write, is the day you’re sitting back on your arse, smugly knocking out the same old tat, knowing that your readers will buy it because your name is on the cover.

I find the storytelling in longer reads easier. I have more time to develop the characters, and to pack more into the plot. I’ve found myself struggling with short stories sometimes, because I naturally stray into Hollywood blockbuster plots, layering up the peril. You just can’t do that in a short. It has to punch hard and snap back quickly, and then it’s gone.

Sometimes, a story like Spores or Once Tolled The Lutine Bell will spring to mind, and it just has this great pace and flow and the story is just the right scale for the number of words required. But it’s rare I can write a short story to order just like that. There’s usually a bit of butchering to be done to get the story down to size, then rewrites to make sure the trim-down didn’t cut the heart out of the piece.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jack Rollins: My books often have some interconnectivity, little Easter eggs that suggest these characters are walking within the same world at different times. Look out for the names of shipping companies and tea brands, demons whose names recur, just little things like that.

Stylistically, Doctor Blessing has to be very different to Carsun, but ultimately both have my signature all over them. I like to see good characters possessed of a power or evil that could swing them either way. Can evil deeds have good consequences? Do the good guys always have to win? The world doesn’t work like that, so why should books?

And while I rail against hope in real life, I think it’s nice to have escapism, and feel hopeful for a desired outcome in the stories. Though, over time, after reading enough of my work, you’ll never know until the last pages if you’re going to get the outcome you think the characters deserve, or do I still have a twist up my sleeve?

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jack Rollins: The best example I can give is in Carsun. The old versions of the story featured fictionalized impressions of old school friends. Over time, I’ve shifted the focus away from Carsun’s school days and put a few years on him. I realized a few months ago, one of the biggest problems I had was that I hadn’t considered these characters growing up. I had too much of an attachment between those character names and these real guys I don’t see anymore and haven’t heard from in years. I had to cut the ties, strip them out, and replace them with new creations.

When Carsun is released, just know that there are a lot of bodies on the editing room floor, bleeding thick, black ink from their mortal injuries.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”? (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn’t necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a ‘rainy day’ or for when they have extra time.)

Jack Rollins: I mentioned that I’ve started painting. Painting, more than sketching has become my go-to activity. Even though it means cleaning brushes and palettes afterwards, I am more inclined to jump in and start a painting even in the late evening, than I am to draw. I’m very much a beginner, but I’m pleased that I’ve given painting a try and enjoy it immensely – and if anyone reading this lives with anxiety or depression, take my advice: grab some cheap canvases, brushes and oils or acrylics, stick some Bob Ross on YouTube or Netflix and disappear into your creativity for a while. I swear, you will thank me later.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jack Rollins: More. More novels, more novellas and short stories. Carsun should be with us in early 2020. I have at least one story I’m gearing up set within that world. I have plans for a story set in Newcastle. I might have something up my sleeve for fans of Doctor Blessing, too… but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, shall we?

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jack Rollins: I’m all over the usual suspects of social media, where I have a lovely, supportive community of creatives and readers all interacting and having fun. We chat about anything, and you never know… I might even release a book or two!

Website (where you can get 3 of my stories FREE, so put me to the test)
Facebook ** Instagram ** Twitter ** Minds ** Pinterest

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jack Rollins: I’d like to take the chance to say thanks to the readers who have been with me over the years. I appreciate you and your patience over the times where circumstances have required me to step back from writing for a while. I hope the new stories will be worth the wait. And for anyone new to my work, I hope you’ll give me a little of your time and try three of my stories risk-free, by visiting my website and joining my VIP Readers Group (you can leave at any time, even after you’ve downloaded the third book, if you like!), and I hope those stories will mark the start of an exciting relationship between us. I have lots of stories in the pipeline, so now is a really great time to get on board!

Jack Rollins was born and raised among the twisting cobbled streets and lanes, ruined forts and rolling moors of rural Northumberland, England in 1980. He is the author of the horror novel The Cabinet of Doctor Blessing, the novella The Seance, and a range of short, dark fiction tales.

Jack lives in Newcastle, England.

The Cabinet of Dr. Blessing (The Dr. Blessings Collection, Parts 1-3)

A chilling tale of gothic horror, told in three parts, collected in one volume. Dr George Blessing operates in his Victorian London hospital. Sympathetic to the poor, Blessing is summoned to a traumatic childbirth. There he discovers a creature of nightmarish power and malevolent intent, whose unearthly abilities he wants to harness for the good of mankind. When he reveals the secret to a friend after a dinner party, Dr Blessing’s obsession triggers events threatening to destroy his reputation, his family and the entire city. As the creature grows ever more powerful and suspicious investigators close in, the doctor is one step from death at every turn. Told in the tradition of a penny-dreadful, each part intricately spins a gripping web of secrets, lies and death, blending “Hammer House of Horror” style scares with fast paced action.

The Seance: A Gothic Tale of Horror & Misfortune (free on his website)

Albert Kench is summoned back to London from his travels in Australia, and is shocked to find that his sister has suffered horrific mental and physical damage. A man of science and progress, when Albert is told that Sally attended a seance prior to her collapse and has been touched by otherworldly forces, he believes there must be another, more rational explanation. Albert learns of a man who claims mastery of the dark arts, who may hold the key to Sally’s salvation. Albert sets off in search of answers, but can he emerge victorious without faith, or will he be forced to accept the existence of a realm beyond the world around him?

Hard Man

Ruling the dark underworld of Tilwick is no easy feat, but Eddie Garfield does so with brutal efficiency.

For sixty years, he has abided by two simple rules, rules that have painted the cobbles with splattered blood and broken teeth, and forged an impressive legacy. But sixty years is a long time… people are becoming restless; the criminal young bloods are ambitious and hungry to take their slice of the pie, and they’ll do anything to obtain it. Even if it means taking down one of their own… Hard Man takes place in the mysterious town of Tilwick, where the demon Mammon is worshipped as a god. The town featured in Rollins’ story ‘Home, Sweet Home’ (Kill For A Copy, Dark Chapter Press), and will soon provide the chilling backdrop for his long-awaited novel, Carsun.

Dead Shore: A Zombie Outbreak Story (free on his website)

When a group of teenagers mess around with the washed-up body of a dolphin, Karen and toddler Charlie find themselves caught in a wave of chaos and violence as one by one the residents of Ashmouth fall prey to a deadly virus, transforming them into relentlessly violent zombies. Allying herself with Dean, one of the teenage boys, Karen must stay strong and alert as the world she knows crumbles around her and there appears to be no way out. Is the village doomed, and will this zombie outbreak remain contained?

Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows (free on his website)

Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows sees Jack Rollins return to the Victorian era for a chilling, thrilling tale as the progress of mankind and technology trespass into the world of the mythical in Sweden. A series of night-time disappearances among the workforce of railway engineer Oliver Stroud threaten to bring the construction of a new railway bridge to a standstill as local superstitions give rise to unrest and desertion. Stroud is left with no choice but to investigate an ancient burial site to bring closure to the matter once and for all but there is no peace to be found among the barrows of Old Uppsala, for neither the dead, nor the creatures of myth who live among them.

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