Meghan: Hey, Jack! Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Jack: Although I enjoy opportunities to get into a costume, as a dad, it’s all about my sons at the minute. I can never remember the UK being as into Halloween as it is now. These days there’s more of a build-up, and the kids get excited for days in advance. Decorations go up earlier and earlier each year. It’s becoming a mini-Christmas, really. My boys get excited about Halloween, and I get to go along for the ride.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
Jack: Last year I started something that I hope will become a tradition. My boys and I played some board games together, all around the Halloween theme. We played Cluedo (I think you call it Clue in the States), so we solved a murder, we played King of Tokyo, so we had Kaiju battling over a city, then we played the fantastic Horrified, which has become a firm favourite in our house, all year round. I set it up so the boys won sweets and treats throughout the games, and we all had a blast.
Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?
Jack: I grew up in the 80s, so Christmas was always great. So many great toys back then – especially anything related to Ghostbusters. So Christmas was very much my favorite holiday.
Halloween is a close second, and it’s becoming a closer race each year now. Like I say, we Brits are getting more into Halloween these days. We seem to be shifting closer to what I always liked to see in TV shows and movies from the States.
I live in the North-East of England, so when we hit Autumn, the days get really short. I used to feel quite depressed about that, but I’ve grown to enjoy the change, and try to slow down and bit and appreciate it more.
There’s something about the time of year, that autumnal shift: you’re well past summer, but it’s not uncomfortably cold like the depth of winter. By day you’ve got all the lovely colours of autumn around you, and the smells – unlike winter, when it’s so cold that nothing smells of anything. You get wrapped up in an extra layer or two, and have this night where kids are encouraged to go out into the darkness, at a time where they’d usually be winding down towards bedtime. They’re excited about that, and even though the theme is ghosts and monsters, they aren’t afraid. It’s one night when kids aren’t afraid of all the things that usually scare them.
Meghan: What are you superstitious about?
Jack: I don’t have any really traditional superstitions. I have a couple of family members who are very superstitious, though. For instance, if one of my aunties turns up or gets in touch randomly one morning, you know she’s had a dream that you died. The only way she thinks she can stop it happening, is if she speaks to you before noon. Unless she dislikes you, I suppose, in which case she’d probably hide all morning and wait to see if you got hit by a bus or something.
Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?
Jack: I’m watching a French series on Netflix at the moment, called Marianne. It’s very cool, really tense, but there’s a level of humour to it, too. The evil entity in that show is my current favourite. She strikes the sort of notes I aim for in my writing.
Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
Jack: Different cases interest me more at different times. It might be a TV show like Making of a Murderer, that makes me wonder what really happened. Tiger King doesn’t count… I think we all know what happened there!
On a very local level, there was a murder in the 1990s, in the town where I live. A local organised crime figure was shot dead outside a bar. He was well-known as a wild man, really brutal. Shootings are most uncommon in the UK, and it was a bit easier to get a gun back then than it is now, but still, gun crime wasn’t common. I’d love to know if it was one of his enemies, or did someone on his own side maybe decide it was time for him to go? Maybe his reputation was attracting too much attention and they couldn’t get on with business. I guess we’ll never know.
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
Jack: There’s one that makes me feel sick when I think about it. All I have to say is McDonalds, and you’ll immediately think of some variant, I’m sure. The one I’m thinking of involves and woman and her child going to McDonalds, and both of them becoming very ill. Their lips, tongues, gums and all down the insides of their throats were covered in blisters and weeping lesions. Stool samples were taken, and traces of herpes-infected semen was found in the Big Mac special sauce. But it’s just an urban legend… isn’t it? Tell yourself that next time you go for a Big Mac.
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
Jack: Jack the Ripper fascinates me. I was thinking about his killings when you asked about the unsolved murders. It’s such an evocative case, embedded in our culture now. Everyone imagines that top-hat and cloak with the edge of a blade glinting in the gaslight. Did he do it because those women were so vulnerable? Was it purely the opportunity, and the perception that nobody would really care about murdered prostitutes? I’ve always leaned towards the theory posed in Alan Moore’s amazing graphic novel From Hell, that it may have all been to cover up a royal scandal… but of course, no member of the royal family would ever do anything sexually inappropriate, would they?
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
Jack: I was such a wimp when it came to horror. My mother described The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street to me, when I was really young. I think they’d made a real impression on her and she’d really enjoyed them. Of course, she had seen them. Me? I was left with an image of Freddy Kreuger conjured up from someone’s description. My mind filled in the blanks and I was terrified of the idea of him. You watch the Nightmare movies now and see how much humour was in them, but all that was missing from what I was told and what I imagined, so I avoided horror movies like the plague! Thanks, mother.
I didn’t come around to them until Scream 2 came out, so I was about 17. One of my friends wanted to watch it at the cinema, and I hadn’t seen the first one. So he got Scream on VHS, we watched it in the afternoon and I loved it, and we watched the second one that night. Those movies made the genre really accessible for me, through the slasher subgenre.
In horror books, again, I got to them late. I was probably about 19 or 20. I lived with a girl who had a great collection of James Herbert books. I started out with Haunted, which I loved. I carried on from there. I’ve read more James Herbert books than the work of any other horror writer.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
Jack: Without a doubt it was Last Days by Adam Nevill. There are some moments in that book that I found really creepy. I got a similar feeling when I read The Ritual, also by Nevill. He must have the inside track on what scares me. His work always seems to get inside my head.
Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?
Jack: Last year I watched a movie called Baskin. I think it’s a Turkish film. I’m not really into torture movies. I’m not interested in Hostel and things like that. There is a certain amount of torturing goes on in Baskin, but it’s not there just for the sake of it – it has a reason for being there. There’s a character who turns up at the end, played by a guy who had never acted before, but who has this genetic condition that gives him a really unnerving appearance that played on my mind long after the movie ended. That sounds awful really, because that’s the guy’s actual face – but that’s why they cast him, and it worked.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Jack: I once dressed up as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I loved that costume. In fact, I might just walk about like that all the time.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?
Jack: When I try to think of any music relating to Halloween, all I can think about is this tune called Spooky, Spooky that my kids listened to when they were really little. It’s on YouTube and we had to put it on for them a hundred times in a row when we had Halloween parties for them and their little pals, and now that I’ve remembered it, I’m stuck with it in my head again.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat?
Jack: There was some sort of little cake slice I found last year. I got a pack of them to eat with the kids, and as soon as I tasted it, I wished I’d hidden them and kept them all for myself. It was some sort of chocolate-covered cinder toffee, digestive biscuit bar by McVitie’s. I hope I find them again this year. No sharing this time, though.
Jack Rollins was born in North East England in 1980. He is an author of dark fiction, including horror and dark fantasy. Best known for carving out a bloody niche in Victorian horror stories, including The Seance, The Cabinet of Doctor Blessing, and Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows, he also writes compelling contemporary stories, approaching the horror genre from unique angles. He has also published a collection of short stories, Scattered Ashes. The author lives in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England.
(Visit the website for a free copy of The Seance.)
The Seance —
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?
The Cabinet of Dr Blessing —
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.
Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows —
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.