About Your Uncle Jasp

Jasper Bark

My crimes and misdemeanours

I owe my whole career to the moment my pregnant wife didn’t stab me.

We were in the kitchen. She was chopping vegetables, carrying our second child inside her.

I had just sold my first novel. I suggested we should leave London and move to the country where I would dedicate myself to writing novels. This would mean leaving a well-paid job as a journalist and cable TV presenter, so she would have to support us all for the foreseeable future. My advance on the first novel would just about pay for the move.

It was only when she turned to address me that I realised two things. The enormity of what I was asking her and the size of the knife she was holding. It’s only thanks to her patience and self-control, that I’m alive to type this.

I’d grown tired of being a film and music journalist, I was writing for a living but all I wrote were responses to other people’s creativity, adding little of my own. I’d begun to feel I was on the wrong side of the mic in the interviews I did. I’d broken into journalism ten years before with a battering ram of pure bullshit and bravado, having dropped out of school at sixteen with little to no qualifications. Now, I saw, I’d bluffed my way into someone else’s dream job.

I’d had a good run as a journalist, I’d written for all the leading publications in my field. I was invited to be a live sex performer at Manumission in Ibiza, had my trousers removed mid-interview by a member of the Buena Vista Social Club and was sacked from one cable presenter job for pulling a banana out of my pants while on air. I needed a new battlement to storm.

Journalism wasn’t my first career. As a teen I ran away but failed to find any circus, so I ended up in the thankless world of repertory theatre, a notable haven for waifs, strays and reprobates. It was here that I met my future wife, Veronica, a fact that didn’t initially please my dad. I’m the son of two river gypsies who settled in the north-west of England to raise a family. My dad was a union man to his dying day, so you can imagine his response when I phoned to tell him that come the ‘big day of the glorious revolution’, he and I would now be first in line to be shot against the wall, because I was marrying the Duke of Montrose’s granddaughter. As my dad put it: “Fifty years devotion to the class b*****d struggle and you had to go and p*** it up the wall for me. It’s lucky your grandfather isn’t alive to see!”

My theatre career ended in flames, quite literally, when I turned the city of Carlisle’s Bonfire Night celebration into a mass political protest and ended up banned from working anywhere in the north-west. I moved to London and lived a hand-to-mouth existence as a stand up and performance poet on the city’s burgeoning comedy circuit. This eventually led to lots of blink-and-you’ll-miss-me appearances on late night TV and a few turns as the host of the Erotic Oscars.

Journalism had been my attempt to go straight and now it was over. But my days as a hack weren’t. I moved into the world of work-for-hire fiction. I wrote novels based on film and TV tie-ins, comics based on popular Saturday morning cartoons and scripts for online games. Occasionally I wrote something I was proud of, but not often enough.

It was my wife who came to my rescue, as she often does. I was being driven mad by one client’s pointless changes to a games script, when she told me she’d never read anything I’d written that she could point to and say: “this is your authentic voice, only you could have written this.”  

This probably hurt worse than if she’d used the knife on me several years before. After some long, dark nights of soul searching I realised she was right and I walked away from the games company and several hugely lucrative contracts. Now all I had to do was find my authentic voice.

Turns out that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And when I did find my voice… it was hideous! Dark, twisted and steeped in the most disturbing imagination. But it’s my voice and I’ve learned to embrace it. So far it’s won me a Splatterpunk Award, a This Is Horror Award and nominations for a Bram Stoker Award and a British Fantasy Award.

My long-standing association with Crystal Lake Publishing led to the formation of Bark Bites Horror and a new era in the annals of darkfiction began. It’s yet to keep me out of trouble, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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"Jasper Bark is a trickster of a writer, a performer on the page. A clown that's not slipping on a banana skin, but on a pool of freshly-spilled blood."

Stephen Volk, BAFTA winning screenplay writer of Ken Russell’s Gothic, Ghostwatch and ITV’s Afterlife

“Read every book you can find by Jasper Bark - a word magician of the highest order; prepare to have your mind blown...”

Cory Cline, Splatterzine


Frequently un-asked questions

What’s the worst thing about being a parent?

I don’t know if it’s the worst thing, but I raised two amazingly smart daughters, with amazingly smart mouths.

Some years ago I was vacuuming the living room while my eldest daughter, Freya and my youngest daughter, Ishara were watching TV. Maybe it was because I was making too much noise doing household chores, or maybe she was just bored, but Ishara decided to wind me up by looking askance at the vacuum cleaner and asking me: “Dad, are you gay?”

I switched off the cleaner, raised an eyebrow and said: “Well, I’m married to your mother and I have two children, what does that tell you?”

Without missing a beat, Freya replied: “That we’re adopted?”

Who’s the most dangerous person you’ve met?

That might be Rupert Murdoch, only I didn’t so much meet him as bump into him – quite literally.

A few years ago I got an invitation to the wedding of one of my oldest friends – the artist Keith Tyson, who was best man at my own wedding. The invitation came from the personal assistant of Keith’s fiancé, who referred to her simply as Elizabeth. When I mentioned to my wife, who pays more attention to current affairs, that we should put this date in our diaries, she said: “You do know that’s Elizabeth Murdoch, of the Murdoch empire, don’t you?”

The wedding reception was less like the TV series Succession and more like The Last Days of Pompei, the levels of decadence and splendour were stunning. They built a specially constructed festival village in the grounds of their estate and the guests moved from one ornately decorated hall to another with every course of the meal, afloat on some of the most expensive wines in the world. The corridors that linked each of these specially constructed mini-venues were filled with holographic displays projected onto veils of mist that you stepped through as an army of live musicians serenaded you along the way.

It was towards the end of the feasting, as the guests were moving to yet another specially constructed space, that I lingered, staring up at the tropical vines and rare blossoms woven into the floral ceiling. I was so caught up in gaping at the artistry I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me and someone barged right into me. I apologised but before I saw who had run into me, a sudden movement caught my eye. There were security personnel placed around every corner. Dangerous looking individuals who had a look in their eyes that I knew from my father and uncles, men who’d seen active service in the military. It was the look of someone who had taken multiple lives.

The security guy reached inside his suit jacket to what could only have been a shoulder holster. As my heart ceased to beat I saw a liver spotted hand hove into view and signal for him to stand down. That was when I turned to see the person who had collided with me and came face to face with Rupert Murdoch. I apologised once more, though I hadn’t really done anything, and he gave me a glassy eyed sneer before dismissing me wordlessly and carrying on his way.

Rebekah Brooks, who’d been standing next to the armed guard, dispatched two further guys to make certain Rupert got safely to wherever he was going. While I slunk off to the next part of the celebrations, aware that I had just dodged a bullet in more ways than one.

When were you last star-struck?

As a film and music journalist my job was to meet and interview some of the most famous people on the planet, and I found many of them decidedly underwhelming. It wasn’t until I began to meet my literary idols, on a professional basis, that I really started ‘fangirling’. With one notable exception. The only celebrity who really left me starstruck may surprise you.

It was Julie Andrews.

The second Shrek movie was due to be released and I interviewed her, and many other cast members as part of a press junket. My daughters were very young at that time and this was before the days when smart phones and tablets could be used as effective babysitters. The best you could do was distract them for twenty minutes with a DVD.

The Disney movies Aladdin and Mary Poppins were on permanent rotation at that time. When you’re forced, as a parent, to watch Julie Andrews giggle and wink and lift up her skirts to Dick Van Dyke for the four hundredth time in a month, your mind goes to some strange places. I began to fantasise that this wholesome actress, who was “practically perfect in every way”, and even played a nun in The Sound of Music, was, in reality, a secret nymphomaniac. These are the side effects of parenthood they don’t tell you about, because these are the sort of thoughts best kept to yourself.

The day before the press junket I pointed at the TV, as Mary played for her second time that day, and said: “I’m going to meet that actress tomorrow.”

My children’s eyes lit up. “Daddy, you’re going to meet Mary Poppins?”“Can you bring her back to our house?”“Can she bring her umbrella and her magic bag?”

Rather than explain I would only get twenty minutes in a hotel room with her and some PR ladies, I simply smiled and said: “I’ll see what I can do.” But, the girls’ enthusiasm stayed with me as I waited in the hotel corridor to be summoned for an audience. For the first time in years I was nervous and excited about meeting a celebrity, I mean, this was Mary Poppins after all.

The interview itself was not an inspiring one. I was one of a long stream of journalists who had been paraded in front of the aging actress to ask her tepid and innocuous questions. If I’d had more time I could have made the conversation interesting but the best I could hope for was a few choice sound bites to fill some column inches. In Shrek 2 she plays Fiona’s mother, a queen who is married to a frog. As the interview was winding up I asked her: “Of all the leading men you kissed, who turned out to be frogs and who were princes?”

Her polite but indifferent manner changed abruptly. She smiled slyly and wagged an admonishing finger at me. “Oh no, young man, you don’t catch me off guard like that.” Then she leaned over the coffee table, making sure I could see down the front of her dress and placed a warm, firm hand on my knee. “I may have kissed, but I never, ever tell.”

As I gazed into her now mischievous eyes, having been put firmly in my place (in spite of not actually having tried to climb out of it), I realised two things. The first was that my suspicions were probably completely true. The second was that the front of my trousers were now uncomfortably tight. And they remained that way, despite my attempts to hide the fact, until I’d said my goodbyes and left the hotel room.

Tell us something no one else knows about you?

I have two Japanese half-brothers that I’ve never met.

My father fought in the Korean War and worked his way up to being a Warrant Officer. He ended up doing what we would now call Black Ops and Wet Works. As a result of one too many missions he developed what in those days was called ‘battle fatigue’, but would be known today as PTSD, a condition from which he never fully recovered. Because of this, he was removed from the frontline and sent for some R&R in Japan.

While he was there, my father went AWOL from his British military camp and decided to stay in Japan as an illegal alien. Though he usually refused to speak about his war experience, I asked him once how he managed to live in the closed culture of 1950s Japan as a foreigner. He told me he changed the way he held the muscles in his face and demonstrated this by altering his appearance right in front of me. I stared aghast as, in a short space of time, he managed to look nothing like my father.

While in Japan, my father met and married the daughter of a local Yakuza boss and had two children with her. He also joined the family business. He stayed in Japan for some years before his illegal activities led to the discovery that he was an illegal alien. Before he could be arrested, he was smuggled out of the country and back to Britain by his father in law’s associates. He never saw his first wife or his children again.

I was at my father’s bedside when he died of major organ failure. He was given forty eight hours to live, but in his usual stubborn way he took a month. He was delirious most of the time, but in his lucid moments he was happy to chat. I asked him if he could tell me anything that might help me find my brothers – names, dates or locations. He tried hard, but his mind and body were failing him and he couldn’t recall anything that would help. He passed before I could learn anything conclusive.

I have no idea if my brothers also went into the family business and how they fared if they did. I only know that somewhere in Japan I have two blood relatives, approaching their seventies, that might have been, or may still be, high ranking members of the Yakuza.

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