It’s time to feature a new character in this blog series. Richard E. Rock, an author from South Wales, writes about Rosalind Brown, who he created for his horror novel, Deep Level, published by Darkstroke Books. By the way, I love Richard’s comment below: “I like to think that Deep Level is a horror novel for people who don’t necessarily read horror.” Okay, Richard, I’m sold. Here. I’ll let him take over.
Before I begin, let me first thank you, Joan, for giving me this opportunity to tell your readers all about Rosalind Brown, my favourite character in my horror novel Deep Level.
Deep Level began life as a nightmare, a ferocious, vivid and terrifying nightmare. When I awoke from it my first thought was, “Wow! That was incredible! I gotta write that down!”
I first of all wrote my nightmare up as a short story, and in this incarnation there was only one protagonist, a frustrated bookseller called Rich who dreams of being an urban explorer. When I expanded my tale into novel length, I introduced three supporting characters, but one of them did not stay supporting for long.
Rosalind Brown refused to accept that she had a “place” and very quickly elbowed her way to prominence in my book, establishing herself as its heart and soul. She’s the character towards whom all others gravitate. When there is a decision to be made, they look to her. When advice is needed, she’s the one they call on.
She’s an unlikely hero for a horror novel, I’ll admit; a fifty-something archivist, happily married with two children away in university. But then, I do like to mix things up a bit. She began life not as a person, but as a taste in music. I loved ska back in the eighties — bands like Madness, the Specials, the Beat and the Selector — so I used that as my starting point when I set about establishing her character. Also, an ex-girlfriend of mine happened to have a made-ya-look resemblance to Pauline Black of the Selector, so I borrowed that attribute and even used that particular line in the novel.
I decided to make Rosalind an immigrant, because why not? She came to London from Sierra Leone as a young girl, only to find herself lost and bewildered by its vastness and its tides of people. When she discovered ska music she also discovered her tribe. The rude boys and rude girls on the 2-tone scene became her new family. Rosalind was on her way.
Fast forward 38 years or so and she’s married to a rocker named Phil and has two bright, intelligent sons, Callum and Nathan, and I’m happy for her. She deserves a happy life. She’s earned it. What a shame she accepted Rich’s offer to go and explore a secret underground Victorian train network. That was a big mistake.
When I write a sympathetic character, I always ask myself one question: “Would I hang out with this person?” If the answer is yes, they can stay. Rosalind stayed. I would definitely hang out with her. There is a little bit of my ex-girlfriend in her DNA, yes. There’s a little bit of my mother in there too. Amongst many other things, she’s an archivist. Rosalind also has other attributes and characteristics borrowed from various friends and colleagues. Over time, as I worked my way through multiple drafts, she grew to be a person in her own right, evolving independently. Eventually, she was telling me about herself and not the other way around. I love it when this happens.
When I began work on Deep Level, I knew that the horror element in the second half would only work if the reader fell in love with the characters in the first. Then, when Rosalind, Rich, Syeeda and Ffion descend into the dark tunnels beneath the streets of London and find themselves hunted by god-knows-what, we as readers experience the terror through them. Every shock and every loss of theirs will be ours too. We’ll hope and pray that the next turn of the page will see their escape and salvation. And that right there is my job as a writer, to create the impression that these characters have lives beyond the pages of my book. That, as people, they are too precious and valuable to die, because there are children who would miss them and partners who would mourn.
I like to think that Deep Level is a horror novel for people who don’t necessarily read horror. First and foremost, it’s a book about four friends — people just like you and I. The only difference is, they happen to find themselves in a situation the rest of us would rather avoid. So why not go and hang out with Rosalind and her little gang for a while? Meet up with them at Jason’s Cafe before they all go off on their adventure. Rosalind’s paying. I guarantee she’ll be good company.
AN EXTRACT FROM DEEP LEVEL
Rosalind ran a hand through her short, greying hair. She had always worn it short. It was part of the rude girl look.
Back in 2007, a lifetime ago, it seemed, she had taken her not unwilling sons to see an exhibition of youth fashion, photography and memorabilia at the V&A. Hand in hand in hand, they had followed the trail through the late seventies and into the early eighties. Quietly and politely, her boys had listened as their mum reeled off stories and memories and reminiscences brought back to life by the exhibits.
She brought them to a stop in front of a monochrome photograph displayed on an oversized canvas. On it were three teenage girls, all DM boots and cut-off t-shirts and attitude, frozen together forever in one immaculate moment.
“What do you think of this one?” she asked.
“I like the girl who’s smiling,” answered Nathan.
Rosalind considered the girl in the photograph, the only one not trying just a little bit too hard to project an image of threat. The only one who looked relaxed and happy in her own skin. Neither Nathan nor Callum realised that they were actually looking at their own mother as a teenager.
Rosalind had bought a copy of the exhibition book, a small token of immortality, which was now sitting high on a shelf in her Acton home. The home she would soon be vacating.
“You know, it’s not going to feel like home until this baby is hung up on the wall,” said Phil.
Rosalind looked over. He was holding in his hands his most prized possession, a framed LP. It was Black Sabbath’s debut album, a first pressing, of course, released in 1970. Beneath the glass, the gatefold cover was open, revealing the inverted cross which contained the track listing and a poem. Also, and this is what, in the eyes of its owner, made it almost as precious as his own children, if not more so: it had been autographed by Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. The original members. The Sab Four.
“It’ll feel like a home,” said Rosalind, “when I’ve got my feet up on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand.” At that particular moment, she had her feet up on the sofa with a glass of wine in her hand.
SO WHO IS RICHARD E. ROCK?
Richard E. Rock is a professional writer based in Swansea, south Wales, where he lives with his girlfriend and their cat. By day he works as a commercial scriptwriter in the radio biz and contributes ideas to a legendary British comic for grown-ups. But by night … he writes horror.
He was inspired to do this after experiencing a series of particularly ferocious nightmares. After awaking and realising he could turn these into absolutely horrible stories, he started deliberately inducing them. Deep Level is his debut novel.
His favourite authors include Stephen King, Zadie Smith, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka and Shirley Jackson.
If you’re looking for him, you’ll probably find him wedged up against the barrier at a heavy metal gig, for that is his natural habitat.
Find Deep Level on Amazon: https://t.co/u6SoL1tbB4?amp=1
Richard’s website: https://richarderock.com/