I am delighted to welcome Welsh author and illustrator, Richard E. Rock, to the blog. He has undertaken an analysis of the main character Rosalind Brown from his debut horror novel, Deep Level. Thank you for your time, Richard. over to you.
Thank you, Val. Let me introduce you to Rosalind Brown, the main 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.
When Rich stumbles upon a secret Victorian underground network, he sees not only a great historical discovery, but also a way out of his humdrum life. He convinces three of his friends to join him, and together, they venture deep into the maze of tunnels beneath London’s bustling streets.
A rude girl made good. An aspiring writer. A cinema usher from Wales. A bookseller who dreams of being an urban explorer. Four friends trapped together in one nightmarish situation as they realise some things are kept secret for a reason.
Will any of them manage to escape the horror that lurks in the Deep Level?
As Syeeda was talking, Ffion was fishing her mobile phone out of her bag. She placed it on the table in front of her and swiped the screen. Rosalind cleared her throat. Ffion looked up to see Rosalind’s eyes dart down to the phone and then back up to meet hers.
“Oh yeah. Sorry. Forgot.” Ffion put her phone back in her bag.
“She did that to me too,” Syeeda sighed.
Rosalind ran a hand through her short, greying hair. “Have I told you my theory about why the zombie is the bogeyman for the modern age?” she asked, addressing both of her friends.
“And this has what to do with mobiles?” asked Syeeda with an arched eyebrow.
“You’ll see,” Rosalind smirked. “In America in the fifties, it was all flying saucers and aliens. That’s because their biggest fear at that time was the threat of Soviet invasion. So the whole flying saucers thing was a metaphor for invasion. In the eighties it was all body-horror movies, like The Thing and The Fly, because of AIDS. The corruption of the body. Go back about fifteen years or so and that’s when the so-called torture-porn movies started coming out, because America was stomping across the Middle East renditioning people and waterboarding them.”
Ffion was transfixed. Where was Roz going with all this?
“In Japan it was Godzilla and other assorted giant mutated monsters, because of the fear of radiation after the atomic bombs. But the bogeyman for today is the zombie. Everywhere you look, there’s zombies; Walking Dead, World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. You can go and have zombie experiences where actors in make-up will chase you around, for god’s sake. And why? Because of these.”
She pulled her mobile phone out of her pocket and held it up.
Ffion and Syeeda looked at each other blankly.
“Okaaay,” Syeeda eventually said. She sounded unconvinced.
“Yep. Every single day, everywhere you go, all you see are people plodding along, stupefied, phones in hand, not looking where they’re going, mouths hanging open, only half aware. And what do they all look like?”
“Zombies,” said Syeeda and Ffion in unison.
Smugly, Rosalind slipped her mobile back into her pocket.
By day, Richard E. Rock works as a commercial scriptwriter for radio and contributes ideas to a popular 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 waking up and realising that he could turn these into utterly horrible stories, he started deliberately inducing them.
Based in Wales, he lives with his girlfriend and their cat. 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.