I was really lucky enough to grab a quick Q&A session with the author of Deep Level, Richard E. Rock, and began my grilling as soon as I finished the last page of Deep Level. Literally, I grabbed my phone and typed “WTAF?!” and went off on a tangent about the ending, and then the entire book! I loved the book so much but was left with so many questions, poor Richard ! I’m not sure he knew what had hit him when my name flashed up on his screen! But here it is, the most interesting discussion I have had this year!
MR- How did you come up with the idea of Deep Level? Are you in to urban exploring yourself or is it something you’ve stumbled across and been inspired by?
RR- It all started with a nightmare. I dreamt I was being pursued through dark tunnels by a silent, steamless, driverless Victorian engine. It was horrifying. In another part of the dream I was being stalked by a demonic presence. If I let it get too close cobwebs would form over my eyes and I would feel my life-force ebbing away. I woke up in the morning and thought, “That was amazing!” so I wrote down all the details before they faded away. And that’s how Deep Level was born.
MR- How did you find the process of having this idea, starting to write it down and going on this big journey to have it published? Is there any advice you would give a budding writer?
RR- I originally wrote it as a short story. As soon as I finished it I thought all the ingredients were there to make a good novel, so I got to work. I read up on urban exploration and watched loads of videos on YouTube. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff out there, including one doc specifically about hauntings in the London Underground. I didn’t send Deep Level off to any publishers or agents straight away. It ended up sitting in my hard drive, forgotten about, for a couple of years. When I got furloughed from work I suddenly had the time to look into getting it published. The third one I sent it to, Darkstroke Books, came back to me very quickly with a yes, so I got lucky. The advice I would give a budding writer is the same advice I would give my younger self if I could go back in time: if you want to be a writer, surround yourself with other writers. Join a writing group and go to book launches and events. I really do believe that creativity begets creativity, and my writing didn’t take off until I joined a writing group.
MR- Do you have a specific writing process? Is there anything you need to do in order to get started, like sitting at a window with a coffee or going for a spooky walk somewhere off limits?
RR- I am catastrophically disorganised, so I don’t really have any processes or rituals. My writing space is a tip with notebooks and stationery everywhere. I tend to jot ideas down as they come and when I have enough of them to suggest a story I start trying to mould them into shape. I never know how a story is going to end when I start work on one, I just see where the ideas take me. I like that, though. It’s exciting.
MR- There are four very different characters with very very different lives in Deep Level- how much of these characters are based on the personalities of yourself and the people around you and how much have you created from your own mind?
RR- When I wrote the original short story there was only one character, Rich. When I expanded it into novel form I knew I had to have a supporting cast, and so Rosalind, Syeeda and Ffion were born. However, Rosalind didn’t stay supporting for long and, for me at least, became the heart and soul of Deep Level. She’s definitely my favourite character. They all have elements of myself in them. Rich works in a bookshop. I’ve done that. Ffion is a cinema usher. I’ve done that. Syeeda gets a job in radio. That’s what I do now. And Rosalind? She’s an archivist and that’s what my mother does. You could say that I’ve been researching this book for my entire professional life! Also, there are bits of various friends and acquaintances mixed in there too. Rosalind’s love of ska and resemblance to Pauline Black from The Selector came from a former girlfriend. In my head, Rich resembles a chap I used to work with in the bookshop. Syeeda has quite a bit of someone I know in her DNA, as does Ffion.
MR- Down on the train tracks among the carriages just before the Deep Level, we briefly learn of a person whose been living and hiding among the forgotten carriages and is possibly the person who helps Rosalind- is this the man from the flashback who was taken to and escaped from the “Club” this man? Has he somehow been cursed to live forever and guard the bricked up tunnel?
RR- Without giving too much away, the lost soul living in the abandoned carriage is just that. He’s someone hiding from the world for reasons of his own. However, I love the thought that there may be more to him than that and now my head is spinning with ideas and possibilities. That would a great angle for a return to the Deep Level in a future book.
MR-Are we ever going to learn about how the Deep Level came to be abandoned and who bricked up the tunnels and why?
RR- The reasons are hinted at in the book, specifically in the scene where Rich meets the old man in the pub. It would be fun to expand on that in a future story, so watch this space!
MR- When creating the dust-making shadow creature that preys on the group when they enter the Deep Level, what did you envision it looking like and the way it moved and sounded, was there anything in particular that helped you form this “thing”? And will we ever know what it actually is and why it likes and also how it makes people in to piles of dust?
RR- I glimpsed the tunnel dweller in my nightmare, so that’s where the inspiration came from. It was humanoid but tall and spindly like a spider. Also, it had glowing eyes. I’ll admit that the glowing eyes thing is a bit corny, but that’s what happened in my dream so I went with it.
Everyone knows that dark caves are crawling with rats and spiders, so making it arachnoid in its appearance and movements made perfect sense. Also, a lot of people have an extreme phobia of spiders so I couldn’t have envisaged a better monster for my book!
The dust is to do with time. When the tunnel dweller gets close to someone he feeds off their life-force. They shrivel and die and end up just as they would if left for thousands of years: as a pile of dust.
MR- What does 2021 have in store for you and your writing?
RR- Hopefully a lot!
I’m in the editing phase of my next novel. It’s a sci-fi horror concerning UFOs and aliens, so it’s very different from Deep Level. It’s about two shipwrecked refugees, sisters, who wash up on an east African island where incredible experiments have been taking place. The only person who can save them is a lowly slacker who lives half a world away in the US.
It’s a not a ‘hard’ sci-fi novel, though. It’s actually set in 2018! But again, the ideas for it came to me a series of nightmares and anxiety dreams.
Also, I’ve completed a Victorian vampire novel which I’d like to develop into a series. Believe me when I say I’m just getting started!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Richard for doing this Q&A with me. Deep Level is available now in didgital and physical formats.