"Sometimes, when life looks to be at its grimmest, there's a light hidden at the heart of things." Geneva Peachtree
Revelations : "So, hey, how are you doing today?"
Clive : "Not great. Eight weeks ago I was in a coma and I'm just grateful to be alive, you know? I'm very lucky. 50% of people who go into hospital with Toxic Shock die."
Revelations : "Let's backtrack and talk about what triggered it?"
Clive : "I had a 4 o'clock appointment with the dentist. It was exploratory, to see what they wanted to do. It wasn't anything. There was a little bit of bleeding, there was some blood so obviously they pierced something. I got home, I didn't feel great, a bit woozy, then I have no memory of anything... I have no memory of anything until twelve days later fighting to pull the tubes out of my throat. I had three tubes down into my lungs, to inflate them and keep them going, because my system had completely turned off.
"Now the doctor was saying to me, 'This is the third time you've done this - if you do it a fourth time you'll die.' And I was terrified - I didn't know who these people were - they wore masks, it felt like I was being tortured. I kept trying to ask, 'Why?' but couldn't because of the tubes in my throat... It was horrible, let me tell you, it was horrible. There was nothing about it that was revealing or insightful or pleasant. It was a nightmare."
Revelations : "We were only able to hear second hand reports of what was going on but we know your first real words were, 'Get me out of here'! Obviously you had no knowledge at all of those days when you were unconscious, but what was it like when you woke up and realised what had happened?"
Clive : "Well, I didn't, I was in a delirious state when I woke up - you don't wake from a coma the way you might wake from a sleep. I now, seven weeks later, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted right now and most days I'm exhausted, you know? I've lost twenty-five pounds; it's taken a toll, a huge toll, but but, first thing, I'm alive, secondly the flood of wonderful, wonderful things from readers and film people and people who just love the work is just incredibly inspiring to me - hundreds and hundreds of them - and it's been important to me to get the message out - 'I am going to live.'
"I've still got a nurse here, on and off, she left from her twenty-four hour a day stint last week so, you know, I'm getting better, but I'm still very weak and it's frustrating, not getting out of the house. I feel very vulnerable to everything, I feel like skins have been stripped away from me...
"I'm in a very dark place, which is common after comas, apparently. You know, my life was going along reasonably well and then suddenly nothing - my life stopped - and I woke again almost two weeks later, not knowing who I was or where I was or what had happened - even to this day I don't really know what's happened."
Revelations : "So you're clearly going to be in recovery mode for a while yet - are you just taking it easy for the moment?"
Clive : "They say that for the time you're in hospital you multiply it by three - I was in there for a month and so probably, I think, I need three months - "
Revelations : "And you've never been one for being inactive."
Clive : "No."
Revelations : "It doesn't much suit you, the invalid state, does it?"
Clive : "No, no, not at all, but it's forced upon me by circumstance, you know? And it is what it is and I feel, frankly, inarticulate, because of exhaustion but also because I don't have a great deal to say about it - it's there.
"I had a relapse later, here at the house, about a week after I got home, which was horrible. I suddenly felt - well, my vital signs went down, rapidly - not very nice, you know?"
Revelations : "And they think that was because of the amount of medication you'd been put on?"
Clive : "Well, it's hard to know what it was, it really is, and all of this is guesswork, really. What happened was, when I left the hospital, three separate doctors who'd worked on me said, 'You should not be here. There's no way somebody who's as ill as you were when you came to us - you'd already had three seizures in the ambulance on the way down to Cedars-Sinai,' which you know is only five minutes' drive. I don't remember any of this - I was unconscious, but I had three seizures, each one of which should have killed me and they had no expectation of me coming out again alive and my poor friends, you know, my loved ones in the house, God bless them, they were sitting by my bed trying to bring me round by talking to me for eight hours at a time. I remember nothing - well, I have some snatches of things that are too horrible to talk about, that I don't want to talk about - maybe I will one day, but not now..."
Revelations : "Sure. Well the important thing is that you're on the mend. I think you said at the beginning that you've seen the huge waves of good feeling flowing in your direction which has been hugely supportive."
Clive : "Just wonderful."Taking a break, we vowed to concentrate on the cheerier side of life for our next session...
Clive : "Hello!!"
Revelations : "Hey - how are you?"
Clive : "I'm OK, thank you - I'm only going to speak today with a happy face - is that right?"
Revelations : "That's absolutely the instruction - yes!"
Clive : "Let's talk - I'm in the middle of a chapter here, so let's race through this."
Revelations : "Well, instantly, that tells us you're busy on Abarat IV - yes?"
Clive : "Yes, absolutely. I'm very busy on Abarat IV with a set deadline. Obviously after the interruption of the coma, they gave me some extra time - not a lot of time, but enough. You know the last two books are significant, not necessarily because we've got huge events happening, it's also about servicing characters. The cast list has grown over the last three books and it's very, very important to me that I don't let anybody down. We've got two more books and I know how it's all going to finish and I know the structure of the books and I know that the scale of the narrative has to be hiked up. I want to make sure that in the fourth and fifth books, each builds upon the first three. And that all the major characters, no, not even the major characters - all the characters get their stories dealt with, their stories addressed - "
Revelations : "They all need their day in the sun."
Clive : "They do - including the girls at the very beginning who were bitches to Candy in the first place - they also have a place... I'm attempting to embrace everything that's happened in both Abarat and Chickentown in these three books and connect the dots - that's what the Thread was there for, that's what the Skein was there for."
Revelations : "The more you build in, the more it speaks to the philosophy of the whole thing."
Clive : "Absolutely right, and the word 'philosophy', Sarah, is actually right on the button - it's really important to keep the pattern, the code to the entire structure and that no-one feels short-changed, nobody, no reader feels short-changed.
"Let me explain, these two books are a totally different writing experience from the first three because I am now so fully engaged in the fantastical elements of narrative and everything that is happening is huge because of where the climax is going to take us. So we begin, for instance, at [oops, sorry, no - that's too big a spoiler about Candy...!] and we won't find out why she's there until Book Five, so there will be many connection points, not only forward into Book Five, but also back into the first three books which will allow a lot of things to suddenly make sense. For example, why Gazza seems to fall totally in love with Candy so quickly and Candy seems to fall totally in love with him, which of course doesn't happen in the real world - and critical readers were pointing that out to me."
Revelations : "Critical, but not thoughtful..."
Clive : "Well, right, they should have trusted that Barker would have done right by them. And a lot of other things - Diamanda is related to someone that we don't connect. Christopher Carrion is going to have power over some things we don't connect, and a whole order of evil women are going to be revealed, though I mentioned them in Book Three I mentioned them so quickly and so quietly."
Revelations : "Ooh - did we pick them up for the glossary in the Companion Book?"
Clive : "It begins with a Z."
Revelations : "Oh - the Zael..."
Clive : "Yes, you did, the Zael Maz'yre. The interesting thing is that when I get a feeling in the narrative that things that were laid into the story much, much earlier are now coming through, I feel very good as a reader, I get very satisfied, I don't feel as if I'm not being plotted against by the writer, I'm having respect paid to me and I'm hoping that the Zael - as they are, there is simply one reference to them - they are the empowering force behind Mater Motley and almost certainly you pass over the sentence without thinking very much about it but she knows that keeping their company, demanding power from them, is going to have a consequence to her. She's going to have to pay the piper eventually. And I've been very open about that in Book Three, it's just that it happens at a time when there's a lot of action going on, so that is going to be very relevant, and I like that, I hope readers will like that."
Revelations : "And a more satisfying experience to write?"
Clive : "It gives me pleasure that I haven't cheated anybody, like when there's a deus ex machina revealed that was never mentioned before, I mean Alan Moore is a great teacher in that - he lays down detail which will bear wonderful fruit later on and when you look back over the story - Watchmen is a great example - when you look back over Watchmen, it was all there in the earlier pages...
"I also want to say that I will be making more paintings for the book, in addition to the ones that I already have, but I also realised - consciously or sub-consciously - that I have created narratives that really fit with the paintings we've got. I've held back, as I know you know, on some very big canvases. And that was always deliberate. I couldn't plan it exactly but I always knew those canvases were there. And I'm hoping that the last two books will be at least as spectacular, visually - hopefully more spectacular than the last three. I want to be able to give good value, you know. Volume Three: I don't know what it cost for you guys over there but it was real value for money here."
Revelations : "I think it was twenty pounds here."
Clive : "How does that compare - for a glossy book with colour illustrations?"
Revelations : "Well, a lot of regular novels without illustrations are fifteen pounds, so not much more."
Clive : "It was fourteen bucks here."
Revelations : "Really? That's exceptional value."
Clive : "That's amazing, isn't it? That's through Amazon, I should say, but that's what, ten pounds? So they sold a lot of them, obviously. I was astonished, firstly that they could make any profit that way, but I was very proud of HarperCollins because they pulled out the stops on the book."
Revelations : "And we can only hope that they build even further for the next two."
Clive : "Absolutely right - the cost of paper's going up all the time, the cost of printing's going up all the time but we do have three books here which have set the model, set the standard for what these books should be. And I think in ten years that books won't exist. I just think paper will be too expensive, it'll be opera, you know? It'll be something so rarefied - I just don't think you'll be able to buy a book like Abarat with 150 illustrations for fifteen bucks, I just don't think it'll happen. Very regrettably because I love holding those books."
Revelations : "Well, it'll certainly be harder to find people prepared to make the investment to make something like that work."
Clive : "Now - Paul Miller's 25th Anniversary edition of Weaveworld - with Richard Kirk's illustrations. I hope you're being kept abreast of that?"
Revelations : "We are - we've seen some of Richard's work for it, and we dug out all the appendices material from your archive and elsewhere, as you know -"
Clive : "All of which is wonderful - and you, I hope, have seen something of the design of the book? I was thinking of the title page design, the two W's? Paul uses a rich - I think you can say maroon - colour and it's really, really classic - it's going to be a beautiful book. Of course Richard Kirk's illustrations are fucking extraordinary, aren't they?"
Revelations : "They're amazing - "
Clive : "He's getting more and more obsessive - hark at me talking!"
Revelations : "But interestingly, he can also do the non-obsessive because the sketches he did for the Bacchus limited editions were beautifully free-flowing."
Clive : "Right. I think he's right to have done what he's done for Weaveworld because the whole metaphor for the carpet, the whole idea of doing something that is so encoded - the way that the weave encodes an image - is reflected in the way he's drawn the pieces, so you look at them again and go, 'Oh, I know what I'm seeing!' Carpets are like that, I think, aren't they? I can look at them a long time and then say, 'Oh... that's a tree... and that's a flower...
"Going back, I have a new character's name from Abarat that I want to share with you: Preyer Kry. He is the representative on Earth of the Nephauree. I shouldn't say 'on Earth', I mean in our - "
Revelations : " - dimension?"
Clive : "Right - which is both Abaratian and terrestrial. Although... you say it's another dimension... I'm not sure that it is. You know, the ships that ply their trade between the Hereafter? It's like there's a door that we don't quite see that they are able to access. But Preyer Kry he is, oh boy, a villain - yes. A new level of villainy."
Revelations : "Is there anything you'd like people to know about the recent progress around Abarat movies, or are you still in lockdown on that at present?"
Clive : "Well, let me put it this way - I can't say very much right now but the people involved are very committed to what they're doing. We're in active negotiations to make several Abarat movies and I think people will be delighted to hear that the people we're talking to are people who are good at making these kinds of movies - very large scale, very expensive and very visual and, boy, Abarat is going to be, I think, a very different kind of movie: certainly one thing they have is several hundred pictures as points of reference. These people are good at making these kinds of movies - and it isn't Disney!!"
Revelations : "Perfect!"
Clive : "We are also actively in conversation about doing a Nightbreed television series which will be for cable, so it will have a chance to be as sexy or as graphic in terms of the violence as we need it to be. For example, do you have Spartacus over there? Oh my God, it redefines gruesome... I also applaud them for finally realising it's not a bad thing to see a manhood once in a while - it's not as if half the world doesn't see it daily..."
Revelations : "And largely wishes that the other 50% of the world saw it daily too!"
Clive : "The sensitivity of our culture has sort of caught up with Nightbreed. I don't wish to be immodest but the general sense is that the movie failed because people didn't want to associate with the monster and I think our culture has changed - I think our culture is now ready to embrace the ambiguity. You've only got to look at Twilight where obviously the monsters are the good guys - I'm not a huge fan but I'm enough of a fan to watch and see monsters being celebrated. There's something very satisfying about seeing the evolution of the werewolves...
"With Macy being unwell, he likes being with me 24 hours a day. I'm very aware that my love of animals - my love of dogs - is in there being satisfied in those movies - I mean, to be able to run fast and turn into a wolf - wow! Awesome! It really was a dream of my childhood - to have been a dog. It was something I always wanted to do."
Revelations : "That dream has been playing out in your work for years now - way back to men morphing into dogs in the theatre."
Clive : "And in my drawings - dog-headed men. When you realise a dog's nose is a million times, or whatever the number is, more sensitive than ours. I watch Macy struggle and yet in a way the world is still richer to him than it will ever be for me or for you because he only has to sniff something and he is getting information that you and I could never dream of getting."
Revelations : "And that's in compensation for a comparative lack of eyesight."
Clive : "Absolutely right - and in Macy's case too now, a lack of legs. I also think, because I believe in an afterlife, the dogs will be there - all my dogs - and there have been many.. When I think of Buster, who was my first dog, I think of my childhood, it was a certain kind of childhood that I had and he lasted seventeen years and was an amazing mutt. And then there was Anu...
"She'd been weaned horribly early - her mother had been taken from her at five weeks which is eight weeks too early, but she lived a very long time, you know, fifteen years and when she died, I remember Lynne and Doug and I walking around Crouch End all of us just walking around with tears pouring, hand in hand in hand, Lynne between Doug and myself and just sobbing and sobbing; we were inconsolable. Both the bad and the good are represented in the animals who we live with for long periods through our lives and, with dogs in particular, when they look at you, you seem to see the knowledge they have of you - Macy, Buster, Anu, Ubu and Lola and all the many dogs I've lived with. Was it Will Rogers who said if there aren't dogs in heaven it cannot be paradise..? My point of view is that it would be a sorrowful place that I don't want to be in."
Revelations : "Your pack's there waiting for you... "
Clive : "I'm waiting for my pack. You have to understand, I'm not the Alpha Male here, I am merely a follower!
"Talking of 'followers,' as I went to bed last night I saw the number of Twitter followers was 27,666..."
Revelations : "You just can't let go of those horror roots can you?"
Clive : "You're right, I can't can I?"