A Spiritual Retreat

The Seventeenth Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 26th March, 2007

Mixing up a couple of our approaches of recent times, for this conversation with Clive, we decided to go for a general 'what's keeping you busy?' update supplemented by a small group of questions sent into us through the website. Not only was the call unusually timed in that it happened in the time normally set aside for Clive's post-lunch writing session (rather than pre-lunch) so disrupting the normal flow of the day, the subject matter of those questions caused Clive to call us back an hour after we'd finished so that he could continue to address them and to scratch the surface for a much broader discussion still to come...

Revelations : "Hi Clive - how are you?"

Clive : "I'm well... Let's dig into this - it's nice that you've laid this all out for me. There's a bunch of things to say... Can I just start with a more general topic which we've already talked a little about between us but I just sort of feel like it can go on the site?
"The beginning of this year I think has marked a significant change in my attitude to the way I want to divide my energies, henceforth. It was all brought about by going to Hawaii and finding myself so completely depleted, so thoroughly depleted that I left the house once, twice and slept and gazed mindlessly at books which I brought to read but didn't have the energy for. I mean, we've all been in these places - the times when your energy burns out, but I'm used to having bags of energy. It was a big shock to me to find that some of my reserves were so low that I literally did not have the interest to go out and look at the water - and I'm not exaggerating, it really was that, I mean I really I was just so - oh, I can't describe it - it was like somebody opened a tap and poured... my energy and passion poured out of me. And I got a little panicky, after a week, and then I thought no, let's think about this, there's a lesson here, and the lesson is you're 54 and you can't keep burning the candle at both ends, (and the middle!) you know, without this happening, and probably worse. So things have got to change.
"And when I came back, I made a general announcement to my guys at Seraphim and Joe, and to my agent - obviously first off to David - that I was going to severely cut back on what I did for movies and television. I would never pitch a project again, I decided. I would never go to a studio to pitch a project - if they wanted to come to talk to me about something then of course, I would listen, but my pitching days, with all the anxiety attached to them, and then often the sense that it wasn't really worth the effort you put in anyway, or else the idea you find is stolen from you and used somewhere later - which has happened to me countless times - I'm just over that. I get so much joy from the painting and the writing that the notion of expending creative energy talking to a development person - who, really his or her job only exists if the movie is never made - is just so soul destroying and frustrating that I joined that long line, headed, I suppose by one of my heroes, Terry Gilliam, of people who've said, 'The hell with that!' and 'I can't do this anymore.'
"The difference with me is that I still want to be part of the movie machine - and it is a machine, everyone's got to admit to that - but in a much more low-key fashion. We are involved in a lot of things, some of which we'll talk about in a minute, which are going fine, it's just that my life as a pitching machine, someone who has a lot of ideas and takes them to a lot of people, is over.
"And suddenly, when I made that decision, and had spoken to everybody about it and everybody agreed that's exactly right, you should do that, a great weight was lifted off my shoulders and energy poured back in and I realised, only then, how much, boy, how much of a price I was paying in anxiety and, to be truthful, a kind of depressed state often, because I felt as though I was spread too thinly and there's a certain amount of frustration in that.
"Now I'm concentrating on the things that I do here at the house - write and paint and photograph - and at the same time as I get back, of course, a whole bunch of projects just jump and take a leap forwards and the key one is Midnight Meat Train which is being shot now. We're actually in the second week. The stuff I've seen so far looks wonderful, though I've been in the game far too long to trust dailies - you know, you have to see the movie - but the performances are lovely and I think things are looking very, very good. Pig Blood Blues gets much nearer to being made...
"So, the other big change is that when I got back, I've been writing a novel quietly, in secret, because the darkness of Scarlet Gospels was starting to take its toll on me and I really felt as though I wanted to be able to write and have a lighter feel: it's an incredibly dark book. And as I moved into writing the final 4,000 pages (handwritten), I realised I wanted to take a little break before I plunged into the final draft. Then I called my editors and I said, I talked to them about a project called Mister B. Gone - as I talked about to you before. This is a short novel, which I almost have finished, which I've been writing as a sort of release from the tensions of the darkness of Scarlet Gospels. I'm not writing Scarlet Gospels right now, I'm writing the final draft of Mister B. Gone"

Revelations : "As an antidote to it?"

Clive : "Yeah, absolutely, except that it's also about a demon, it's just a very different kind of book. It's in the first person; I'm writing in the voice of Jakabok. Jakabok is 'a minor divil' he calls himself, but he's actually a vicious little bastard and he's talking to us and giving us the inside skinny on what it is to be a demon. But he is also threatening us... I don't want to give too much away, but that's where we are... It'll be slightly longer, I think, than Thief of Always. It obviously has no illustrations; to illustrate that book would be terrifying! It has some very dark stuff in it, it's set in the Middle Ages, in part, and let's leave it at that - we'll talk more about it when it's a little nearer."

Revelations : "And that's still looking like a Halloween publication?"

Clive : "And that's a Halloween release, yeah. I'm actually quite excited because in seven weeks I have to deliver it because it has to be out in October - I'd better have an ending, hadn't I..? Then I will get back to Scarlet Gospels and maybe even start tinkering around with Abarat Three, for which all the paintings are now done and so now it's really just a question of turning those paintings into a narrative reality which is coming together very nicely. I am painting like a fool here - I'm actually having a great time - I'm way Stacked canvases ahead of the words, right now - you guys know more than anybody how much further I am, there are more paintings than I could possibly use in the two books that will be left after the third is taken care of - to which you may reply oh, why the fuck are you still painting? And the answer is two-fold, actually three-fold... The first one is just that I'm crazy, and I'm enjoying it, but the real reason is that as long as there are images of Abarat in my mind, I want to download them onto canvas, because I don't know exactly - I have a vague idea - but I don't have a clear idea of the processes of books four and five I think it's my duty to the narrative to keep providing visual options, to keep them coming. Nothing will be wasted! Because it's my hope that we will eventually use every single one of these paintings maybe in an expanded form of a kind of guide to the Islands, maybe an expanded form of the Almanac? So everything that I've painted for Abarat will eventually be printed as an Abarat image, it's just a question of whether they appear in the series of five books or appear in some other form but I really am enjoying the darker aspects, having had the relatively light touches involved in the first two books.
"There was a wonderful exchange online - I very seldom do this, but I actually watched this exchange - somebody said, 'Oh Barker's just ripping off Alice in Wonderland, why doesn't he get the...' and somebody had very wittily given the riposte that they didn't remember lips being sewn up or the darker aspects, he didn't remember those pieces being a part of the Alice narrative. For which defence, my thanks. It was very wittily put, very nicely written. So the paintings continue..."

Revelations : "And presumably you're painting for November..?"

Clive : "For the exhibition? That's also why I'm painting. At the same time as learning from the Abarat paintings that people like colour and I'm not being afraid to let the impasto build up a little bit to really give the paintings textures and I've learned a lot through painting the Abarat pictures, you look at those very early ones - we talked about this when you were last here - there's no real comparison, it's just a different style and at first I worried about that I thought well, I'm learning as I paint here, as I publish. And I worried about the differences bothering the reader, but it seems not to and in a way it's all part of a journey - I'm taking a journey just as Candy is. Midnight Meat Train designs Midnight Meat Train designs And so, I'm thoroughly enjoying myself and yes, there will be a lot of new paintings for November."

Revelations : "And you've done some artwork pieces for Midnight Meat Train, production pieces, very dark, four of which were displayed at the Berlin Film Festival... "

Clive : Oh, yes, those were oil pastels and they're on paper. I have those back and I now have another five designs which I've added, so there are nine Midnight Meat Train designs which I have done and when the movie comes out I think we'll probably exhibit them."

Revelations : "And in amongst all this activity, there's also the Hellraiser project..."

Clive : "The Hellraiser treatment has been signed off on by Miramax. They have it in their hands and they like it, and they want a bit more Hellraiser mythology, which is music to my ears - it's the first time I've ever heard that request! You know, where do I sign? But they've already signed so that's fine..."

Revelations : "Jump Tribe?"

Clive : "Jump Tribe - I have to keep my lips sealed on."

Revelations : "Still? You've been saying that since July..."

Clive : "I know, but it'll all be good in the end."

Jericho's Crusaders

Revelations : "And Jericho?"

Clive : "Jericho - it's been a busy morning! I had half an hour with Joe Falke, the English co-creator of this - he's the Codemasters guy on the project - he's a really good guy. They're putting together a promo right now. I've seen a short trailer which is eye-blinding, and now they're putting together something a little longer, so as soon as I have that - "

Revelations : "Yes, the Crusader trailer was released a week or so ago..."

Clive : "Any response to it?"

Revelations : "Yeah, comments about how dark it is, how gruesome and, on the other time zones that you've described in a couple of places as being like peeling back the layers of an onion to find the different periods to explore, people want to see them..."

Clive : "Yeah, so do I!"

Revelations : "Others... "

Clive : "'Others' he says, lightly... There's a lot of 'others' but right now a lot of them are repetitions of what we've talked about before and I'm not sure they're creeping any closer to being realised, Thief of Always being the obvious example. There's a great deal of frustration on that but at the same time other stuff that originated with me, like Midnight Meat Train is being made, so it feels a little ungrateful to be complaining that oh, that isn't being made and that isn't being made when there are plenty of people in this town who don't get anything made, and I was one of them until recently! So I'm grateful for The Books of Blood being made and very much hope that it will stimulate people to look again at what they have, you know?"

Revelations : "And you said you had a second draft through on Damnation Game?"

Clive : "Yes, and it's tremendous, and it's been delivered to Mike Medavoy at Phoenix and I guess he's reading right now and we'll see what his response is. I'm incredibly proud of Mr DiBlasi - you know this is a guy who came in to Seraphim what, four years ago, and now he's a fully-fledged writer and he's soon to be writer/director and I am incredibly impressed."

Revelations : "And do you get the same sort of satisfaction when Anthony turns out that sort of work as when Pete Atkins produced his first screenplay for Hellbound and demonstrated such skill and success?"

Clive : "I would say these are both guys whose passion and enthusiasm and vision have made it possible for them to be in the screenwriting business for - well, Pete, he's still doing it, so what is it, twenty years? It's pretty darned rare - and to throw in a couple of novels in the meanwhile..."

Revelations : "And next weekend is the World Horror Convention where Pete's the special media guest of honour..."

Clive : Now, fan questions - these are cool. Did you deliberately put four religious questions together?"

Revelations : "Yeah, they were just four that kind of flowed and we wondered if you were in that sort of mode... "

City on a Ship

Clive : "Fantastic! Just fantastic questions, I feel like I'm not gong to do them justice. But I'll have a quick fly at these, with the proviso that I might just want to pin them up and come back with some additional thoughts at a later point, because I really respect the sincerity and the depth of which all four questions have been approached... They're not sort of, 'When are you doing the next Hellraiser..?'"

Revelations : "And they actually go to the sorts of issues we've explored in the past about how we can use these sessions to get a little deeper and to scratch beneath the surface."

Clive : "Let me say a couple of things now, and maybe we can come back to it - I almost feel that I want to do that, but let's see how we go now... "

Robin Bernstein : "Hi Clive, how are things? I am going to become a mom to a daughter in November [2006], and I'm currently collecting bits of colourful things to decorate her room with. As a longtime fan of your work, when I initially set to this task, I of course thought of including a piece of yours. But I'm having a really hard time picking one. So my question to you is: if you were Tarrie Cat to put one of your pieces of art in a nursery, which one would it be? (The question I really wanted to ask was, would you like to paint my daughter's nursery? but of course that's silly.) I plan on reading the Abarat books to her so of course something from them leapt to mind but I'd love to hear your thoughts..."

Clive : "Congratulations to Robin! I think there's lots of stuff from the Abarat books - you know there's a picture of a simple red boat with a sail with stars in the first book, there's a picture of a huge ship at the very end of the second book with a city on it. The reason I'm choosing ships is because as a kid I had a picture of a ship on the wall and it set my imagination going not just about the ship but where it was from, where it was going. I think children are blessed by time to have lots of possible destinations; it's kind of wonderful from that point of view. There's lots of other options: I mean, talk to Hans Rueffert and he will tell you how overwhelmed we are by people wanting the Tarrie cats, you know, I've signed hundreds - we bring out a different cat and that one goes just as well.
"But then there's another place: I gave to my editor an Abarat painting, I gave her the picture towards the end of the first book of Malingo with the skull flowers in his hands? It's a nice sort of Halloween picture because the colours are deliberately purple and orange and he's got a big smile on his face; he's very happy, this strange guy with these skull flowers in hand. I think there's a lot of off-beat choices amongst the pages that would please a kid who doesn't want something quite so sweet as is often offered up. But I would say, you know, don't be too cautious, because I think you can be too cautious."

Malingo with skull flowers

Revelations : "And you end up with Peter Rabbit all over your walls"

Clive : "Exactly. I have been delighted: I mean, who is the favourite character in Abarat for everybody? Christopher Carrion. 'How dare you kill Christopher Carrion,' hundreds of pieces of mail assail me, 'how dare you?'
"I would always start with Thief of Always in terms of reading to kids, I think it's a good 'reader' book and the chapters are short. Abarat is tougher just because the words are longer. It's nice to get the Thief of Always with the illustrations and I have been keeping the pressure on HarperCollins because immediately after our last two conversations I wrote a fierce letter to HarperCollins in England and said why can't people get hold of Thief of Always and they apologised profusely but said they're between printings and they should be back on the shelves in both the illustrated and non-illustrated editions before the end of 2006, so I'd like you to check one time to see if they are indeed available and if they aren't I'll write an even fiercer letter!"

John Thompson : "I've always appreciated the spiritual dimension of Clive's work, which was evident even in the Books of Blood. I wonder if he's familiar with J. Krishnamurti, a philosopher who stressed the need for self-observation and the journey within. I see parallels in many of Clive's works, especially Imajica and The Art."

Clive : "To John, yes, of course I'm familiar with Krishnamurti, though I've never got on very well with his writing. Mainly because he hates artists! And he says very clearly one of the things we need for a perfect society is to remove all the artists. Now he's a provocateur, obviously - and of course Plato says the same thing, if you want a safe and calm city the first thing you do is get rid of the poets, right? But, what John says, absolutely, what I did learn from Krishnamurti is this thing about the internal journey and he's absolutely right to be saying that particularly true of Imajica and The Art, but it will turn out also to be true of Abarat in a very complex way, because the other half of Candy is a different person, so the travelling into her self is the travelling to be somebody 'other'. Which may be the nature of all travelling, internal travelling, I don't know, but it's absolutely essential, I think, to the whole process of writing - I don't know how one could write without doing some of that journey. I've always said, you know, the person who wrote Weaveworld no longer exists because he wrote Weaveworld, yes? The writing changes you, if you're being honest with the piece, and with your audience and with your craft; in the process you are no longer who you were at the beginning because you've discharged into the words and into other people, to give to other people the narrative and the feeling - you've scratched the itch would be a very reductionist way to put it, but that's what it is actually!"

Doug Wynne : "I would very much like to hear your thoughts on the connection between creativity and mysticism or spirituality. Having read a lot about methods for mind training and development of the imaginative faculties from Crowley to Sufism to Buddhist meditation, it seems to me that visionaries can to some extent be made, not born. I suspect that your prolific imagination is a talent that comes natural to you, but my question is have you enhanced or expanded your creativity by spiritual efforts of any kind, and if so what has worked for you?"

Clive : "And then Doug: again goes to that point, it's interesting, he goes to that point whether visionaries can be made or born... I think, they can be refined in the process of living: once you figure out, 'Ah, that's what I want to do - I want to be, in some measure, a visionary.' And that's certainly something that I figured out, that I wanted to do my art, I didn't want it to be like anybody else's, I wanted my vision, if you like Blake's vision, to be. And if that meant I was laughed at or called pretentious or whatever else, that was a risk I was happily going to take because I was going to get a chance to journey where only I could go. I had no interest in warming over somebody else's vision: that wasn't illuminating - literally - to me. You know this is a business Untitled, 1995 which occupies me, it's an obsession which occupies my every waking hour in some form or another and it needs to advance me, it needs to illuminate me otherwise why am I doing it? Some people would say, well, money and fame - well, celebrity is horrible and there are lots of other ways to make money! You know, a lot easier than writing four drafts of Scarlet Gospels..!
"I'm not so interested in the meditative part of this because I feel that my writing in a way takes me into that state. But I am interested in when you're in that state, however you reach it - whether you reach it by the repetition of a word or whatever, every tradition has a different method - I feel that in a way, sat down at my desk, a little switch gets flicked in my head and, I can't describe it better than that, I go into a different place. And it now happens so automatically that... it's one of the reasons why I'm not very good at working away from my desk."

Revelations : "And do you think there's something about the ritual? You've always observed a very tight ritual about what you do in the mornings, what you do at lunchtime, then back to your desk in the afternoon... "

Clive : "Absolutely right, and knowing it... I came back to my desk and I saw that we were doing this at 1 o'clock and we normally do it at 11 o'clock and it completely threw me off - "

Revelations : "Oops!"

Clive : "It was like umm, errr... I'm just being completely honest. I don't look ahead, I concentrate on the work and I was having my lunch and Brandon came in with the questions and I said, well, this is for 11 o'clock, and he said 1 o'clock and I said euurggh, that's very strange! My body responded - and then I thought OK... I don't know, it was almost like being told in one hour you're going to be playing the lead in Hedda Gabler!"

Vincent Frank : "What I'd like to ask Mr. Barker is, what is the extent of his religious upbringing, if anything? Based on reading his novels and short stories, I had always assumed (apparently incorrectly) that he was raised a Roman Catholic, as there is so much Roman Catholic imagery in his novels (particularly Weaveworld, Imajica, and the Books of the Art)."

Clive : "To Vincent: I was not raised Roman Catholic, I was not raised in any religious tradition really, except that the Church of England was there and I was baptised in the Church of England but my religious interest is entirely self-generated. You know it comes out of actually not having those questions answered for me as a child and that sort of awareness that you have as a child or as you grow up that actually the language of those fundamental questions disappear from any discourse, in fact they're an embarrassment almost. Now I used to think that was because they were childish; I don't think it is at all, I just think we don't know how to answer them and I think one of the things that our culture is going through is a reassessment of what the shamanic tradition can actually be for our culture: priests are not doing it, I personally don't have any faith in the Catholic Church because The Vatican has made so many terrible anti-human decisions, you know, about homosexuality, certainly about birth control, those things make me mad. But that doesn't mean I'm not still passionately interested in whatever anyone has to say about Christ, about God and in fact about any matter metaphysical and, if that person is a Roman Catholic, it doesn't invalidate their opinion, I'll get right into it; I love discussion about what let's loosely call metaphysics."

We closed with some general discussion around the upcoming new series of Doctor Who (very exciting!) and the undertones of sexuality in 1950s radio shows in England (this part may very well re-surface in our "early years" project (click here for details). An hour later the phone rang and Clive explained that he'd been sitting at his desk, distracted from Mister B. Gone by the depth of the subject matter he'd just been addressing and unable to leave the conversation where we had... Dying God in Spring

Clive : "I am painfully aware of the paucity of my responses; there's so much more that I have to say and could say but almost want to say as part of an ongoing debate or conversation. I'm calling back because I was thinking of those last four questions - it troubled me that I was not as articulate as those four questioners deserved... There's a huge amount on this that has yet to be said that should be winkled out over the course of many questions and answers because I can't suddenly summon up in the middle of a day the words that can really address those issues - religion and the imagination - which are the two issues we have here and are the two largest issues in my life because out of religion comes love and our feelings about death and out of art comes the expression of our doubts and our confusions, because if you were certain about everything you wouldn't make art, yes?
"So even that's a poor response, but it's the beginning of one. They are such beautifully phrased questions and obviously deeply felt questions, these four individuals are obviously not 'light' readers; these are people who've done the reading around this material. It's artificial, because I'm in the middle, they've read their Krishnamurti and their Crowley and the Golden Dawn stuff no doubt, there's Sufism mentioned in there and some Buddhist stuff, there's lots of cross-referencing.
"What interests me is that the fantastique right now can be - and this is where I go back to my shamanic thing - the ground for a conversation about the profoundest things in our lives. The conventional vocabularies of those men crucified and resurrected have become (and I say 'them' because of Apollo and Dionysus and Mithras and all those guys, that seems to be a tradition of getting nailed... ) those vocabularies, the vocabularies of crucifixion and resurrection and so on don't seem adequate anymore for people. People go to an Anglican church and don't get the answers to their questions - or even the questions... and it's nice that the fantastique can provide a place where those debates can at least begin. "I wanted to say there's more to say and I'm ready to say it and I'm very cognisant of the fact that there is very much more to say..."

Spirituality and Religion
The Imagination
The Hellraiser Remake
Abarat Book Three
Abarat Books Four and Five
The Scarlet Gospels
Midnight Meat Train
The Damnation Game
Abarat art reproductions

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