A Skein, A Train: Connections Made, Connections Missed...

The Twenty-Second Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 17th July 2008

We started - as we often do! - talking about the most recent episodes of Doctor Who and, in particular, how the finale of the latest season wove together long-running plotlines and characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures as well as the regular Doctor Who cast...

Clive : "Hi! Hey - before we get started, Doctor Who is awesome! The Bad Wolf thing goes back a long, long way... and the rest... It's a superb piece of cross-programming of, what, three programmes? How often does that happen? It's probably never been done."

Revelations : "Well, I think it's unusual to have had two spin-offs from a single show running at the same time."

Clive : "You're absolutely right, absolutely right. It's just fantastic. "It's also come at exactly the right point because I am on page 1,808 of my final Abarat draft, which brings me very close to the end. At the same time, through a series of revelations which have appeared while I've been writing this book, I have been able to plot all kinds of very satisfying connections between all the books for Books Four and Five."

Doctor Who - Bad Wolf

Revelations : "Fantastic!"

Clive : "And it was just wonderful to be able to see how brilliantly Russell [T. Davies] had done that in Doctor Who. I'd plotted very completely these revelations for Books Four and Five before watching the finale of Doctor Who and it was just synchronicity I think. It was glorious because I am at that stage when I really resist anything that takes me away from putting the words on the page.
"I am having the best fucking time on this book that I ever had, I almost want to say on anything that I've ever written but that's probably not true - certainly it is the most satisfying of the Abarat books so far, simply because so many of the threads all come together. What is amazing to me now is that if someone were to ask me to write the last five chapters now, I could! Now, that isn't to say that there wouldn't be some things that will happen in the writing of Four and Five which I cannot yet foresee but I know I had been threading - to take a Weaveworld analogy - I've been on the loom, constructing this carpet without really being able to see the grand design - being able to work out how each little passage of the design worked but not really knowing how it connected to the overall design. And, at last, that has become completely available to me, like a door opened in my head and a treasure had been laid out perfectly for me."

Revelations : "Now that that path is clear, how much of that seems logically obvious to you?"

Clive : Almost all of it, Phil, almost all of it. Now, I don't know if that makes me a big, old, dumbhole for missing all that's down in front of me or if, really, my mind was not going to overload itself with stuff, because really you will find my 'Bad Wolf', if you will, is in Book One and is - well, actually there are several 'Bad Wolf's' - and they develop and enrich... I mean, we've been to the Twenty-Fifth Hour, we've seen Fugit and Hollow and yet we don't really know what they mean.
"In this book, we see over the edge of the world, we see the limits of what happens when the Abarat stops - you know, what happens to the North, South, East and West of Abarat and how that is connected with Candy's fate and purpose. And remember China [Miéville] in that wonderful review he gave in The Guardian? His only caveat was that somehow Candy was foretold and in fact, he couldn't have a sense of what I had up my sleeve, he couldn't know the reason why she understands what Clive Barker - Abarat - the Abaratic Skein she's doing is because she has another person inside her, so it wasn't his fault that he missed that perception, or missed that point of view: I was withholding that information. But for all of the piecing together, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that in Book Three, Candy takes hold of the thread - which has been given a passing reference, you know it's described momentarily in Klepp's Almanac but it's never really been a significant player. I think that by the time we are finished, Blake would approve of this book!"

Revelations : "The thread's one of the most pointedly philosophical images in the books so far."

Clive : "It is, absolutely. This book is absolutely the darkest and the richest of the books so far and it indicates a change, it indicates that we have reached the bottom of the staircase and that every step from this point on - Books Four and Five - will be filled with angels, devils and all manner of metaphysical beings besides all these Abaratian wonders - I mean Abaratian angels and Abaratian devils by the way, I don't mean the stuff of even Blake's creation."

Revelations : "And that will hopefully answer the one criticism that some people still have - that Abarat is 'just a kids' book'."

Clive : "Well, let them say that."

Revelations : "I don't see that as a bad thing, but -"

Clive : "No, neither do I, I mean, Harry Potter is a kids' book - "

Revelations : "But if they are now going to find deeper things in it - "

Clive : "Yes, and I think what Book Three will do is make it very, very hard for someone who takes that position to hold it - "That's Phil going 'hmmm'?"

Revelations : "Yeah, that's a Phil-hmmm!"

Revelations : "That's my mulling - I've been deliberately quiet while you've been talking because this is fascinating."

Clive : "Yeah, well it's fascinating to me too because, you know, I've always said this is not five books but one huge book in five pieces, and in that sense it's much closer to The Lord Of The Rings or to Pullman's books than it is to Harry Potter or Narnia. When these five books are finished it will be possible to read this as one massive narrative about a girl becoming a shaman and, through her shamanic powers, stepping beyond the state of shamanship."

Revelations : "I guess I don't see the division quite as clearly as perhaps you do with Harry Potter because that's how I read the Harry Potter books as well."

Clive : "Well, you know what, you're absolutely right. There are definitely elements of the Harry Potter books - obviously Voldemort and the fight and the revelation of who he is and what he's been doing, all of that carries through. But there's also a sense in which each of the books has a sense of closure within itself and I tried to do something of that but nowhere near as much as Rowling attempted or achieved simply because the narrative that I'm writing just won't behave that way.
"I'm now completely determined to finish this book, deliver this book. And I know you want to know the timing but I'm just going to get on with it - when it's finished, it's finished. I've just got my nose to the grindstone, I don't even look up, to the next week, the next day, I just move on."

Revelations : "Is it fair to suppose though that you'd be disappointed if you didn't make the Spring delivery?"

Clive : "I would be disappointed if I didn't make the Spring delivery. Yes. Very. But because there are so many things in one's life which are unpredictable, and other people's sickness and so many things... I've made the mistake too many times in my life - "

Ryuhei Kitamura at Comic Con

Revelations : "Promising more than - "

Clive : "Well, promising sooner, and so on."

Revelations : "And other events intrude on the writing schedule, like the unexpected intervention on Midnight Meat Train..."

Clive : "I have been dragged in the last few weeks into an area which I had very much wanted to be liberated from. And I let myself be dragged in because I'm angry and I'm angry on behalf, mainly, of Mr Kitamura. I mean, we'll make other movies, he will make other movies but this one was his first US picture. I mean, this is the picture he came from Tokyo - with his family - to make, he relocated and he's made a fucking great picture that deserves to be seen by a larger audience and on a bigger screen than it is now going to be allowed to be. And I think that it is a shameful thing for Joe Drake to be responsible for. And this man is no friend to artists, that is for sure, and I would always like to think of myself as being a friend to my fellow artists and so that was chiefly the reason I jumped on board this - I could not bear to see this being kicked around when so much love and care, not just from Kitamura but from DiBlasi and Daley and all the others who have put their love and devotion into the thing and it's just become a political football."

Revelations : "And not the only one in Hollywood - it's not an unfamiliar story, is it?"

Anthony Head in Repo!

Clive : "No, and it's not the only one at Lionsgate - there are nine movies, Sarah, that were all part of Peter Block's projected releases - one of them is Repo! which is a horror musical scripted by the guy who made three of the Saw pictures - he had to fight to get five screens! He eventually got them, but he had to fight. You're absolutely right, Sarah, it is a very old, sad story and it's one of the reasons why I walked away. But when an artist, a fellow artist is violated in this way - by a pencil-pusher - I'm going to stand up and be counted. And I think you would think less of me if I didn't."

Revelations : "We'd certainly think it was uncharacteristic..."

Clive : "Nicely put! Yes, it would be uncharacteristic and you know, I've too much fight to just watch this thing go down and just shrug. That would be bad.
"Changing the subject, there have been a number of reviews of Hellboy 2 that have mentioned how close the designs are to much of the stuff of Nightbreed and if you get the Art of Hellboy 2 book you will see at the back some of the monsters' designs that look like a step from the Nightbreed Chronicles."

Revelations : "Explicitly referenced or just similar?"

Clive : "They look similar... I would like you to look at the Art of Hellboy 2 and make your own judgement. There's also a character called cathedral head, for instance, who is a character with huge eyes and a cathedral growing out of his cranium which looks like it's from Abarat... If you look at cathedral head you'll see there's a note beside it that says this was not part of the script, Guillermo just brought this in one day and said he wanted to have this created... This is a friend of mine and who I've always felt, oh well, he's an amazing creator, of course I should show him everything... Guillermo is one of the most talented, imaginative men in contemporary cinema. There's a part of me that's honoured... on the other hand, I don't want to put something on the screen in Abarat in five years' time to be told, 'That looks like something Guillermo did five years ago..'"

Revelations : "You've always been very generous about sharing work-in-progress images - interestingly never with texts - but with illustrations or concept sketches - I wonder if you view the two differently in terms of how personal they are and how much is 'fair game' outside the written word."

Clive : "There was a review of an early draft of, I want to say, The Last Illusion screenplay..."

Clive Barker - Harry D'Amour And The Great Beyond

Revelations : "... no, Harry D'Amour And The Great Beyond in Fantazia magazine."

Clive : "Yes, I knew this guy and I called him up and I tore him off - I said, 'You're my friend, you've been in my house, if I'd known you'd do that with a draft I'd have never given it to you' and that was the end of that..."

Revelations : "You are very protective of the projects that have not yet been made."

Clive : "Absolutely and that's because, increasingly, drafts are being reviewed in Variety."

Revelations : "Right, but is it more than that, Clive?"

Clive : "To me personally?"

Revelations : "Perhaps even physically - you put more personal hours into a page of writing than you do with some paintings or sketches."

Clive : "No, you know what it is, it's because you can only look at one page of writing in the one minute it takes you to scan a picture... I mean I am throwing out sketches all the time... If I come up with a name I really like or an image I really like, the first thing I do is go to my library and I scour it for precedent. That's why when I found all that stuff out about African fetishes and how they use nails in wooden heads, as images of anger, that I immediately said, 'hey, look at this' and 'this is stuff I'm sure I knew' and 'I'm sure this is a huge reason why this thing exists.'"

Revelations : "That's right and of course that's one of the Hellraiser essays in The Painter... and you do chart very openly a number of influences across your work there and in other essays, both the ones that were explicit and overt and the ones that were more subconscious and have risen to the surface later."

Clive : "By the former, you mean the S&M stuff."

Revelations : "Yes, or what was going on at a particular time or a point that influenced your worldview. And, equally, looking back at something like the introduction to Weaveworld or Books of Blood and saying, 'I couldn't do those now' - even into conversations we've had about you saying you've lost a 'voice' only to discover it again for Scarlet Gospels - I think you've always been open about what's driving you and the influences you have taken, from that perspective you would expect the same from others."

Clive : "And indeed, I might even have been naïve."

Clive Barker - Imagining Man 192

Revelations : "Except that you can't go through life not trusting people because then you'd be a sad person."

Clive : "Oh God, Sarah, you're absolutely right. What else? I continue to paint, I am photographing for Imagining Man - "

Revelations : "Do you have a sense of how the photos will come together yet?."

Clive : "I'm going to start to lay them side-by-side - so the answer is yes and no - I have some sense. I have a model who I really love coming in from Pittsburgh in August. I've shot him before and I'm going to shoot him again. The word's getting out - I am shooting three guys who I am going to paint from head to foot which is going to be an interesting test of my creativity - the paint needs to be fresh and new and, honestly, by the time you've painted three canvases - which is what a human being is - to then photograph them is a big test."

Revelations : "You can hardly say come back tomorrow, can you!"

Clive : "No you really can't!
"As far as the comics are concerned, I don't have anything to report from IDW. But I have let Roy Robbins have Mr Bacchus and his Travelling Circus. I'm very excited by that, Roy has promised to make it the best thing that he can... The only things that will come with it are some very poor black and white photographs that I took of the lost artwork - there were six pieces, all of which were given as gifts, all of which have been lost. There's Jozabiah Bentham and his crew, there's one of Bacchus, there's a demon boy which is half-finished, two or three other things but not very much and when Roy asked whether I wanted to illustrate it I thought no, the only thing I'll do is give you access to this work and let's together make something beautiful."

Even The Rain Avoided Falling On Bentham by Clive Barker, 1976

Revelations : "Now, the Otis art show is subtitled 'Two Madmen' - what makes you adopt the mantle of madness?"

Clive : "I actually created the title and I just thought it was apt - when you see the artwork side-by-side you'll think, here are two people pretty much off their rockers... I'll get you a catalogue and I'll basically photograph the entire exhibition because the installation photos give a sense of the context, so I'll do everything I can to make sure you get a visual record.
"It's a very small show but Greg Escalante, the gentleman who basically brought me into this, is a pal from way back and he curates shows in LA and in New York, he's a very smart man and very supportive to the artwork and has been since the Bess Cutler days. So when he came saying he wanted me to do an exhibition - and this genuinely is an exhibition, none of the work is for sale - I said I was very happy to do that and you know this is, if you will, one foot in the door of the museum business and that is very important to me."

Revelations : "How was the selection chosen?"

Clive : "They chose too many and asked me to choose the six or whatever that I liked best from what they chose. And they work well; I think they chose very smartly because it's not a standalone exhibition - the whole point is that the visitor needs to be able to see the connection between the two visions and I think that will become very apparent, the high colour and the sense of expressionist artificiality but married to a very Jungian vision of the primal forces which are shaping our work."

Revelations : "I agree - the colours are very intense, except for Tree Full of Sky which is more sedate."

Clive Barker - A Tree Full Of Sky

Clive : "It's very subtle, sedate. It's a picture I like because it's calm, very peaceful. Sometimes you deliberately choose something that will jump out. There was one nearly abstract picture that was in the last exhibition I did here in LA with Bert Green, I said to Bert, 'That is so unlike the rest,' but he said, 'Yes, but that's why I want to see whether I can sell it...' As it turned out, we couldn't! On the other hand, it's a direction I am very interested to go in and it was very important to me to test out the waters."

Revelations : "When we showcased the Otis artwork on the site, two really caught people's attention - Tree Full of Sky and the Mater Motley triptych."

Clive : "Mater Motley - we have a lot of offers on that but I just don't want to be selling things which I think will belong, when the Abarat books are finished, in some super-duper Abarat exhibition, and to be without that picture... Now of course you'll say people will always lend pictures back but there's no guarantee and it's a very costly business, you know, shipping things, and also you've got the issue of well, where will the picture end up - will it end in the hands of the person that bought it or will they sell it on? As Bert says, the test is what happens to the price of pictures when they are sold on, and the prices are jumping which makes me feel very uneasy..."

Revelations : "As the narrative's still unfolding, how sure can you be that you haven't already sold something which is going to become important?"

Clive : "Oh I know I haven't, I wouldn't let anything go that I knew would be... actually, there are exceptions to this, one of which you own..."

Revelations : "We'll lend you that one back, don't worry!"

Clive : "But you know what that's for and that's one of those paintings..."

Revelations : "Midnight's hanging in the front hallway so it's the first thing anyone who comes to visit sees - the postman loves it!"

Clive : "Oh you've gotta love that!"

Revelations : "And it scares away the door-to-door salesmen..."

Clive : "And the Mormons, no doubt!"

Midnight Meat Train
Gallery of pictures at the Two Madmen exhibition
Abarat Book Three
Abarat Books Four and Five
The Adventures Of Mr Maximillian Bacchus And His Travelling Circus

previous home search contact Interviews next