With thanks to Fiona McIntosh at HarperCollins UK and to Joe Daley in
Los Angeles. Your help is warmly appreciated.
Please note : For anyone who hasn't yet read Coldheart Canyon, this interview has major spoilers - you have been warned...!
Revelations : "What are we interrupting?"
Clive : "Abarat. Abarat, the first book and I'm coming towards the end of the book actually."
Revelations : "Glad to hear it's so well underway."
Clive : "Oh, it's more than underway, Phil, It's nearly done. It's bigger than we thought it was going to be."
Revelations : "Isn't that the case with everything these days?"
Clive : "Yep, it is exactly the case with everything I do. Originally I thought it was going to be a sort of Narnia size, now it turns out to be more sort of a Harry Potter size!"
Revelations : "Ouch! And those have been getting fatter as they've gone along."
Clive : "Well, it's not as big as the large..."
Revelations : "Volume 4"
Clive : "I thought the third one was a good size, but the fourth one was too large."
Revelations : "It's just come out in paperback here and even in paperback it's pretty hefty."
Clive : "Also bearing in mind, of course, that this is a completely different theme, because of all these illustrations. It's a massive volume because it contains so many pictures. But that's for the future, that's next year."
Revelations : "Well, the first time we heard about Coldheart Canyon it was going to be a short novel - when did that turn into a 600 page epic?"
Clive : "In fact I do say at the beginning that even though I was sort of mourning my Dad, finding it difficult to write, I was at the same time finding the thing I needed to write really if I was going to pay respect to it as a subject, as an idea, I was going to need to tell it more fully than I had originally planned. I mean the original thing had been, I don't know, 50,000, 60,000 words I suppose and it had been originally told entirely from Todd's point of view. And it was really going to be a very simple book about a rather narcissistic actor in Hollywood who encounters some ghosts and we're not sure at the end of the short story or the novella, whatever it was going to be - novella, I suppose - whether he's really seen them or whether he hasn't. That was the book..."
Revelations : "A real Twilight Zone."
Clive : "Exactly - and as I got into it I realised these ghosts are sort of really interesting and I want to write about them because they represent old Hollywood and here I have a chance not only to talk about new Hollywood but also to talk about old Hollywood and to contrast their methodologies and to talk about Hollywood in a much more rounded way than I had originally anticipated. So it was a judgement call made out of ambition, I think, just to tell a better story."
Revelations : "When we were looking at the novel again last night, we started talking about similarities to Day Of The Locust."
Clive : "Well, Day Of The Locust was certainly sitting by my side, amongst other things."
Revelations : "With Mr. Todd Hackett the protagonist of that one..."
Clive : "Exactly - I don't think Locust however... Locust is a completely depressing vision. I wanted to write something which was sort of bittersweet, that both showed the dark side but also showed that it had some life in it yet. So I was trying to get a little bit of both going really, trying to tell the story of what it is to be an actor who is so beloved that you sort of feel that belovedness. And you know the great thing was, as I was writing the book, I realised I was writing about a whole bunch of people that I knew! And when I turned the book over to my publicist, Bumble Ward, not Fiona, but Bumble over here in LA - she recognised everybody!"
Revelations : "And said 'No'!"
Clive : "Well a publicist can't do that, but I had lawyers said no to some of the stuff, sure, I had to remove some stuff. Not, I think, anything that would have troubled you as a reader very much. They tended to be extrapolations from things which are still there. For instance, when I was talking about people who have had face-lifts or tucks or whatever else, one of the things I did was I had listed real people who'd had that done, who I knew, absolutely knew have had that done, but the lawyers said no, no. So out it came! I was much more specific about who Dr Burrows is - I had to be a little more careful about that. I was very specific about who Maxine and Eppstadt were - that had to come out. So it isn't that the characters themselves change, it's that the trail that leads you as the reader to completely comprehend who these people really are is slightly more muddied - do you see what I'm saying?"
Revelations : "Yes, I do."
Clive : "I simply removed two or three sentences which make it a little bit more difficult to figure out who these folks are."
Revelations : "Except to the people themselves, which means they were redundant anyway. I'm sure that the people will still recognise themselves."
Clive : "Oh - not only will the people recognise themselves, but I think that as you talk about this book with other people or certainly if you talk with people in town it becomes very apparent without those sentences who those people are. If you keep your nose on the National Enquirer, which I'm sure you don't, but if you were to - yeah, it would be very obvious who these people are. I mean, it's not tough, it's not tough."
Revelations : "Now that people are starting to read Coldheart Canyon and you've been giving interviews to people who've hopefully read it, what sort of reaction are you getting?"
Clive : "They have a great time. And they have a great time because it's not what they expected. This is a Barker book which, people who didn't like Barker books, like! There's people saying 'Ooh, I really like this one!' They're very, very surprised. I think the Hollywood setting, I think the relatively small amount of fantastic material in it - sure when the stuff about the tiles comes in it gets pretty wild but it's really limited to that area, where you really have to take a big imaginative jump with me."
Revelations : "In the prologue where Zeffer goes and gets The Hunt, that part is so beautifully evoked you must have sketches of that all around the house. I would love to see those sketches."
Clive : "Hey hey! I did do sketches, of course."
Revelations : "[Phil] : As you can tell, Sarah's a bit of a perv. [Sarah] : OK Hands up, I liked the sex!"
Clive : "There's a lot of it in the book and that's the other thing which people are liking about the book - it is a sexy book and it's sexier than anything I've done in a long time, wouldn't you agree?"
Revelations : "Yeah, we've been anticipating stuff in the Scarlet Gospels, but that's still to come. Certainly anything that's gone before has been much more tamed."
Clive : "Right, and there were voices that wished to tame this, but they were silenced, because I said, 'No, absolutely not, I want to do the scene with the whip and the clitoris, I want to do the orgy scene,' and I wanted it to be the wildest stuff I could make it."
Revelations : "This was probably more acceptable because it was largely hetero or lesbian, which is an easier sell."
Clive : "That's right. The homosexual stuff, although it's there, is much reduced from other books. Even so, you'd be surprised how many people said, 'Wow, this is too strong.'"
Revelations : "There's always going to be someone who says it's too strong, whatever you write."
Clive : "Yes, though these were, in many cases, people who've been taking a journey with me for a long time."
Revelations : "They should know better!"
Clive : "They should know better, I would have thought, yeah, but at the same time, to be fair, when I made the argument, 'This is the way it needs to be,' that's the way it stayed. I mean the book you're reading, with the exception of those things which were taken out for legal reasons which is perhaps 5 or 6 sentences in total, all the rest of the stuff is as I intended. There was one thing - in the orgy scene - when Todd becomes very involved in the orgy scene, physically involved, I had a replay of the S&M stuff that had gone on between him and Katya, and Jane Johnson, very rightly, said, 'You know, this is a bit of an echo of something that we've seen before. Can't you go into something different?' And I said, 'You know what? You're exactly right.' So I dove into something much more extreme really, which is the 3-way sandwich down in the heart of the orgy, as it were."
Revelations : "There are always some images that will stay with you after every book... and that's one!"
Clive : "Then she looked at that and she went, 'Oh, My, God! - OK, maybe we should just go back to the whipping scene?' And I said, 'No, no, no, you were absolutely right.' And she was. I don't want to repeat something that I've already done once in the book. Let's go with this, so she said, 'OK, I trust your take,' and we went with it! You know, one thing is Hollywood is a very sexy town - it sells sex constantly, it sells beauty, yes, it sells sexuality."
Revelations : "And beauty's a prevalent theme. It's a recurrent theme. It's only the beautiful people who get to go to the parties. They need to keep going to stay beautiful. Todd needs to get even more beautiful with the face-lift. But it contrasts with Tammy and the inner beauty coming out; with every new horror she faces you get to know more about her and she goes through a transformation from fat girl to hero. She's the most unlikely heroine..."
Clive : "She is the most unlikely heroine, and that's what I like about her. I think, I suppose of all the characters in the book, the one I enjoyed writing about most was her because her journey was going to be a big one. She was going to be the fat girl from Sacramento, who was going to end up really saving the soul of her hero, at the same time as realising that her hero is not worth worshipping."
Revelations : "Which is a fascinating twist."
Clive : "Yeah - so she saves him in spite of what she discovers about him, or perhaps because of what she discovers about him. And in a way, I think, one of the ways to look at the book is as a kind of elaborate jigsaw in which each of the characters in some way or other presses or impresses themselves upon another. Maxine touches Tammy, Jerry, Todd, and you know, I just take her as an example. And each of the relationships she has is a necessary one for the development of her or the other person. And what I wanted to do was make sure that this kind of jigsaw worked throughout the entire book, so that everybody got some transformation of some kind. Even a relatively minor character like Jerry is saved from his cancer."
Revelations : "I think Jerry's a fascinating character - was he based on Roddy McDowall?"
Clive : "I couldn't say... All I could say would be that that was a very smart guess!"
Revelations : "The interesting thing about Roddy McDowall is that we read that, after he died, he asked for his diaries and personal effects to be locked up for 100 years before they were read. I'm just wondering whether any of it's going to be like Coldheart Canyon when we get to read it!"
Clive : "Well, I've read a lot of that stuff and I knew Roddy really well and I don't believe Coldheart Canyon would be what it is without Roddy! But I kept Roddy out of the dedication pages, or the thanks, because he passed away and it just didn't feel appropriate to be talking about that when he had been so very passionate about not... he didn't want a memorial service; we were all ready to go to the memorial service, it was cancelled the day of... but I would go to his house..."
Revelations : "How did you come to know him?"
Clive : "We met at a Fangoria Convention!"
Revelations : "Of all things."
Clive : "And he said he loved what I did, and he was very familiar with the books; I obviously loved what he did. I went to his house dozens of times to dinner and met Gore Vidal, Elizabeth Taylor... and so on and so forth, the list is endless. And a lot of the time, I was just the observer, very quiet, I was easily the least important person in the room and I thought it was just important to do my job as an author and just shut the fuck up!"
Revelations : "And then report back afterwards from wherever it is - 'the furthest reaches of our imagination...' - however the quote goes!"
Clive : "Hopefully so! The fun thing about this book is that it matches the furthest reaches of our imagination with things that we all know are going on all of the time, and I think if the book has a different kind of chance in the marketplace to previous books it's because Hollywood is fascinating to everybody. Because everybody knows that people are having face-lifts and tummy-tucks and ass-tucks and all kinds of other things all the time and here I am just simply saying what people already know is the case. And there's nothing I think I can say, beyond the outrageously fantastical stuff (of which there is obviously a significant amount, but it doesn't, I think, overwhelm the book) there's nothing amongst the factual stuff which is not supported in some way or other by something I have either personally experienced or personally heard - that is to say, none of this came just from books."
Revelations : "Right, it resonates as a real story on those levels."
Clive : "Thank you! Thank you - that is the most important thing you could say. Thank you, Phil, I appreciate that, because, obviously the fan part of it I know about. I know a lot of people who work in the 'body improvement' business and I got hold, through them, or through one person in particular, of some descriptions of protocols for what happens if things go wrong, which were... chilling isn't the word. And there are so many things I could have had happen to Todd which were so much worse than what actually happened to him. You only have to think of Michael Jackson to see a man who took a journey for which there is no return - so that part, I supported all that. I supported all the stuff with fact and information and interviews. And the stuff about the movies themselves - that's my experience. The stuff about Oscar night, y'know, where he's sitting there at home, wishing he wasn't there, at the same time as despising every minute of it - that is completely my experience of Oscar night and, having been there as a guest, as it were, that whole thing of fake smiles and... Yeuch!"
Revelations : "I know, I've been at the ceremony too, although it was slightly more overwhelming for me."
Clive : "But weren't you also impressed by how phoney it was?"
Revelations : "Oh yes - it's a joy to behold everyone playing their games - but only when the cameras are turned on them."
Clive : "Only when the cameras are turned on them! And you have this whole thing of it being a television event, so when the television cameras get turned off everything returns to normal, right Phil?"
Revelations : "Absolutely, well, whatever normal is."
Clive : "Yeah, well, exactly. Let me ask you, did you enjoy the book?"
Revelations : "Yes, loved it! I loved Part One with Zeffer in Eastern Europe - that entranced me and reeled me in - I liked that in isolation, and then it got more sexy and well... I'm just easily pleased, I guess!"
Clive : "No, that's good! And you had a good time, Phil?"
Revelations : "Yes. It was what I would have called in the past a genuine page-turner. I just kept going and going with it. There were bits where I was worried for you - where it's so obvious, with all the old movie stars named so clearly and having such explicit sex that I felt convinced somebody must be coming after you! What I really liked, what surprised me most, was the Psycho touch when I was convinced Tammy was dead and it was like making all that emotional investment at the beginning of Psycho and then finding your character's gone!"
Clive : "Right, right."
Revelations : "Yeah, I'd read it first and was passing the pages to Phil and he came up and said, 'Right, I've got to the part where Tammy's dead in the garden...' and I went 'Oh...' and I do not know how I kept my mouth shut, really I don't."
Clive : "Well, good for you. Do you feel that we're going to get a different audience with this one?"
Revelations : "If your marketing team are any good with it, yes! You've got to get them to pick up a Barker novel in the first place."
Clive : "Exactly."
Revelations : "There is some marketing to do around this one. It's almost in a genre of its own; it's another of those Lord Of Illusions crossovers. It's an edgy crossover."
Clive : "It is a crossover."
Revelations : "And what we saw from Lord Of Illusions is that if you don't get the crossover marketing right, you lose the audience."
Clive : "Yes, but I think the audience in literary terms, the reading audience, is much more willing to accept crossovers than a cinematic audience - it's a smarter audience - and I have greater faith, I will say, in the reading audience than I do in the movie audience. Maybe that's a misplaced faith but, you know, I've given my readers a whole host of very different kinds of books. Just over the last little while I've given people a lot of different kinds of things - Sacrament and Galilee - and each thing that's come along has been very different and in many cases they've been crossovers in a way, or hybrids: the gay novel with the metaphysical adventure novel in the case of Sacrament; the inter-racial war novel going with a strange romance about the Kennedys in Galilee; and I think in this case, this one is perhaps the easiest of the combinations because everybody knows Hollywood is a weird place. And I think that the suspicion that the occult hangs around Hollywood; that Hollywood has always had an unnatural or an unhealthy, one might almost say, preoccupation with the occult is something I think that people generally know. You think of the Manson business and you look through the pages of Hollywood Babylon and there's plenty of stuff there. It's an interesting place because Hollywood lives in a dream of itself; half believing itself and half not. Half in fear of losing its own grasp on its sanity."
Revelations : "And expecting to be rumbled any day now."
Clive : "Exactly, exactly. And so what it does, in terms of where the supernatural enters the world, is how easily... the number of people I know who have private Tarot card readers or private astrologers or whatever. Why? Because, exactly right Phil, people expect to be rumbled tomorrow. People are living from day to day, afraid of what tomorrow will bring. Afraid that tomorrow will bring a complete bomb and that their careers will be over. And so you look to do what you can to keep those horror at bay, the horrors of failure. And some of things you do are supernatural things. You pray to unhealthy gods, you are overly preoccupied with astrology, with the tarot card readings, with the ouija board and with other, more practical things."Click here for Part Two...