There And Back Again : Touring The Abarat

The Seventh Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 30th November 2004

With many thanks to Clodagh Nugent. Your help, as ever, is warmly appreciated.

Over the last few months, we've had a series of conversations with Clive in support of our project on the pre-Hellraiser 'plays' years. These interviews will eventually find their way into the history that we'll publish, but every now and then we emerge from the past to have a quick chinwag about projects in the here and now. We hadn't done a 'current' interview for Revelations since July, in which time the Days of Magic, Nights of War tour has been and is almost gone and, as usual, various projects have either pushed ahead or suffered setbacks...

Revelations : "So, let's start with how you feel the tour has been this time around."

Abarat II - promotion

Clive : "Well, firstly, it was great: it was what I had wanted the first Abarat tour to be and wasn't. It was the audience, it was the new audience, it was the children, it was the young people - I shouldn't say 'children' because that sounds weird - they're not children, they're not even kids they're just young fans, you know? And the first time we went out, when we went out with the first Abarat book, there was a lot of ambiguity in people's responses. I don't know if they hadn't figured whether this was something I was going to stick with, whether I really meant to make a bunch of books like this; because it was a very elaborate piece of work and was I going to have a second one any time soon? And there was also a sense that I thought Abarat might prove disappointing to some of, let us say, my harder core readers - though I've been contradicted in the pages of Rue Morgue since saying this, so maybe it isn't true; I opened it and there was this really cool letter saying, you know, 'Don't worry about that, I'm having a great time with Abarat.'
"But the second tour brought out the younger readers and it brought out the first audience with a big old smile on their faces because there was a second book and many of them who'd read it already were coming to the signings already having finished it - because they'd got a readers' copy or because they'd bought it earlier - were grinning from ear to ear because the story had, if not finished, had given them what the first book had not, which was a character arc, or a series of character arcs which concluded. They could put the second book down and say, 'Oh, OK, now I know what this reading experience is going to be like; there's going to be more of it but it's going to be fulfilling on a character level, not just in terms of how many monsters can Clive cram into one page.' "

Revelations : "It's an infinitely more satisfying read."

Clive : "Satisfying - thank you, absolutely - and I think there were a lot of people saying, 'I wasn't sure first time, but now I am,' and that was great. It was a weird tour, because it was spread over a lot of time, as you know. We began, I think, somewhere in the last week of September and I came back from Indianapolis last Monday."

Revelations : "And you've still got a couple more to go."

Clive : "Yeah, I've got one this week actually, this Saturday, right? So, it was weird - I was doing it and coming home, and doing it and coming home, but in some ways it was also good because I would go out fresh and I think I was able to give more to the readers on a signing-by-signing basis because I wasn't wiped out from doing a whole host of cities. The most recent thing I did, in NCTE Annual Convention, 18-23 November, 2004 Indianapolis, was for teachers - it was a teachers' conference, a huge teachers' conference. I think I'm right in saying there were over 3,000 teachers there. And I had the great luxury of being able to talk to teachers about how to present my books to their students, to their pupils and that was great. It was really important to be able to do that. I realised that I have a lot of fans among teachers and they wanted to be representing the work to their pupils but they were still... they had Thief of Always down pat, they weren't sure about Abarat, they weren't sure how to approach it. So I had a chance to have a good chat with them; it was really nice. So, I think, all in all, really good - no dud signings - you're always worried that you'll turn up and there'll be three nuns and a dog there - it never happened!"

Revelations : "Although the genre press have been very supportive, there's been a lack of mainstream reviews for Abarat II."

Clive : "And I'm told that that's second book syndrome. When you get into a series the problem is there really is no room in these very battered and beleaguered book pages - which are getting smaller and smaller as the newspapers whittle them away - there's no room for a review of the second book of a quartet. How ever much love and care may have been put into that book and how ever much it might be appreciated by the reader and the editor at the other end, there's no way they're going to put coverage of Abarat II in when they can be talking about a new series or a first book by somebody."

Abarat II

Revelations : "Effectively, it's old news."

Clive : "That's right, exactly right, it's old news and it'll stay old news until the fourth book - and I'm cool about that... The fourth book will probably be called The Eternal... In the meantime, the book went on to the bestseller list here and stayed on for six weeks, and at the same time we had book one in the paperback list for four weeks, so we had two Abarats in the list at the same time which is about as good as it gets, I think. And I think that there's a core, now, of Abarat readers who are completely committed to the world, and the way I saw that was in the signings where not one, but three thirteen, fourteen year-olds, sometimes girls, sometimes boys would present themselves at the same time at the desk and start to vie with each other as to how much they knew about all the stuff in the world, which is great - really, really cool! So I really feel that - it's never going to be Harry Potter, it's always going to be a little too offbeat for that kind of mainstream thing, but that's cool by me. I'd prefer to have something that is true to my soul and I think I haven't violated anything that I've been doing in a long time in order to sit in this new market. I think people would see a consistency between, let's say, Weaveworld and Abarat. And the voices (and this is nice) that said, 'He's just trying to make money off the Harry Potter phase,' which were fairly vocal when the first book came out, despite the fact that the first paintings were started before Harry Potter was published, disappeared completely. And I think that may have been, I hope that people sort of figured out, 'OK, this isn't a piece of opportunism.' "

Revelations : "To some extent, it was a press fashion - it wasn't just you, there were a whole bunch of books for children that got that attention around the same time that Abarat came out."

Hoot by Carl Hiassen Summerland by Michael Chabon The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Clive : "Over here, we had 'Summerland' by Michael Chabon and one of Cornelia [Funke]'s books - was it 'Inkheart' or 'Thief Lord'? We had four or five books here pretty much at the same time - one was 'Hoot' - so there were, as you absolutely say, this little bunch of books that came out at the same time. And it made quite good coverage and actually we all got a bunch of reviews that we might not have got if one book had come out at a time. A bunch of newspapers reviewed all four of them and said, 'These are all the children of Harry Potter,' which I could have done without! You know, it is what it is. I'm perfectly happy to be the child of something, but I'd prefer to be the child of Narnia!"

Revelations : "Your consolation was that it created some column inches."

Clive : "Oh - I'm not arguing with that at all - as long as they spell the book's name right, that's fine!"

Revelations : "The tour included some live painting demonstrations this time, such as your session at Amazon - did you have fun?"

Clive : "Well, the Amazon thing was a real test of multi-tasking because there were about three hundred Amazon employees in the room - they have these lunchtime things where they bring a writer in to talk about his or her work - and so, they were all in there, there was a huge turnout for this. And I was painting the pictures - which was this little ink on paper triptych - with colour, while answering the questions! So it was really a trick - you know I wanted to sound reasonably sensible, but I was also aware that a lot of my attention was necessarily on the painting! So we'll see how that turned out..."

Revelations : "You can't have made too bad an impression as you then made it to their Editor's Top 100 picks of the year."

Chicago 'paint-in', photo by Scott

Clive : "That was very nice, I really liked that. It was really nice of them to support the book in that way. And then I did a painting in front of people, as it were, at the West Hollywood Book Fair which was fun, real fun. Because it was a five foot by four foot canvas and I was just going to it! And people were having a lot of fun with that, so that was nice. And then the other thing we did was this 'paint-in', shall we call it, in Chicago, where I was teaching I suppose about thirty-five kids, ranging from the youngest was probably six, the oldest was probably sixteen. And I was thinking, 'How am I going to teach this range of very smart people something useful about art in an hour?' What I ended up doing - some of the parents joined in because they thought it was going to be fun, which it was - so we had about forty people in total and I took forty pieces of paper, I numbered them and then I drew a huge drawing on the forty pieces of paper laid out on the floor so everybody knew which piece of the puzzle they were going to take away. I then passed the pieces of paper around to everybody and said, 'OK, here's your piece of the puzzle, go to it. Make it as weird or as strange or as bright or as dark as you want then we'll put the whole thing together at the end. And it was very fun because it was like a jigsaw Chicago 'paint-in', photo by Scott and each of them was making a separate piece of it and at the end - I wish we'd had more coverage of this - we only had a couple of parents' cameras there, but unfortunately I hadn't the sense to bring a camera of my own - but it was kind of wonderful to watch the kids as I called out each number, look at their painting and come and lay it down next to each other. So eventually, there was this huge painting which was painted by diverse hands and could not have been more diverse in style but still had the unity of design.
"And then, of course, everybody got to take away their own piece of the painting with, hopefully, the memory of having joined collaboratively in the endeavour. It was very successful, it was very fun; I had a great time and I think the kids did too. I mean, I think nobody was allowed to feel any better or worse than anybody else at Art. It wasn't a question of, 'Oh, you can draw a house and I can't.' It really was about, 'Let's have fun with colour and go do whatever you want to do with your piece and don't bother what the person next-door is going to do.' And then the assembling of the jigsaw, as I say, was just tremendous fun. So that was all, I think, very good and it was really great to see the kids come and look at the paintings because, particularly for little tykes, the little six year-olds, standing in front of, say, the triptych which is, what, twelve feet long and five feet tall, I guess. You've seen it - it's pretty dense, and there's all kinds of stuff which a reproduction can't show you. And they were - particularly, actually, after they'd painted for a while, they came back and looked at the painting again - I want to say with fresh eyes, I hope with fresh eyes. And so, that was very cool, that was very nice, though I have to say, because the paintings are home today, I didn't realise I would feel such separation from them as I do. I was excited that the truck was outside the house - my children in it! Safe and sound!"

Revelations : "A new project which we must talk about is the planned collaboration with Hans Rueffert and Luna7 to create reproductions of the Abarat artwork."

Clive : "Hans was here for a couple of days - not last week, but the week before - and we're off to the races! I'm amazingly excited because I think the level of the work, the level of the reproduction is extraordinary and the sophistication of it is extraordinary. And I feel, I think people are going to have a great time with these pictures because I think Babilonium - Luna7 we're going to be able to price them at a reasonable rate.They'll be signed, so there will be the sense that at least I've cast my eye over them to be sure that they are as good a reproduction as we can possibly make. And when Hans took one of the reproductions down to Storyopolis - which does carry limited edition reproductions on its wall, I mean it has a wonderful gallery of them - they said it was the best reproduction they'd ever seen. So Hans was like a dog with two tails, as well he might have been!
"You know Hans - he's a man of infinite obsessive energy and it's wonderful being with him because he's like you guys... he's smart and enthusiastic and doesn't mind really getting his hands dirty to get into something and I admire that, particularly when there's so many dilletantes around this town. You know, people who say they can do things and can't - and Hans makes sure he can. He doesn't come to me unless he's really sure he's cracked something and so, this is well and truly cracked. It is going to be, I think, a wonderful project and it's going to go on for years - he really does want to make all the major Abarat paintings, and that's a lot of paintings, available to people in the next ten years."

Revelations : "How on earth are you going to choose which ones to do?"

Clive : "Well, one of the things we're going to do is start simply, but it's going to be hard - it's going to be interesting and hard, but I mean it'll be pretty plain to us off the bat which ones people are going to want to go for in terms of subject matter."

Revelations : "Of the ones you're about to announce, I'm looking forward to the Totemix."

Clive : "There you go, that's interesting because that's one that we locked into. And the other one that people - God knows, they come to the house, they love the Tarrie Cats - and I think, well, OK, vox populi... But I like also the big, dense paintings - that's what really, I think, is the thing which is going to be amazing to people to have on their walls is one of those triptychs, albeit smaller, but very much larger than it would be in any book. So we'll end up probably buying a bigger printer, the biggest printer available, in order to print these out and I think they're going to be gorgeous things. So it's very exciting."

Revelations : "What's the current state of Tortured Souls?"

Clive : "So... I finish all the drafts for Universal and the people I'm dealing with at Universal are really cool people and one of them says, 'I don't think we're going to make this movie,' and I said, 'OK... Why?' and they said, 'Because I think we're going to have to make another movie with demons in it and we don't want to be making two demon movies...'
"And, you know, I've been this way before, there's no use trying to persuade somebody, I mean a corporate decision is a corporate decision. But what I do have is a lot of people around town who would like to make this movie, so my hope is that between now and Christmas... though Christmas sort of starts early in L.A, it's amazing how it almost seems to slosh together [with Thanksgiving]... There's not going to be any problems heading it up, is my sense, and the work that Universal had me do on the various drafts was work that I am pleased to have done. I mean, sometimes a company, an executive, will push something in a direction that you don't really want it to go and you'll think, 'Shit, this is getting less and less like the picture I want to make,' and luckily that didn't happen. The man we've been dealing with at Universal, his name is Dylan Clarke, is extremely smart and I think respects me and respects the kind of horror I like and all he was eager to do was to get more of that into the movie. So I said - you know, I was very happy to have that happen. I want to make this thing as scary as possible and so all the drafts have done is, I think, upped the scare quotient - it's a very hard R movie, it's not one of these wishy-washy PG13 things. And so, I think the movie's in very good shape, the script is in very good shape and speaks well for itself and I think if people want to make a movie with me right now, that's the movie that's right there on the table. The guys at Universal have treated me extremely well, this is just corporate - Dylan Clarke is an A-OK guy and so is his boss. There are so many other things going on in my life that if for some reason or another Tortured Souls did not happen in the next six months, frankly it wouldn't be the end of the world.
"Thief of Always is coming on amazingly well - I'm producing that - we're turning the script into Fox next week, which is very exciting and there is great enthusiasm at Fox for that. Midnight Meat Train's very close and so there are my producorial duties to be taken care of, you know, even if I don't direct Tortured Souls right now. And perhaps even more importantly, there are a lot of Abarat paintings to be done. I reckon another 160 paintings to come. And so there's a bit of work there and there's also - you know I'm doing this Hellraiser story, the Scarlet Gospels one, which began as a modest little tale... It's now 90,000 words and counting! And so it's now actually a short novel, by definition a short novel."

Revelations : "But you'd nearly finished that in July... last year!"

Clive : "I think you mean 1984! 'It growed like Topsy, sir, honest guv'nor!' What happened was I lightly introduced Jesus into the narrative, thinking I could get away with a quick mention and out again, you know? Actually it was Joseph of Arimathea that I introduced - who brought the Holy Grail actually back to Cornwall, to a tin mine, according to fable. And that sort of got me excited about the narrative in a whole new way and I realised I couldn't finish my man, Pinhead, off in a tale that also has room for Joseph of Arimathea without really dealing some. Otherwise it was going to be a thin little tale and people were going to say Barker should have allowed the richness of this narrative to actually play out - and I would have been one of those people who would have said it. So, I'm glad it's larger and it'll also take up a few more months to finish up. Jane, God bless her!, Jane Johnson is so fantastically in synch with me and always has been and I think it comes from her being a novelist herself. I mean, I think she knows things change and develop and grow and sometimes get out of control and sometimes don't go the way you want them - like the first draft of Abarat II. And so I said to her, 'I'm fighting - this thing's bigger than I thought it was going to be,' and she said, 'You know, this isn't the first time you've told me this, Clive.' Which it certainly isn't!"

BFS 2005 calendar - introduction by Clive Barker

Revelations : "It's sounding like Coldheart Canyon!"

Clive : "And, you know, Everville was going to be this 30,000 word story for a young audience, another Thief of Always, can you imagine that?"

Revelations : "But that was actually a different story, wasn't it..."

The British Fantasy Society

Clive : "It was, but what happens is, a little piece of everything gets then implanted into the next thing - it's like grafting things. The trouble is I graft flower onto flower and the next thing I've got is a bloody oak! It gets too large."

Revelations : "I blame the BFS for getting you to think about Gawain and the Green Knight and Arthurian legend."

Clive : "You know, I think that might be exactly right - it was a strange project, but it was a nice project. It was a nice thing for them to do and I hope that calendar has sold; it looks quite handsome. I used to really enjoy the BFS... I will admit, in my early days, I would stop off on the way for a couple of Jack Daniels at another pub to get my courage up to go in - I was really shy about it - but then I started to make friends with people and it was a very nice, very British sort of gathering: nobody talked about advances, or complained... When Pete [Atkins] would come down I would see him there, and Ramsey [Campbell], Steve Jones, Kim Newman and John Harrison would be there and sometimes Jane. Another person I would see there, in the years when we were regularly mistaken for one another, was Neil Gaiman. Our lives have so much changed..."

Revelations : "Mentioning Neil Gaiman, your comment about 'lightly introducing Jesus' made me think of the expanded version of American Gods that Pete Atkins and Peter Schneider have published through Hill House - even with all the expansion, Jesus still didn't quite allow himself to be squeezed confortably into the narrative."

"I'd been looking forward to writing the meeting of Shadow and Jesus for most of the book: I couldn't write about America without mentioning Jesus, after all. He's part of the warp and weft of the country. And then I wrote their first scene together, and it didn't work for me; I felt like I was alluding to something that I couldn't simply mention in passing and then move on from. It was too big. So I took it out again. I nearly put it back in, assembling this author's preferred text. Actually, I did put it in. And then I took it out again, and put it here. You can read it. I'm just not sure that it's necessarily part of American Gods. Consider it an apocryphal scene, perhaps. One day, Shadow will come back to America. There are some extremely interesting conversations awaiting him...."

Neil Gaiman Appendix to The Author's Preferred Edition, American Gods, Hill House Publishers, 2004

Clive : "Is the expanded version good? Was it material cut by his editors?"

Revelations : "It's excellent, and beautifully produced. With American Gods the original cuts were for space considerations but with an upcoming expanded edition of Neverwhere, the UK and US versions were actually different and the new edition brings back all the material edited from both versions."

Clive : "Well that makes sense. The idea of editing for different markets is grotesque - I mean, let's have the Sistine Chapel change when we have the Japanese guys through..."

American Gods - Authors Preferred Limited Edition, Hill House Publishers

Revelations : "Yes: 'Here's one Michelangelo did just for you guys...!' "We've spoken to the people at Earthling Publications who are producing China Miéville's King Rat with your introduction - what's the timetable like for that?"

Clive : "I'm making my notes on the introduction now and I'll deliver it in about ten days' time. It's sort of left me between a rock and a hard place because I admire King Rat immensely, but I admire the other books even more and it's very tempting to write the introduction about China's, I think, extraordinary imagination, extraordinary stylistic skill that is much more wide-ranging than King Rat. So I've had to slap myself on the wrist a little bit - said 'No, deal with the novel in front of you,' which as I say I admire a lot.
"I sense in China's work the kind of ambition that I have for my own work, the kind of scale of vision which I hope is in the best of my stuff and it pleases me no end to read it. It's just a real pleasure to read; the words are beautifully written, it's polished and he's not scared of going out on a limb and doing something a little weird and strange and violent and so on and I'm just a great admirer, so it's a pleasure to be able to do this."

King Rat by China Miéville

Revelations : "He has a rare ability to bring London alive in ways that are gritty and grimy."

Clive : "Yes, completely, and he hadn't driven it, he'd walked it, you know? There's something intimate about it. I think Neil does something similar in Neverwhere, but Neil's vision is slightly different, perhaps less tough than China's is."

Revelations : "We unfortunately missed King Rat when it first came out and went back to it after Perdido Street Station."

Clive : "Which is wonderful - and then The Iron Council, which is also first rate. I feel like the kind of world creation which he does is somehow the kind of stuff I was up to in Imajica, really just creating it from the ground up - no holds barred. It's incredibly courageous writing. It's a pleasure to be able to salute him this way.
"And actually, now we've made contact for the first time. I actually sent him a letter of thanks when that review of Abarat came out in The Guardian and actually said, 'Of all the people who have reviewed this book, I feel you're the person who really understands why I wrote it.' And I really thought that, I still think that. I thought this wonderful idea that it was really a celebration of the strange and the weird and the wonderful was exactly what I was up to. And so I wrote the letter saying, 'I don't know about the protocol,' because I wasn't sure whether authors should really be writing to each other saying thank you, but I did it. And I didn't hear from him and I thought maybe that was inappropriate, maybe I shouldn't have done that, but it turned out that he'd got the letter and he didn't know how to get back to me. So it was fine and I'm delighted now to be able to make contact and I hope one day he can come over and see the paintings and I'll certainly hook up with him when I get over to London next because he's a major talent and by all accounts a super nice guy and that'll be fun.
"I need to listen to some Drum and Bass music... I play Sibelius and Sondheim, you know, you've heard Being Music, but because Drum and Bass music is so central to that book, I feel like I'm not reading it right until I really understand what that sounds like, so I need to do my researches and... I'll be able to appreciate what those sections of the book are really celebrating."

Abarat (Book One)
Abarat (Book Two)
Abarat (Book Three)
Abarat (Books Four and Five)
Abarat The Movie
Short Stories Collection
Tortured Souls movie
Thief of Always movie
Luna7's Abarat art reproductions
News on King Rat and Revelations competition
China Miéville's review of Abarat

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