I dreamed a limitless book,
A book unbound,
Its leaves scattered in fantastic abundance.
On every line there was a new horizon drawn,
New heavens supposed;
New states, new souls.
One of those souls,
Dozing through some imagined afternoon,
Dreamed these words,
And needing a hand to set them down,
Clive at home with the very first Abarat painting, the wizard Kaspar Wolfswinkel.
What's Abarat All About?
Abarat is a series of books about the travels of Candy Quackenbush - a bright soul in the dullest place in the world; Chickentown, Minnesota. She has her most heartfelt wish granted as she finds herself transported on an impossible sea to the archipelago of Abarat where every encounter is magical and illuminating. Stranger still, she finds she is not just a traveller in an unknown world but already an important part of that world - a mystery which she must unravel as she grows into the person she finds she must be... In Clive's own words:
"For many years now - back perhaps to the moment that I first picked up a volume of Oz or of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books - I have wanted to invent a world of limitless horizons. There would be fantastic peoples there, and terrible monsters; there would be mysteries and magic and high adventure. It would be a world that created a whole new mythology. And, like the classics of my childhood, I wanted my world to have hidden depths, secrets that would be revealed only as the reader revisited the book over the years. There would always be something new to discover, always something fresh to take joy in. The Books of Abarat are my realisation of that dream.
"For the first time in all my bookmaking years, I felt that I needed more than words to tell the story, and so I have painted three hundred oil paintings, over a hundred of which appear in this first volume. I want readers of Abarat to feel transported by this mingling of words and paintings: it will be, I hope, like dreaming with your eyes open.
"So here it is."
How Clive First Brought Abarat To Life...
The story of how Clive came to write - and still be writing - Abarat goes back more than ten years and has had some wonderful highs and some very definite lows..."About ten years ago I went to my publishers and said I would like to write a collection of short novels for a younger audience that would be like the C.S. Lewis Narnia books. There would be a series of them and they would describe a world. And they said they weren't interested in that idea. My other books were very successful for them and they didn't want me changing...
Originally, back in the mid-1990s, there was little interest from Clive's publisher for another book for children! Although The Thief of Always had been a successful book, it was generally still thought by his publishers, HarperCollins, that Clive's main audience was adult - and that they were looking for more serious horror and fantasy stories.
Talking at the time the second Abarat book was published, Clive told a magazine called Albedo One that:
"I wanted very much, really wanted to write this kind of fiction. It stayed in my head but there wasn't really much I could do, at least so I thought. And at the same time I was writing other books, I was painting... and these strange things came out. This character, Kaspar Wolfswinkel, was the first picture that came out... I continued to paint and the pictures continued, just came along. And I began to think, 'My subconscious is painting these pictures. It is protesting. It's trying to let something out...' And I didn't doubt for a moment what exactly was trying to get out. It was definitely a whole other world. These strange creatures and this one [Geneva Peachtree] came along, maybe the fifth or sixth painting that I made. And so I began to conceive a world of islands in which every island was a different hour of the day. So the world began to evolve. It demanded to be created.
"I think in a very strange way, by denying me the opportunity to write the books in a conventional fashion, HarperCollins did me a great favour because, instead of creating something that sprang into being in the conventional way - which is that I would have written a book and eventually I would have illustrated it - the illustrations appeared first and I've used the words as a way of illustrating the paintings and that means, I think, the imagination in the book is a lot stranger."
A Book Of Hours...
Having now got HarperCollins' agreement to the of publishing another young adult book, the project was going to be a single book - called The Book of Hours. But as Clive kept painting and writing, the story grew and grew until in 1999 he finally decided it was going to be not one book but a quartet - a series of four books. It wasn't until Christmas 2005 - and after the first two books had been written - that he realised the story in his head was still growing... The current plans are for the whole story to eventually fill five books!"The pictures are huge oil paintings. They're five feet by four feet. And there's 29 of them, plus 100 smaller paintings. It's a big visual project, a big narrative project. And what I tried to do and I've never done this before is start with a painting and see what stories they are telling me. Once I know what story they are telling me then I write it. And actually in the last week, I'm writing the first of the stories with these paintings in front of me and it's very entertaining because you sort of get the painting is telling a story and did I subconsciously know what the painting was telling me while I was painting it? Perhaps, I don't know. It's a mystery to me."
Even back as far as 1998, when the story was The Book of Hours, it was always going to be about "each hour of the day - plus one..."
In the Summer of 1998, as he was just starting to write notes on book, Clive told a magazine called Pharr Out! about how he was using the paintings as inspiration for the story, which still wasn't clear in his mind...
By Autumn 1999, Clive was telling interviewers that the 129 paintings had risen to 240 and that he was now planning to have at least 100 different paintings in each of four books - which he realised meant "there are a lot of paintings to do..!""I shall write four novels, as I am contracted to do, which will constitute the first arc - if this was Star Wars, it would be the first three movies - and Disney will take from those four books the material to make three movies. They may also take material to do TV, games, what have you.
Even though he'd not even started writing the first book, the big news in April of 2000 was that Disney wanted to make a movie of the Abarat story and Clive agreed to sell them the rights! Talking with Fangoria, he explained:
Abarat In Disneyland...
"What they've done is something they've never done before: they've bought a world from the inside out. They came out and saw a house full of paintings, and heard me talk about the world and the characters and the philosophies, and they said, 'We want to exploit this material in every medium we're in, from theatre through parks, through toys, whatever.' And that was my dream for this material. It's a wonderful marriage."
Finally Writing The First Book!
Smilin' Jack Ruby interviewed Clive and heard that:"There are now 290 paintings. From that, I am writing the first of the four texts, which is sitting in front of me right now on my desk. Many of the paintings which I am using as starting off places for the story, which I'm writing are now three or four years old, but they've been a part of my psyche and it's a very interesting way to go about it for me. Will I ever do it again? Probably not, because 290 oil paintings is a lot of painting! By the time I finish, there'll be 400-ish, something like that. Frankly, I just don't think I have it in me to ever do something on this scale again."
Clive started to write the first book in the Autumn of 2000 and finished his final draft at the end of July 2001 when he told us here on his website:"I'm incredibly excited... I am coming within two weeks of finishing the book... it has a wild imagination and it has great villains and it has some big ideas floating around in it."
Heroes And Villains!
And one of those villains? Christopher Carrion... But even he's not the most evil character in the Abarat, with Clive giving a hint through interviews with KidScreen and Publishers Weekly something of what the books are really about..."Out of the back of his head and feeding into this fluid are two pipes which drain the nightmares out of his cranium and into the fluid. He's living constantly in a soup of his own nightmares."
"Christopher Carrion wasn't always a villain. Christopher Carrion is a villain because he has been horribly dealt with by his family. I try and trace the villainy in order to say to the reader, 'Look in your own lives to see if there aren't hurtful things that make you behave hurtfully'...
"I am being a little coy, because I am leaving the real villain of the book out of this discussion. There is a villain who stands behind these villains, whose nature I don't even want to talk about. He won't appear in the first book, he isn't painted on these walls, but of course there is a devil here in the islands. And there's an awful lot of good in this book, too. Just as night and day are in balance, and light and dark are in balance in the healthy human psyche, so evil and good will be pretty much balanced in the narrative."
What Influenced Clive When He Was Writing Abarat?
By 2002, with the first book about to be published, Clive talked to us about the influences we'd see most strongly in the story:"It's going to be a book like no book you've ever seen before. I made a list of things at the very beginning of this process, not at the beginning of painting, but at the beginning of the book, or books, a list of the things that were really important influences: Terry Gilliam books, you know, Time Bandits; Fantasia; the Cirque du Soleil; Ray Harryhausen movies; A Midsummer Night's Dream. Things which I felt would in some way, sometimes obliquely, sometimes not so obliquely, play into what I was creating. And I think the joy for me, when I got the book, was I could see where all those were - I could see, I could smell Wizard of Oz around the book and Cirque Du Soleil and Fantasia. The book has this kind of over-brimming thing going on in it like Fantasia has. Fantasia is like watching a bunch of imagination catch fire and because I've been working for such a long time on Abarat some of the paintings are now five years old, I've been creating this slowly and been putting a certain kind of off-beat side of my nature into these pictures."
Has He Got A Favourite Island?
Asked by the Orlando Sentinel to name his favourite island, Clive cheated and named two!"Odom's Spire, which is the 25th hour, the time out of time, is the first [of my favourites]. It is the hub of the wheel, the island that lies in the very center of all this. What's great about the 25th island is that you could meet yourself as a baby, or as an old man or an old woman. It's a place of magic and transformation.
"The other is Midnight, or Gorgossium, which is the home of Christopher Carrion who is one of the villains of the book. Carrion's world is a world of midnights. It is a world where all the Halloweeny things that you expect to come around do exist. It's a world that pays homage to some of my favorite painters - Hieronymous Bosch would be a good example - medieval painters who created extraordinary paintings of worlds."
Why Did Book Two Take Longer Than Promised? Was There A Problem?
Yes. A really, really big one..."I wrote the book, finished the book in November , read the book and didn't like it and threw it all away, the whole thing, and began again - which I've never done before. So there's nothing in the second volume of Abarat as it now stands which faintly resembles that first version... there's names in common, but the islands that are visited are different, everything is pretty different.
"I realised the book was teasing people, my first version was teasing people too much. There wasn't enough delivery as I saw it and I wanted the second book to give you a genuine sense of fulfilment. After all, you will have been through almost a quarter of a million words and 250 illustrations. You should have a sense of... emotional payback. There should be a sense that some of the storylines have reached some genuine conclusion and I felt that the story wasn't taking the readers far enough, it wasn't giving us enough of a journey to enough of a conclusion to something big enough. And so I thought I don't think this is right or fair. I need to go back and I need to start again and I need to configure this. I want it to go to a much bigger place in terms of narrative, in terms of emotion and in terms of fulfilment of the narrative promises in the first book. I don't want this to be a three-book tease with a one-book pay-off, I want each of the books to pay off some of the narratives and present other strands which are going to grow in complexity and richness and obviously go on. But I think at the end of the second book, and this is certainly what I'm getting back from people who have read it, there's a real sense of, 'oh we went somewhere, we got somewhere, we were delivered somewhere, we got closure.' There are significant deaths in this book, there are significant changes in this book, there are significant revelations in this book. So... and I'm not saying that there wouldn't have been some of those in the first version, but they wouldn't have been as satisfying, I think. I'm much, much happier with the second book. And so, it was worth it! But that was the other reason why it's taken longer to get here and there have been certain times when I've regretted it... but now, having got there, I don't regret it at all - I think it was the right thing to do."
"Abarat will be a movie but I am fighting very hard for them not to try making it too soon. We are no longer making Abarat with Disney, that is now official, the work is back in my hands and my ownership, I owe them nothing. I suppose you could say there were creative differences, I don't know. Certainly the way they wanted to do it was not the way I wanted to do it. I realised a short while after getting into the deal with Disney and I'm glad it's come to this conclusion where we can make this movie...
Where's The Disney Movie Gone?
"My thing to the filmmakers is, 'Wait until I've written Book 5 and I've delivered everything and then make your movie.' The reason I say that is because Candy doesn't age significantly - she ages maybe three years across the five books and if you're going to do this properly then the actress can't age overmuch either and you've got to have all the books written and all the screenplays written before you start."
Absolute Midnight Was Really Surprising
Candy hasn't just got here through a wardrobe or down a rabbit-hole, there are important reasons why she is already a part of Abarat. Similarly, the other characters of Abarat are not quite what they seem and all along, Clive has tried to tell a story which doesn't follow all the rules of fantasy tales. As Clive has explained to us..."Absolute Midnight’s going to deliver [readers] a sense of how much larger the story that they entered at the beginning, three books ago, is. I wanted to make us reassess who some, not all, but some of the characters are – so characters they thought came in to be x turn out to be y, probably not radical, radical changes, most of the time, but enough to make us look at these things with clearer eyes."
...and to the children of Kodiak Middle School:"One of my biggest ambitions for these books, guys, is that I would take the clichés, if you will, of fairytale and the clichés of heroic fiction, epic fiction and I would turn them upside-down. One of those clichés is that princesses are good, right? You know, Princess Lea in Star Wars, Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora, or whatever, all good. Princess Boa – nah! Not good, very bad lady! And I think up until now we’ve probably just thought she was a pretty good lady who was fooling around with the wrong person and that person obviously was Christopher Carrion. We are about to learn just how bad she is."
What's Going To Happen In The Next Two Books?
Clive is keeping lots of secrets to himself, but have a look here at this next page where we've gathered just a couple of hints from what Clive's mentioned so far!