What's The Thief Of Always All About?
Granted his wish, Harvey Swick finds that, like the many other people who've been offered three wishes, the things we think we want more than anything aren't really true...
Harvey follows his 'genie' - in the shape of a smart salesman called Rictus - at least half-believing his promises, and finds himself in a place of magic, the ultimate holiday house...
When it was published, Clive told Fangoria and the Washington Post what the story was about:
"For the 8-year-olds, The Thief of Always is an adventure about a kid who goes to a house that seems to promise everything but has a dark, terrible secret.
"And to an adult, it's a story about the problems of time and childhood, and what you give away in the moments of your youth that you can never get back again."
"For the 10-year-old who reads Thief of Always, it is, I think, an adventure primarily. It is about a child who has time stolen from him and revenges himself royally upon the power that steals from him..."
In the magical holiday house of Mister Hood, Harvey is delighted to find that all the seasons of the year occur each and every day - from the first day of Spring in the morning through Summer in the afternoon, Halloween in the evening and finishing with Winter, Thanksgiving and Christmas before bedtime before the cycle starts all over again the next day. Speaking to Bill Babouris, Clive said:"The Thief of Always is a perfect example of my trying to remind people of how wonderful the cycle of the seasons is. It is a book that asks: What happens if you do this in one day? Look at this. Just look at this! Look at what the year does to us. Look at all these wonderful things...At the heart of the book there is a very simple idea; Live in the moment and understand that the moment is miraculous. Don't live for the next moment, or the moment after that, because while you're waiting for the next thing to come along your life is slipping away."
So What Sort Of A Kid Is Harvey Swick?
He's a 10-year old boy who thinks a lot like Clive did at the age of 10!"Harvey Swick is very much the 10 year old that I was: a very angry little kid who had very strange dark imaginings that he never knew quite how to deal with. I think Iíve spent the years since being that 10 year old kid finding formats, finding shapes for the things that were running round my head."
"I think we, all of us, as children feel bored a lot of the time, waiting for adults to do whatever adults do. Itís definitely less true now, but as a kid I didnít have those diversions. So there was a lot of downtime, time where you were just waiting. I used to do a lot of reading, but even reading canít take you away all the time, away from the grey reality of life in Liverpool in the í50s, which is where I was brought up, and I wanted to reflect that in Harvey. I also wanted to give Harvey some of my imaginative energy. So, yeah, thereís something of Harvey in me...
"Even as a kid, I was aware that I lived from holiday to holiday. Every kid does that - you finish your summer holidays and think, ĎOh, how long is it to Thanksgiving?í (in America - in England it was Bonfire Night). And then on Bonfire Night you thought, ĎOK, well how long is it to Christmas?í I mean, youíre constantly saying that. And my mother would be constantly saying, ĎDonít wish your life away, donít wish your life away.í But the story wasnít based on anything except that there were a lot of times in my life when I wished more was going on and I thought this would be an interesting fantasy to play with."
And What About Mister Hood?
Ah, now he's nothing like Clive!"Hood is a vampire lord, but he is so different from the blood-sucking form... He is essentially a soul-stealer, who uses his will and seduction to steal souls from children."
A soul-stealing vampire... In the Holiday House...? How can Harvey deal with that? Clive explained a bit more to World of Fandom:"When he finally confronts Hood, Harvey sees the darkness in himself. I had a very interesting interview, about three or four weeks ago, where somebody said to me, 'When I first read the book I thought you'd gone all Spielberg on me - the book had become this celebration of childhood wonder.' In the second reading the interviewer said he realized what the book's subtext was about.
"In fact, unlike some of the cruder, critical readings of the book, that suggested that what Harvey does is Indiana Jones-esque, what Harvey does is far from that. He applies to Hood the teachings which Hood, in his ignorance, taught Harvey. He attempts to turn Harvey into a vampire like himself, and Harvey uses those skills right back at the creature. That is a very dark element of the story, because Harvey is empowered by realising that he has this desire to 'bleed' the enemy dry."
So, Vampires... But Isn't Clive Someone Who Writes Scary Horror Books For Adults? Why Would He Write A Book For Young People?
A question his publishers at HarperCollins asked him more than once! Especially as they really didn't want him to waste his time writing this kind of book instead of writing another 'grown up' book..."As the years went by, and my career as a writer of adult fantasy and horror books grew, the notion of writing a book for a younger audience never went away. Many of my favourite books - stories I return to again and again - are books that would be found in the childrenís section of a bookstore: Peter Pan, Treasure Island and The Chronicles of Narnia chief amongst them. I wanted to write a tale to join those books on the shelf."
"The story had occurred to me a while ago and I'd written it down in short form called The Holiday House and I showed it to my agent who wasn't particularly eager about it, so I went into a corner and just did it, because it was a story I wanted to write. Sometimes you've just got to do what you've got to do!
"It took about three months to write, probably another couple of months to do fixes on, and then I gave it to HarperCollins and said, 'I realise you're taking a huge risk with this, because here's a children's book coming from Clive Barker, and maybe nobody will buy it! So I'll sell it to you for a dollar.'
"Actually, they ended up giving me a silver dollar for it.
"And I did the illustrations and the thing went from there. It has since turned out to be a very successful book. It's in a lot of languages around the world and it's being taught in a lot of schools now, which is fun. I think we're at 1.5 million copies in print in America, so it wasn't bad for a book that cost them a dollar..."
What Sort Of Books Did Clive Read When He Was Young?
All sorts... Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, J.R.R. Tolkien... His mother read Peter Pan to him at bedtime and he still loves many of the stories that he then read for himself years ago - stories that allowed him to take fantastic journeys away from his family and 'ordinary' life..."One of the things that influenced me as a kid were the very dark fairy tales that I was read or I read when I was a child. There were some very dark and grisly moments in the early Disney cartoons. And that stuff was a major influence on meÖ As a kid I loved, I really loved, the grim stuff; and I mean Ďgrimí with a single Ďmí and two Ďmísí."
He explained more to Craig Fohr at Lost Souls and to Douglas Winter, including why a book like The Thief Of Always is important to him as an author:"There are things in the Thief of Always that have a simple beauty to them which take me back to Ray Bradbury, who is one of the great masters of writing. If you read Something Wicked This Way Comes when you are 10, it means something very different to you than if you read it in your 30's or 40's. And I hope Thief of Always is the same. I know that the children who read Thief of Always love the adventure, and love Harvey getting turned into a vampire, and they love the fight at the end, and all that stuff. And they tend to find other things in the book."
"Having people writing letters to me is just wonderful. Writing the stories is a power trip - and the trip is that youíre actually possessing people for a little bit. People that you donít even know. Youíre actually putting this page in front of them and saying, ĎRight, Iím going to get hold of you and not let go. And you donít know me, but when youíre done, youíre going to know some very intimate part of me.í And that power trip is infinitely more important to me than the money or the fame or whatever else - the fact that I am getting into the heads of people, just like other people have gotten into my head and affected me.
ďThis may sound mystical, but itís not. When I was twelve, for instance, I read Ray Bradbury and I read Moby Dick. They marked me very deeply, and part of me belonged - and still belongs - to Bradbury and Melville. And I would like to think that there are a lot of people out there now who have little parts of themselves that belong to me.
"I like that feeling. It keeps me sleeping peacefully at night."
I Heard There Was Going To Be A Movie Made?
"I was at an event organised by Storyopolis, which is a really cool children's bookstore and actually art store as well, in the sense that it sells the artwork from illustrated books - originals, reproductions and so on - it has a little gallery attached. So Storyopolis arranged a gathering of, I think there were maybe fifteen authors who had also done illustration... But I happened to be sitting next-door to Kelly Asbury - Kelly, who is an author of books for really young kids, is both an illustrator and a writer and his name begins with an 'A', and I began with a 'B' so we were sitting next-door to one another, as everybody's in alphabetical order. And we instantly got on well - it was like we'd been friends a long time, instantly.
Keep your fingers crossed (even though you need to be careful what you wish for!)... Yes, over the years lots of people have got close to making the movie... In the mid-1990s lots of work was done on designs for an animated movie, then when that was abandoned, a screenplay was drafted for a live-action movie. By 1999, that project was dead and a CGI version got really, really close to being made...
The project was then placed in the hands of Kelly Asbury - as Clive explained to us:
"And he had, beside his work as a writer and an illustrator, he is also an animator and a director of animation. He directed Spirit, which is a Dreamworks picture of a couple of years ago. He most recently directed Shrek 2, which I think is now the number five best, most successful movie, in fiscal terms, ever made - so he's kinda golden around town! Now, Shrek 2 had not come out when we first met; he was still putting the final touches both to the picture and the sound of the music and was kind of exhausted but excited by the prospect of it, of the movie's release. And he said he wanted to make a live-action movie next and he wanted to make something for a younger crowd. He wanted it to be live-action and I got up from my chair and went over to the shelves and took out a copy of Thief of Always (paid for it!) brought it back to Kelly and said, 'Here - how about this?' - it literally worked like that.
"So, this was on a Saturday; Sunday night he called me and he'd read the book: 'I'm in. I want to make this movie!'"
And he told Fangoria:"The interesting thing is that in the 10 years that Iíve been developing Thief of Always, the technology has caught up with the way to do it now, so we can really make all the seasons arrive in one day. We can watch an entire environment turn into Halloween-time in a heartbeat. We can see an entire house come to life, which would have been much harder to do 10 years ago, so in many ways, itís all to the good. It may have taken a while, but we got there."
Recently, an old friend of Clive's has taken a look at the project and we wait to see how this might progress...