Mister B.

The Eighteenth Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 18 June 2007

Having first covered publication plans for both The Painter, The Creature and The Father of Lies and The Hellbound Heart as well as plans to present Clive's original treatment for Valerie On The Stairs (and an in-depth admiration from all parties on the latest Doctor Who episodes...) we turned our attention to the latest happenings in the Barker household...

Revelations : "I guess we start with, what on earth are you up to?"

Clive : Jericho - screenshot "Well, there's a lot of things! I mean, tomorrow morning David and I fly to New York to do publicity for Jericho and then while we're there we're going to be meeting the producers of the projected production of The Secret Life of Cartoons."

Revelations : "Yes, any timings on that as yet?"

Clive : "Well, these things take so long, we can talk about it but it's going to stay in that position of 'in development' for two, three years probably. It won't be a Broadway show - no-one's going into specifics of whether we're going to tour it and bring it in, which in the old days they used to do, sort of get the kinks out of the production by running it in Boston or Philadelphia or whatever. We won't have that luxury, I don't think, though, you know, things change. Maybe they'll have a test run off Broadway, which in some ways would be a more comfortable place for the play to be in anyway, is my personal feeling, but I'm not the producers! And actually its comfortable for me to let that take its own course. "In the meantime, the book is delivered and I will be seeing my editor while I'm in New York - she says she has some small notes and things she believes can be done very quickly."

Revelations : "What editor doesn't?"

Clive : "Yeah, right, exactly: 'You know, it's nothing, darling... ' When I get back I will make those changes, or whatever part of those changes I wish to make, and then the book will be on its way and the next time I will see it, it will be a finished book; there won't be time for bound galleys - I say that confidently, but I may be wrong, maybe they will have time, but it is very, very tight."

Revelations : "Are you happy with how Mister B. Gone has turned out, because you were on a pretty short and inflexible deadline for this one?"

Clive : "Yeah, I am. I am very happy actually. The book works: it scares the bejesus out of people but it also entertains people and, I mean, you're in the company of this individual who is really the dark half of me and, you know, it's not a coincidence that I chose 'B' for his second name... "

Revelations : "We did sort of spot that... "

Hieronymous Bosch - Haywain - Right wing, 'Hell' c. 1485-90

Clive : "Part of it is a very simple joke, like 'Everybody is a book of blood, wherever we're opened we're red'. Those kind of simple gags completely please me and I like the idea of the ambiguity of the title being followed up by a deeply unambiguous text, you know in the sense that he's saying, 'Burn this book... ' - no-one could be less ambiguous than that - it's just reasons how and why he came to be who he is and what he's suffered, all that is very much part of the story I'm trying to tell."

Revelations : "And you said the other day that you thought it had flowed so quickly because you were writing in the first person."

Clive : "Yeah - I think it would be a little forward of me to say that's got to be the reason, but this did flow from my pen with an ease which I'm not familiar with - ha!"

Revelations : "But by contrast, Galilee didn't."

Clive : "Yep, and that was in part, I think, because of the nature of the voice - the incredible elaborateness of the structure of the world Maddox was depicting in Galilee. You know, he was talking about a family of gods and their trials and tribulations and he was also giving us a vision of the other side of things, and so it was a much more complicated narrative to describe. This one, this guy Botch is an egotist, all he wants to say is 'I suffer and now I'm going to tell you how I suffer and you're going to get me out of my suffering or pay the price'. "

Revelations : "And his name's Botch?"

Clive : "Yes, Jakabok Botch. A wilfully ugly name, but also a name - Botch - which has Bosch in it, as a sort of a little bit of homage to the greatest painter of Hell."

Revelations : "And this is completely different from the comedic Yattering, presumably? This is a proper demon."

Clive : "Oh God, yeah - phew, yeah. This guy is horribly, physically disfigured, I won't give you the circumstances of how. There isn't much of his conventional devilry left because, well, he's been in a very bad fire and I won't go any further than that, but it does leave him, you know, we're not talking about a sleek, slick demon here, we're talking about someone who could pass among human beings though he would pass shunned: the way we would cross the road (I'm not saying we would... well, we might...) if he came towards us and his face had been burned off and he looked like he might have once been human, we'd certainly be a little anxious around him. And Botch passes for human because he's burned...
"The point is, I didn't want this to be a tale of a demon in Hell, I wanted this to be a tale of a demon amongst men and women, observing their ways, observing evil, observing human evil. I suppose I want to show as many ways that the demonic side of us manifests itself and so, towards the end he says, 'I'm giving you a treatise on evil here, I'm showing you all the ways that you use your powers against one another, in threats and seduction, physical threats sometimes, sometimes mental manipulation. I hope it's a very powerful narrative as a consequence because you can read it as being a story of the devil you don't want to know or you can actually decode it and find all kinds of other levels way below. I guess that's something that a lot of my books have, that sort of layering - you can read it one way or another, but this is particularly strong because he is a son of a bitch and you want to hate him, but I think it's hard to do so because so many of the things he feels we all feel or have felt - you know, rejected love..., so many of the things that make Carrion interesting to people... I never ever lose fascination with villains and the idea of speaking an entire novel with the voice of a villain has been, I suppose, just a pleasure, a holiday!
"Maddox was not a villain, Maddox was an observer, he stood on the sidelines at least until the end of the novel, watching, putting pieces together, trying to understand the mystery of who he was and Botch is a different piece of work entirely; he knows exactly what he wants and he thinks he knows how to get it!"

Revelations : "When we announced Mister B. Gone, the big question we got back in return from people was, having diverted away from Scarlet Gospels to write it, what's now happening with Scarlet Gospels?"

Clive : "Well Scarlet Gospels has reached its penultimate draft."

Revelations : "You're kidding! You've done a 'last' draft twice, haven't you?"

Clive : "No, no, I always go draft, draft, penultimate draft, finish. So the last draft was the penultimate draft, I have to hope. You'd scare me if you said it was any other way. But I can't go back into it too quickly. It's so fucking dark and I needed, having written 12,000 pages over the three drafts, I couldn't, I just couldn't do it, I wanted to take a breath. It is an oppressively dark book and it was intended to be that, but, boy! I didn't realise that living with it was going to be so heavy-going."

Revelations : "But you remain happy with it?"

Clive : "Oh Christ, yes - the issue isn't happiness. The issue is, I need to take a breath before I do the last draft and, you know, it's 4,000 pages, you can't escape that - and it's a shitload of pages! There's something very satisfying about starting a novel like Mister B. Gone and turning it over and giving it to my publisher (two or three days late) but I know that the novel is going to be out and about very soon - it's very satisfying."

Revelations : "Some might say that's what other authors do - ones who publish to a regular schedule."

Clive : "Yeah, but I don't do that and I can't do that and I've never been able to do that and I don't understand why anyone would even try to because, for me, the whole point about being an artist is you keep re-inventing yourself; you don't figure out one thing to do and then just do it over and over and over - yeeuch!"

Revelations : "And you don't ever hand over a 'good' draft to an editor for polishing..."

Clive : "I know authors who will happily hand something over to their editors for fixes, sure. Am I obsessively preoccupied with getting it right? Yes. And that can be dangerous, no question and I can get overly obsessed with things. But, on the whole, I prefer to err on the side of being overly careful."

Revelations : "Because it goes out under your name and is credited to you - "

Clive : "And when it comes down to what order it came in or what day we decided to do it and when it was finally 'done' won't matter in five years' time - all that will matter is, is it a good book? And I think Mister B. Gone is exactly what I wanted it to be and I'm very proud of it and I think Scarlet Gospels will be exactly what I want it to be, but it was so much what I wanted it to be that I have to take a breath! So, Mister B. Gone is breath one and breath two is what I'm doing now which is Abarat Three. And then, we'll see, but I think, you know, it'll be a question of whether we do Abarat Four or whether I go back and do Scarlet Gospels and finish that off but both books... I can't do this to order, I'm not very good at, well, just falling into a pattern, I suppose. Absolute Midnight, possible title page illustration I've always been amazed at Dick Francis who'd prepare a manuscript and have it to his publisher on the same day every year - that's amazing to me, I mean it's absolutely the antithesis of my own way of proceeding. I couldn't do that, it would drive me nuts. So, it's been inevitable, I think, that over the years each thing that I've made has been different from the thing before - even with the Abarat books: I mean, they will not be like each other - "

Revelations : "No, they're already different from each other - "

Clive : "They're already different from each other, right, and I think each one will have a distinct flavour and when the title of a book is Absolute Midnight, you know it's not going to be a bundle of laughs."

Revelations : "You're really just going from shades of dark to shades of dark - "

Clive : "And then there's light and then there's 'what does that light show?' because the light will be back in number four, but it won't be the same Abarat. You've gotta be prepared to do a little destroying of your mythologies in order to keep them fresh and interesting - at least that's my feeling. I'm actually writing a huge five-part novel and it has its own rhythms and I know where everyone's going to end up - "

Revelations : "It's just getting them there!"

Clive : "Yeah, it's quite a journey. It's quite a journey for all of us, you know, with me as their - what? - as their reporter, journalist, taking their lives as they come into my head and trying to make words of them. And it's been nice, actually, coming back to these characters as I'm just plotting the book out as I am, trying to lock together the pictures, going from picture to picture, trying to make sure that there's rhyme or reason to each one, and it's nice to be back with the tribe I know, you know?"

Revelations : "So has your mind turned formally now to Abarat?"

One happy puppy, one sad parrot...

Clive : "No, it can't turn entirely until I've done my editing on Mister B. Gone, so the answer will have to be 'No', but you know, as much as I can, until I've got those notes. I'm not overly concerned, everybody said - well 'everybody', the two people who are giving notes have said - there's nothing significant here, so I don't think there's a lot to be done, but I'm always attentive to that. I like to have people look at a book, you can get very close to a book, too close to a book and then not see the errors where they occur or the places where you've overstated a point, or understated the point."

Revelations : "Are you at all nervous of working with a new editor on this?"

Clive : "No, because Maureen is amazing and I've enjoyed her company immensely - she's respectful of what I do and, no, I think it's all fine, it's good."

Revelations : "As well as New York this week, you've been out travelling since we last spoke - how was the Canadian event for Stephen King?"

Clive : "It was good, it was very nice, it was very moving and I'm going to get the speech I wrote for Steve typed out and I'll send it to you when it's done - there's just so much going on now - you know there's seven puppies at my feet and one very pissed-off parrot because I've been talking to the puppies - it's crazy."

Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008

Revelations : "Any news yet on your involvement in Liverpool's City of Culture celebrations next year?"

Clive : "I've talked with them but I haven't heard anything more on plans for a little while..."

Revelations : "You were asked to do an art show?"

Clive on-set from Craig Spector's Nightbreed footage

Clive : "An art show, yes. And I created this character Jack Shaw who is a sailor who is representative of Liverpool, who is the heart of Liverpool which I was going to write as a masque, as in the old-fashioned kind of style, which they also thought would be cool. Let's wait and see... "

Revelations : "Ok, to close this time... We're so excited by the footage that Craig Spector has allowed us to see and share, footage that he shot at Pinewood behind the scenes of Nightbreed. He's captured some things which never made it on screen in the final cut... It's great, he's shot about an hour's worth of footage, just around and about, second-unit stuff, in the core of Midian - stuff we've never seen before, a walk round the production office looking at the storyboards and the miniatures, so it's all really good stuff. "

Clive : "Fuck! How cool! Good for you for tracking that down! Thank you. I'd completely forgotten that he was there with a camera. I remember a still camera, I don't remember a video camera."

Revelations : "We've put a couple of sequences on the site so far with more to come. With luck it'll pique people's interest and might start another push to one day see all the cut sequences back in a restored version..."

Clive : "Yeah, yeah - absolutely. God knows though, the audience for horror movies is getting some incredibly intense violence now - "

Click here to see Behind-the-scenes footage of deleted scenes from Nightbreed

Revelations : With Hostel II and those kind of things."

Fangoria - Issue 264

Clive : "Exactly."

Revelations : "I even saw the front cover of Fangoria this month asking 'has horror gone too far?' which is something I'm not sure I ever thought I'd see Fangoria debating."

Clive : "No, me either, so I think that's an interesting point. We are in a place where a lot of these narratives are predicated upon the fact that this could happen to you - there is really no element of the fantastic in this, it's all about the fact. 'You go to a foreign country and look what happens', you know? It's trading on the terror that they hope they can induce in you by making the context of the horror as real as possible."

Revelations : "We shouldn't kid ourselves that this hasn't been done before - by the early Wes Craven movies, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the like - but these are now big budget, mass-market studio films...

Clive : "Well, it's not just that, it's two things: the first thing is the Wes Craven movies were 16mm, hand-held, they came out of left field but Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn't have any blood in it, it was just superbly made. These new pictures - the Hostel pictures, Saw and so on - are all about physical, they're all about gross-outs, they're all about 'you want to see the inside of somebody's head, stomach cavity, you know, whatever?' It is in a weird way the cinematic return of the splatterpunks, who were the brief literary movement of the Eighties. I think that in a way Eli Roth and his compatriots are really splatterpunking and it's very effective - it's effective enough that I have to choose very carefully the mood I'm in before I'll go watch one... The game element of Saw was its saving grace. Hostel's actually more troubling to me. I found it more troubling, I don't know whether it was this sort of... slaughterporn..."

Mister B. Gone
Scarlet Gospels
Abarat Book Three
Abarat (Books Four and Five)

Our thanks to Craig Spector (visit his site here) for the Nightbreed footage

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