Open Roads... What Price Wonderland?

The Fourth Revelatory Interview - part one
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 3 April 2002

With thanks to David Dodds. Your help is warmly appreciated.

Clive : "Hi there guys. I'm just sitting here writing Abarat 2."

Revelations : "That's what we like to hear!"

Clive : "I just talked a little bit about what the next book was going to be with everybody and I just couldn't keep my hands off the sequel. I just needed to go and write the next one and paint the next one and just have that fun."

Revelations : "Which is a bit unusual for you - "

Clive : "It is very unusual for me and you know it took a little bit of me thinking it all through because I still have The Art 3 to deliver and Galilee 2."

Preview ad for Abarat - Fall 2002

Revelations : "Oh, now... We weren't going to mention that!"

Clive : "This is the interesting juggling act. You know sometimes I wish I could really be two people, or even three people, because it's not like the books aren't there - it's all in my head."

Revelations : "But that's not good enough!"

Clive : "I know it's not good enough - trust me, I know!"

Revelations : "Last New Year's Eve we received an e-mail from one of the people we regularly swap e-mails with who wished us a 'Happy 2002 - the Year of Abarat.' Is that how 2002 feels for you and, three months in, what has the rest of the year still got to come?"

Clive : "It's turned out to be a different year to the one I anticipated in the sense that it was going to be solely the year of Abarat. I think Joe Daley of Seraphim and I had been thinking it was going to be another year of development hell - and it's turned out not to be. Saint Sinner starts shooting in seven weeks' time - it's only a $4 million movie but it's still a $4 million movie which we're going to make..."

Revelations : "It's a green light and we like those."

Clive : "It is a green light, and it's not even a blinking green light, they're actually building the sets which is great.
"Weaveworld will go into pre-production in September and I don't think there's any doubt about that. The only question now is whether we shoot in Ireland or Australia; we're just looking at those two right now. It would be so wonderful to have that sort of [Irish] landscape... But pre-production will start in September and we'll start shooting in January 2003.
"Damnation Game has just been turned in as a finished script to Warner Bros. and they seem very encouraging about this being something that they want to make. I don't know whether that will go into pre-production this year but it's moved along much faster than we thought it was going to.
"Tortured Souls 2, the next six figures, are attracting an unholy amount of attention... they're pretty intense things!"

Moribundi - the one that's causing all the trouble...

Revelations : "We saw you were surprised when we mentioned that they'd covered up Moribundi at the Toy Fair."

Clive : "Well, I just loved that, that's great... covering up toys... There's a lot of excitement over at Universal about having that project as a movie. That's going to be a fast-track project as well.
"Bloody Mary has just been turned in to Touchstone and they're very excited about that - so there's a lot of things on the movie side which I thought were going to be relatively slow, plodding projects which have suddenly picked up speed."

Revelations : "And how many of these things are you doing treatments for?"

Clive : "I have done Ectokid - which I didn't mention - I've done a 100-page treatment for Ectokid. I've done a 30-page treatment for Tortured Souls. Weaveworld, the novel is obviously the treatment for that... So it's three things I've done treatments for: Saint Sinner, Ectokid and Tortured Souls so those things have found favour, Nickelodeon is going to do Ectokid - I think that's a long development process because it's an elaborate movie, but if they really go for it I think it's going to be pretty amazing. I think that's two or three years off. But it's just weird - Joe and I have been saying for the last two years, 'I bet you when all this hits, it's all going to hit at once.' And we actually made a kind of smaller company because we were just in the development phase and we felt we don't need too many people in the company, Joe and I can deal with all of this, and now it all happens. It's the way of it; there's no way to predict any of this stuff.
"But it is also for me primarily the year of Abarat. The book is going to be finished. They're publishing what is essentially going to be an art book with the quality of art reproductions and I'm astonished at how close to the paintings the illustrations are."

Revelations : "The paintings are obviously shrinking hugely - are they maintaining the detail?"

Clive : "Oh Man! You'll go nuts!"

Revelations : "I'll take that as a 'Yes'"

Clive : "It is phenomenal, Phil, it's going to be an amazing book. They have done a bound black and white (obviously all the pictures are going to be in colour) readers copy. Even in the black and white form you get a sort of 'smell' of what this book is like."

Alan Lee

Revelations : "And is the text laid with the pictures in this copy? We've been trying to visualise how the text will flow with the pictures."

Clive : "It's very beautifully interwoven. It's not text, text, text, text, picture. There isn't a picture on every page but there's about 120 pictures in a 360 page book, so there's a picture every few pages."

Revelations : "So there are enough to tempt a child along, to keep them reading."

Clive : "My hope is, what the narrative does is... these are not illustrations in the classic sense. You can't take a sentence from the text and lay it beneath it. Are you familiar with the illustrations of Alan Lee for the Tolkien books? One of the things that Alan does brilliantly is that he doesn't paint the moment - he paints the moment before the moment."

Revelations : "Very true - and he very often paints it from a different perspective to the one you're anticipating as a reader."

Clive : "Exactly. Because what he says is, Tolkien is doing the moment, Tolkien is telling you what the action is, let me tell you something different. And I've really taken that on board. Obviously what I am trying to do is to give people figures and characters and fun stuff and stuff that will really help them visualise what is going on in the text. But I am also trying to give people stuff that lies a little to the left or right of the text."

Revelations : "That goes back to this originally having been a book of illuminations."

Clive : "It does, it goes back to how this began - as a book which I never anticipated would have 100,000 words of text, you know? It has 101,000 words in the first volume and I think we're looking at the same for the second volume. When the quartet is done we will hopefully have a volume that will gather all this stuff together into a single volume."


Revelations : "And it's still a quartet?"

Clive : "Yes it is and it's pretty closely plotted through to the final book because there are things that are happening in the first book that will not get paid off until the final book. I pretty much know exactly what's going to happen. You get a sense even from the first book that everything is sort of laid out and there are mysteries and puzzles which are enigmas which are going to be solved."

Revelations : "Right - and are these simply called 'Volume One', Volume Two', etc, or are you naming them?"

Clive : "Well the first one is going to be just 'Abarat'. The second one I am just playing around with titles right now. The third one will be called 'Absolute Midnight' and the fourth one I'm still playing with too."

Revelations : "Whew! - at least it's not going to be some kind of 'Attack of the Clones' title."

Clive : "Isn't that an awful title? 'Send In The Clones', now that I would go for."

Revelations : "Ah - 'fools obsess me, and clowns...' "

Harryhausen's Sinbad Fantasia

Clive : "So Abarat is going to be an amazing book. And I say that not just as its creator but as somebody who has stood by and watched HarperCollins do... actually Joanna Cotler which is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, do something exceptional with this book. It's not just a question of what I have given in the way of text and illustrations, it's also a question of what they've chosen to do with the book - they've put it on the best possible paper, they've bound it in the best possible way, and everything about this book is gorgeous. Harper have always done well by me. Jane Johnson is an extraordinary editor, incredibly supportive. In his day, Eddie Bell was there allowing me to do just about anything I chose - he was a sweetheart. I have been blessed by the presence of both Jane and Eddie and I now add to that list Joanna Cotler. I think when you see the ARC you will get a taste - even though it's a softback and it's not on the final paper - you will still get a taste of how elaborate the structure is. 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."

Cirque Du Soleil Time Bandits The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Revelations : "And at this stage, of course, you must now be creating pictures almost to order, as the text demands?"

Clive : "Yes - the last twenty-five pictures that I produced for this book were produced to be text-friendly. The text was written to be illustration-friendly."

William Blake - Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies 
Dancing c.1786

Revelations : "If we jump back - we were talking about how tightly plotted the thing is, which has obviously come second to those first few, as you've called them, cathartic paintings. What have you had to do to those early paintings, either in terms of dropping or re-painting them in order to fit new and developing storylines?"

Clive : "Nothing! Well, there are 370 paintings upstairs and obviously I only have 120 in the first book - so I've got a lot more pictures to go in a lot more places and this is maybe a conversation we truthfully need to have when I've finished the fourth book to find out whether the other 250, plus a whole bunch I haven't painted yet, have found their way into the book. It may very well be that there are redundancies."

Revelations : "We'll look for the out-takes appendix."

Clive : "Well exactly! I think that's going to be the cool thing in a way - I think that's the nature of this. I've kept all the sketches and I'm hoping that one day we'll do a kind of 'making-of' book. So that we can trace everything. But you're right - we need to watch for the out-takes."

Revelations : "Particularly if this goes to the movies, someone will be looking to do a making-of for the DVD, and it won't be your version."

Clive : "That's completely right, and that's another process entirely and one that, particularly because it's Disney, that I have much less control over than I would have under other circumstances - the Disney vision is very particular and they're going to take this and run with it and I don't know if even they know where that race is going to end. I know Promotional material for Damnation Game paperback that they want to take the first two books as the subject of the first movie and I think that makes sense because there are certain narrative arcs which actually complete themselves within the first two books so there's a sense of some narrative satisfaction to be had - you know, a couple of minor villains die. You got to have a sense of 'Hey, we've got rid of a few of these guys, got to throw some of these guys to the lions'. So I think they're right to take the first two books, because I want this movie to be - you know what Peter Jackson did with the Lord Of The Rings, if it could be that, or even a part of that, then that would be fantastic...
"But I'm sort of not thinking about that a lot and one of the things I am actually doing is making a much clearer demarcation in my head about what I can do in book form and what I can do in movie form. Partly because I've got stung so badly and it hurts when you care deeply about something and it doesn't turn out the way you want it and I want Damnation Game to have the feel and the smell of the book but I'm not going to break my heart if it doesn't - the book's still there, no-body's taking the book away and I've got to take care of my feelings. You two actually remarked to me in a note about being concerned about some of the stuff that came out at the end of Doug's book and it was very sweet of you to observe that and no question that as I come up to 50 where I put my care and love and devotion - I can't spread it too thinly, because if I do I'm not going to satisfy anybody. I want to make the third book of the Art the best book I can make it, I want to make the second Galilee book the best book I can make it, I want to make the next 3 Abarat books the best books I can make them plus a bunch of books I haven't even talked about! And I'm saying well, I'm 50 now. So now I have to kind of pace myself a little."

Revelations : "We've seen you say you think you've got 30 years left!"

Clive : "Well, I've still got a shitload of books to do! When you think about the scale of Abarat - that's taken five years to do - none of these are small projects."


Revelations : "We should remember, Tolkien never got out of Middle-Earth."

Clive : "You're right, you're completely right. And Ursula Le Guin is having difficulty getting out of Earthsea! And Baum never got out of Oz! And I think what you observe is exactly right. A part of any fantasist who is truly committed to their invented world, or in my case invented worlds, plural - I've thought about this hard - I almost don't want to do the third book of The Art because I don't want to say goodbye to that. There's an inbuilt reluctance; once you say goodbye it's a kind of death and the world is dead to you - it's alive to the reader, but Earthsea (Stock, 1991) it's dead to me. There is something fun about books that contain an entire world - Imajica, Weaveworld - but there's something wonderful about the open-ended book, books which you're going to fill.
"On the other hand... there's always a new generation of people coming up reading these books, going OK, where's the third one?"

Revelations : "Especially with HarperCollins putting the first two books of 'The Art Trilogy' out in HarperPerennial and there's just the two of them!"

Clive : "I'm playing with what the next big book is - whether it's going to be the third book of the Art, which is a sort of two-year book, or Galilee which is an 18 month book - I mean none of these are small projects."

Revelations : "Do these two fight with each other to be done, or do you look to which will be the best selling?"

Clive : "I couldn't care less about the latter. Harper would probably hate to hear that! I've never really given much thought to that. I think the issue really is - catch me on a given day, Phil, and I'll give you a completely different answer about what I'm going to do!
"Trust me, you can find me saying I'm going to do the next Galilee book one day, and then saying the third book of the Art the next! Different books capture different parts of my personality, and I don't hear voices in the traditional sense of sitting down and literally hearing someone speaking in my ear, but there are some days when certain narratives seem right and surface out of my subconscious and demand that I go do some writing. It's interesting that there are hundreds of pages on the third book of the Art and hundreds of pages on Galilee Two already written, hand-written drafts, just because [I've never left them]. Going back to your point about Tolkien never leaving Middle-Earth, I never actually left Maddox on the road and I certainly never left Quiddity, and so those remain open worlds in my head and that's kind of exciting in a way. In any day in my imagination I might totter along any given roads."

Revelations : "So does that never then tempt you to go dip your toe in Quiddity by writing a short story - like you did with On Amen's Shore?"

Clive : "I've done it a couple of times, but I find it unsatisfying. In the sense that a short story like that is going to take a couple of weeks to actually craft I think I would prefer to spend that time, right now, concentrating on finishing a bigger work. The only thing that I'm going to do in a relatively short form is the final Hellraiser story dispatching that damn fellow with the pins in his head - that I will not do at great length. But it won't be a short, short story, it will still, I think, be a novella, perhaps the match of The Hellbound Heart, I'm not sure - I always underestimate what these are going to take!"

illustration for On Amen's Shore

Revelations : "And this is still going to form part of the collected short stories at some stage, is it?"

Clive : "At some stage, yeah! There's just so much of these to be collected - there are not only, as you say, Sarah, On Amen's Shore there's also Pidgin & Theresa, Lost Souls..."

Revelations : "We've being looking forward to seeing your introductions to some of these stories - at one stage you were talking about doing that, as we've never seen you say anything about Pidgin & Theresa, Animal Life - "

Clive : "Yes, there's a bunch of them and there's also a lot of stories that I created for Scarlet Gospels which are very erotic, complete and ready to rock and roll. There's a tale called Jehovah's Bitch, which is one of the most outrageous things I've ever written, and I hope to get into that collection. But again it means organising and it means a year of my time and that's what I've been doing, I've been figuring out how to pace the next thirty years because I've sure as shit got more in my head - so I'm going to be sitting on my final bed as it were in probably more than thirty years' time thinking, 'Shit, in that conversation with Phil and Sarah they should have just told me to go and do...' Because there's going to be a bunch of things are aren't yet done"

Revelations : "So at some point you're just going to sit down and dictate it all as fast as you can!"

Photo-art for Dark Fantastic - US edition

Clive : "Well, you know that's interesting too because I've tried that, just as a process, and it kills the prose. For me I need to see the words written down and to read them aloud only after they've been formed on the page. So, unfortunately the Jackie Collins method of writing with a Martini and a cigarette, dictating to some poor guy who's got to go and type it out, put question marks and punctuation in - well there's actually not an awful lot of punctuation..."

Revelations : "Shall we move on to The Dark Fantastic?"

Clive : "Yes, absolutely."

Revelations : "How does it feel now that so much of 'you' is now public?"

Clive : "Luckily, I've had a long time to get used to it because Doug has been working on this book a lot a long time. We have been talking about my life for a long time. I'm glad he got to talk to my Dad. There were things in the book that shocked the heck out of me."

Revelations : "Really? Like what?"

Clive : "Well, like some of the remarks made by Barbara Boote which were a little bitter and a little unfortunate... She didn't need to say that stuff but, whatever, maybe they caught her on a bad day. But I hope that the interesting thing about the book is that it does offer a very truthful portrait of a man who is sort of juggling and trying to work out paths on a spiritual level as he works out a path on an artistic level. I think that what Doug caught was that many of my arguments with myself are metaphysical arguments, spiritual arguments. Debate, confusion, depression. And I've never really hidden any of that stuff, my sexuality or, pretty much, the details of my life. When people asked, and they were the kind of people who legitimately wanted to know, like your good selves, I've never hidden anything - why would I? The interesting thing is seeing Doug put all of that stuff between two covers and I think he's done a brilliant job, an amazing job. I'm amazed at what I've seen some people say about me and I've thought, 'Well, at least now I know.' And there were people who had different memories to me, so I suspect their memories were better than mine - I'm not very good with the past. My head is filled with Abarat and Quiddity, all of what we called these open worlds and these roads are as yet untravelled. So there isn't a lot of room. I am going to be Maurice Chevalier in Gigi, saying, 'Yes, I remember it well,' and getting all the facts about the past wrong - that's who I am going to be and someone is going to be there - probably both Davids, David Dodds and David Armstrong - quietly and gently there to correct me as I forge through my memories..."

Revelations : "Well, play to your strengths..."

Click here for Part Two...

next home search contact Interviews next