Abarat: 2B (Or Not 2A)...

The Fifth Revelatory Interview - part one
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 22 July 2003

With many thanks to David Dodds. Your help, as ever, is warmly appreciated.

Revelations : "Thank you for sparing the time - from the look of your studio it looks like Abarat 2 is still in process?"

Clive : "Well, I've delivered the book and I've delivered ninety-five of the paintings - well, when I say 'delivered' they're actually here, but they're done. So now there are probably ten to do, maybe fifteen, so I'm hoping to do that and the little editing - they tell me it's little, I haven't had the notes yet! But they're very good - Jane and Joanna are extremely good. They put their notes together for me first so I never, never get two; I never get two sets of instructions, they synthesise them so that I actually get a single page of instruction. And I've always said to Jane that it usually ends up that I do fifty percent of what they suggest and I've done thirteen books with Jane now, including Abarat, I think that's right, and it's pretty much been consistently about fifty percent of the notes.
"It's not that I think the other fifty percent are nonsense, I just disagree - it comes down to aesthetics, it comes down to 'that's your book and not my book'. And one of the nice things about Jane being a novelist; having become a novelist and a successful novelist in the time that she's been editing me is that she's really started, and she says this, freely admits that she sees the process from a different angle now. Because you know you do. Sometimes what seem like small changes - 'Oh, just change paragraph five on page forty' has huge consequence - and that's often not seen."

Revelations : "Particularly in a four-book series where you're the only one who knows."

Abarat - French edition

Clive : "Right, you are so, so right."

Revelations : "So the repercussions could be huge."

Clive : "Absolutely - that's it."

Revelations : "So, Book 2 is delivered, but it's a long way off from publication, which I don't think is where we were when we spoke to you last."

Clive : "It's... two things have changed - both very good. One is we're now in 26 languages, so the foreign rights situation became incredibly rich and the sense was, 'we want to have the world catch up with this,' and so everybody's in roughly the same place, we get as many first volumes out as possible before we go into the second. And the other thing was - 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."

Revelations : "But you've got the same strands to pick up..."

Clive : "Yes, and the same pictures to illuminate those strands, but it is a testament to how stories develop in your head as to how different... and one day, presumably, I'll show everybody exactly how! You know, I haven't thrown it away..."

Revelations : "We'll be knocking on your door yelling, 'show it to us' "

Clive : "But it is a 600 page manuscript, the first book, and there's nothing - there's names in common, but the islands that are visited are different, everything is pretty different. And it came from a profound desire, on my part, not to. 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 - "

Revelations : " - payback?"

Clive : "Yes, exactly - 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."

Revelations : "Was it a faster process to write the second time?"

Abarat - Italian edition

Clive : "November through to... I delivered it two weeks ago, so what is that? Seven months, or a little shorter, but not overly much. I mean part of it was I was oiled - I went into it sort of oiled and at my writing pace and there was a week... there was a very melancholy week when I sat a lot and stared through the window and thought, 'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,' and then I thought you know, if I don't do this I'm always going to regret it and I owe it not just to the readers and to myself but also to this narrative that I've begun to get moving. I owe it to that narrative to get this right and to not compromise with the process and I got it down, so it's done."

Revelations : "Why do you do this to yourself?"

Clive : "Well, I mean it's interesting - I don't know why, but why does... it's not like there's a choice. Truly."

Revelations : "Well there's always The Art 3!"

Revelations : "Aw - come on, come on, please!"

Clive : "No, no - point made, point made!"

Revelations : "What's interesting is that you're clearly so emotionally attached to this one that with such a major setback as that it didn't make you think about all the other projects that are around."

Clive : "Well, it did, it did, of course - "

Abarat - Brazilian / Portugese edition

Revelations : " - because you could have rebounded in almost any direction."

Clive : "Completely - and it made me very respectful of the time that I've taken to deliver Art 3 and Galilee 2 because I think there are narrative solutions which have to be right, otherwise... I mean, it's the first time I've ever made an error of that scale in my writing career... But it was a big error and it taught me to take nothing for granted and don't ever assume that you've got the knack because, I don't know if I were to put the book in front of you that you would be disappointed, but I do know that if I put the two books in front of you, you would have no difficulty at all in choosing which was the better of the two books."

Revelations : "But surely this was picked up by... whoever had seen a draft?"

Clive : "No, no, no-one had seen it - oh, except David [Dodds]."

Revelations : "Because a year ago you were talking in terms of it being more or less finished, that David had read it..."

Clive : "Only David, only David and he's typing, so that's a very difficult way to judge things anyway. It's not the same as..."

Revelations : "You don't absorb things..."

Clive : "Exactly - though he's a wonderfully acute critic and marvellously observant. The only person who could know this wasn't what it needed to be, was the person who knew what the other thing could be. Which is me, right? And I did know and now I've written it and so - 'Phew!' I mean it was a pretty dark time - you know? It's very, very happy now. It's done!"

Revelations : "So you're done writing that - now you need to focus on the paintings. Are you doing more painting in the middle of the day?"

Clive : "Actually, that's right and this morning I painted. This afternoon, if you hadn't been here..."

Revelations : "Which is completely out of character."

Picasso - Matador and Nude Woman, 1970

Clive : "Completely out of rhythm, yeah. Though I've been trying to get a little kinder on myself and to shorten the day a little bit. Bringing my day to an end at eight or nine rather than ten or eleven, just because at a certain point, just doing that seven days a week is just masochistic, and... I've got - there's a lot I want to do in my life yet and I'm fifty and I need to pace myself. And I am conscious of what can I do to make sure that all the books that are in my head, and presumably a bunch that aren't even there yet get written. And frankly, if I get my Biblical span, my threescore years and ten I'm outta luck, 'cos I've got to fit...! I'm very aware of those things and my Dad passed away in his early 70's. His father passed away in his 60's, my mother's father passed away in his early 60's so the males of the family don't do so well... The females on the other hand, do spectacularly well! So, we'll hope that's..."

Revelations : "...and they've never had a gay one...!"

Clive : "No, that's completely right, that we know of, that we know of - that's the key word!
"I think to be motivated, to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be ambitious, all those things are all so hugely important in the process of making sure you continue to live. I think that it's good to have a grand plan which reaches way beyond that threescore years and ten, and the artists, many of the artists I admire, and I'm thinking more particularly of painters than of writers and certainly poets too, did extraordinary work in the late phases of their lives. I'm talking now about in their seventies and eighties and in Titian's case, for example, into his nineties, Picasso the same, and I think we can all probably look forward, we in the Western world can look forward putting aside some mighty cataclysm that ends everything, to enhanced lives and more comfortable lives in our 70's and 80's than our fathers and mothers and certainly their fathers and mothers and so I want to be producing work...There are incredibly sad lives in fantasy - Peake's life is perhaps the saddest - because it seems to take so much from us so early. Tolkein, on the other hand, lived to be a robust eighty...six, was he?"

Revelations : "In a little semi-detatched house... although fame came very late in his case - it was work and play at the same time because he was teaching and lecturing."

Titian - The Flaying of Marsyas, 1575/6

Clive : "Right, the Swedes have just released this in the last two or three weeks, released a study that says those who become famous very early in their lives, that is in their early twenties, are less likely to live long or longer than those who make it in the middle of their lives or late in their lives. They can't quite figure out why this is, but it seems to be right across the board, whatever your discipline. The only thing they can figure out, they're guessing, is that if you make it young then a certain sense of ambition and drive gets fulfilled."

Revelations : "Sort of, 'Where do I go from here?' "

Clive : "Yes. I often think that that about tennis players and ballet dancers; people whose jobs are necessarily truncated."

Revelations : "Whereas I look at them and think heck, I've had it - I haven't had a chance and I'm already too old!"

Clive : "Well in those businesses, in those professions, certainly. In the arts and in the related areas of course there are endless examples of people who began late or late-ish and became stellar: Gaugin giving up his job at 42 and becoming a painter; Conrad not giving up the sea until his early 40's and becoming a writer. I think there are lots of examples - poets, again, there's lots of amazing poets who really only find their voices quite late in life. So I think the arts are kind to age in many ways because wisdom is an important thing you look for in art, and I hope I'm a wiser writer now than I was - I'm jumping to one of your questions - I've written some damn daft things in my time, no question!"

Revelations : "You know we'll always ask the question you don't want!"

Clive : "No - It would be hard for me, however to orphan any of that stuff; to wilfully say that it's not mine. But sure, there's some stuff - there's a lot of stuff where... my politics have changed, my religious... the intricacies of my religious feelings have changed. Just about everything about me has changed and I suppose will continue to change and I think that one of the things that you hope for as an artist is change because you want, in a way, to slough off a skin every five years so that the voice that you're speaking with is not the voice that you were speaking with five years ago or ten years ago, otherwise I think there's a danger...
"I mean, Steve King was doing an interview online very recently and he said, while he is the first to say that he will continue to write, and the rumours of him stopping are greatly exaggerated, he feels he has pretty much said what he wants to say, and I feel like a certain Clive Barker absolutely said what he wanted to say and then was no longer that Clive Barker anymore - the process of saying it made me different - does that make sense?"

Revelations : "There have always been more facets to what you do, so it's surely been easier to shuffle, to change lane."

Clive : "Right. And by going from painting to novels and from novels to short stories and then to a film or two I keep my interest in all of them engaged and fresh. Painting has been a wonderful discovery for me. Not that I wasn't painting before, but I was never painting on this scale and six years ago nothing in this house existed! And that's a lot of paintings!"

Revelations : "We were asking David what was on the walls before Abarat...!"

Clive : "And that outpouring of things is transformative of itself, just to let a lot of things out. Then it's like you have a lot of books stacked in front of one another, as it were, on a shelf and you have to remove the row in front before you can access the row behind. And I feel what I'm doing is removing, by the process of writing or painting, a row of images or ideas and revealing and putting them in a place where I don't need them any longer, where they can be somebody else's and they pretty much disappear from my mind, my imagination - I mean my knowledge of my own books is woeful!"

Revelations : "So what you're saying is that there is another shelf, that there is another layer and another layer, rather than just working your way along one shelf."

Clive : "That's completely right. Well, I think I do sort of work along it once and then that shelf's... you know... and I think Imajica was one layer in a way and it just came away..."

Revelations : "...wholesale!"

Clive : "Yeah! Exactly! And it came to an end with that huge book and then I moved over here and everything and that was the beginning of a new shelf and I think when the Abarat Quartet is done that will also mark the end of a shelf, honestly."

Revelations : "You're clearly thinking a lot about age and what's to come and we talked before the Abarat books began about how you wanted to do things differently. Are you going to become more centered here and less visible as you work your way through this 'shelf' ?"

Imajica - a whole shelf of a book

Clive : "I think I have become, I've already done that. I leave the house very seldom - everything I need is here: my husband is here; my best friend, David, is here; my animals are here; my daughter is here; the means to write and paint and see movies is here. We'll go out to the theatre once in a while, though theatre isn't a very vital energy here unfortunately, but I'm very content and I'm made very easily content by the process of being being able to have access to the ones that I love and the art that I love and the processes of making art. And I'm not a great eater, so the idea of going out for a meal doesn't do it for me. I don't drink, so I'm a very cheap night out! You know, we like to go down to the ocean once in a while and up into the mountains and we had to go out to the desert to get our new puppy and those things are fun, but I'm very happy up here."

Revelations : "You seem more comfortable with Los Angeles than you did."

Clive : "Well, I think for the very reason that you distinguished when you first came up here - this is a very quiet place and my life has found a nice level. You know the Seraphim guys are doing very well - they have offices now, they're off doing their thing and doing it very well and seem to be going from strength to strength and so ... and again this could all change in two or three years - now whether that would mean a change in location or change in ambition, I don't know. I never seem to stay absolutely the same for too long. But I'm certainly quite happy to be here, in the place where I am now."

Revelations : "You know, if you wanted to move to Hawaii, we don't mind, for our holidays we'd be more than happy to come out to see you - actually, if you kept both places that would be good for us...!"

Clive : "Yeah, yeah! I would go stir crazy in Kaua'i, I think. my thing about Kaua'i is that is the most beautiful place that I know and I would hate to become familiar with it. I'd hate it to be a place I just took for granted and I think I've sort of a little bit taken this place for granted now, except when I come back from New York or come back from some other corner of the country and I come back into this quiet place, I'm reminded of how blessed we are up here, but I'd like to keep Hawaii - it retains it's magic and I'm as excited as I ever was by the prospect of going out there."

Click here for Part Two...

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