Pinhead's Progress

The Sixteenth Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 15 and 22 December 2006

With thanks, as ever, to Julia.

Since our last main interview in September, which was structured around questions sent into the Revelations website for Clive to answer, we've had Clive's appearances at the British Fantasy Society's Fantasycon - his first UK convention appearance in fifteen years - as well as news of an impending remake of Hellraiser to contend with.
After covering publication plans for a collection of Clive's non-fiction pieces that we've edited (more news on this soon!) and having moved past the finer points of the Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, we started with Fantasycon before getting to grips with the ever-changing timetable of projects in the Barker household...

Revelations : "Maybe we can pick up on your reflections on Fantasycon and on having spent a little time back in England?"

Clive : "The Fantasycon thing was entirely positive - I had a good time and I didn't expect to enjoy myself quite as much as I did, frankly. I mean, I was treated beautifully by the organisers. It was a nice size - it wasn't unwieldy in the way you get with some of the American cons where you're literally dealing with thousands of people wandering around with plastic bags full of freebies in Red Sonja costumes, you know? For instance, the ComicCon in San Diego, which I still go to, but Clive with Steve Gallagher at Fantasycon 2006 I sort of steel myself for because it's so fucking big and I'm not a great fan of crowds. To me, the British con was just nice; it was a nice size and there were very few, if any actually, questions along the lines of, 'What do you think of Hellraiser VIII?', there was very little of that, for which I was grateful. It was nicely literary. I found the debates interesting and enriching and the people incredibly pleasant, so nothing but thumbs up from me.
"The other part of coming back to England is a bit of a curate's egg really - it was wonderful to go back to England and to go back to Liverpool, of course, to see my family, but you know England is a foreign country to me now; it's changed radically in so many ways and there's a lot of things I still love about it and yet I also feel as if it's being seized by a lot of American bullshit - you know, McDonalds and pizza houses and I really regret that.
"I took a couple of night walks around London, which I was always fond of doing when I lived in Wimpole Street, when the city sort of calmed down a bit and I enjoyed myself immensely then, when everything was a little quieter and the city regained a lot of its charm, the magic that it had when I was living there.
"Liverpool is a city in change, in rapid change in preparation for the European Capital Of Culture event and you can see the money that's being poured into particularly the inner city: there are cranes everywhere and building everywhere and it's nice to see my city, which was in a little bit of a doldrums in the '80s, sort of being given a new lease of life. My part in the Capital Of Culture event is still in development, so it's very hard for me to say very much cogent about it... I've proposed some ideas to them which have already been accepted...
"I love Liverpool and I always will and I was thinking actually as I've been very tentatively looking at Art 3 and just beginning to focus my attentions there, knowing that in the next few years I'm going to tackle that - you know that Liverpool obviously has a significant part to play (well, not that significant) but has a part to play in Everville and has another part to play in the third book and it's interesting: I've got to be careful about this, I've got to make sure I'm describing a city which still exists, given this rapid transformation."

Revelations : "That's interesting: I've always seen the Liverpool of Everville as a historical setting, seen through Maeve's memories and imagination."

Clive : "Yes, of course it is, and yet I also would like people to be able to go to Liverpool with Art 3 in their hands and be able to go to a given place, you see what I mean? Because I think that it's possible in Kauai with Galilee to visit the Geary house you know, to follow that track, and I'd like to make sure that I get the geography right with Art 3 because you're right, Maeve has a mental construction of Liverpool, a dream Liverpool which is of course a Liverpool of the very remote past but Liverpool is Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008 sufficiently old a city and has been - perhaps even almost accidentally - careful with some of its older buildings that I'd like to think, as I say, that people would be able to have Art 3 under their arms and go to a given place and find it there and so I'm going to make myself familiar in the next few years as I back and forth to Liverpool and develop whatever I'm going to do with the Capital of Culture stuff that I'm going to make sure I study the city a little bit more closely. There's some very magical backwaters, particularly actually in central Liverpool; little alleyways which lead onto squares and I've always had, I think, a love of the secret side of cities - it's particularly clear in Imajica when the idea of a city as a body is offered up, that cities enthral me and the first city I was ever in thrall with was of course Liverpool and so I'd like to celebrate the city in Art 3 and yes, certainly I've got to take into account Maeve's dreaming of it but I'd just like to get the geography right."

Revelations : "You mentioned a couple of months ago that you were planning to have completed the final draft of Scarlet Gospels, subject to a final polish, by the end of this calendar year - how did you get on?"

Clive : "I've delivered to my typist everything from Scarlet Gospels; they've typed it all out and I'm just starting now the nine months process of refining and just making it better. It's 232,000 words, however, just because it's been typed and I've got a number of words and whatever, it's very tentative because the next piece of work to be done on it is in a way the most important of the lot, which is the subtle surgery which comes with the desire just to make the thing better."

Revelations : "A nine-month polish is longer than normal, isn't it?"

Clive : "Yes it is, but it's a longer than normal book, I mean it's the time that Imajica took to be polished and I don't know what the word-count of Imajica is, my guess is Imajica is 40,000 words longer than this, but I don't have a really accurate number in my head. It's just very hard to make any real judgement about how long it's going to take because it's not just a question of reading and correcting a piece of syntax here or putting a comma there - for me it's also a chance to step back from it for a little while while they've been typing it up and now, on Monday next I can step back in and start the process of simply making the work better. I'm pretty sure that what I have right now would be printable but it wouldn't be me doing my best and my readers deserve that. So that's where that is.
"The enormity of Scarlet Gospels, not actually even the wordage but the conceptual enormity... We're going to Hell, guys! We're going to meet Lucifer, we're going to see all those things that I've talked about almost in passing in other stories, or hinted at in other stories, this time we're going to see the geography, this time there's going to be, if not a literal map, you could certainly draw a mental map of Hell from the story and it would not resemble anything that Dante cooked up or actually any other vision of Hell; I think it is unto itself. There's Hell, but also going to Golgotha, seeing Christ crucified; this isn't stuff I would want to treat lightly or without due reverence. And the sheer scale of that... I was carrying it around for a long time and it was a big old weight and a number of times when you've seen me it's been sitting on my head and even though I'm not done with it yet, I still have one more journey through its complexities, I suppose since I've let it go, since I put the final full-stop on, I feel a lightening of myself."

Revelations : "Can we run through then the impact of that nine-month polish time on the timings for the Hellraiser screenplay and Abarat 3?"

Clive : "Well, Abarat 3 is in front of me right now and I have plotted it in the time that I've been waiting for Scarlet Gospels to be fully spell-checked so that I don't have to deal with that minor stuff when I do the final pass. I have taken ten days to bring together, from those file boxes, where we'd arranged the contents into piles: one of those piles, about seven or One of Clive's early Abarat sketches eight inches tall, was all my notes on Abarat 3 and now I've gone through all that and thrown out the dumb ideas, taken out the songs and put them in a separate box - so I've now got a repository of Abaratian songs and poems, I'm talking about hundreds now, which I will either use or generate new versions or however it strikes me as I get closer to the material - but what is wonderful is that I've finished that whole process; I am looking right now at maybe a dozen sets of notes to still go through which I shall probably finish this afternoon and that will leave me with Abarat plotted and ready to rock and roll."

Revelations : "So you've almost done the most daunting part?"

Clive : "Exactly right, the part I'm most scared of, where I tie together the paintings and the narrative in a way that makes sense to me, and I'm hoping obviously will make sense to my readers. You know by the time I got to this last year or two years of painting I was not painting blind anymore, I was painting with a very clear sense of where this narrative was going to go and it was while I was painting and looking in my mind's eye at the canvas and the narrative that I realised I couldn't shove all this into four books, it required a fifth to elegantly, I hope, bring all this material into a conclusion which is surprising and I hope very satisfying.
"So it's all grist to the mill, but it's nice when you put the notes together and you go, oh yeah, OK, between all these and while I've been breaking off and painting because an idea has occurred to me, now when I sit down at my desk and look at all those ideas, that's the novel, it's right there. That was very satisfying to me and it really felt like my methodology had proved itself finally. I mean the first book was, you know what it was; I was starting off from zero and I think a lot of people had dodgy expectations of what it was going to be and I think a lot of those people have been converted and if they haven't, I think the third book will do a lot to lay to rest the anxiety that somehow or other I am softening in my middle age and that Abarat is somehow me revisiting Narnia or Wonderland or whatever - it isn't, and it is never more clear than in Book Three where the narrative turns to the monstrous and the very, very dark.
"You know, just a couple of teasers: Bill Quackenbush finding Wolfswinkel's hats... where the water recedes from Chickentown there's a shitload of stuff which has been washed into the town and when the waters recede, dumped there, left there like the stuff you would find at a high water mark and a lot of that stuff is related to Abarat. There are forces within the town which arise pretty much out of nowhere just to make sure this stuff is burned. Whereas Mister Quackenbush, Daddy Quackenbush, who you know has always been a little sad character sitting in a smoke-filled world drinking beer, finds Wolfswinkel's hats, finds them washed up and left as garbage and he puts them on and he feels this flow of power he has never felt before. So that's sort of fun. What does a man as unpleasant as Bill Quackenbush do with the power he now has, now taken from a dead wizard? - not that he knows it's a dead wizard's; he knows nothing about these hats, it's just that when he puts them on, man, he feels amazing and because they are old felt hats he has them made up into a check shirt - he doesn't wear hats, but can wear this patchwork shirt - and carrying the power around with him."

Revelations : "That's great, our boys will love it when they hear that..."

Clive : "So tell me, what will they love about that?"

Revelations : "They find Bill Quackenbush an extraordinarily interesting character because he's a type of person they don't come up against and whilst you can obviously polarise opinion against him they do also feel sorry for him." Bill Quackenbush

Clive : "Yes, that picture of him standing in the boat, alone, like a big baby in a way. He is not a man by any manner of means who is one-dimensional, though so far I've written him, I think, in a fairly one-dimensional way, the third book is going to give me the chance to enrich his character immensely. The shirt of Wolfswinkel's hats and the power that is bestowed on him and what he does with it, that power is, I hope, going to be interesting because there's a bunch of very, very frightened townspeople - and they're right where he wants them: they're looking for a messianic voice that will tell them everything's gonna be OK and so here comes Bill with his very peculiar shirt talking in a way that they've never heard Bill talk before and sounding decidedly confident that, if needs be - this is his phrase: 'We will take the war to them,' he is very clear that if there is any more fucking around with his reality, as he calls it, then he will use all the power at his disposal - and he demonstrates that by raising a few thousand yes-men around him and arming them. He says if anybody wants to get in my way, there will be trouble and what's fun about that is I had not seen how important Bill was going to be."

Revelations : "Yes, and I hadn't anticipated how much of the action might be occurring back in Chickentown."

Clive : "Well, all that I just described is about six pages... it's not a significant amount."

Revelations : "So it's just a little tease then... "

Clive : "Well, for more of a tease, he makes a war machine..."

Revelations : "Given the timetable you've just outlined on Scarlet Gospels, and then writing time for Abarat, it sounds like it will be Autumn 2008 before we actually see Book Three published?"

Clive : "I think that would be exactly right. Joanna Cotler is so relaxed about this because she sees the big picture; she knows very well that it doesn't really matter how long the gap is between the books, as long as the books are the best things they can be. When we have five finished volumes it's going to be quite a beautiful thing - thousands of words, a whole new world described and celebrated in paint and words and poems and songs."

Revelations : "We get more questions asking about the timetable for the Abarat books than on anything else..."

Clive : "It's wonderful isn't it, I get the same thing. My thing has always been, I learned my lesson on Book Two - it was easily the most testing time of my working life to make something which I felt so good about until I read it over and decided it was shit, you know. I promised myself I would never, never, never do that again and it was an error made by somebody who was quite a way into his career and had got a little cocky and it was a lesson to me: don't get cocky, you can fuck up anytime and I will not give to my readers anything that is less than the best I can give them and if that means I trash my work and start all over again, then that's what it means.
Clive's handwritten notes for Abarat 3 "I don't believe it will happen again because I am doing what I am doing now - which is going meticulously through these notes that I made to myself about how elements would play throughout the narrative so that at the end of the books when puzzles are being solved there will be clues laid in the books which will be incredibly clear once folks see how they fit - it's like that god-awful book about Mary Magdalene, The Da Vinci Code, with clues being left like crumbs - some of them being taken by birds, but just enough being left to lead you to where Candy is going and to what's been on the cards since the very beginning - and when I say 'on the cards' that is not a joke, in the sense that the prologue of this book starts with a blind man reading tarot cards - and a blind man whose face has been burned off; so he was once in a huge fire... In fact, the opening sentence is probably going to be, 'The blind man woke from a dream of fire... ' I even know what the last line is but I'll keep that to myself as it's probably going to change!
"I think audiences are going to go, 'OK, I hadn't figured this - there's another element, another piece in play here,' another element of mystery and puzzle-solving; the cryptic stuff has always fascinated me, although I'm a terrible guy at crosswords - terrible, terrible, terrible. But the card game - and then the cards themselves, which I continue to paint slowly but surely - is going to contain a lot of images and ideas which I think, if audiences look closely at them... I'm hoping to get a layout with all 78 of them in a double-page spread, unfortunately the cards will be really small, but I'm keeping the images very clear and pure so hopefully they will work on that level, so that's that. Midnight Meat Train teaser poster "Meanwhile, Kitamura and I are meeting this afternoon about some script changes, minor stuff, on Midnight Meat Train."

Revelations : "The poster for Midnight Meat Train is just great! We got lots of comments on it and the message boards are full of a real pent-up demand for that movie - for that movie to deliver something that Plague just didn't give people."

Clive : "Oh yeah, well, Plague was a screw-up. I trusted the director and I wasn't going to do to Hal what had been done to me by interfering producers over the years; I had pretty much decided I would let him have his way and if we had to have an argument it would be in the cutting-room about the way the picture was cut - so he shoots the picture and then is absent from the cutting-room most of the time. He did a tough job on a very tough schedule but there were things that I begged for at the end, for the producers to throw in some extra money towards Hal so that he could go back and do a couple of extra days' shooting but they shook their heads and that was the end of that. It is not a movie I am pleased with or proud of - it feels compromised and Hal got in his car and drove away before the picture was even locked... There were some great scenes, there really are some great scenes and the central notion is wonderfully perverse and apocalyptic but I don't think Hal served his script how Hal-the-screenwriter imagined it, it was not the movie I read and that Hal pitched to us, a real shame as the script was just so damn good. "Meanwhile Anthony DiBlasi has rewritten, and is turning in today, Damnation Game. I haven't read it yet, I'll get it today. Anthony's Pig Blood Blues is phenomenal and has been bought and he will direct it."

Revelations : "Let's not forget your own impending screenplay... "

Clive : "My Hellraiser?"

Revelations : "The five-minute chat we had had here on Revelations that announced the Hellraiser re-make created intense interest."

Clive : "Are people positive or negative?"

Revelations : "The swiftest - and most vociferous - responses were negative. As the news has sunk in, there's more of a cautious wait and see developing, maybe more people having our own viewpoint that, if it's going to be re-made (and we have to accept that's Hollywood's current vogue) then our strongest desire is to have you involved as closely as possible to guide it towards something that at least respects the original."

Clive : "That's what it comes down to for me too - if this is gonna happen the last thing I want to happen is A.N.Other coming in and doing something which is violently antithetical to the feeling and the mythology."

Revelations : "Can we expect the screenplay to be more faithful to the book, or to the movie, or to the franchise?"

Clive : "I think it's going to be its own thing; frankly, it's going to have its own life. One of the things when I went to look at the movie again - I steeled myself, because I don't like watching my own work - I looked at it and I thought the performances by the women in this are what hold the movie together - particularly Clare; I mean I think Clare Higgins's performance is fucking magnificent, you know without her... . When I bring that movie to mind, it's her eyes, it's the images of her face, cleaning blood from her face, her taking down the hammer from the wall, the expression on her face totally transformed; it was an awesome performance. So what I'm saying is, although the structure may roughly be the same, it will be a totally different movie because it won't have Clare Higgins in it, it won't have Andy Robinson in it...
"We shouldn't downplay the fact that all movies work or fail on the basis of their performers, although sometimes performers can be a pain in the ass! We'll see, I'm excited."

Clare Higgins playing Julia in Hellraiser

Revelations : "And timing - is this a New Year thing?"

Clive : "I've already begun. While I'm waiting for Scarlet Gospels to arrive in typed form I have started Abarat Three and Hellraiser One on the basis that everything changes anyway in movies, so I'll just take a crack at it. I have some reasonably radical ideas; I want to answer questions that people posed in the first one like, 'Who was that old guy?' I think that's a completely valid question - and I have no answer to why he was eating a cricket, just that it was a disgusting image!"

Revelations : "You mean you have no answer yet..."

Clive : "No, I'll find one! Right. It feels to me as though one of the things people always wanted is a clearer sense of the mythology that lies behind this world and I'm hopefully delivering some of that."

Revelations : "Do you have a deadline set for delivery?"

Clive : "No, they haven't done that yet, which is actually great for me, because you know I like to get things going - touch wood, I've never started something and then had to finish because the payment didn't come through! I think Dimension definitely wants to make this movie and I think they are looking to me to re-freshen the palate and I have some ideas which I think will not violate the mythology, remembering of course that that mythology is hugely developed in the book I'm writing. So, I have the answers, I don't have to make up the answers, they're right here in the novel. If we actually go down to Hell for any tiny period, I have a very clear idea of what Hell should look like. "I'm just getting on because I know what will happen: Bob will call me in the New Year and say, 'Where's my script?' and I don't want to be saying, 'Where's the paperwork? I'm still waiting...'"

The Hellraiser Remake
Abarat Book Three
Abarat Books Four and Five
The Scarlet Gospels

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