Leitmotifs And Dark Beliefs

The Second Revelatory Interview - part one
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 24 September 1999

With thanks to Fiona McIntosh at HarperCollins UK (who pops up once or twice in the text below...) and to Joe Daley in Los Angeles. Your help is warmly appreciated.

Revelations : "To kick off: how's the tour been?"

Clive : "It's been wonderful in one sense, actually, it's been wonderful in lots of senses - we've had a wonderful turn-out at the signings, people have been extremely kind and there's been a great enthusiasm for The Essential - which has been great. It's been a hard time, I won't deny that, because of Dad's passing. It's strange to be on the road so quickly after his death."

Revelations : "We almost anticipated you saying, 'forget it...'"

Clive : "Well, Fiona was saying that in the car on the way over, but I'm glad I didn't, I'm glad because Dad wouldn't have approved of that - it wouldn't have been his style."

Revelations : "That doesn't make it any easier on you though."

Clive : "No, I guess that's right. There've been times when I've thought, 'Jeez, this was the wrong decision,' but..."

Revelations : "It's clearly been on your mind - it's not something you've hidden behind, waiting for the question to come out."

Clive : "No, well I think in one sense I owe that to who I am and to the dialogue I have with people like yourselves. To put on a brave face and pretend this is not part of who I am right now is not my style. My style is to say, 'well, this is how I feel and this is the complexities of my present situation,' if you will. And people have been so kind and responsive, and you know, we're taking some of Dad's ashes back to Los Angeles with us - so there's a part of him sitting in my room upstairs right now and there's something quite nice about that, but there's also something quite moving about that which is hard to...you know he never went on the road with me, but now he is."

Revelations : "One of the things you mentioned last night was how you can't hide behind a public face - we saw a great quote about Stephen King going off on a book-signing tour and his kid, Owen, saying, 'Oh Daddy's going off to be Stephen King now.'"

Clive : "There you go, that's interesting."

Revelations : "Because at home, of course, he's just 'Dad'."

Clive : "I don't have that same discontinuity between my public persona and my private persona - for one thing, the kind of Q & A's that we do - the kind of things we did last night and the night before are ways for me to say things which are really close to my heart. And I think the further I've gone from being a horror author, the less easy it is to put on the 'Cheeky Chappie from Liverpool', you know, because the 'Cheeky Chappie from Liverpool' can take a ghoulish delight in all kinds of excesses and you know that character was very fun, but it was a game I played, it was a 33 year old's game, you know, and I enjoyed playing it immensely, but it was not truly me. Now, is what I am now truly me? Well that's an existential question, isn't it? It's certainly much closer to me. I think - here's how I come out of it - I feel as though if I can't do this in the most honest way I know how, then I prefer not to do it. So that really means, in Bristol for instance, going off into some fairly abstruse, or obtuse metaphysical discussion with the audience which I thoroughly enjoy. It means talking about things which are sometimes moving or disturbing to me here, and maybe walking a bit of a tightrope. I certainly walk more of a tightrope in more of the interviews and..perhaps not the interviews but in the public appearances this time than I ever have The Essential Clive Barker before. And that's certainly a consequence, in part, of Dad's passing, but it's also, I think, a consequence of the nature of the material I'm actually out on the road with. And The Essential Clive Barker is actually much closer to who I am than anything I've done before. It's got all these words of Clive Barker talking about his processes - I've never done that before."

Revelations : "It's like a 'Greatest Hits' package."

Clive : "I'm on the road with 'The Greatest Hits'!"

Revelations : "It's a bit of a Pandora's box really - once you've invited the first question where you've answered in the first person, suddenly you're open to people asking you all sorts of questions."

Clive : "There's no question that that's true, Sarah, and I don't know how you get by that - there's no question that's true. I've had people asking me questions this time that have been startlingly personal. But then the other part of that equation, if you will, is that there is this sense that...I've certainly been on tour with things where I've felt I'm just presenting the surface of who I am. I haven't felt that this time. I've felt connected and engaged intellectually and emotionally with everything I've been doing, and that's not always possible. It may be that sometimes just the very kind of questions you get asked mean that you've heard them so many times you just answer by rote."

Revelations : "You don't mind going back over Galilee after a big tour just last year?"

Clive : "It's much more like that with the Hellraiser stuff and the Candyman stuff. It's much less like that with this..."

Revelations : "You don't just get Fiona to answer the questions for you?"

Clive : "Well, she certainly could, she certainly could!"

Fiona : "I've been forging your signature for years!"

Revelations : "Great! There's stuff we've got here to be signed..."

Clive : "Right! Right! I think the thing with a big novel like Galilee is there's been interesting questions from people. There's enough issues in the book - you know the Civil War stuff, the interracial stuff, the fantasy stuff, the stuff about Jefferson, you could go on - there's a lot of stuff to talk about. The movies I get very bored about and the interesting thing about the 'Greatest Hits', if you will, is there's lots there to talk about and everybody finds something in there that they like, and other people, you know, find things they don't like, that's fine - that's got to be the nature of it."

Revelations : "The next thing is you'll find someone's put together 'Clive Barker's Greatest Hits Volume 2 : here's the package it should have been !' - there must have been some close misses."

Clive : "There were actually...that's a very good question, there were...The closest miss - the only thing that I think should have been in there, truly - it was simply too big to go in in its entirety, and I just didn't feel it should be cut - was the wraparound stories for Revelations."

Revelations : "Tell me, is Chiliad pronounced with a hard or soft 'Ch' ?"

Clive : "Chiliad. [soft]"

Revelations : "It's like a lot of the Imajica names."

Clive : "Yeah, right, right, right - Yzordderrex - it's the same reading a Russian novel, right? Everyone has a different pronounciation. Chiliad: those two stories I would have liked in their entirety in The Essential, but they constituted, I don't know, 50 pages? And there just wasn't room. Otherwise I'm pleased that firstly there's a little of the plays, not too much, just enough to engage people. There's a lot from Weaveworld, a lot from Sacrament. Imajica turned out to be very difficult to excerpt, because of the way the narrative is constructed; it's very hard to just pick it up in the middle and just say, 'now read on...' it's very, very hard."

Revelations : "There are threads which start early on and resurface later and later again."

Clive : "Right, and it turned out that there were long sections that I liked that had things in the middle of them - things which were so deeply knotted, so deeply embedded in earlier parts of the narrative that there was frankly no way of excerpting them without begging more questions than they could possibly answer."

Revelations : "We were doing this last night - we were looking at all the books and saying if you could remember two or three things about each book, what would jump out? And a surprising number of them were the things you've selected."

Clive : "Good! We like that! Now what was missing?"

Revelations : "Well, I love Great and Secret Show - the scene where the guy's walking through the woods and there's an action replay of the place that was flooded years and years ago, and the girls are swimming around him."

Clive : "Now here's why I didn't put that in : the set-up for that is - I mean it's a vision, it's a great, fun vision - but the set-up is very elaborate and it was certainly one of those that made it almost to the final selection. But I felt as though some things were just going to frustrate people, and I wanted this to be one of those things where you could pick it up - all right, maybe you knew a little about Clive Barker - maybe you only had 10 minutes to read that day, but there was going to be stuff in there that was just going to engage you."

Revelations : "So it's a toilet book then, a Readers' Digest..."

Clive : "Yes! It's totally a toilet book. Absolutely! It's a bath book."

Revelations : "'My book is toilet' by Clive Barker."

Clive : "Absolutely... exactly, exactly."

Revelations : "Maybe you should have used that in the publicity...!"

Clive : "I'm afraid many of my favourite books fall into that category - the beaten-up copy..."

Revelations : "I agree - I've been reading Moby Dick for about two and a half years now."

Clive : "Right, right, right - there's two dicks in the toilet and one of them's Moby! No, I think that's right - bath book, toilet book, train ride book - all of those sorts of informal places where you pick up something that you just want to have fun with, and where your attention is going to wander, and then wander back again - that's the kind of book this is, and I make no other claim for it, and I like those kind of books. I'm a great fan of those kind of books."

Revelations : "What distinguished the short stories that went into The Essential in their entirety from the ones that'll go into the short story collection?"

Clive : "Right. Well the main thing was - the key word was 'essential' - how do I choose things which are essential? What does that actually mean? In one sense, arrogantly enough, every writer thinks every fucking word they put down is essential!"

Revelations : "It's Gospel!"

Goya - Colossus / Panic - Inspiration for In The Hills, The Cities

Clive : "Exactly! I have 20 books to choose from, obviously I wasn't going to be able to put all that stuff down. In The Hills, The Cities I chose because it was... because it's a story I get a huge amount of letters about. It's a story that really found its way into people's heads. People talk about it a lot - because I think it creates in those two cities, in the giants, an image which people haven't seen before, and so it seemed to me to be important. The Forbidden I chose because I actually love the story, and it doesn't hurt that it's Candyman, and actually I think it's a very strong piece of storytelling and it's also about story - so it had that sort of double resonance - it was actually about the mechanisms of stories and why we tell dark stories. So it seemed self-reflecting in that sense. And I think if I was to characterise the material in any way and say, 'Well, what are the things which have made me make these choices as opposed to other choices, I would say that a self-reflective or meditative tone is one which clearly marks the collection out. I think I've chosen, by and large, things which are perhaps more meditative in tone than I would have done, say, five years ago. And I've actually written some more since then, I mean the passages from Galilee. Both Galilee and Sacrament are more meditative in tone and more philosophical in tone and more willing to indulge in digressions in service of metaphysics than previous books. There's metaphysics in Weaveworld but it's pretty much subsumed."

Revelations : "It's story-led."

Clive : "Right. It's very story-led. When Imajica came along...Imajica is one long digression, you know. It's very 19th century in that sense, you know, sort of feeling like, now we're going to go off and, let's go here, now let's go here. Sure, there is a single arch of narrative which takes Gentle from total incomprehension to marriage and love and reunion with the one he's been parted from and confrontation with his father, but that's actually a pretty loose narrative edge on which to build a thousand page novel. But it's very interesting, you know you talk about Moby Dick. Moby Dick actually has an extremely simple narrative."

Revelations : "But there are so many layers underneath."

Clive : "But the layers and the layers and the layers...Ahab lost his leg to a white whale, he's really pissed off, he wants the white whale, now read on. But you know, one of the greatnesses of Moby Dick is how its digressions all seem, to me at least, to become necessary. so that by the end of it you can't imagine any of that material being out.
"Sacrament, by contrast, is a much more economical piece of writing - it's character-driven, it's very strongly character-driven, and so is Galilee, actually. I mean Galilee is about character and story and the idea of story itself. Packed with digressions of course - the Zelim section fom that book is, arguably - could be - lifted in its entirety."

Revelations : "It's a short story in itself."

Clive : "And that's what I did, that's how I put it into The Essential and I loved it like that. I agonised quite a bit about whether to keep that in the novel. I realised my form's my inspiration, my aesthetic. My inspirations are always non-classical, in the sense of if we're defining classical story structure as being something which is economical and rigorous - Racine's plays would fall into this category, you know, by contrast with Shakespeare's plays, which are ragbags of stuff, you know, which bulge - and you can cut Hamlet - which would run five and a half hours uncut - 29,000 different ways and have a different play, all of which will be Hamlet. Do you see what I mean? You can cut Dickens that same way - you can actually cut Bleak House and make 20 different kinds of Bleak House, all of which will be Dickensian, all of which will be Bleak House, but will have their own nuances and emphases."

Revelations : "But something like that follows the way the audience wanted it to go anyway, because it was written in short segments..."

Clive : "Completely right - so you have that sort of to-ing and fro-ing."

Revelations : "Talking about Shakespeare for a bit..."

Clive : "Yeah - lets!"

Revelations : "As particularly aside from Shakespeare - you know how Shakepeare always had a subtitle to his plays? - and you started doing that with your plays early on... Like L'Abattoir d'Amour..."

Clive : "Right, right."

Revelations : "In our heads, when we think of Sacrament we think of the working title 'Killer of Last Things'. Do you still think of the working titles in your head when you think back to a book? Was Galilee called Galilee from day one or was it something else which developed into Galilee?"

Clive : "Galilee was originally 'The Holy Family', which is now one of the part titles of the book, and my then editor who was a man called John Silbersack..."

Revelations : "Yeah, we were sorry to hear about John yesterday."

Clive : "His firing? Yeah, it's the night of the long knives over there - the blood's running in the gutters of HarperCollins. John had tried to dissuade me from calling Sacrament Sacrament because he thought it would be perceived as a religious book and I said that's fine, because it is!"

Revelations : "Hey, thanks for reading the book!"

Clive : "Right!"

Revelations : "So Galilee was The Holy Family - were there any other subtitles that didn't make it - like Hellraiser was 'What A Woman Will Do For A Good Fuck'?"

Clive : "That was a great one! The thing is, very often, titles like that carry information which is genuinely relevant to the material. The Holy Family is actually, in one sense, a better title for Galilee than Galilee."

Revelations : "We suspected, when we first saw it, that it would be the title of the second Galilee."

Clive : "Ahh - there's such a big twist in number two that will become apparent in the title."

Revelations : "The Unholy Family?"

Clive : "Right! - Not that big a twist!"

Revelations : "The Complete Bastards?"

Clive : "The Complete Bastards! Titles are very important to me and I like... Very often I'll agonise over titles only to find that I come back to the thing that I've been using... roughly scrawling on something. So I had 12 much more elaborate titles for Weaveworld which I'd just been referring to as 'The Weaveworld' - and my then agent said well, just call it Weaveworld."

Revelations : "In Germany it's called 'Gyre'."

Weaveworld - German edition

Clive : "Is that right? Do you just think that the word gyre has a stronger association? Gyre's actually a pretty cool title. Great and Secret Show is a title I love. Sacrament I love as a title, but Silbersack's point was that it was too religious and it had damaged the numbers of books that he could get into the stores - and here was I going to follow it up with The Holy Family? - Please!"

Revelations : "Roll on up the Fundamentalists..."

Clive : "So I, out of sheer perversity, said I'd call it Galilee, which was every bit as religious a title..."

Revelations : "And he didn't see that?"

Clive : "He didn't see that! Which was very funny, to my eyes very funny. But titles are very important and actually very often part titles - The Time Remaining, which is the first part title of Galilee, is a part title I love."

Revelations : "Like In The Kingdom of The Cuckoo..."

Clive : "In The Kingdom of The Cuckoo - absolutely - and actually, I almost want to say that - this is a perverse overstatement - but I feel that my favourite pages of Clive Barker text are the contents pages of Weaveworld!"

Revelations : "The trouble is, there's a critic out there who agrees with you!"

Clive : "And more than one! By which I mean that there's something infinitely moving, sexy about pages of titles. Give you an example of where I get that enthusiasm from - Moby Dick would be an example, where 'The Whiteness of The Whale' - what a fucking great title that is, The Whiteness of The Whale. There's also Yeats - who is a great hero of mine - his early poems, well, actually a lot of his poems, are named for the first line of the poem - When You Are Old And Full Of Sleep - so you get a list of Yeats' poems, particularly The Complete Yeats, the contents pages are heartbreaking if you look because you've just got this wonderful sense not only of the glories you're going to discover when you open the book, but also just, I mean, because he was so masterful, just an eloquence in those first lines."

Revelations : "Presumably the first line of a poem causes as much trouble for the writer (and reader) as does the first line of a novel..."

Clive : "Perhaps more."

Revelations : "It sets a tempo."

Clive : "Completely right - I had an experience recently...I don't have many of my poems by heart, but I will give you this poem by heart. I was sitting in the bathroom, tired at the end of the day, and a line came into my head, and I thought, hmm, and I went - I keep notebooks all around, actually those clipboards, all around the house - and I sat with this line for a moment and then I went to... I've been putting poems together for the Scarlet Gospels project and I was thinking about Plato and Plato's ideas in The Symposium about the fact that love is in fact about discovering the other half. And the line I had in my head was: Brother Plato - right or wrong? And I went to write this down, and this so seldom happens to me:

Brother Plato - right or wrong?
Says the tribe where I belong,
Is a family of souls in two,
Me a half, another - you.
Let's stay together, one, tonight,
And prove our brother Plato right.

- and I wrote it down in the speed it took to tell you that and I didn't change anything and it's a very eloquently argued poem and it's not mine! I don't know where it came from, I don't know who put it into my head..."

Revelations : "But goddamn you're going to publish it!"

Click here for Part Two...

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