Crossing the Thresholds
Clive Barker talks about his new novel Everville.
Clive Barker needs no introduction to readers of this magazine. This year sees a bonanza of Barker-related material coming our way and in development. There is Clive’s own film, Lord of Illusions, which should open in England this Autumn, there are Hellraiser 4, Candyman 2, The Thief of Always is underway as an animated musical and a television adaptation of Weaveworld is planned to start filming later in the year. On top of all this the paperback of his latest novel Everville has just been released.
Everville is presented as the second Book of the Art, a series started in The Great and Secret Show and which will end in a still-to-be-written finale. ‘I know what the end of the book is, and I think it’s a book away,’ explains Clive. ‘I think it’s a third and final book. It was always designed to be that way and unless something surprises me along the way that is where it will end.
‘I had a structure in my head, an idea of roughly where it was going to go and things come along and surprise you. In this particular case what came along and surprised me was a lot of characters. Characters that I really found myself much more intrigued by. Everville is a much more character driven book than the first one.’
Clive explained that he had spoken to Jane Johnson, his editor in England, about the series. One of the problems with a trilogy can be that the first book sets the scene, the second book marks time and the third book resolves everything. ‘I wanted the second book to have a shape, an energy and a dramatic arc which was all its own. I think for me the great pleasure, and I’ve never had this experience before, is that you can hit the ground running because you’ve already established what the vocabulary is, you’ve established the mythology, and you can get straight on with it. I had a really wonderful time writing the book as a consequence. There’s a kind of energy that comes from knowing that you’re off and rolling.’
The Great and Secret Show is a book based more in narrative and story than in the characters, whereas in Everville it is the characters that are the driving force. ‘What I tried to establish in the first book was a very complex mythology and by the time you get to the second book, as I said before, that mythology is in place. I’m assuming that most of the readers of Everville will have a working familiarity with the narrative vocabulary from the first book, and so I don’t have to spend time working on that.
‘The other thing is that I have changed as a person and as a writer. This is five years after the first book. In that time I wrote Imajica, a big character book, and I’m more interested in character as a consequence. I’ve had several years of living in America which I hadn’t had when I wrote The Great and Secret Show and so I’m now writing from the inside of America rather than watching it from the outside.’
Something that helps Everville is that the book stands on its own and you do not have to have read The Great and Secret Show beforehand to appreciate it.
‘For me the toughest part of the project was making the information that was necessary to understand what was going on so organic to the narrative that you didn’t notice that it was the second part of a series. I went up to five, six, seven drafts of the places in the novel that were trying to painlessly give the reader a sense of what back story there was that had brought a character to a certain place.’
One of the effective aspects of Everville is the pain and suffering that the characters undergo as the novel progresses. People die who we don’t expect to, and others, who we thought had died in the first book, turn out not to be dead after all. The novel crosses all the thresholds of emotion and allows the reader to experience them along with the characters.
‘I think that one of the things that fantasy does best – and I would categorise the book as fantasy – is that sense of the dynamic between something transcendent and something infernal and terrible. I think that good fantasy isn’t all about unicorns and elves, it’s not cutesy. Good fantasy, whether it be A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest or portions of Chaucer or C. S. Lewis or Tolkien or Mervyn Peake … we could go on, makes you very aware of the dynamics of experience.
‘I’m a forty-two year old man who has watched people die. Not a lot of people, but more people than I thought at the age of forty-two I would see die and I think that does change the way that you write because it changes your own experiences. I think you just have to accept that as a writer you are to large extent shaped by your experience. Since I last saw you I’ve been with people when they’ve died and that changes the way you look at the world. People very dear to me have gone – some of AIDS but not all by any means – and I don’t think I expected that. One of my very dearest friends in all the world who was the theatre critic of Time magazine died of a heart attack last year, and he was two years my senior. He was one of the great good guys of the world. Events like that make you re-evaluate your own life. You look again at the experiences that you had, at what you’re giving and what you’re taking. And I think it’s important that, if you’re honest, then you’re speaking out of your own experience of the world. Writing fantasy is not a form of escapism, it’s a form of discovery. I’ve said that from the very beginning about writing fantasy, science fiction or horror: imaginative fiction is not an escape, it is a form of encoded confrontation.’
Clive had never seemed to me to be a writer who wrote to face his terrors or purge his grief or deal with life by putting it on a page. ‘I think that you’re right. On the other hand, I am, like any writer, any artist, a sum of my experiences.
‘There are a lot of gay characters in my fiction and as a gay man that’s going to be part of what I do. There’s a lot of sexuality in my fiction and as a highly sexed man that’s part of what I am. I’ve never made any apology about any of that, and so to that extent the material that I produce is an outgrowth of who I am as an individual.’
The development in Clive’s fiction is plain to see. From The Great and Secret Show, through Imajica, The Thief of Always and Everville there is development in progress.
‘For me the trick is to keep yourself surprised. When I wrote Imajica I was writing out of a desire to deal with leaving England, which I was just about to do. I finished the book in my empty house in Wimpole Street, and the sense of parting that is so much a part of the end of that book, is my leaving England. There was also the question of dealing with the complexities of sexuality. All you can do on a daily basis is write out of what your heart’s telling you to write out of. I can’t and I don’t – although I suppose some people can – write out of what commerce tells me to.’
This passion is evident in Everville as characters fall in love and manage to retain that love although the lovers themselves may be dimensions apart. In the end, love triumphs.
‘Well I’m a big old softie at heart and the proof is there! I think probably the thing is that however fantastical a book becomes, the feelings that the people have should be things that any reader says, I could feel that. I’ve been parted from somebody I love, I felt that sense of longing for somebody, I’ve felt desire unsatisfied … whatever the circumstances may be. Those feelings are the emotional ground of a book. So however many strange creatures, landscapes or philosophies present themselves, the reader can still see that this is about love, loss, betrayal, ambition … all of those things.’
For the future, despite all the film work he is involved with, Clive is not neglecting his literary audience. ‘I’m writing two books at the moment, side by side. Both short books, one for adults, one for kids. I say kids, I mean the same audience I wrote The Thief of Always for … a fable. I’m doing the two things side by side and having a good time with that. I’ll do two books and then I’ll make another movie and then I’ll write the final Book of the Art. So I probably have another eighteen months of writing and then I’ll get behind the camera again.’
Some people would not consider that the man who brought us the horrors of The Books of Blood and the Hellraiser films with their sado-masochistic pleasures should be writing books for children. It’s a bit of a turnaround. ‘It is a turnaround, on the other hand, I’ve only been writing for ten years and all that’s happening is that I’m doing the things that when I started out I said I wanted to do. I’ve always had a major passion for kids’ stuff. Even when I was writing The Books of Blood I was talking about Peter Pan and the influence it has in my life, and the Alice books and the like. I still read Treasure Island once a year, it’s a great book. Graham Greene once said that he learnt most of his lessons in style from Robert Louis Stevenson. Wind in the Willows: magnificent. There’s a part of my psyche which is very childlike, I think it’s in all of us, and you want to let it out and you want to let it speak. You don’t want to be childish, you want to be childlike, to have a sense of play.’
David J Howe