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For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Bob Keen Interview


This is an example of a transcription before I write up the interview for publication. Elements of this piece are probably elsewhere, in a longer piece about the films ... but this is an interesting chat with Bob Keen, presented with mis-spellings and question marks where I wasn't sure what he had said - all things cleaned up and sorted out for the final version. DJH

DJH: We’ll start with Hellraiser I, how did you become involved with it?

BK: Somebody reccomended me after I’d done Highlander. Clive was going to go with the people who did Rawhead Rex but he wasn’t overhappy with them. I got to meet him in the Ritz in London, and Chris Seaton [?] was there as well, and we hit it off. We were as sick as each other; I hadn’t actually read, at the time, I must confess, any of his stuff, I wasn’t aware of who he was but at the time he’d only released the Books of Blood. I immediately went out and read them and really got into his work. We then met again at his house which at the time was in Hampstead and we found that we really could, we had a common ground and could work with each other, and our imaginations really bounced [?] each other, that’s where the basis of our relationship and still our relationship to this day, probably our strongest point is the fact that our imaginations are very easily intertwined.

DJH: Clive does give a lot of input into his films.

CB: Bigger and better than any other director I can think of that I’ve worked with. That’s not to say that any other director I’ve worked with hasn’t been imaginative, it’s just really to say that Clive’s imagination is out on his sleeve. He’s an artist so he can draw, he can articulate as well, he’s incredibly good at describing something and it really becomes like mental ping-pong, you bat the idea over and it’s batted back very fast and you have to bat it back, and he’s one of these people that you have to run to keep up with. He’s incredible, his imagination; I thought I had a good imagination until [I met him ?]. He’s a joy to work with as well.

DJH: The first Hellraiser film was obviously very much setting the scene. Were you in charge of all of it?

BK: It was the whole look of the thing we were interested in and Clive had a lot of that, he had a feel that he wanted, and I think the chains, the lights and the slits and all that kind of stuff grew out of concepts and conversations. In fact, Pinhead’s design grew out of a very interesting conversation. We started off with something that was much more similar to Shinashasi [?] in design, where it was quills and it was very quill-like in design, and it sort of honed down to being simpler. So what happened is we started off with a grid, drawing a grid onto the head and Clive looked at that and went God, that’s it, that’s it! So the grid then became self-imposed markings and the quills got replaced with the nails or the pins. So eighty per cent of what Pinhead is is Clive’s imagination and I think fifteen per cent is what Doug brought to the table and I think five per cent is what we stuck on top of his face. I think an awful lot of Pinhead’s charm, beauty is in Doug’s voice, performance and I think the look is something that Clive had, he saw one we [?] unfold in front of him, it was a joy for him to see that creation come along.

DJH: You’ve got a sketch there, is this an along the way one?

BK: It’s along the way. Clive’s greatest gift I think is the fact that he can see something and instantly know in which direction he wants it to go. The original concept was not like that, it was much more quill-like but he instantly steered it towards that. We were working out for ourselves, in fact that is it, that was the first one, and I think he could see that the self-imposed almost discipline that someone would have to have to sit there and produce this shape was much more appealing, and also he had a great phrase on the film, and that was less is more, and I think that’s very true. It would have been very easy to have put in lots of folds, do the normal monster stuff, but it isn’t, it’s a very simplistic, the colour is very simple, I think that’s why it’s such a striking image that has lasted so long. It’s still on every single poster for a Hellraiser film. It is the image of the pictures.

DJH: The film evolved conceptually, is that the right term? You were doing the visual effects but from the way you talk it’s almost as if you were doing the art direction and the lighting…

BK: I think it was, there was an awful lot of what I like to call pizza and beer conversations where the two of us or sometimes there would be four of us from the group all sitting down and just talking constantly and talking the thing through, I think that was useful for Clive to use us as a sounding board and like I say mental ping-pong table it would be knocked over and knocked back. And there are some aspects of it which were my idea, there are a lot of aspects which were Clive’s idea and there were some aspects of it which were other people on the team’s idea. Again I think it’s Clive’s ability to a) interpret what you’re saying to him and then see how he wants that to run; probably his immense imagination is his true genius.

DJH: How was the original Pinhead done? Because I believe it’s changed slightly with each film.

BK: Yes, only very slightly. On the first film we thought we were going to have major problems holding all these pins out right and perfectly straight So what we did is we built, a really laborious process, we had a little tiny piece of brass with a little tiny piece of rubber underneath so it wouldn’t mark Doug’s face, and that was pushed through, on top of the brass there was a pin, and it was pushed through, then each and every pin on the first film was actually a hollow piece of brass with a head made to look like a nail, so they were very light, and they would then sit [fit?] over the pin going through. That’s the main difference, also the number of prosthetic pieces, the first film had probably about five pieces at least to make, which took a long time. We also pre-coloured to an extent but nowhere as much as by the time we did III and IV when the pieces were very pre-coloured.

DJH: So there was make-up that had to go on on top?

BK: Natural pigments, yeah. They were base coloured, but it was taking something like four hours to make you up. By the time we got to the second feature. For the first picture it didn’t matter so much, I think Doug’s days were quite few.

DJH: I think Gary said he was only on screen for about six minutes in the entire film.

BK: That’s exactly it, so the actual days was quite a short number, and really the story was about, it’s interesting that Pinhead emerged out of that because really the story initially was a love story, what someone will do for love. And the real monster was Julie, that she would do anything for love, or not depending on how you look at it. But I think that sort of evolved and I think the fans really latched onto Pinhead, in fact the whole Cenobite culture, much stronger than we probably intended them to. But that’s the way it goes, you can never tell what’s going to happen.

DJH: Because the whole concept of the Cenobites is the boundary between pleasure and pain.

BK: That was always said, that was always something we knew we were getting into with Hellraiser, that was there even in the first draft of the script. I think we always knew you were putting fingers into stuff that up until that time had not been touched in mainstream cinema.

DJH: More so that Pinhead, Pinhead looks very serene, almost regal…

BK: I always thought of him as at least a general.

DJH: I mean there’s no sense that he’s in any particular discomfort…

BK: Apart form having the strips torn out of his stomach…

DJH: I mean in terms of his bearing; but when you come to something like Chatterer…

BK: Chatterer wasn’t called Chatterer for a long time. Before he was actually named Chatterer he was known as Poor Bastard, and that probably was a better name for him. As a character, having your eyelids sewn up and pulled over and having your gums revealed and your head scraped [?] is probably not the most pleasant of things in the world. He seems so happy with it, you know. It’s very difficult to understand.

DJH: The pleasure through pain stuff was presumably influencing the design of this sort of thing.

BK: I think once we’d hit on the demons and the whole pain or pleasure concept that it really became very clear. I’ve said this before but I could probably sit here and design Cenobites for another ten years because the variation on a theme does become, you know what is a Cenobite and what is someone who is not a Cenobite. I think that’s a very interesting line, I think that’s also to do with purity of image. We were very, very careful about costume, about colouring, about all the aspects of all the Cenobites to start off with and that gave us a very strong look, it’s very stylised.

DJH: It’s almost ritual striation, there’s nothing random here, it’s all planned…

BK: That’s exactly it and I think that’s what we were looking for in our monsters, that we were looking for this strange ornament [aura], of almost like I said self-imposed discipline to it. Against that you’ve got the strange decayed order of the rebuilding of Frank which is something completely different.

DJH: I want to talk about the other elements and the strongest one is Frank. It is still extraordinary, the rebirth of Frank out of the floorboards.

BK: The birth is a very interesting thing. What happened with the birth was, we’d already shot if you like a dry version which was Frank’s remains breaking out of the wall.

DJH: You mean dry as in dust?

BK: Dust, all that sort of thing. And when New World saw the picture they realised that the potential for this film was a lot bigger than they originally planned. I think that no-one had realised or no-one believed that the concept was going to be as powerful. We knew it was special. So at the end of the picture they decided to flex in some more money. So the birth of Frank was actually done in a different studio to the rest of the film, on a different set because they’d already pulled down the set, afterwards we went back and did the birth of Frank. That was really a great opportunity for me to run with something. Clive said, a couple of paragraphs about making it visceral and I was allowed to really come up with the goods then. That was the great opportunity and we then bounced, I storyboarded that concept, which was very close to what we had, bounced around a few ideas, added a few things in and then we went for it in a big way. It was very gooey [?], we were using a lot of melt down effects and tons and tons of slime, you wouldn’t believe how much slime. What people don’t realise is that the holes in the floor, the way the set was built, meant that our slime was constantly running over all the operators underneath. Underneath the table you were sitting there with,

DJH: It was like a puppet stage almost?

BK: Exactly, it was a raised set and there were people underneath and no matter what you wore, all day long the slime would trickle down and it would get down your neck and down the back of your trousers, it was fairly gross to be underneath it. That really gave us, that imagery then gave us that strong start to Frank and I think that was a great creational moment.

DJH: Was it a rod puppet?

BK: It was a lot of different techniques. There was rod puppetry for sure for some of the arms stuff, table work for the fingers, there was radio control for the head…

DJH: I know it’s all in reverse but where the spinal column thrusts itself into the brain pan as it appeared on the floor.

BK: All of that stuff was, there was a lot more in fact shot, there’s a really weird sequence where these eyes merge out of the brain and solidify and stuff like that and there’s flesh running up the arms and all the rest of it. There’s only so much, if you actually look at it I think it’s as tight as you ever could want it as far as effects are concerned and if it gets any longer people will start losing interest so it was right to cut that.

DJH: How long did it take to do all that? How much time did they give you?

BK: Not enough, as I remember it was about four weeks to get everything together for that, which was very, very tight.

DJH: That sounds quite generous actually in film terms. Four weeks to do just one effect?!

BK: It wasn’t just one effect. There was an awful lot of other effects as well that were done at that time.

DJH: So it was a general beefing up but that was the main sequence?

BK: That was the main thing that they beefed up and there was several things with the boxed, doing more stuff. It was about half as much work again as we’d done on the picture so it was a lot of work, a lot of bits and pieces. It paid off, because there are moments I think everyone remembers. Everybody who’s seen Hellraiser remembers Frank and that’s a very good moment. Then after that we then realised that Frank needed to go through much more stages than we’d originally planned. We’d originally planned three make-up stages which went as I saw it, went from raw meat through to an underskeleton with flesh and bones. The process enlarged by the fact that we knew we’d seen the birth of Frank and then story-wise, just after that, we were going to see him crawling around. We actually had a child actor who was brilliant, in a miniature suit crawling around so we could get some idea of a feeling of growth of him. All the original mechanical stuff that was done with a puppet was all scrapped at that point, so there was a big chunk of work taken out as well, and then Frank sort of grew out of that, I mean his flesh, One of my proudest moments is where he’s still not dressed and the flesh is just, you really do feel

DJH: Just hanging off the bones almost.

BK: Yeah. A lot of it helped by the fact that…

DJH: Is this a puppet? How is he in there?

BK: No this is the real [actor]. The guy playing it, Oliver Smith, was thin to the point of [emaciation], this guy was a walking bag of bones, he still is. And consequently was great because you could put prosthetics all over him and it would build up and you would still feel that depth. It’s about an inch and a half [away from his chest], a lot of it is done with colour as well. There’s an awful lot of painting the darkness in but I feel very strongly that Frank was probably one of the best things we’ve done. It still stands up to this day. It’s a head to toe job. It is a full body suit with prosthetics on hand and head.

DJH: Did you see blood running through veins?

BK: You see goo moving. What we would do was just before the take we made this goo up which had like two or three different colours in it, stranded, and then we’d plonk a load of this onto the top of his head and then you’d see that move down all the time so you’ve got this constant feeling that the flesh is still moving, the flesh is still creeping and that’s the effect we were all after.

DJH: I think the final thing was this thing, this strange thing that suddenly appears out of nowhere.

BK: The Engineer. We wanted Hellraiser to be the ultimate thrill ride. The Engineer wasn’t in the original script and I think we wanted an opportunity to do a big creature and Clive was up for that and we felt that Hell could have other things in it and other creatures. I think it was a great opportunity for us to do a creature and it was a great opportunity for Clive to have another big scare, so it kind of grew.

DJH: There’s a big chase sequence in the middle where she’s after the box..

BK: She opens the box; it gave a good narrative to the film. I could have missed the Engineer I must admit, I wish that maybe on Hellraiser III and IV we had had a chance to do other creatures in Hell, it would have been nice.

DJH: So presumably when you did all this there wasn’t any particular thought of there being any sequels.

BK: I don’t think you ever sit there and work on a film and think well there’s going to be four sequels, it’s the start of a huge franchise. What we did know is that we were doing something special. I think we were all convinced that it wouldn’t be popular because we thought it was so different and I think that included Clive. We none of us knew that it was going to be as popular.

DJH: Or that it was going to be the horror icon of the eighties.

BK: Exactly, I don’t think any of us were aware of that. Probably that image has stalked Clive a little bit more than it has stalked us and I think he still feels fairly stalked by that image. He just recently did an interview where his main line was if there was never another Hellraiser film made I wouldn’t be an unhappy man, I think that’s probably the truth and I understand that. There’s an awful lot more to Clive than Hellraiser.

DJH: So Hellbound: Hellraiser II seemed to come round fairly quickly.

BK: I think what happened, obviously New Line realised they had a huge hit and consequently they thought let’s do another one and let’s go into Hell. I think it was remarkably quick. The film came out and within months we were actually in production and the schedule for it was nightmarishly difficult, very difficult indeed.

DJH: This is far more of a sequel than the others in the series.… this one is really picking up from the first film.

BK: Same characters; it’s to do with the fact that there are set characters that come over from the first picture into the second picture. I think there is a link with he third and fourth film but certainly by the time the fourth film comes round it’s a less obvious link. The third film does have elements and we find out more about who the character Pinhead was and stuff like that.

DJH: I’ve read somewhere the comment that they've become successively more Pinhead orientated.

BK: I think that’s obviously down to what the fans want. It’s a sort of direct statement.

DJH: For the second film we've got a skinless Julia.

BK: I think that was a continuation of a tradition. I’d hoped that we’d carry on doing that tradition down the line, a whole skinless family or a skinless horse or something like that. Julia was obviously a progression from what Frank was. We also wanted to make her very sexy and making her come over in such a way that she still is appealing but has no skin is obviously a challenge and a half and in fact it meant taking what was real and throwing it away. Because what was real with Frank worked.

DJH: Real in the sense that if you take a body apart that is the sort of thing you would see.

BK: You’d be pretty damn close. If you took the skin off someone like Julia it just really wouldn’t be the same thing. At least on number three you got to see how he does it! So it’s an interesting process. Julia was just an extension of what we’d learnt from Frank and then trying to keep the sexy aspect.

DJH: Again it’s a full suit?

BK: Full body suit. [It was another actress], The same as with Frank, it was easier to find somebody who was very thin, a dancer in fact [and then build up]. Little John did a superb job with the colour and painting and all of that, it’s a lovely job.

DJH: You can see here it’s all very slimy but presumably the colour is all there first.

BK: Yes, it’s very rich before the slime goes on. You have to be careful as well that you don’t lose everything, that it doesn’t become a red blob. We’d done a lot of research on colour tones and we were using a lot of pure black, although it doesn’t read as pure black, and pure white for highlighting. By the time you’ve put the bloody slime over the top, everything was mutated down. You need something that will kick through that.

DJH: Then there’s Channard of course.

BK: Yes, old Cheesegrater Face.

DJH: He was the first one we saw being made.

BK: Yes, I think he’s the most disappointing for me. We never really got a chance to go back as in detail to see a Cenobite being made and I think I would have liked to have gone back and work with Channard a little bit more.

DJH: I was never quite sure what this thing was supposed to be.

BK: I think it’s a giant prick that happens to be stuck into his head, I thought that was fairly obvious! I think Channard, it’s an interesting image.

DJH: Going into the internal logic of these things and talking about the first film being driven by this pleasure/pain barrier, then you come into the second film and I think in context there’s not much doubt that Channard is all but a Cenobite in person, he’s not a very nice person, he relishes this aspect of it.

BK: I think it’s a fascination for him, a fascination that has plagued his life since childhood. He’s collecting the boxes, the human brain and the whole fascination with the insides as well as the outsides.

DJH: So how much did this thematic aspect have on developing the look of Channard?

BK: None. Channard’s design was actually done as an alternative Cenobite design for the first film and when we came to do the second film, we picked up the two hundred drawings we had from the first film and looked through and found, and thought Ooh look, Cheesegrater, that’ll be great, and went with that. I think Channard could have done with a little bit more thought and a little bit more level that could have been placed on it. I think the imagery isn’t as pure as some of the other imagery. But it does have people wincing still.

DJH: Looking at the Cenobites in the first film and in some of the other films, you can see how people would say I’d quite like to be Pinhead…

BK: I’ve never actually thought that but it’s an interesting idea!

DJH: Neither have I, but I know some people do. But why would anyone want to have a cheesegrater slammed over their face?

BK: Maybe that’s my problem with it, I can’t actually put my finger on what’s wrong with Channard; It’s obviously about the constraints of bondage, it’s all to do with the freedom of constraint and everything else and my problem I think is… maybe it’s the fact we see Channard being made in front of us that it takes some of that magic away.

DJH: But you see Pinhead as well in three, and it doesn’t take it away.

BK: Yes you do; maybe that’s because you’ve already seen Pinhead and you already know Pinhead and you’re going back to the creation of Pinhead.

DJH: If you take it back again - you see pierced ears, no problem with that, most people have got pierced ears. You get pierced ears all the way round, you get people now with pierced noses, pierced eyebrows, nipples, belly buttons. The Cenobite type thing is almost an extension of this. It’s saying what can I do to my body that is going to be attractive?

BK: I think it’s exactly that, and individual. I think a very important point is the individuality of what people are willing to go through and put themselves up for.

DJH: And you show it with pride.

BK: Yes, I’ve changed my body, I’m no longer a human as you can see them.

DJH: And again I find that hard to apply to Channard.

BK: I think that’s probably true.

DJH: He didn’t change his body, it was done for him, he had no say in this.

BK: I think you’re absolutely right, that is some of the problem with Channard. But you work on these things and you work through, it’s only insight afterwards that you can actually … Channard is a disappointment for me but for a lot of people he fulfilled what they were after.

DJH: Frank was in the second film as well.

BK: Yes, Frank was back.

DJH: This was obviously a new costume.

BK: At the end of the day they’re pretty much hanging around, nearly everything was new for the second film.

DJH: Coming back to Pinhead again, how did this then change?

BK: Just the number of pieces was reduced, the technique was still the same by the second film, [the plates with the pins pushed through], that was still the same. What we did was reduce the number of pieces down to three, I believe. That speeded the process up drastically. We had to speed it up even further by the time we got to three, being on for even more number of days, he was suffering even more. It’s just how far can you go with this.

DJH: The female one.

BK: Right. Which was actually in the first film and reprised in the second one. She’s a very elegant creature, the female Cenobite. This idea that she has this piece of metal which runs through her face and it opens the wound and keeps the wound open in her throat, is much more in keeping with that special individuality maybe than I think Channard is. Technically it was an interesting one. To get the wire running through the face we went up and round the top of the head, so she had a piece of metal that went up and round the top of her head [following the line of the skull], and we connect to that the wires that link up through. She’s a very elegant beast and shows again that purity of image.

DJH: This is carried forward to the fourth film with Anglique.

BK: The same idea, but slightly different. You know that Angelique is a Cenobite when you look at a photograph, you don’t need to know which film she’s from. But I think that’s why I’m talking about purity of image.

DJH: Butterball was the other one.

BK: Or Fat Bastard… Sad Bastard and Fat Bastard as they were known. Butterball was an interesting idea, he’s almost baby-like in his grossness and the idea that they’d sewn his eyes up and filed his teeth down didn’t seem to make a great deal of problems for him. A very popular image, for us a very simple one, an overhead mask, as was Chatterer. Very quick to apply. Necessity slightly drove the machine on the first one. With the female Cenobite and Pinhead being prosthetics, we knew we wouldn’t have enough time or enough crew to have the others as prosthetics so they were overhead masks.

DJH: They’ve all got mutilated flesh type bits in the costume, are they literally part of the costume?

BK: Yes they are. That’s practically the only way of doing it because of the time factor. Having so many on the screen at the same time. So all this is part of the costume. It did mean at the end of the day we ended up having to clean everything for a good hour, two hours after the make-up had come off to make sure everything was clean because that was the same piece you were going to use the next day. You had to take a lot more care of something than if we were throwing it away.

David J Howe

Barker, USA


A lot has happened since we last spoke to Clive Barker. Nightbreed has opened and closed in this country, and we have seen two large books published, The Great and Secret Show and the more recent Imajica . We caught up with Clive in America where he is hard at work on numerous projects, including the re-decoration of his new LA home.

The last time we spoke to Clive, he was bemoaning the treatment that Nightbreed had received on its American release, so how did he feel about the UK reaction to the film?

“It was good! I also went with the film to Europe and it won several prizes. It seems to have been a picture which has taken time for people to warm to but which has been eventually accepted. It’s clear now that Nightbreed is a difficult picture for people, particularly those involved in marketing, to embrace. The whole concept of monsters being good guys, the dark side being at least partially a force for good: these are not ideas which people find particularly conducive or easy, but those who love the movie love it with a rare passion.

“It’s been reviewed subsequently on video extremely favourably, far more favourably than it was theatrically. Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly ran a feature about four or five issues ago called ‘A Hundred Good Movies You Know Nothing About’, and it listed a whole bunch of good movies, and in the list were some that I love, like Cronenberg’s The Brood , which was almost totally passed over in America, and Nightbreed was in the list as well. It’s interesting that only a year after the movie had been released on video it’s become one which people rent a lot and talk about a lot. I’ve had a huge amount of fan mail about it, there are the comic books as well and finally it’s getting some belated critical plaudits! It was a very difficult movie to bring out, particularly because Hellraiser had been such a success. It’s something about second movies - everyone is watching to see you fall flat on your face.

“Just because we had more money on Nightbreed than Hellraiser doesn’t presuppose that reviewers are going to be more sympathetic, quite the reverse. There’s a sort of critical pleasure which can be taken in watching something which has been made with a very low budget and which comes off, whereas a picture that has more money behind it almost offers a challenge to the reviewer, an ‘okay, let’s see what you can do chum’ attitude.

“I remain firm, though. I’ve not for a moment doubted that it was a movie that should have been made, that I was pleased to have made. You certainly can’t look over your shoulder and think boy, I wish I’d never done that. I’m really pleased to have done the picture.”

Currently Clive is involved in a number of other film projects in the States, one of which is an adaptation of one of his short stories.

“I’m executive producing a picture for Propaganda, from a short story of mine called 'The Forbidden' (from The Books of Blood volume 5), that movie’s called Candyman , and Bernard Rose, who made Paper House , is directing. You’ll be pleased to hear that Bernard has kept the rather bleak and nasty ending intact. Good for him!

“My role on the film was to work with Bernard while he was developing and writing the script. There were creative decisions being made all along the line; how it would be reshaped for an American setting; how the more cinematic moments could be developed and made even more cinematic. Bernard has done a very fine job with the adaptation, it’ll be an eight or nine million dollar picture - not cheap - and Bob Keen is handling the special effects. Filming is in October/November this year. It will definitely be Bernard’s movie but I would like to think that it will be true to the spirit of the Clive Barker movement.

“Other film projects ... The Mummy is on hold at the moment because Mick Garrard who was writing that with me is finishing a picture for Columbia called Sleepwalkers , which is from a Stephen King script; he’s finishing up on that at the moment, so I guess we’ll get back to The Mummy when he’s free, and in the meantime I have just finished the second draft of a science fiction movie for Universal which they are extremely keen on. That’s called Eden, USA , and I’ll be directing.”

With so much film-work going on, I wondered if Clive’s move to the USA had facilitated the work?

“Yes, absolutely. For lots of reasons. Firstly you’re just around the corner from all these people, you can go and visit them in their offices, talk to them, have a drink with them ... you’re not some foreign species which flies in on the red-eye for a bleary meeting over a power breakfast, and then leaves to go back and write a book in London. I think there are certainly psychological advantages from my point of view, just understanding the way the community works, maybe not liking all the elements of its workings but at least understanding them. It puts you in a much weaker frame of mind in relation to the powerbrokers in this town if you’re having conversations with them when your time-frame is eight hours different. Classically, I wouldn’t begin to talk to people in Los Angeles until about nine at night, and by the end of the day you’re kind of weary and washed out, and it’s not a great time to be sitting down and talking detailed plot points. There’s also the fact that the studios are very responsive to people coming in to do a pitch, to be there to explain and hopefully entertain them with a story...”

Was that how the science fiction film project came about?

“No, Universal came to me and said we want to be in business with you. I explained that I didn’t want to go on making horror movies, I wanted to make science fiction ones and they liked the idea.
“The main reason behind that was because I had been moving into areas of fantasy and dark fantasy in my written work and it had met with even greater commercial and critical success than the horror work; I mean The Great and Secret Show outsold Weaveworld, and Weaveworld in turn outsold The Damnation Game. Imajica was published here yesterday and it’s been reprinted already. I wanted to see that fantasy identity, as opposed to the hard-core horror, reflected in the cinematic work as well.”

So what is Eden, USA all about?

“Actually, it’s better if I don’t tell you - Universal would get upset! I would call it a science fiction/fantasy ... It’s an adventure, and it’s very much the kind of movie that I might have wanted to see. I want it to be the kind of movie which makes your pulse rush and stimulates your imagination at the same time. More than that ... you’ll have to wait!”

Moving from the film projects on to the book projects, and the last two novels have been large block-busting sagas. The first, The Great and Secret Show , is also the first in a trilogy, and is set, unlike all of Clive’s other work, in America.

“That was because I’d spent a lot of time there during the filming of Nightbreed and a lot of the strangeness I encountered was ideal material for a novel. There are a lot of weird little towns over there which are exactly alike - like Wimpy or Barratt homes - remember the town in Poltergeist ? They are all built, as The Great and Secret Show's Palomo Grove is, on a system of several little villages with the mall, this shopping centre, in the middle. They are horrible, godless little places and are really eerie. They’ve actually got three Szechuan restaurants and a place which just looks after your nails - one had a karate school for children, purely for children. I think you could only learn karate if you were under ten or something. Surreal.

“They’re entirely designed to be dormitory towns for Los Angeles. They’re all built on the fault line and are full of these banal, grinning, cheery people who have got this fixed smile plastered across their faces. I found them all kind of spooky.

“There were two things I tried to do with the book that were different from my previous work. The first was that the very heavy visceral horror had been replaced by a more fantastical outlook - what the Jaff gets up to is weird but not visceral. I wanted there to be a lightness to the touch of the thing. I did a first draft which was much more in the aphoristic style of Weaveworld and it felt wrong, because the culture that I was describing was so completely in contrast to the language I was describing it in. It felt phoney and fake and so I went back again and changed sentence structures and turns of phrase and tried to approach the book not with an American point of view, because I could never have an American point of view, but using a vocabulary that was slightly less literary.

“Another aspect of writing the book was to concentrate on plot rather than character, rather like the Irwin Allen disaster movies of the seventies. When they did those films they used to put on the poster lots of photographs of the characters, with‘The Architect’ and ‘The Fireman’ under them. It didn’t matter whether these were personalities or not, what mattered was that they had a function in the narrative. In The Great and Secret Show I’ve got ‘The Lovers’ and that’s what they function as. There’s also ‘The Bad Guy’ and so on.

“I have much more of a passion for story than for character. The fact is that in certain places in every project you make a choice to go in one direction or another and each choice is a different book. I don’t have patience with giving paragraphs over to describe everything and everyone. Whether that’s a bad thing or a good thing is neither here nor there, the fact is that I don’t- it’s not my nature. I write a fiction of ideas as much as of narrative and the two things are at their best when pulled together into a single unit. The convolutions of narrative fascinate me more than the convolutions of character.”

This fascination with narrative also spills over into Clive’s newest novel, Imajica , but here the convolutions are rather deeper than in The Great and Secret Show. I wondered what had formed the background to Imajica .

“Imajica started with my thinking about the images which appear in the great paintings of Christian mythology. Whether or not they’re true, they seemed to me to be extremely potent, powerful and important cyphers of image and meaning, so I considered writing a book which would be a fantasy but which would also be about God, about belief, about a man who discovers that all his life he has been prepared for an act of massive consequence but didn’t realise it. What would happen if you, David Howe, woke up one morning and realised that all your life to this date had been a subtle preparation for a metaphysical journey, and that everything that you had so far believed about the way the world worked was irrelevant and that there was a deeper agenda which had shaped your life without you even realising it? That is the feeling I was aiming for.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but in Imajica we have someone who is like the half-brother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but who is completely unaware of the fact. Not only this but he had a massive past responsibility which he has screwed up and forgotten. A lot of this came from the feeling that there is so much more in us than we completely comprehend, that our day today lives with their petty annoyances perhaps shouldn’t distract us from a grander and deeper perception of ourselves. In America and to a lesser extent in England, the notion of the shaman, and the shamanistic journey, has more credence now than it had ten years ago.”

This all sounds a little heavy, so how did Clive turn a fairly difficult subject into a novel?

“I am aware that this is a difficult subject, but I am also aware that over the years my readers have come with me on very strenuous adventures in one way and another, and I have been extremely voluble in my belief that fantasy fiction and horror fiction can carry a weight of meaning which they are very often denied. Now it’s no use my saying that I think fantasy fiction can be very profound unless I actually try it. I believe in the weight of metaphysical, social and philosophical meaning that this genre can carry, and it’s always been part of what I’ve done, but perhaps in Imajica more than ever, it’s the core, the centrepiece of the whole book.”

Clive’s next novel is striking out once more into new territories. This time he is attempting a book for children.

“It’s called Everville and I’m about halfway through at the moment. It comes out of my enthusiasm for C S Lewis’ Narnia books and Ray Bradbury’s work - Something Wicked this Way Comes and The October Country. I still enjoy those kinds of fiction, and I had an idea which I thought I could do something with. A book for and about children. Something Wicked this Way Comes is both for and about, but it’s also for adults. I think that like all great fantasy, Bradbury’s books grow with you and you find more things in them as your life experience accrues. The best children’s fiction speaks to adults and I’m not saying I’ll be able to achieve it without a struggle but it’s certainly a high ambition to go in there with.”

With thanks to Clive, and Laura Jennings at Harper Collins.

David J Howe

Weaving New Worlds - Clive Barker



There can be few authors alive today to whom the term 'phenomenon' can be readily applied. Clive Barker is one of those few. Not only has he taken the horror genre and turned it on its head with a series of immaculately crafted and superbly realised short stories, but he has also taken the cinema by storm with Hellraiser, his directorial debut of his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, and is set to do the same again when Nightbreed, the film version of his novel Cabal, opens this autumn.

He is also the author of two other novels, The Damnation Game and Weaveworld, and his latest novel, The Great and Secret Show is now available in paperback from Fontana books. 

I caught up with Barker at a discussion session about the new novel. There were several editors and writers present and the conversation swung wildly from the books to the films and back again.

To start off with, after having set his previous two novels (not including Cabal) in England, we were interested to know why he had set The Great and Secret Show in America.

Clive explained that the main reason was because he had spent a lot of time there recently, because of the films, and that a lot of the strangeness that he had found was ideal material for a novel. "There are a lot of weird little towns over there which are exactly alike - like Wimpy or Barratt homes - remember the town in Poltergeist? They are all built, as Palomo Grove is, on a system of several little villages with the mall, this shopping centre, at the centre. They are horrible, godless little places and are really eerie. They've actually got three Szechuan restaurants and a place which just looks after your nails - one had a karate school for children, purely for children. I think you could only learn karate if you were under ten or something. Surreal.

"They're entirely designed to be dormitory towns for Los Angeles. They're all built on the fault line and are full of these banal, grinning, cheery people who have got this fixed smile plastered across their faces. I found them all kind of spooky."

As well as the actual locations for the novel, Clive had announced that the book was about "Sex, Hollywood and Armageddon". With this in mind, he felt that America was the obvious setting for such a story. "Begin with sex and end with armageddon and I guess Hollywood is somewhere in between." he commented.

"The average American household has two books in it - one of which is the Bible and the other is probably a Stephen King novel. The average American household has the TV on probably more hours than there are in the day and so there are these environments where people are just dreaming away their lives and are probably deeply unhappy. I also liked the idea of William Witt the pornographer in The Great and Secret Show having a view on all this because it is said that the pornography business in America earns more than the music and movie businesses put

Other influences on the novel were the place names, which Clive felt to be really bland until he actually looked up on a real map and discovered that the place names really are as bland as Deerdell and Laureltree.

Despite the switch in setting from England to America, there is another aspect of the novel which sets it apart from most of his other work to date, and that is its vaguely genteel approach. Clive explained some more about this aspect of the novel.

"There were two things I tried to do with the book that were different from my previous work. The first was that the very heavy visceral horror had been replaced by a more fantastical outlook - what the Jaff gets up to is weird but not visceral. I wanted there to be a lightness to the touch of the thing. I did a first draft which was much more in the aphoristic style of Weaveworld and it felt wrong, because the culture that I was describing was so completely in contrast to the language I was describing it in. It felt phony and fake and so I went back again and changed sentence structures and turns of phrase and tried to approach the book not with an American point of view, because I could never have an American point of view, but using a vocabulary that was slightly less literary."

Another aspect of writing the book was to concentrate on plot rather than character. Clive compared this to the Irwin Allen disaster movies of the seventies. "When they used to do those films they used to put on the poster lots of photographs of the characters, with 'The Architect' and 'The Fireman' under them. It didn't matter whether these were personalities or not, what mattered was that they had a function in the narrative. In The Great and Secret Show I've got 'The Lovers' and that's what they function as. There's also 'The Bad Guy' and so on."

It could be said that there is not as much characterisation in the novel as in Clive's previous work but Clive himself is very eloquent in his defence of the book. "I think the worst and the best thing that can happen is that people criticise you for something that was intentional. In Weaveworld and The Damnation Game, I'd given over to narratives that had a lot of characters in but I tended to emphasise some more than others and I decided to do something different this time. In other words, it was a creative decision - whether it was the right creative decision or not is in a sense academic - I did it. I think there's another book with the same plot as this which would be twice as long and contain all those descriptions of minor characters and so on."

"I have much more of a passion for story than with character, I always have had. The fact is that in certain places in every project you make a choice to go in one direction or another and each choice is a different book. There certainly comes a point in every draft when you realise that you're not improving the book, you're just making it different, and the slow realisation of that is rather grim. There comes a point where you simply have to stop tinkering.

"I don't have patience with the Tommyknockers style of giving a paragraph over to describe practically everything and everyone. Whether that's a bad thing or a good thing is neither here nor there, the fact is that I don't; it's not my nature. I write a fiction of ideas as much as of narrative and the two things are at their best when pulled together into a single unit. The convolutions of narrative fascinate me more than the convolutions of character."

The Great and Secret Show is the first of a potential trilogy of books about Quiddity and the monstrous Iad Uroboros that live on its farther shores and Clive explained a little about how the series would proceed.

"The next one will be Harry D'Amour's book, definitely. It will be set in New York and will reveal the complete truth about the Great and Secret Show and the plans of the Iad. I don't know at the moment whether that will resolve the story or whether there will be a third book."

After Clive has finished work on the Nightbreed film, he hopes to start on another large book, not the second Art book, but something more along the lines of Weaveworld. He also hopes to complete a couple of intense horror novels as well, not to mention the continuation of the Cabal/Nightbreed saga. He has a contract with Collins for his next four novels, and is also negotiating for his next movie.

One thing that can be said with some certainty about Clive Barker is that he likes to keep busy.

David J Howe

Crossing the Thresholds - Clive Barker

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

The State of the Art - Iain Banks

The State of the Art

There are many writers of good science fiction. There are also many writers of good horror. There are not, however, many good writers. Iain Banks is, without a doubt, a good writer. In his stunning first novel, The Wasp Factory (1984), he explored the dark side of human nature and paranoia. This was followed up with an imaginative multi-layered and multi-faceted fantasy work, Walking on Glass (1985), and a visit to a nightmarish dream-world, The Bridge (1986). In Consider Phlebas (1987) he began an association with the Culture, an advanced and incredibly detailed extraterrestrial civilization, and expanded his ideas and themes in both The Player of Games (1988) and now Use of Weapons (1990).

To describe Iain Banks as ‘another author’ is like describing Shakespeare as ‘another playwright’, and yet despite all the many accolades he has deservedly received, the Fife-born writer remains modest and casual about his writing.

We began by discussing the development of his work and the actual order in which he had written the novels.

‘Consider Phlebas was actually written just after The Wasp Factory. In fact, the first draft of The Player of Games had been written just before The Wasp Factory. That was in 1979 - long ago. The Player of Games had come fairly close to being published back then - there were a couple of readers’ reports on it from publishers who seemed interested - and everything would have been different if it had. I’d have been a ‘Science Fiction’ writer! It turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise as it could have been difficult to break out of that mould once in it.

‘The problem was that I wasn’t getting anywhere with Science Fiction. I was about 26, and I’d written so much that I thought it was about time I got something published. I thought I’d try something that wasn’t Science Fiction because, if nothing else, I could send it to more publishers! The problem was that I didn’t have much confidence in myself to write ‘correct’ literature and in many ways The Wasp Factory was a compromise between the two. By taking such an individual central character, and having the book related in first person, and removing the action physically from society by setting it on an island, I was able to create my own background, and to an extent my own religion as well. If you are writing about an alien world, you can do a lot of things which apply in Science Fiction as a matter of course, but now you can apply them to a conventional novel.

‘I have always been interested in Science Fiction. In fact before I wrote The Wasp Factory, I used to think of myself as a Science Fiction writer. Not as a conventional, normal writer at all.’

The most recent novel, Use of Weapons, was one of the first ideas that Iain worked on, preceding even The Player of Games.

‘I’d been thinking about the Culture since - I’d guess - the early Seventies and Use of Weapons first evolved around 1974. I used to meet in a pub with a good friend of mine (Ken Macleod, to whom Canal Dreams was dedicated) and talk about it a lot. Ken contributed considerably to the development of the Culture. The Culture is quite simply my idea of utopia. The thing is, I’ve been bending over backwards trying not to couch it in such glowing terms until it becomes boring or silly. I actually get some very strange looks from people when I explain that it’s utopia, because the actual material used in the books tends to be quite violent. The Culture itself is actually very peaceful, but things happen on the periphery, as it were.’

One of the joys of reading an Iain Banks novel is that, aside from the basic story, the books are plotted with a skill that takes your breath away. The narrative flows and weaves through time and space and then, when you least expect it, all the threads are pulled together to create a rich tapestry of words and concepts.

‘I like making my books, not necessarily complicated, but just a wee bit more involved - more fun to work with. Ideally what I want to do is write something that makes some sort of sense but which also makes you want to go back and re-read it at some point in the future, if not immediately!

‘I don’t want to be too tricksy, but I do want the novels to have some depth. I always see each book as an individual; an upshot of how well I can do it at that particular time. Use of Weapons was reasonably successful in that respect, but I don’t think it’s a particularly easy read. On the other hand I was trying to fill it with interesting scenes, especially at the start. It’s a bit like watching a film in a foreign language with no subtitles, and trying to understand what’s going on.

‘Although The Bridge is by far the most splendidly structured, the one I have a lot of affection for is actually Consider Phlebas, which is a rag-bag in comparison, I like the energy there. However, The Bridge works in a way that, for example, Walking on Glass doesn’t. Walking on Glass didn’t do exactly what it set out to do and I think you’ve failed to an extent if the reader can’t understand what you’re saying. On the other hand, we’re very used to having things nicely explained to us. I worry sometimes that people will read Walking on Glass and think I was trying to fool them in some way, which I wasn’t.’

In many of Iain’s novels, there are examples of his unconventional approach to writing. There is the whole structure of Walking on Glass and Use of Weapons for example. In The Bridge we are introduced to a Scottish barbarian who speaks only in unpunctuated lower case, phonetically translated from a broad Scots accent - you occasionally have to read it out loud to understand what is being said! This love of the structure of writing also spills over into his short fiction which is now available in a collection called The State of the Art. A good case in point is the collection’s final story. Entitled 'Scratch', through the use of words, disconnected thoughts, punctuation and abbreviation, it tells of the end of the world. I asked Iain how the story came about.

‘It was the culmination of my reading a lot of stuff that didn’t seem connected but was - issues of the Guardian, a couple of articles in my girlfriend’s Cosmopolitan - and an absolute high dudgeon about Thatcherite Britain, about what the Tories are doing to the place and people’s attitudes towards it. There’s the gradual, deliberate, destruction of the welfare state and the National Health Service, there’s the harshness that the poor are shown, particularly in London, and the worldwide situation regarding our ability to mutually destroy each other. All this just sort of flooded out and became 'Scratch', which was a somewhat experimental piece.’

State of the Art also contains forays into other areas of Science Fiction - my personal favourite being 'Odd Attachments' - as well as more material exploring the Culture. The collection’s title derives from a novella telling of an episode in Diziet Sma’s life when she visits Earth in 1977. I wondered where that fitted in the wider context of the novels (Sma is actually a leading character in Use of Weapons).

‘In Sma’s introductory letter in The State of the Art, she says that she’s been off-planet with her drone for a hundred days or so. It’s during that time that the events in Use of Weapons happen. There’s also a tiny reference to The State of the Art in Use of Weapons where Sma’s about to be lifted off the planet, she gives an instruction to ‘send a stalling letter to that Petrain guy’. ‘That Petrain guy’ is actually the person to whom the novella is addressed (Parharengyisa Listach Ja’andeesih Petrain dam Kotosklo). Another nuance is that Petrain is also the scholar who wrote the essays at the end of Consider Phlebas. He forms a sort of scholarly link between the books but he doesn’t appear in any of them.’

The above highlights one of the most infuriating aspects of the Culture - the names of the people in it. I wondered if Iain had a rationale for the names.

‘It’s very simple. The Culture has got an individual, unique name for everybody without using numbers. To take Diziet Sma’s full name as an example (Rasd-Codurersa Diziet Embless Sma da’Marenhide): Rasd is the name of the star, Codurersa is the geological plate or planet she was born on, then there’s her given name (Diziet), the name she chooses when she’s an adult (Embless), the family or Clan name (Sma), and finally the village, street, house or whatever (da’Marenhide - ‘da’ or ‘dam’ meaning ‘of’). I magnified the position of having two names so that in the Culture you have five or six names enabling you to actually place where people come from, that’s the idea anyway.’

As well as the science fiction and fantasy work, Iain has also written two excellent ‘straight’ novels, Espedair Street and Canal Dreams. His next novel is also in this vein.

‘It’s called Cruel Road and is set in a mythical part of Argyll, more or less over the last forty years. It’s about one specific family and one central character in particular, but it’s also about three families, and a whole town which doesn’t actually exist - an amalgamation of all sorts of places. So far, I’ve written about half of it, and I think it’s funny but weird - of course! The next SF novel is going to be a non-Culture one. More baroque, a bit more rococo. You’ll have to wait and see!’

With his track record to date, any new novel from Iain Banks will be an event worth waiting for. Make sure you don’t miss it.

1694 words

Aldiss Unbound

Aldiss Unbound

Brian Aldiss is one of Britain’s finest writers of Science Fiction. Since the mid 1950s he has been enthralling audiences worldwide with his books and has won most of the top awards in the international Science Fiction scene.

Recently, his 1973 novel, Frankenstein Unbound, was filmed by Roger Corman and the film’s release was closely followed by the publication of a companion novel, Dracula Unbound. I met with Brian on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in April, to discuss the concepts of his Unbound novels. First though, I asked how it all began.

‘I always wanted to be a writer,’ Brian explained. ‘Even when I was in the army I was writing and when I left the army I ended up working in a bookshop. After a while I started writing a humorous column for The Bookseller, the organ of the book trade, and that was a very good place to be published because, of course, all the book sellers and publishers read it! My column was called The Brightfount Diaries and was the diary of an assistant in an imaginary bookshop in a town not unlike Oxford. One day, I got a letter from a publishing house, Faber and Faber, asking if I had ever thought of making the column into a book. In fact I had been thinking of nothing else and jumped at the opportunity.

‘Faber were incredibly good, and said they liked the book very much, and did I have any suggestions for it. As bold as brass I said “Yes. I’d like to see it illustrated.” They mumbled “Oh yes, of course, yes, yes... Who would you like to illustrate it?” “Pearl Faulkner” I said, who was a magazine illustrator that I then admired rather a lot, and they agreed!

‘When The Brightfount Diaries was published in 1955 it did rather well, and Faber gave me a lunch and asked what I was going to do next. “Well,” I said, “Errm, what I really write is umm, Science Fiction.” “Really!” they exclaimed, “We were looking for a Science Fiction writer. Marvellous! When are you going to write it?” So I told them it was called Non-Stop. “Sounds interesting,” came the reply. “Jolly good. We’ll publish that.” And they did!’

From those beginnings, Aldiss continued writing and in 1973 published a novel that in many ways broke the traditional mould of the Science Fiction novel. Frankenstein Unbound is the story of Joe Bodenland who slips back in time from the 21st Century and finds himself by Lake Geneva in 1816. Stranger still, in this world live both Mary Shelley and Baron Victor Frankenstein, authoress and protagonist in Shelley’s tale of the modern Prometheus.

I wondered how the concept for the novel was worked out.

‘Sometimes one can’t answer that question, but in this case, there’s a very clear answer. I’d decided to write a history of Science Fiction, Billion Year Spree. It seemed to me that people thought that Science Fiction either started with Homer or in some American pulp magazine in 1923, and the funny thing was that these views were often held by the same man! I wanted to clear all this nonsense away. There was also a claim that there must be a father figure for Science Fiction. Was it Hugo Gernsback or was it John W. Campbell or could it have been Homer? I thought it could be Mary Shelley. Why not have a mother figure! So my original thought was that my history could begin with Frankenstein and then I began to think of arguments to support this rather crazy idea and I reckoned I was onto something. So after much labour, I did Billion Year Spree, and at the end of it I thought; of all the thousands of books I’d read, which did I actually enjoy most in a deeper sense: what gave me most? I realised it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

‘Basically, Frankenstein’s the tale of man taking powers, which had hitherto belonged to God, into his own hands. In a way it’s also the male usurping the female role to create a monster. However, one has to be simple and clear when presenting an argument that you know is going to be attacked very strongly, as indeed it was. I thought that most people only know Frankenstein as a horror movie and they haven’t read the book. The name conjures visions of Boris Karloff stomping about inarticulately, whereas in the book, the monster is very articulate. I wanted to persuade people to read Shelley’s book and thought that maybe one way of doing that was to write a novel which wasn’t a sequel, but which was definitely related, so that if you read it, you could see where this was happening. And that’s really how I came to write Frankenstein Unbound.’

One of the aspects of the book that intrigued me was that it looks at the events from the outside.

‘That was the purpose of it. And I think it is very successful. It has two things that the Mary Shelley novel has; it has something of the darkness of the original and it also has the sense of isolation. Never in a Frankenstein film do you ever get a feeling of isolation - the laboratory is swarming with hunchbacks and criminals - but the novel is largely about isolation which springs from Mary Shelley’s own very unhappy life story. The poor lady had four children, three of whom died almost at birth, and she had various miscarriages. I also think that she and Percy Shelley were probably badly undernourished most of the time although the biographies don’t tell you that.’

After quite a long gap, we find ourselves faced with Dracula Unbound. How did that come about?

‘You must realise that I spent the eighties working very hard. I spent a very long time on the three big Helliconia novels which took quite a lot of research, then I completed Trillion Year Spree, the revised edition of my previous history, which nearly killed me and without David Wingrove I wouldn’t have done it, and then I wrote Forgotten Life, which to my mind was a major effort, so I wanted to relax a bit. As it happened, very opportunely, along came Roger Corman and we had great fun filming Frankenstein Unbound. One day we had Corman to dinner and I said to him, “Well Roger, you’ll have to make a sequel you know ... Bodenland survives ...” “What sort of sequel?” he asked and Dracula Unbound was born.

‘These two novels are the Scylla and Charybdis of the Nineteenth Century; they’re both diseased resurrection myths when you think of it. Frankenstein’s creature and the vampires have this bizarre parody of the Christian afterlife, very interesting, and this is why the common judgement has been right in grouping these books together. There is this affinity between them. It’s very interesting that when Bram Stoker wrote Dracula he sent a first copy to his old mother living back in Ireland, and she wrote him a very nice letter back, which you can find in print, saying “It’s more frightening than Frankenstein”. Stoker’s very first critic likened it to Frankenstein. I think that’s very interesting. I adopted the same procedure that I had used in the other one: Bodenland goes back in time and in this case he meets Bram Stoker. Stoker’s a marvellous character to have in a book, larger than life, lovely to do.’

At the conclusion of Frankenstein Unbound, Bodenland has tracked the monster to a futuristic city in an icy wasteland where he settles down to await his fate, however in Dracula Unbound he is in charge of a scientific complex investigating the freezing of objects in time. Brian admits that he was a bit puzzled at how Bodenland escaped from the ending of the first book himself, but sees Dracula Unbound very much as a companion and not as a sequel. However, the concept for the re-working of the vampire myth is more easily explained.

‘If you’re going to do Dracula you’ve got to have the vampires, but vampires have been done and done and done. What could there be new to say about vampires? What if they didn’t actually like having to drink human blood, it was all they’d got, it made them feel ill - we poisoned them as they poisoned us. Great idea! How could that be? Supposing they had evolved not from human beings but from something else? The pteranadons! OK, there’s an idea, and from there came all the ideas for the beginning of the book, with the desert and the K/T Boundary (the layer of ash in the Earth’s crust which marks the end of the dinosaurs)...’

Frankenstein Unbound ... Dracula Unbound ... I wondered what came next ... Werewolf Unbound perhaps, or Hunchback Unbound?

‘I was wondering when you were going to ask me about Prospero Unbound! Another of my great fondnesses is Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I was very fortunate in that I saw a performance of it when I was very young, and found the sense of a golden island with this very benevolent white bearded old man looking after and ordering everything, pretty daunting, although I now think that Prospero was a very horrible and autocratic man with a nasty little wimp of a daughter. My sympathies are all with Caliban, but then my sympathies are always with the monster anyway.

‘Seriously, I’ve got two other books I’m writing this year. One that I’ve been working on for I don’t know how long, is called Remembrance Day, which as Dracula Unbound is a companion to Frankenstein Unbound so Remembrance Day will be a companion to Forgotten Life, the two sort of go together. It’s actually about the lives people lived in the mid ‘80s during the Thatcherite years. Those who were very unsuccessful and went to the wall and, on the other hand, those who were very successful and who went to Wall Street. I’m enjoying doing that immensely and its a matter of slow accretion. Something like Dracula Unbound takes a long time to plan but then you write the novel very quickly, whereas with a book like Remembrance Day, you have an ultimate destination - which in this case is the IRA blowing up a small hotel in Great Yarmouth - but getting there is a matter of slow accretion rather than sitting and writing it.

‘Following Dracula Unbound, I don’t know whether I should strain the credulity of my readers with Prospero Unbound - it’s a good title though isn’t it?’

David Howe