The following interview is taken from the gothique magazine

Volume 2 Issue 3

Reprinted here with the author's kind permission
Please check out the link above for more information on this wonderful publication.


I have spent nearly my entire lifetime reading horror novels, watching horror films, and generally reveling in all things deemed "scary". From the classicism of the early vampire stories and tales of Golems through the archetypal Universal monster movies of the thirties up to the horror booms of recent years, I've seen it all. In the early- to mid-eighties, there came a strange time for the horror genre. The books in vogue at the time ranged from the prolific tales of Middle Class America threatened by a fearsome encroacher in the novels of Stephen King, (who would. soon become a cottage industry unto himself), to the purple-prose angst of Anne Rice's romance novel vampires. Every writer who put pen to paper attempted to be original, and their efforts only served to illuminate how badly the genre needed a new voice; a voice which was unafraid to step through the mirror our our discontent and act as tourguide to a fantastical world waiting for us, the readers, if only we would dare to take his hand and join him on his travels..

I was given a copy of Barker's Books of Blood as a present from a friend and was immediately held under it's spell. His writing was tight, his characters fully fleshed (if only metaphorically), and shit could he tell a story. Here was someone who embraced everything I held dear in writing. These tales were not merely allegory or moral melodrama. His so-called "monsters" were thinking and feeling organisms who, many times were more human than the people who inhabited the waking world.

It wasn't until several years later that I met the writer of these wondrous tales. At a reading in Berkeley, California, I had the pleasure of coming face to face with Clive Barker. The first thing I noticed was how "normal" he appeared. It's hard to believe that from this well mannered, erudite gentleman has sprung some of the most terrifying images in the Horror Pantheon. Rawhead Rex. Pinhead. The Cenobites. Mr. Mamoulian. The Citizens of Midian. Candyman. And now with "Lord of Illusions", the ubiquitous Nix. The list goes on and on. He has never shied away from his role as storyteller, not has he ever courted public opinion. He has merely presented himself as who he is. A writer. A very good writer. He continually lays his soul bare for us to read and enjoy. He's up front, hones about who he is, and yes I'll say it again, a really nice guy. He is Clive Barker, and if you haven't read any of his work, it's about time you did.
Carnell Has writing always been something you did or is it something you came to later in life?
Clive Barker Storytelling is always something I've done. I haven't necessarily always written short stories, for instance; they are a relatively late thing. I wrote plays from my twenties. I suppose I was writing short stories when I was a little kid as part of school project and so on, but my earliest recollections are really of oral storytelling around camp fires at scout camp, or frightening the beejeezus out of my brother. (I have a younger brother who was very susceptible to being scared so I would play on that, I suppose when I was a kid).
Carnell What kind of kid were you?
Clive Barker Pretty introspective. Pretty troubled. I think, living in Liverpool in the fifties which was not perhaps the most stimulating of cities to live in. I don't think any of post-war England was particularly stimulating. I was born in 1952. There were still ration books. The city had been very heavily bombed during the war. It was only seven years after the war had finished and the really aggressive urban renewal had not really begun so it wasn't a city with a huge number of places of great stimulation for a kid. In retrospect, there were also some good things about it as well as bad. We didn't have a TV in the house, there weren't videos, there weren't video games. We went to the movies maybe once a year. It was a very big deal to go to the movies. I think I first went when I was six or seven, and it was an annual event. So, it was a time where, really, the imagining had to be done without a lot of external stimuli which I think was probably one of the good things about all of then. You were turned upon yourself to create your own entertainment and, in a way, create your own world, which is what I've been doing ever since.
Carnell Was the oral tradition of telling a story something big in your family? Was it something your parents did?
Clive Barker I have Irish-Italian blood, Irish on my father's side, Italian on my mother's side. Both are nations that have a high degree of fantasy in their cultures. I was in Ireland about a month ago, and one of the things that never fails to astonish and actually reassure me is how commonplace the fantastic is in the Irish culture. It's more likely that somebody is going to sit you down and tell you something slightly off-beat and strange than talk about politics. I'm not talking now about necessarily a fan or somebody who maybe you would think would be predisposed to talk about this type of material. I'm actually talking about somebody who might be putting on your make-up for a TV show or somebody who is a rep for the book company, ordinary people who very casually tell you tales of ghosts or of statues of the Virgin which weep. And so, I think that is very much a part of the Irish nature. As indeed, I think there is a kind of melancholy morbidity. And then of course the Italian [culture] certainly isn't lacking in a wonderfully full blooded, shall we say, dark fantasy tradition. I think it influenced me. My paternal grandmother was a fine story-teller and loved to talk about death. Lived to talk about death. So, yeah, I think it's always been there.
Carnell I know that there has been a shift in your writing, I mean you are labeled a "Horror" writer, but you are doing more, not really full blown fantasy, but fantasy type writing. Which do you consider yourself, or do you consider yourself just a plain writer?
Clive Barker I think I consider myself a plain old imaginative writer. I think I'm less and less labeled a Horror writer. The books tend not to go on Horror shelves anymore and when they do, when I find them on a Horror shelf, I tend to take them off. I mean, certainly, some of them belong there. I agree in a moment that a book like The Damnation Game or the early Books of Blood belong there, of course they do. I t would be misleading for them to be anywhere else, but it's as equally misleading for Imajica, Weaveworld, Everville, or The Thief of Always to be on a Horror shelf. I would like to come to the place where we could do away with nonsense descriptions and instead of talking about Science Fiction, Horror Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, what would happen is that we would talk about Imaginative Fiction. It would seem the most mature thing to do.
Carnell What would you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Clive Barker Let's start with the weaknesses because there's always so many more of those. I have a real passion for the detail. One of the things that I am constantly carving out of drafts before I send them to my editor are details within details within details. It's particularly true with the fantasy stuff. It's true with something like Imajica, where you're creating a series of five worlds and they're interconnected as so on. I could go on forever about what is going on in those things, and I just love it. I have a kind of zoologist's eye, even though the flora and the fauna that I am describing are only the things that I am seeing in my mind's eye. I feel like Marco Polo making reports back to Venice about what I've seen, and I want to be able to detail them as much as I possibly can. I have to cut back on that. I think that and you can interpret this as a strength or a weakness, maybe it could be a description but, there's a deeply perverse element in me that flies from anything that I think I found before. In other words, if I feel that a character is moving in a direction that I think I have encountered before, or a situation reminds me too closely of something I've read or something that I've seen, I will tend to just throw it out, which means that the books very often take extremely strange turns. I think I am much [more] preoccupied with sex, much more than maybe other writers in the fantastic genre presently, more than contemporary writers are, which means that my characters tend to have more actively, and certainly have more vividly described sexual lives. I think that I like to write much more about outcasts than I do about people who are within the mainstream and again, you might say that is a description as opposed to a weakness, I don't know. It certainly means that by and large I tend not to write about people who are banging the mainstream of American cultural life, or indeed English cultural life or French, whatever I am writing about. The weaknesses keep mounting up. I do really like words. I tend to become, I think, a little delirious on words once in a while. I can write stuff and like it just because I like the sounds of it.

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