A Demon For Work
Busy horror auteur Clive Barker branches out into erotica
Bob Graham, Chronicle Senior Writer
Monday, February 22, 1999
©1999 San Francisco Chronicle

Clive Barker, the renaissance man of horror, is adding something new to his long list of credits: a book of erotica.

``It's confessional and immense fun,'' he told a large gathering of people who had come to hear his ideas about creativity.

``I do it without self-censorship. I call it my spontaneous mode.''

At age 46, he said, ``I'm learning a new way to write.''

The prolific -- to put it mildly -- fiction writer, movie producer and director, playwright, painter and illustrator packed a ballroom to overflowing at San Francisco's Marines Memorial Building on a rainy afternoon over the weekend.

The event, sponsored by the Learning Annex adult education organization, attracted an audience of more than 200, many of them involved in their own writing, film or television projects -- or wanting to be.

Others were just plain fans, including a contingent of burly gay men from the International Bear Rendezvous. One of the bears, Steve Holst, said he particularly liked ``the creeping homoeroticism'' in Barker's mainstream works.

It certainly is not creeping in Barker's own life. It is right out there.

Fingering an unlit Cuban cigar (``illegal and therefore fun'') as he talked, Barker pointed out the man helping move a table out of the ballroom and said, ``That's David, my husband, the one in leather.''

Barker himself was in black body shirt and Levi's. He sported a pair of pirate earrings, a three-day goatee and a silver bracelet for his watch. The Liverpool-born writer lives in Los Angeles, his home for the past seven years, with David, a photographer whose full name, Emilian David Armstrong, is on the dedication page of Barker's latest novel, ``Galilee.''

Barker is widely known for his novels, short stories and films (``Hellraiser,'' ``Candyman,'' ``Lord of Illusions''), but many people may not be aware that he also was executive producer of the current art- house film ``Gods and Monsters.''

In an interview, he called the film, about ``Frankenstein'' director James Whale and starring the Oscar- nominated Ian McKellen, a ``triumph of imagination and will over circumstances.''

``It's not a film that makes being gay look like a bed of roses,'' he said. ``McKellen and I can both identify with that, and so could Whale -- three gay Northern England lads, albeit several generations apart, who all found their way to Hollywood.''

The book of erotica, called ``The Scarlet Gospel'' and including 70 of his photographs and paintings as well as 40 short pieces of writing, is one of four new books Barker has in preparation.

There is also a volume of new short stories, an anthology of older works and a children's book -- ``It is a Book of Hours,'' he said, ``the feelings of the hours of the day,'' and will include many paintings.

Each book presents ``a different set of creative challenges,'' he told the Learning Annex event -- seminar is too stuffy a term for the freewheeling exchange on how to overcome ``blocks'' to creativity. Barker is a self-described ``technophobe,'' and his enormous output is written entirely in longhand. He called his working life ``very structured'' -- he keeps ``office hours'' seven days a week, ``and I don't go out.''

He is, as he put it, obsessive.

``I have to turn the work in,'' he said. ``I've already spent the advances.''

Somewhat to his own surprise, it appeared, Barker returned on several occasions to what he called ``the dark side'' of the creative process.

``This is what they don't tell you,'' he said. ``It can consume you. People fall by the wayside because of the fear of being totally consumed by it.'' When he nears the end of a project, he said, ``I can sniff the freedom.''

Writing fiction ``demands that we walk that edge toward a hint of craziness. After all, we are entering another world,'' and horror fiction in particular deals with ``death, sexual obsession and violence.''

He recounted a childhood experience -- at age 5 he witnessed a parachutist plunge to his death at an air show -- that left him with an abiding sense of vulnerability.

Barker said that as he gets older he is ``more aware of the gaps between people than the connection.''

``The appetite to bridge that gap is based on a kind of despair, actual ly, about the fact that we're not making a connection. Even those we love, our parents, seem remote.

``Making stories has a power to bridge the gap.'' In the audience was ``intermittently blocked'' writer and painter Barbara Hancock, who said she was there ``for inspiration and a kick in the pants.'' Actor Bruce Goodchild, who has appeared from time to time on ``Nash Bridges,'' the Don Johnson TV show filmed in San Francisco, said he has a nephew who is a writer, and he wanted to know how to keep people from stealing ideas as scripts circulate.

``I could tell you horror story after horror story,'' Barker said.


Ten years ago, Clive Barker believed there could be a set of rules for writing. ``Now I no longer do.''

Instead he offered aspiring writers and others tips for ``how to get past the blocks that prevent people from making things.''

They included:

-- Don't bury personal obsessions. Capitalize on them. ``The connection between personal obsession and the work you do is the most important thing.''

-- Be yourself. ``Singularity is what you need.''

-- Avoid self-censorship: ``We are very self-critical in a way that can be very destructive. In our culture there are voices in our head which have taught us to say, `Oh, I wouldn't do that if I were you.' Don't ever think about anybody peering over your shoulder.''

-- Don't be afraid to show off, even if you think, ``I'm very close to making a complete fool of myself.''

-- Don't be afraid to entertain. ``I want to entertain. I don't want to lose people. I feel responsible as I write to give people the best time I can.''

-- ``Love your failures'' instead of beating yourself up over them.

-- ``Learn to love the process'' of writing.

-- Just do it. Barker likes something director Stanley Kubrick said: ``If you want to make a film, pick up a camera.''

Barker also commented on the creative challenges in some of his films:

-- ``Hellraiser'': ``It was made for $900,000 in a house in London with a bunch of friends. There is something quite nice about doing small pictures. When you get up to larger pictures, you have a lot more politics, a lot more people with their finger in the creative pie.''

--``Lord of Illusions'': ``I like the DVD version, which is 12 minutes longer and includes what I thought was essential storytelling material. MGM wanted something simpler.''

-- ``Gods and Monsters'': As executive producer, Barker said, his primary creative contributions were persuading actor Ian McKellen to take the role (``It was not politically correct'') and not interfering with director Bill Condon. ``My job was to support and not demand. As a director myself, there's nothing I hate more than a producer who wants to do my job.''

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