Clive Barker pt. 2: power to the imagination

Lydford Castle, Devon

First of all I should say that I’m glad to be writing about a novel of Barker’s, rather than a posthumous tribute. He nearly left us in January after contracting toxic shock after a visit to the dentist. He was in a coma and wasn’t expected to recover, but had ‘too much to do’ to go just yet. Thankfully. Too many inspiring souls have gone in recent years.

A lifetime or so ago, I went to an exhibition relating to the soon to be released film Hellraiser. In a smallish upstairs room near Tottenham Court Road station (in the same building where, many years later, I was to finally meet Barker) were photos and props from the film. I remember the excitement, the anticipation, of what Barker’s first ‘proper’ film would be like. It was all quite low key and underground; this all happened before the Hollywood Barker industry began. He was even still living in London. One of the props – a full size model of Chatterer Cenobite – was especially fascinating. Wires pulled the lips back to reveal the Cenobite’s teeth and gums. The detail was incredible. I got close up, face to face, to study it properly and the ‘model’, who was, of course, actually an actor in full make up, moved a bit. It scared the wits out of me but come the film’s release you couldn’t keep me away.

I finished Mr B. Gone a while back, and since the novel was several years old when I got hold of it, I doubt there’s many out there with any interest in horror/dark fantasy/Clive Barker who haven’t read it and in the light of what happened to Barker in January it seems almost unimportant to write what I thought of it so I’ll keep it brief. I wonder if anyone else thought the opening section was reminiscent of Nick Cave’s And The Ass Saw The Angel? I was immediately reminded of it – first person narrative by a bizarre, misshapen creature who is inevitably going to meet a bad end. The biggest criticism of the book by others – the continual insistence by the protagonist that the book be burned – is a reasonable one. By the middle of the novel it became seriously frustrating to still be reading it. There is a whimsical air to the book as well in places and there were a few times I nearly stopped reading because of it, but then Barker would deliver some amazing prose, a piece of brilliance that made the book worth buying. Barker can still write horror, of that there’s no doubt, it’s just that in this novel he’s chosen to play with his protagonist, and therefore with the reader, instead of taking things much further. The fact that for at least half the book there appears to be no real story, just a demon running away from a series of enemies, is my biggest criticism. Barker has the talent and the wit to write the most amazing horror stories if he chooses to. Perhaps he’s grown away from the genre (and his recent illness might have a huge effect on his writing). Time will tell.

Far more interesting, and pertinent, than Mister B. Gone is an interview conducted in the middle of March, which appears on Barker’s website. The first part is entirely about his horrific near-death experience, which began on 10 January and from which he is still struggling to recover. I’ve only just read it myself and it shocked me to think how close we all were to losing him. It hasn’t changed my views about Death, but how one makes one’s way there is certainly something to feel cautious about. The second part of the interview changes tack and discusses the next Abarat and Clive’s absolute love of dogs throughout his life. Inevitably, perhaps, the loss of such beloved companions comes up, something I and many of us will certainly be able to relate to. So even if you have no huge interest in Barker’s books, I’d recommend reading the interview. All power to you, Clive, get well soon. And please dazzle us again with the kind of horror only you can write.

Cross Bound chosen as one of Aphelion’s best stories of 2011

Boscawen-Un stone circle

February’s edition of Aphelion webzine has included Cross Bound amongst its best stories of last year. I’ve only just found this out, so the link to the story is likely to disappear fairly soon, but many thanks to Aphelion for picking it.

The Falling Man accepted for Storylandia magazine

Rough Tor

The Falling Man will appear in the beautiful looking Storylandia literary fiction magazine in the autumn. This is very good news; the momentum that I’d managed to build over 2011 appeared for a while to be falling flat on its face. This has turned out to be more a matter of emails not reaching their destination than anything else. I only have one more completed story to place, two if I’m happy with the latest draft of Pieces. Which means I’d better get going on Darkworlds Pt 2. It’s a nice position to be in.

After a lot of thought, I’m likely to be doing the reading at Penzance Literary Festival myself. It’ll be a shortish extract, probably of The Ferocious Night. It’s set in Cornwall, so that will go down well, and is more bizarre than gruesome, so should be suitable for anyone who turns up. Which reminds me – after a discussion with someone who was quite ‘grossed out’ by Darkworlds, I realised how much my fiction’s changed since the story was written, therefore you may have a noticed a small but telling change in how I describe my writing – I’m now, realistically, a dark fantasy/horror writer, rather than the other way round. A little bit of genre reassignment.

Magickal ink: the 23rd post

I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, from Dennis Cockell’s studio, which was then (1985) in the Finchley Road. I knew I wanted to mark my official passage into adulthood, but I only had a vague idea of what to have done. I settled on a Chinese style tiger. The tattooist, Kevin, used the outline of a panther and drew the stripes in freehand. I told him to use every colour he had available, and for years it was a beautiful mass of yellow, orange, black and red. The colours faded over the years, of course, and at one time I was tempted to have it redone, but decided against it – after all, it was a signpost to my 18 year old self. I later noticed that Kathy Acker had a very similar piece, done at the same studio. I was in good company.

Not long after I came out (1994/5ish) I had my left thumb tattooed. A tattooist at Sacred Art in Stoke Newington did a freehand image in black ink, which looks like a cross between a piece of jewellery and an insect hugging my thumb.

My third tattoo is my favourite. It’s also the most powerful one I have. I had moved deeper into Hackney and life was getting heavy there – homophobic attacks were on the increase and there were regular shootings over drug turf. I needed some protection. The Helm of Awe was a fairly natural choice; it’s a striking image, an extremely powerful symbol originally used by Viking warriors, as protection, to induce fear in the enemy and also, I believe, as a compass. I added an eye at the centre to further enforce the reflection of the bad energy that was flowing around the streets. Steve at Into You tattoo studio in Clerkenwell took my scrawled drawing and turned it into what you see in the photo. It was he who added the glint in the eye.

Helm of Awe with central eye

The finished piece, on the top of my left arm, had an incredible affect on me. It took me some time to get used to the power of it. I could clearly see a projection of the tattoo some inches away from my arm and the blue-white shield it cast all around me. Bad energy flowed around, instead of through, me.

Spiral and sea water

I had a fourth tattoo done by Beth at Shoreline in St Ives when I moved to Cornwall. It was a celebratory piece; three spirals surrounded by splashes of sea water. Placed on the top of my right arm, it nicely balances the fierce Helm of Awe. It signifies a more peaceful era of my life.

Photos by Teresa Knight