SHOCK OF THE NEW
The goremeister who brought us Pinhead in Hellraiser is long gone. Nowadays, CLIVE BARKER's fantasy worlds are more about the horror of
Words: Brendan Wallace
A FORTNIGHT BEFORE THE PUBLICATION OF Galilee, his latest novel. and a week before his new collection of paintings goes on sale at the prestigious Los Angeles gallery La Luz de Jesus, Clive Barker is complaining about the weather.
‘You know, when you move to California, for the first week you go, “Great. it’s sunny this week!". And then, in the next week, you think, “Hey, it’s sunny every week”. It can get very monotonous.”
Pity the poor fantasy writer. It’s only been thirteen years since he was a struggling artist and playwright, scraping together the money
to mount his own productions of works such as Frankenstein In Love and The History Of The Devil. That was before the publication of The Books Of Blood, three volumes of death, torture, and muti- lation which cata- pulted him straight into the bestseller lists.
Since then his career has gone from strength to strength. He’s directed the cult British horror films Hellraiser and Nightbreed, written bestselling fantasy novels such as Mlavewarld and Imajiea. and now has success in the artworld as well.
And so maybe it’s not a surprise that Galilee is a noticeably more tranquil work than the earlier gorefests. The tale of the (literally) undying, centuries-old enmity between the Geary and Barbarossa families. it’s a sort of Gone With The Wind for the
'It's always worthwhile to shock - if you can use it to make people look at things in a new light. Shock is a tool, and it should be used irresponsibly.’
fantasy set. But Barker argues that by talking about families, of whatever sort, you’re tapping into an area of universal interest.
‘Families are interesting,’ he says in his soft Liverpool-via-California brogue. ‘Let‘s face it, we’ve all got them. and you can never predict what they’ll do. People die, people live longer than you expect them to; kids are born, kids turn sour. It’s the root of all our lives.
‘And so this novel is much more overtly autobiographical than my earlier work. The narrator, Maddox, for example, is expressing the problems of writing. And the character of Galilee himself is based on my life partner David. There’s always been that element in my work, but it’s much stronger in this new bookf
However. while autobiography might be to the fore, the torture and sado-masochistic themes of his earlier work are noticeably absent. So is Barker mellowing out as he grows older?
‘Up until about a month ago, I would have agreed that l was, but I’ve just started writing some new horror stories. and I’m amazed how brutal they are,‘ he laughs. ‘So there’s obviously a corner of me that still enjoys that Cronenbergian excess. But those sorts of psychotic episodes really work best in the short form.‘
Barker argues that The Books OfBload had their roots in the early 80s, with the whole post-punk urge to smash and destroy. Now, though. that whole attitude has become an easily parodied style which has been thoroughly assimilated into popular culture. However. older fans can be reassured that he hasn't sold out. When I casually remark that maybe he thinks that shocking the older audience is no longer a worthwhile aim, he quickly interjects.
‘It's always worthwhile to shock — if you can use it to make people look at things in a new light. Shock is a wholly useful and necessary tool. I think I use it much less than I did, but when I do use it, it makes it that much more . . . shocking. No, shock is a tool, and it should be used irresponsibly.’
In person. Barker still retains much of his dry Liverpool wit, and is fond of coming out with such ‘outrageous’ statements in a way that disarms criticism. However. one wonders how well these qualities of irony and a penchant for the grotesque go down in Hollywood. Significantly. Barker now much prefers writing novels to making films, claiming that he hates the current aggressive American movie culture (‘culture written with heavy inverted commas‘). And his heart. he claims. will always belong to Britain.
‘1 love Britain. but I romanticise it as well.‘ he says. ‘Maybe it’s nothing like I remember it. But that's typical of me. Despite my reputation. I’m just a sentimentalist at heart.’
Galilee is published by Harper Collins on Tue 9 Nov, priced £16.99. Clive Barker is in conversation with Ian Rankin at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, on Thu 12 Nov. See Book Events for details.
5 Nov—l9 Nov 1998 THE LIST 25