MPF1 - Chapter excerpt


“Pantomime was a taste of something miraculous. For a kid now being brought up in these days where every weekend seems to bring some new $100 million special effects extravaganza, pantomime would look ludicrously low-tech and ineffectual, I suppose. But when I went in, when I was six or seven, which would have been late fifties, it was a wonderland...

“This was something that I could do something about – that’s where I started to really figure out that I could entertain people. It was by creating my own puppet theatre and taking it into the back alley behind our house, which was not the most clean or best-kept of houses. I mean, you’re talking about trash and garbage cans in every direction, but the other kids gathered, and on Saturdays and Sundays I would set up my booth and run a show.” 

Clive’s puppet plays were no less brutal than Punch’s efforts. He recalls that his storylines were “really grisly ones with the ubiquitous skeleton... My cast was fairly generic, if memory serves. A sword-wielding hero, a princess, a skeleton, a Devil, a hag-witch, a dragon. But they were all I needed to create exotic tales of midnight crimes and magic rituals, of horrendous jeopardies and last-minute escapes... I found an audience of local kids for my entertainments. They would gather in the alley behind our house to watch my one-man epics, and though I’m sure time has improved the reviews, the shows seemed to find favour.” 

At the age of ten, Clive wrote his first play for human actors – his fellow Cub Scouts. Although he showed little aptitude in the Cubs – or, later in the Scouts – for the skills that earned formal recognition in the form of badges to sew onto his sleeves, he did take two formative experiences from his time in the two troops, the first being this theatrical venture. 
He describes himself as having been an overweight, troubled, shy and introspective child, which might at first sight suggest it was unlikely that he would naturally volunteer his words to be performed by his peers, but the environment was a chance to test his skills in an area where he felt more comfortable.

“I started writing plays for the Boy Scouts. It was something I could do and, you know, kids are always looking for ways to legitimise yourself, to feel good amongst your peers and there weren’t an awful lot of things I could do, honestly and I was terribly shy, But when I wrote – and this is still true – when I write I feel I take on the personas of the characters I am writing about and I feel a great confidence on the page that I don’t feel in real life and it’s been a wonderful way for me to connect with life almost at one remove. 
“The first play I wrote was called Long Ago and Far Away, which is interesting, given its title, because it really stands for everything I’ve done ever since. I suppose I must have been ten, my Mum directed it, it was done at the Scout Hut near Dovedale School and it was about a cowardly King who passes himself off as the killer of a Dragon and isn’t really the killer of a Dragon because the Dragon isn’t really dead. And my father made a wonderful cardboard dragon which appeared at certain moments…”
Clive Barker - sketch for The Wood on the Hill

Clive Barker - sketch for The Wood on the Hill