I’ve spent my creative life so far first in the theatre, then on the page, then on the screen, examining what is turning out as I grow older to look like one enormous landscape.
What I originally thought were different worlds turn out to be one interconnected place. And like a bedspread viewed by a sick child from his pillow, I am very aware that there are colours in various corners which I know very well, but I haven’t yet found the ways to get from the blue to the green and from the green to the red.
I’ve just begun, and I suppose that’s become my preoccupation – the idea that at one point I will see it clearly.
Nothing Ever Begins
Nothing ever begins.
There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.
The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the threads that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes the connections will grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.
Clive Barker’s 1987 novel, Weaveworld, begins its narrative ‘somewhere between a place half forgotten and a future as yet only glimpsed.’ The volume you are now reading, this particular chronicle of the creative works of Clive and his collaborators over the past half century, starts in a similar place. The inexorable passage of decades allows patterns to be drawn between the earliest plays, poems and films and later, far more familiar, works and, through this process, threads to be traced to earlier tales and connections to be charted between the worlds in the bedspread that Clive sees in his quote on the frontispiece of this volume.
In embarking on a quest to define specific influences and events that shape an imagination there is, similarly, no single word or place from which this or any other story springs…
“Biographies will try and insist that there is, but I honestly don’t think there is,” says Clive himself. “I don’t think the human mind works that way, I don’t think imagination works that way. I think what happens is there is a slow accrual of realisations, some of which are personal, some of which are academic; but it builds. I don’t think there’s a movie moment in which somebody clicks their fingers and a light turns on above their heads and they say, ‘Gee! You know, I always wanted to be a writer!’ That certainly wasn’t my experience.”
At the time of his explosion onto the press circuit with Hellraiser and his eponymous Books of Blood, interviewers dug for influences to support these horrific images. Clive duly obliged, but these stories were only ever a narrow slice of what had already spilled onto paper and fringe theatre stages in his native England.
“The fact is that when you talk about the things which affected you, and start to trace the experiences which made you the person you are, you make choices. Whether you’re making legitimate choices or simply shaping your history so it becomes a series of information bites is a moot point,” he reflected later.
“All I will say is that the Psycho episode was something I remember along with thousands of other things. Sitting at scout camp around the fire and generating stories for the other boys was also an important moment. It was perhaps more important. I was surrounded by a bunch of people who were better sportsmen, better knot-tiers, better cooks, better tent-erectors than I. But although I couldn’t tie the knots and I couldn’t erect the tents I could tell the ghost story.
“It seems to me that as I go through life events from my past come into focus and go out of focus depending on what is occurring at a given time. When I was writing horror fiction, the stuff relating to that – seeing Psycho, ghost stories around the camp fire, meeting Ramsey Campbell, the murder that happened in the next road – all seemed relevant. I no longer write horror fiction, so a whole series of other things come into focus, which are no more or less important than the things I was talking about when I wrote the Books of Blood.
“I think one of the things that we miss in making stories and art is the notion that it’s all a journal. That it’s all a reflection of a particular state of mind, at a particular time in our lives. I know, looking back over practically everything I’ve written in the last ten years, I could not write those things now. I’ve changed, I’m in a different place. I don’t believe the same things, the people who were in my life who were the basis for many of those characters have moved on, I have a different response to life, I have a different response to death, I have a different response to dogs and spaghetti – just because I’m changing! That doesn’t mean I look back over this stuff and then say, ‘Gee, that’s good and what I’m thinking now is bad,’ or vice versa. I think ‘That’s where I was...’ There is no absolute means by which you can judge the excellence of what you’ve done. All you can say is, ‘I did this from the heart, and this is where I was at the time.’”
The earliest creative outputs of Clive and his closest collaborators – Adrian Phillips, Philip Rimmer, David Fishel, Malcolm Sharps, Jude Kelly, Lynne Webster, Les Heseltine, Ann Taylor, Susan and Graham Bickley, Doug Bradley, Lynne Darnell, Julie Blake, Peter Atkins, Oliver Parker and others – draw on many influences:
The city of Liverpool moving from the post-war depression of the 1950s to the Merseybeat of the 1960s; the desolate landscape of the island of Tiree; the works of Ray Bradbury, J.M. Barrie, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.R. Edison, the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allan Poe; morbid and fantastic tales told by grandparents; parental approvals and disapprovals; interactions with school friends and teachers both positive and negative; news bulletins; art house cinema; and the visual impact of Théodore Géricault, Michelangelo, Jean Cocteau, William Blake and Jim Steranko. All influences, all important at different times, all drawn upon to create stories and share visions.
Many of the group above had found common ground in these influences as far back as their schooldays – and their shared imaginative and creative experiences in their years as the Hydra Theatre Company, the Theatre of the Imagination, the Mute Pantomime Theatre and the Dog Company would resonate far beyond the curtain call on their final theatre performances together.
In 1988, Peter Atkins assembled a small reunion of several of the group to capture a discussion on their collective endeavours for Shadows in Eden, a first retrospective of Clive’s output being edited by Stephen Jones. During that session, Clive had a moment of realisation that helped inspire this book. “An incredible amount of what makes me feel I can do whatever the fuck I want has to do with the Dog Company; with our collective history, and I never realised it till you just said it,” he said. “Of course I can do Hellraiser. Of course I can get books published. Of course I can do other movies, musicals, kid’s books, whatever – because we did it once. We made things happen. And that is so much of the source of my confidence in doing things now. That continuity is as important as the continuity of imagery, of concerns. From early on, we were dealing with weird imagery; we were dealing with odd characters, marginals, lunatics, homosexuals, magicians, people at the edge, people who are perceived as not belonging in the world we belonged in but who somehow charged up that world. And, sure, there were horrific images too, but there was more…”
Many years later, in talking for this retrospective, Clive added, “I know that when I’m shooting a picture or when I’m delivering a pitch or when I’m talking about an idea for a game or a comic book or whatever, the experiences that I had as a young man, talking through ideas, being able to take an idea and turn it twelve different ways is incredibly useful. It was a self-education. There’s no way you could be taught that, you can only do it in the company of people that you feel are not going to laugh at you if you get it wrong, which is what those people were. And I think we all gained massively in confidence and in creativity, so even though at the time it was frustrating and sometimes seemed pointless, in hindsight I think it was life-shaping. I don’t believe my subsequent career could or would have been as fruitful had I not had that period with those people.”
His influence on others through their shared experiences changed the course of their lives as well as Doug Bradley, world-famous as the elegant cenobite, Pinhead, readily asserts: “He changed my life, there’s no question about that. Had it not been for this experience that grew out of this accidental grouping of people in the school play, I wouldn’t be an actor.”
Philip Rimmer, one of Clive’s oldest friends and a steadying influence on Clive through school and his fringe theatre days, echoes the thought. “Not a day passes that I don’t give a thought for that fantastic (sic) period of my life,” he says now. “As you will have heard many times, Clive created an environment of extraordinary richness for us all to work in. Though the epicentre of all creativity, he encouraged each of us to co-create and contribute. That state of heightened, collective awareness is something that haunts me even today. Now, I live a world away, running a technology company, but just occasionally a little frisson of that old feeling thrills me when a group of us, together, have created a vision of something that might yet be...”
“They were collaborations in the truest sense of the word,” Clive told Douglas Winter for his biography, The Dark Fantastic. “They gave me a confidence that I’ve been able to bring to bear, many times, on a movie set – in just making shit up. This was a group of kids, isolated totally from the vocabulary of mainstream acting, but we found our own little solutions, which were really just from the heart. That informed, hugely, my methodology as an artist – including films and painting. A sense that you can just go at it – and, sure, you’re going to fuck up, but sometimes the fuck-ups will be very interesting.”
Peter Atkins, standing in the sunshine of his adopted home in the 1990s reflected in a similar vein on their early efforts, adding, “We thought, rightly or wrongly, and I suppose everybody always does, that we were doing significant, important work. To some extent we were. To some extent we were the usual snotty, conceited, ‘we-are-the-centre-of-the-universe’ kind of group, but it was a very exciting, exhilarating, liberating time. Now I live and work in Hollywood and I make my living in the film industry and as a novelist. Nevertheless… I look back very nostalgically – I suppose everybody does, though, to work they did when they caught the ‘bug’ most – and a lot of what we discovered then is certainly being used now, both informationally and subconsciously in terms of how we do things and the things we choose to do were fuelled and fired by what we were doing back then.”
In assessing what they were doing ‘back then,’ we hope to illuminate a little of what fires our own passion, drawn from works that sprang from the collective influences of the group. The process has also allowed some introspection from others we’ve interviewed, not least Clive himself.
“This many-weeks-long conversation with you guys has been a wonderful memory-jogger and an awful way of reminding myself what a lucky son-of-a-bitch I am,” Clive reflected to us near the end of more than a dozen conversations across several months in researching this book. “It’s also been bittersweet in places – you think of chances missed and you think of friendships gone and all of that stuff – but mostly sweet, because we did those things and we’re still doing those things and you know all these people that worked alongside us, and we alongside them, are also out there in the world working and making art – you’ve gotta love that, you know, whether it’s Les Dennis or Jude Kelly or Doug Bradley. Whatever magic it was that we had collectively, we’ve been able to take a little piece of it, each of us, away from that experience and out into the world and that’s very special. I know everybody to some extent does that – you take from the friends that you have at school, those best buddies, great memories of wild times. We spent most of those wild times making shit – you know, making films, making stories, making magazines or whatever and we still have those things to show, to some extent, and that’s the nice thing, that’s a very nice thing.
“I think there is a bittersweet quality in what we’ll loosely call the fantastique anyway, because good fantasy both pulls you into a different world and by doing that, makes you step away from your own life in a certain way, this is going to make me look at my life askew, as it were. You can actually bring up things which are really potentially painful and make them new to people and both sweeter in some ways and much, much more bitter. Even in a book which is as optimistic as Weaveworld, for instance, there are really sad parts and there’s a bitter-sweetness in ‘that which is imagined need never be lost’ as it implies that things can indeed be lost.”
Chapter One of Memory, Prophecy and Fantasy volume 1, 2009