Clive Barker on Crafting Horror: Write Without Boundaries [Exclusive]
On the latest episode of Post Mortem with Mick Garris, the Hellraiser writer-director Clive Barker reveals how to craft horror without boundaries.
Clive Barker has long been a master at immersing audiences in the wildly fantastical worlds he creates. But he insists that he pulls this off not by immersing himself in the writing process, but by taking himself out of it.
On the latest episode of Post Mortem with Mick Garris, the Hellraiser writer-director says that he removes himself from the craftsmanship of his work by handwriting—never typing—all of his stories. “It’s a form of madness,” he jokes, and Garris teases him about the yellow pads he’s seen him scribble on when the two have worked together. But as with the best forms of madness, there’s a method to it, too.
“It works for me [because] it attaches my head to the process of drawing,” Barker explains. “And I very seldom create a story without having drawn the characters first. It matters to me because I don’t think of myself as a writer when I’m writing—I think of myself as a journalist, reporting on something I’m seeing.”
Barker says that the best thing for a writer to do is to not think about your words, but about your imagery.
“The first and second drafts are setting down who’s going where, who’s killing whom, and how much blood there is, so it doesn’t matter whether I’m thinking about the craft of it,” he continues. “What matters is that I’m seeing something very intense in my mind’s eye, which my words simply describe—with as much accuracy, economy, and elegance as [possible].”
Garris observes that when Barker is at his subversive best, it seems as if he’s writing with utter fearlessness. But even then, Barker chalks up some of his most daring and unrestrained work to his reporter mentality.
“I’ve never thought about this before until you just said it, but I’m not fearless,” Barker says. “A journalist is honest about what they’re seeing. I’m not saying, ‘Gee, I’m gonna punch my way out of this envelope that I’ve been put in.’ I’m just writing. It just comes naturally.”
Of course, writing horror with that commitment to honesty has gotten Barker into some confrontations over the years. One incident occurred in 1986. He submitted his Books of Blood story “In the Hills, the Cities” to his editor, and was told that its gay protagonists and homoeroticism were too “offensive” to publish.
“I’d been paid 1,000 pounds as an advance for my 15 stories, and I said, ‘You know what? Thank you, here’s the 1,000 pounds back. I’ll go somewhere else,’ and I took the stories elsewhere,” he recalls. “About a week later, they called and said, ‘At least let us censor it.’ I said, ‘Absolutely fucking not! No! No!’ Eventually, I wore them down. They published the story, and it won the British and World Fantasy Awards, and there we go.”
Cowing to censors—or even practicing self-censorship—are not options that Clive Barker believes a horror creative can afford to take. “You know what I can’t figure?,” he asks Garris. “I can’t imagine why you would pick up the pen with boundaries in your mind.”