Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood Advent Calendar: A huge thank you and final essay.
Post By Gavin Kendall, Essay By Paul Flewitt
Clive Barker’s Book Of Blood is without a doubt my favourite book. Barker is my favourite author, he’s pretty much my favourite in whatever medium he works in. He has helped me through difficult times throughout my life and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful. Maybe I’ll share those stories at some point in the future.
In December 2021 I wanted to celebrate Clive and the masterpiece that is the Books Of Blood. But how?
Initially I was thinking about personally reviewing each tale in the collection, but decided against that as that doesn’t really fit the Kendall Reviews mantra. How about asking the Clive Barker fans to contribute? Ask them to, (on a first-come, first-served basis) pick their favourite stories and offer a review/essay. This then promotes Clive, the contributors and Kendall Reviews all at the same time.
The response was incredible! All the stories were snapped up in days and within a week the posts were starting to come in and it was then that I knew I was onto something special.
I thought a fun way to host these appraisals of the Books Of Blood would be to present them as an advent calendar. Each day from December 1st, a post or two would be presented to the KR fiends up until December 24th.
And that led to The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to thank the wonderful contributors for taking the time and effort to make this event so special. I know that Phil and Sarah Stokes have seen the calendar and I’d like to think that Clive is aware of it as well.
So, a huge thank you to Paul Kane, Alan Baxter, Yvonne Miller, Caryn Larrinaga, Michael Sellars, Tabatha Wood, J.C. Robinson, S.P. Wilson, Cody Langille, Paul Flewitt, Nat Cassidy, Dean M. Drinkel, Matt Adcock, Richard Gerlach, Mark West, Joseph Sale, George Daniel Lea, Steve L. Clark, Ben Walker, Dave Jeffery, T.J. Tranchell, James Bennett, RJ Remoraman, Matthew R. Davis, Hugh McStay, Nat Whiston, Gary J. Van Lare, Paul Flewitt, Pete Mesling, Jo Blair, Alan Baxter, Peter Atkins.
Incidentally, due to being unwell @RACHELb75 sadly had to drop out. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she posted a contribution on her own blog on Christmas Day. Her post A Gratitude Post For Kendall Reviews And Clive Barker is a delightful read, and I’m thrilled to be able to add it to the calendar.
I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your contributions, Phil and Sarah for their support and finally Clive Barker, for giving me a reason.
“The dead have highways
“They run, unerring lines of ghost-trains, of dream-carriages, across the wasteland behind our lives, bearing an endless traffic of departed souls. Their thrum and throb can be heard in the broken places of the world, through cracks made by acts of cruelty, violence and depravity. Their freight, the wandering dead, can be glimpsed when the heart is close to bursting, and sights that should be hidden come plainly into view.” – Clive Barker
Let’s Talk Books Of Blood
And so begins the crazy ghost train ride that is Books of Blood, the first published stories by Clive Barker. It’s no overstatement to say that these thirty stories, split into six volumes, changed what it was to write horror. It was the collection which caused Stephen King to utter “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker,” and “Clive Barker makes it feel like James Herbert and I have been asleep for ten years.”
Other writers and reviewers have offered thoughts and critiques on Books of Blood. You can research them if you wish, but that isn’t what you’ll get from me here. I’m not really in a position to critique these volumes, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to do so. I’m biased, you see? I’m a fan.
So, what is the purpose of this article? Well, I guess we’ll find that out together. I’m writing this with no clear idea or plan of what it is I want to say. I guess I’ll give a potted history of how Books of Blood was created, and highlight the importance of it in the canon of Barker’s work. That will serve to offer an understanding of who Barker was at that time, what his aims and ambitions were, and how he really embodied a punk ethic in the horror world. I suppose, over all, I’ll express what this collection means to me and many other members of the Barker fanbase. Or not … who knows??
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Clive Barker was a playwright. He owned a theatre company, The Dog Company, which toured and put on performances of original work by its director. Works like Frankenstein In Love, History of the Devil and The Secret Life of Cartoons were played in small theatres in London, Edinburgh and various places around Europe, never meeting much more than moderate success. Barker lived on welfare, having moved from his native Liverpool to London. He needed an income, but had no interest in working a regular day job. His destiny was to write, create, to imagine and put the product of his imagination out into the world, and he knew it. Primarily, he needed a vehicle to draw attention to his theatre work.
It was a fateful occurrence when he was walking past a bookshop and saw a copy of a horror anthology, which included a story by fellow Scouser, Ramsey Campbell. Barker saw how he could get his name out into the world, despite having no idea how to write a novel. He had been writing short stories for friends, for shits and giggles, for some time. Now, he knew he could take it seriously and sell the fruit of those labours. So Barker set to work, secretly penning short story after short story, putting the same prolific effort he adopted with his plays into these stories. He shared some of them with his cast of actors, and they were suitably impressed.
Once he had enough, he took them to his theatre agent. He was no literary agent, but did his best to hawk these tales around various publishers as a collection in their own right. The problem was that no one in the industry had any faith in a collection of short stories, and still less in one written by an unknown author. It seemed a doomed enterprise, until one publisher saw something in them. They were visceral, and showed a rare imagination. It would be a hard sell, but Sphere Books were prepared to take the chance.
Stephen King was given an advance copy of Books of Blood, and he gushed. He told the publisher that if they didn’t sign this writer, he would haunt them forever. The letter has been published several times now, and gave rise to the two taglines that have hung like an albatross around Barker’s neck ever since. An albatross, because Barker never was a horror writer. He was a dark fantasist, but that term didn’t really exist in 1984. He was given a label which sought to limit him, and Clive Barker is not a bird to be kept in a cage.
The contents of Books of Blood tell the lie to the horror tagline. Some of these stories really are horror at its most sexual, graphic and visceral. Others are not. The collection gives glimpses into a new interpretation, a new way of telling stories in the dark mode. He embraces B-movie horror, monster horror, gothic horror, dark fantasy and huge doses of social commentary. He takes risks, not least in his insistence on using homosexual characters at a time when the government in the UK was set on marginalising the gay community. He redefined horror from the slasherama that it had been through the 70’s and made it something beautiful, full of wonder. Should we really fear the dark, or should we be intrigued by it?
Over the thirty titles in the six volumes, there are a few stone-cold classics. Dread, Pig Blood Blues, In The Hills, The Cities, The Forbidden, Rawhead Rex, and Jacqueline Ess; Her Last Will and Testament all stand up as seminal works which rise from the pack here. That’s not to say that the others are bad stories, far from it, but it’s these ones that really pave the way for everything Barker is to achieve later. That more of these haven’t been adapted to film is a real shame. Who doesn’t want to see Podujevo and Populac rise against each other on the big screen, or see the story of Jacqueline Ess unfold in the cinema? There are other stories that could easily be adapted, of course; Son of Celluloid would be a perfect story for the big screen among many others. Alas, Hollywood really doesn’t like to take chances on stories which think out of the box.
But how does Books of Blood stand now? It’s nearing 40 years since its release, and times have certainly moved on. How has this collection borne the ravages of age?
Well, pretty bloody well. If you read any given post on social media where someone is asking where to start with Clive Barker, you will see Books of Blood mentioned. It has given rise to several movies, including one successful franchise in Candyman. Just recently, Jordan Peele released a new imagining of Candyman, while a new Books of Blood themed movie was released on Netflix. More importantly though, the influence of these stories has been seen throughout horror over the intervening years: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, the work of Guillermo Del Toro and a plethora of other artists and projects bear the hallmarks of Clive Barker’s influence. Rarely does a week pass without me reading a new author interview, and the subject namechecks Barker as an influence. Hell, I’m one of them! Still more are inspired by the novels and novellas, and none of them would be in the world without the success of Books of Blood.
I said elsewhere in this strand of articles that Books of Blood is the gateway drug for many Barker enthusiasts. This is their entry point, their first experience of him on the page. First impressions matter, and Barker certainly leaves an indelible one here. From page one, we’re promised something different, something new, something exciting.
To close this ramble out, I’ll share my own first experience. I was maybe 14 and had become jaded by horror. I’d read a lot of it, and I guess I’d figured the formula. Nothing really surprised or shocked me anymore, and I was too young to appreciate a good, well told story. I wondered if I just didn’t like reading anymore, and was flitting from book to book, not really finding what I was looking for. Then, a chance visit from a family friend changed everything. He saw that I was reading Stephen King for the umpteenth time, and assured me that he had something I’d appreciate. Next time he visited, he dropped the first volume of Books of Blood on my lap. I set about reading, and was enraptured from the first line: “The dead have highways …” From that point, I knew this was something very different, something new. The collection was old by that point; it had been released a decade previous, but it was new to me. I had no idea who Clive Barker was (a notion I was disabused of when I was told he wrote Hellraiser,) but I was hungry to discover more. Needless to say, I devoured that volume, and couldn’t wait to read the rest. That event and introduction really changed the course of everything for me. Without this, I might’ve been a straight fantasy writer, or I might have reached for something that wasn’t attainable, because I had no frame of reference for what it was. Barker opened my eyes to possibilities I had no idea existed. He became important to me, at a formative time in a young man’s life. That’s what Books of Blood is for me, and I hope that future generations can still find something in it for many years to come. It really should be considered one of the greatest works of short dark fiction of the modern age, and Barker considered among the great writers of our time.
Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author with the CHBB/Vamptasy press. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.
Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.
In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.
In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes; A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. “Poor Jeffrey” was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.
In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies; Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane and more.
In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue; The Silent Invader for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.
Paul continues to work on further material.
He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.
You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…
I’m living in the South-East of England between London and Brighton. I’ve been married to Laura since 2000 and have two daughters. (Emily & Freya). I’ve always had a passion for horror and decided, as a hobby, that I’d like to create a blog to showcase this fascination with the darker genres.
I started Kendall Reviews in January 2017, initially to host my reviews of books and music that I had in my sizeable collections. This became a passion project pretty quickly and morphed into a blog that wanted to help PROMOTE HORROR.
I want to thank all the people who interact with the blog and the rest of the Kendall Reviews team.
Please find all my contact details here