The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
The Book of Blood
The Book Of Blood
“He was to be their page, their book, the vessel for their autobiographies. A book of blood. A book made of blood. A book written in blood.” – Clive Barker
In my early-teens I became a total horror fan. For years I’d been reading fantasy epics, loving stuff like Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings. I’d dabbled in sci-fi and enjoyed it, but fantasy was my jam. Then I read a book by James Herbert and it freaked me the fuck out. And I loved that feeling. The book was The Fog and I’d never had a reading experience quite like it.
I grew up in a small village in England and once every two weeks a travelling library used to visit the end of my lane. It was basically a small bus, but the inside had been gutted and lined with bookshelves. It was a great initiative run by the nearby town library to get books out to elderly people and others who couldn’t easily access the main library building. And it was great for this 13-year old weirdo who read so voraciously. The six books at a time limit was often not enough to see me through two weeks, but I always found something new there.
The guy who drove that library bus was a fantasy fan too. He used to recommend books to me every two weeks, which is how I discovered most of my fantasy favourites. So when I said how much I’d enjoyed The Fog and asked for more like that, he narrowed his eyes and said, “You sure? That’s pretty heavy stuff.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I loved it. What else is there?”
Turned out he was a horror fan too. So he introduced me to Ramsay Campbell and Stephen King and Shaun Hutson and all that mad stuff of the 80s horror paperback boom. Fantasy and horror became the bedrock of the stuff I loved, and still do. As I got older, I became a crime fan too. I say all this to point out that I was pretty well read in the genre when, in about 1989, I came across a two volume omnibus collection of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. I knew nothing about Barker at the time, I hadn’t discovered the awesomeness of The Damnation Game or Cabal or anything else at that point. But these books looked and sounded great.
So I brought both omnibus editions of Books of Blood, which contained all six original volumes, home and sat down to read the first story, “The Book of Blood”. It’s fair to say that story literally changed my life. I’d never read anything quite like it, despite how well-versed I was by that point in horror and the fantastic.
Here was a story so dark, so lyrical, so wildly imaginative but utterly convincing. The highways of the dead and the dead’s frustrations, literally writing their stories into the flesh of a trickster, a young conman, spoke to me so vividly. It was delicious storytelling and I fell in love. That opening line, alone in a paragraph all its own: “The dead have highways.” Mesmerising.
The story opens us to Barker’s blending of the sensual and erotic within the darkness and the weird. Mary Florescu’s desire for the young conman parapsychologist, Simon McNeal, unlocks the thin barrier between our world and the highways of the dead. “Her desire for the boy had done that: her endless thoughts of him, her frustration, her heat and her disgust at her heat had pulled the crack wider.” Here we get a tantalising glimpse of where Barker will go with his fiction. The terrible and the profane are his playground. This opening story is subtle compared to where some of the later yarns in the Books go. But it sets the scene so well.
The Books of Blood were the first I ever read where I got to the end and then immediately returned to the start and began reading all over again. In the space of just a few days I read both omnibus volumes, back to back, twice. The last story “On Jerusalem Street” takes us back to this first story, framing everything in between, which is a masterstroke. At the end of my first reading I remember sitting there, stunned, both impressed and appalled at how Barker had played me, the reader. He’d juggled me, clearly he was a virtuoso at work, and he’d left me desperate for more. But I didn’t have any more, so I picked up the first book again and started over.
When I say that reading experience changed my life, I’m not joking. I immediately went out and found everything Barker had done so far (which amounted to The Damnation Game, The Hellbound Heart, Weaveworld, Cabal, and The Great and Secret Show at that point) and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. The Great and Secret Show is still my favourite novel.
No author has been a bigger influence on my own writing. No one has had a bigger impact on me, and there’s nothing better, as far as I’m concerned. As an author, we quite often get the question, “Which book by someone else do you wish you’d written?” I always answer the same way: I don’t wish I’d written any other book, because we can all only write the books we can write. BUT! I want to write books that make someone feel the way I felt the first time I read the Books of Blood.
Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy liberally mixed with crime, mystery, and noir. He’s also a martial arts expert, a whisky-soaked swear monkey, and dog lover. He creates dark, weird stories among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, where he lives with his wife, son and hound. Find him online at www.alanbaxter.com.au
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you can see the Clive Barker influence stamped all over Alan’s books.