The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
Books of Blood: An Introduction
Introduction: Paul Kane
“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” – Clive Barker
I’ve told this story probably more times than I care to remember, but here goes again… I first came across the fiction of Clive Barker, like so many other people, back in the 1980s. I’d already been introduced to horror at a ridiculously early age, when a mate handed me a copy of James Herbert’s The Rats in the schoolyard and told me I’d like it; he wasn’t wrong. From that moment on, I lapped up anything by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon and so many others, as well as seeking out as many of the video nasties of that era I could get my hands on – usually lent to me by older relatives of my friends. It was little wonder, then, that when I saw a copy of Books of Blood on the shelves in my local store I grinned from ear to ear and just knew I had to have it. This was the omnibus edition – we lived in quite an out of the way place, so the individual ones probably wouldn’t have made it up to us – with the Barker artwork on the cover, though I didn’t know at the time Clive drew and painted as well. Didn’t know he wrote for the theatre and acted, or he’d made short films either by then. The only thing I knew was the book looked absolutely awesome and all that stood between me and it was putting the pocket money I’d saved down on the counter.
I ran off with it and started reading even before I got home… to be honest, I’d started reading it in the shop so I was just continuing on with it. After the glowing introduction by Clive’s fellow Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell came the first part of the framing titular story, about a man who pretends to talk to the dead, to tell their tales, and suffers the ultimate price for it: they begin to write their stories on his skin; a human Book of Blood! Wow… Such a cool device, but there was also something that transcended the horror here – and I found this time and time again as I read those tales. ‘Midnight Meat Train’, for instance, doesn’t just present us with a psychopathic serial killer – which would have been enough for most horror writers of that time – it gives us the totally mind-blowing and mythic reason for the murders.
The same was true of story after story, and even without the recommendation from King saying that Clive was the future of horror, I could see that these collections were going to be a game-changer. No two tales were the same, ranging from comedy horror in ‘The Yattering and Jack’ to rampaging monster horror in ‘Rawhead Rex’, to horror that contemplated what it was to be us, in the aptly-named ‘Human Remains’ (one of the best short stories of all time, in any genre as far as I’m concerned). It’s a level of diversity I’ve tried to being to my collections ever since. Just take a look at The Butterfly Man, or Lost Souls, or the more recent Naked Eye (where horror superheroes rub shoulders with fairy tales and mad scientists). As you can imagine, I sat and waited patiently for more stories and books – re-reading the one I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon in the meantime. Volumes 4-6 followed, and Clive’s first novel, the utterly brilliant Damnation Game, then The Hellbound Heart and so many more. I don’t think I need to reiterate my obsession with that particular mythos! But, for me, I don’t think anything has ever matched the experience of reading those first published short stories.
I’m lucky enough to have worked with Clive on projects in the past, and to meet him in person. Not least when myself and my better half Marie were invited to post-production on John Harrison’s Book of Blood movie adaptation, which seemed to bring things around full circle for me. We’d already spent time on location at Dundas Castle up in Edinburgh while they filmed certain scenes. But here they were shooting the bits where the spirits of the dead break through into this world, a prelude to seeing the highways they travel. We were on the top deck of the catering bus and spotted a ghost-zombie walking past with one arm below. “Well,” said Clive, “you don’t see that every day.” And the simple fact is you also don’t get a story like ‘Book of Blood’ every day, nor any of the others in this fantastic collection of tales.
When Gavin messaged me and told me what he had in mind for the month of December on Kendall Reviews, I thought: what a great idea! A Books of Blood advent calendar, where different people write about their favourites every day in the run up to Christmas! I’m actually very glad he didn’t ask me to choose just one to focus in on and talk about, but instead to introduce the whole thing to you, the unsuspecting public!
So, without any further ado, I’ll stop waffling on and let these other talented writers and fans talk about why they love these stories as much as I do. It’ll probably make you head for the shelf and start reading them again, as I know I’ll be doing. If you haven’t come across the Books of Blood at all, then I envy you. For the chance to feel like that little kid again seeing the cover, and reading them in awe for the first time.
Take care and have a wonderful festive season.
Paul Kane, November 2021
* Parts of this introduction have appeared online previously in a different form.
KR: Door 1: The Book Of Blood – Alan Baxter
Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over a hundred books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, Wonderland (a Shirley Jackson Award finalist) and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt. Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, plus the WordCrafter virtual event 2021 – where he delivered the keynote speech – as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next): Sacrifice, released by Epic Pictures. His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). He has also contributed to the Warhammer 40k universe for Games Workshop. Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to RED – Blood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. In addition, he writes thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret and Her Husband’s Grave (a recent sellout on both Amazon and Waterstones), came out in 2020. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.
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