The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
Books of Blood: Afterword
Door 24: On Jerusalem Street – Alan Baxter
Afterword: Peter Atkins
“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” – Clive Barker
Wherever We’re Opened…
A little over forty years ago now, a mate of mine said to me and another mate, “I’ve been writing these little horror stories. You wanna take a look at them?”
And that was how Doug Bradley and I became the first people in the world to read the stories that would, four years later, be published as Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. (It was meant to be Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, by the way—singular, not plural—because Clive’s original intent was for it to be one big fat single volume.) Well, Doug and I may have been the first, but we certainly weren’t the last. Those six volumes of stories (the first three published in 1984, the following three a year later) have never been out of print since.
Conventional publishing wisdom—even in 1984, and even more so now—was that collections of short stories were a bad risk and a rarely profitable one, particularly collections by some bloke that nobody’d ever heard of. And yet not only have the Books of Blood been perpetually in print in the UK and the USA—and have been translated, filmed, audio-booked, repackaged, e-booked, adapted into comic books, you fucking name it—they have pretty much come to be regarded as a groundbreaking genre-transforming landmark in the history of horror fiction, a pivotal text routinely cited by younger writers in the field as an inspirational starting point for their own little adventures in the scream trade.
So how did these dark wonders come to be? What made this Barker feller—a Liverpudlian painter and dramatist who was at that point failing to set the world on fire in North London—decide to revolutionize horror fiction?
Let’s get one thing straight: He did it for the money.
Calm down, love. I’m not impugning Clive’s motives nor his artistic ethics. What I mean by that is that Clive was the penniless playwright of our tiny and penniless theatre troupe, The Dog Company, and it occurred to him that, if he turned his attention briefly to commercial fiction, maybe he could underwrite his ability to be able to afford to keep turning out plays for us. The phrase hadn’t been invented back then, but the Books of Blood began as a side hustle. Little did any of us know…
But why horror? If a Barkerian toe was about to be dipped into the murky pool of popular fiction, why not crime, thriller, or romance, all of which were probably a safer and steadier bet than horror, Stephen King’s and James Herbert’s success notwithstanding? Well, apart from the fact that we were all diehard fans of horror movies and horror fiction and had been since we were kids, Clive had recently read Kirby McCauley’s seminal anthology Dark Forces and loved, among other things, the impressive range of the stories featured therein – the different tones, flavors, and approaches which collectively gave the lie to the simplistic notion that ‘Horror’ was one narrowly-defined thing, proving instead that it could be a vast canvas full of different and contrasting colors. And, as readers of his novels and admirers of his paintings know, if there’s one thing Clive loves, it’s a vast fucking canvas.
So he decided—for he was not a young man daunted by ambition—that he’d create his own Dark Forces, one just as expansive and inclusive as Kirby McCauley’s but, rather than an anthology by many authors, one that would be a collection written solely by him.
And he did it.
And here we are, four decades later, with Kendall Reviews devoting the month of December and the closing of the year to analyses and celebrations of those books and those stories. It’s been a lovely and heartwarming experience these last twenty-four days to read and admire these pieces and to see that those stories Doug and I read in handwritten drafts in our respective shitty bed-sits in Finsbury Park and Crouch End all those years ago are still being read, still being enjoyed, still having a profound impact on readers and fellow writers, to this day.
My gratitude and congratulations to all of those writers and critics who’ve participated in this Advent Calendar, and especially to Gavin, Mister K himself, for conceiving, administering, and editing it.
Happy Bloody Christmas, everyone!
Los Angeles, December 2021
copyright Peter Atkins 2021
KR: The full archive can be viewed by following the link – The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar 2021
PETER ATKINS is the author of the novels Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Moontown and the screenplays Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III, Hellraiser IV, and Wishmaster. His short fiction has appeared in several award-winning anthologies and has been selected eight times for one or more of the various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies. His collection, Rumors of the Marvelous, was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award, and his new collection, All Our Hearts are Ghosts & Other Stories, will be published next year. He blogs at peteratkins.blogspot.com and can be found on Facebook under his own name and on Twitter and Instagram as @limeybastard55.