It’s time for the Cavblog’s weekly guest blog when we invite a writer to explain which book they wish they’d written. This week we welcome Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press…
It’s not often someone says to you “What’s the one genre book, film, comic, or TV show you wished you’d written?”, but to be fair, it’s the sort of question Cavan likes to ask. It’s not an easy one to answer either, because at various times of my life I’ve been moved by whatever I’ve read or watched to have said to myself “I wish I’d written/directed/been involved in that”. Of course, I only have limited space here, so I’ve necessarily had to narrow it down, and even then I’ve come up with two possibilities. But, with a little thought, a lot of coffee and some grunting, I’ve decided what it is I REALLY wish I’d written.
One word and one name: Imajica by Clive Barker. It’s as simple as that – although Weaveworld came an exceedingly close second. Weaveworld was the eye-opener for me – an introduction to the possibilities inherent in what was then the newish subgenre of ‘urban’ fantasy. Imajica is the culmination of the promise that Weaveworld held out to me.
I’d been reading a lot of what most people think of as fantasy – swords, sandals and sorcery. The problem was that all the books were starting to bear uncanny resemblances to each other, composed of a quest with stock characters and cod-medieval dialogue that palled after about the twentieth book – if not long before. Science fiction and horror had been my first loves, and in essence it was the former that had been most successful in sparking my imagination. I imagined that fantasy was the next logical progression, but for me, it went the other way. So, I sought something else that would broader my genre horizons.
I’d read the Books of Blood when they came out (or soon after) and I’d avidly devoured them – Barker certainly had a unique take on horror, and an imagination and invention that I suspect many were envious of at the time (including me probably). Then, along came Weaveworld, which I remember buying simply because it had the name Clive Barker emblazoned on it – but I didn’t bother to read it until many years later, when I’d long moved away from home. Someone at university waxed extremely lyrical about it, which prompted the moving of boxes and assorted furniture to locate it. And so I sat down to read it…
What a revelation it turned out to be. Here was fantasy and horror, and mixed to great effect. This was as far removed as one could get from what the general public would consider to be fantasy – and yet, undeniably it was fantasy. And all born from a simple premise – what if there were a whole world contained in the threads of a carpet? That’s essentially it, but what that doesn’t get over is the sheer breadth and scope of what Barker had written. To coin a much overused phrase – it was mind-blowing, in every sense imaginable.
Then, that same someone at university told me about Imajica and that in her opinion it was even better than Weaveworld. Off I went to Dillon’s (as it was before it was taken over by Waterstone’s) and bought a copy – this time I didn’t wait years to read it. I sat down that night and got my nose right into it.
She was right – it was indeed better than Weaveworld: it surpassed even my expectations of what Barker was capable of. It’s a wide-ranging novel, quite literally. Earth is only one of five Dominions, but it’s been cut off from the rest. The novel deals with the time when the other Dominions come closest to earth, a time when it can be reconciled and brought into contact with the others. It’s also a deeply complex novel, a meditation on the nature of God, sex, love, gender and death, all centred around the character of John Furie Zacharias (who has been described as a Christ-like figure – certainly there are themes of love and redemption apparent in the plot, so that isn’t necessarily wide of the mark. However, it’s a vastly different conception from the Christian notion of Christ). Add in to that a measure of invention that would make any pantheon’s creator god jealous, and you have a story that is both vast in scope and yet very intimately connected with themes that run through the lives of everyone on this planet.
Once again, my mind was well and truly blown. To me, this was literary dynamite. It set off whole trains of thought in my head and it even inspired me to sit down and have a go at writing that one novel that I was assured that I had somewhere in me (I’m still looking for it, by the way).
Above all, it made me wish that I had been the one that had sat down at a word-processor and conjured it all up. It’s one of the only pieces of writing that has truly moved me and rendered me speechless. Most of the books I’ve read have set my imagination going, of course, but only for the duration of the book: not so Imajica. It stayed with me for weeks afterwards, and even now I can remember bits and pieces here and there, at least fifteen years after I read it (and yes, Imajica is two decades old already – an astonishing fact in itself).
It changed my conception of fantasy forever – Weaveworld had given me a glimpse and, like I said above, Imajica had fulfilled the promise set out by the previous book, showing me the full panoply of boundless possibility that fantasy is capable of being. That encapsulates what I harbour in my writer’s heart – to create a piece of art that similarly moves and astonishes people. I just wish that it had been me and not Mr Barker that had been the one to write it.
Simon is the publisher of the Spectral Press who publishes limited edition signed and numbered single story chapbooks. The first, What They Hear In The Dark by Gary McMahon has been receiving rave reviews.
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