First published back in July of 2011 in a downloadable ebook format as well as a very limited print-run of just 100 softback hardcopies (each one numbered and signed by Clive Barker), Clive Barker website owners Phil and Sarah Stokes return with another publication on the author, painter and filmmaker.  Here we have an incredible look into the creation of Barker’s Books of the Abarat in the form of a companion entitled ‘Beneath The Surface Of Clive Barker’s Abarat- Volume 1’.  Released just prior to the publication of the greatly anticipated ‘Abarat - Book Three: Absolute Midnight’ (2011) which followed at the end of September 2011, the companion chose its timing well – sparking up the excitement and interest in the next instalment with a unique look into (predominately) the creation of the first two books.

The companion begins with a four page unused opening to ‘Abarat - Book One’ (2002) that sets this incredibly insightful companion book off perfectly with an early indication of the unpublished excerpts to come.  From here the book takes the reader along a brief outline of Barker’s previous experience with fiction directed at a young adult audience as well as similarly themed ideas.  However soon enough we’re into the main crux of the companion book - the creation of the Abarat series.

The formation of the first Abarat painting – that of Kaspa Wolfswinkel begins the reader’s journey into the imaginative flare that created this monumentally elaborate world.  The immensely daunting task of creating so many huge oil paintings, the sheer physical effort required by Barker to keep going with the project during difficult times, the way the paintings seemed to almost create themselves, the thousands of early sketches, the brainstorming and unleashing of the author’s imagination – it’s all divulged over the next chapter, along with full colour representations running alongside it all.

Following on from a two page key to the Abarat Archipelago islands, the companion turns the spotlight onto the actual writing process.  Here we are treated to what feels like a very privileged insight into the initial drafting of the tales.  From the very first handwritten drafts, to the typed-up second drafts, to the corrected proofs, and so on.  This unique view at the often painstakingly laborious process of writing this amazingly complex series of books is quite frankly breath-taking.

Ten full pages are taken up by comparing the first draft of the chapter ‘Doodle’ from ‘Abarat - Book One’ (2002) with the text from the final draft of the chapter.  Set side-by-side, the ‘contrast and compare’ aspect of this really allows the reader to begin to see the remarkable differences between the two drafts, giving a further insight into the amount of work that goes into the creation of the final books.

After a brief look at the characters of Abarat and a display showing a handful of previously unpublished Abaratian poems, the companion moves on to perhaps one of the most insightful sections – twenty full pages transcribing a middle school in Alaka’s questions on the Abarat books to Clive Barker.  The questions were posed to the author just prior to delivering the drafts to ‘Abarat - Book 3: Absolute Midnight’ (2011). 

This section alone is what really makes the companion such an incredible insight into the intricacies of the Abarat books, their creation, and the author’s personal and emotional journey with writing and painting the books.

Questions such as “How old is Abarat and how was it created, besides you?”, “Could you explain more about the oldest game in the world?”, “Did you deliberately develop Candy in the pattern of an epic hero?” and “Abarat seems to be full of many important themes. Do you think you can tell us what you see as some of the important themes?”…to name but a few of the superb questions raised by the pupils of Kodiak Middle School.

The questions really allow Barker to open up his magical world more, examining, dissecting and elaborating on so many different aspects from this relatively early point in the saga (only the first two books had been published thus far).

One of the most impactful moments is when Barker details that the character of Christopher Carrion is in fact himself.  The admission is a very touching and quietly moving moment in the questions, which gently pulls away the curtains of Clive Barker as an author and shows the emotional man standing behind the characters.

The last section briefly lays out an exciting glimpse of what is to come in ‘Abarat - Book Three: Absolute Midnight’ (2011) as well as hinting towards the writing of books four and five.

The companion ends with a very thorough Abaratian Glossary that spans seventeen full pages detailing Abaratian terms, words, names, places and the like.

DLS Review:
Okay, so my love of Barker’s work is certainly no secret!  And to say that I find the Abarat Books are an immense voyage is a hell of an understatement.  So when it was announced on the Clive Barker website (‘Revelations’) that Phil and Sarah Stokes were compiling a companion to accompany the first two books – I was just itching to get myself a copy.

The end result is nothing short of spectacular.  If you’re passionate about the Abarat Books, then the insights into their creation as well as a brief glimpse at Barker’s own personal journey through the creation of the books, all of which the companion provides, will bring out so much more for you from the stories and characters. 

The book has been lovingly put together, with an obvious affection for Barker’s Abaratian imagery.  With each page displaying full colour reproductions of many of the paintings, sketches, notes and photos of Barker at work, this really is an incredibly beautifully presented and high-quality book.

Aside from the previously unpublished passages, poems and sketches, by far the most surprisingly insightful addition is the aforementioned question session with the pupils of Kodiak Middle School.  The questions asked about the Abarat books are intelligent and well-thought out, offering insightful answers about the construction, realisation and intricacies of the Abarat world.

Having such a limited print-run of just 100 hardcopies (as well as an additional five unsigned copies offered to competition winners from printing overstocks), it seems a hell of a shame that the book wasn’t made available to a much wider audience.  Okay, so the ebook version is available to everyone – but even in this day and age, many people are apprehensive about paying for non-physical books, and as such, may ultimately miss out on this incredible companion.

It’s a shame and I feel very lucky to be one of the few to have a hardcopy of the book.  But it is what it is, and maybe with time the companion may see a re-release, perhaps as it is expanded upon with the forthcoming Abarat books.

The companion runs for a total of 120 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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