Interview with Peter Atkins
Peter Atkins was born in Liverpool, England on the second of November, 1955. He was a founding member of The Dog Company, a 1970s avant-garde theatre group, along with Clive Barker and Doug Bradley—with whom he would later work on the Hellraiser movies. As well as his movie and TV work, he is the author of the novels Morningstar (1992), Big Thunder (1997), and the collection Wishmaster and Other Stories (1999). He is married to Dana Middleton and lives in Los Angeles, California.
What was the first thing you remember reading?
I can’t remember specifically, but it would have been an issue of Superman or Batman, I expect.
Who are your biggest influences?
I’m always cautious about the word “influences” because I think true influences are often unconscious or invisible, but I’m happy to say who some of my favorites were. Starting from childhood and through adolescence into young adulthood, here’s a roughly-chronological smattering of authors I loved (and, in most cases, still do): Edgar Rice Burroughs, Capt. W.E. Johns, Ian Fleming, P.G. Wodehouse, Dennis Wheatley, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Michael Moorcock, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Machen, John le Carre, and Elmore Leonard.
How did you come to work on Hellbound: Hellraiser II?
Clive Barker, Doug Bradley, and I were all members of The Dog Company (a 1970s theatre company in Liverpool and London) and were extremely close friends. When Chris Figg, the producer of Hellraiser, was putting a team together for the sequel, Clive was kind enough to recommend me.
What was the inspiration for Wishmaster?
Erik Saltzgaber, a friend of mine who’d worked for New World Pictures (the American company who’d financed the first two Hellraiser movies) changed jobs and became a development executive for Pierre David’s company. He called me and asked if I wanted to write them an evil genie movie. I told him it was the worst idea I’d ever heard and I wouldn’t waste my time coming up with a pitch. He told me I didn’t need to pitch, the job was mine if I wanted it. And suddenly the notion of an evil genie movie didn’t seem so bad at all.
Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on the type of art you create?
It’s an interesting question, to which the short answer is, “Yes, of course,” and to which the long answer could well fill more than one book. I will say that I suspect one’s emotional and intellectual environment—the people, ideas, and experiences in your life—are probably more important and influential than climate or geography, but that it all plays an inevitable part.
Is it easier for you to create if given an assignment or does it get in the way of your creativity?
It depends how fond you are of the assignment, I suppose. The ticking clock of a deadline can really help some imaginations focus and flower, but can be stifling for others.
What are your methods of creating a screenplay/story or novel?
Start at page one and don’t stop till it’s finished. I know that sounds flippant, but it’s kind of the truth. For something to stand a chance of being good, as opposed to merely being done, you have to be excited by whatever it is that’s the trigger; sometimes that’s a thought, sometimes an image, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a character, but—whichever it is—that’s the piece of grit or grain of sand in the oyster that, if you’re lucky, produces the pearl.
What have you written that you are most proud of?
That’s very hard to answer. As any suitably neurotic artist will tell you, sometimes you look back at stuff and cringe at how awful it is and sometimes you look back at stuff and think it’s so much better than anything you can do now. So you can’t win. My personal feeling is that Rumors of the Marvelous, my short story collection, features my best writing—but I’m very proud (and very touched) how many people are still fond of movies I was involved with thirty years ago, so it’s a tough call.
What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your writing career?
I’d been in North Carolina for a couple of weeks on pre-production for Hellraiser III and was due to fly back to England. Tony Hickox wanted me to stay for the entire shoot, but the producers hadn’t budgeted for me to be there. But they did have money for cast-members, obviously, so Tony—bless him—came up with the idea of casting me as one of the Cenobites so that they could have me around as a writer while technically paying me as an actor.
What projects are you working on now?
Before the pandemic, I was in the middle of recording audiobooks of a few of my books, but they’re on hold until after lockdown. Doug’s reading of Morningstar was finished in time, I’m delighted to say, and was released a month or so ago. My latest story is in the third volume of The Lovecraft Squad, a shared-world anthology series created by Stephen Jones, and Rumors of the Marvelous, the story collection I mentioned earlier, has just come out in an e-book edition to join the hardcover and paperback. My next book will be another collection, but I’m still a story or two short for a respectable page count, so it’ll be the end of the year before I even start looking for a publisher for that.