5 Questions with Conrad Williams on “Raptors” and the Shirley Jackson Award

[NOTE: This is part of a series of Q&As with the Shirley Jackson Award nominees.]

Conrad Williams was born in 1969. He is the author of seven novels (HEAD INJURIES, LONDON REVENANT, THE UNBLEMISHED, ONE, DECAY INEVITABLE, BLONDE ON A STICK and LOSS OF SEPARATION), four novellas (NEARLY PEOPLE, GAME, THE SCALDING ROOMS and RAIN) and two collections of short stories (USE ONCE THEN DESTROY and BORN WITH TEETH). He has won two major prizes for his novels. ONE was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel, (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while THE UNBLEMISHED won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993. He won another British Fantasy Award, for Best Novella (THE SCALDING ROOMS) in 2008. In 2009 he was Guest of Honour at the World Horror Convention. He edited the anthology GUTSHOT, which was shortlisted for both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards. He is an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University.

He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife, three sons and a monster Maine Coon.

Conrad kindly answered a few of my questions…


Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the Shirley Jackson Award nomination! Will you tell us about “Raptor” and what inspired you to write it?

Conrad Williams: It’s a story based on various things that were happening in my life back in 1988, when I was 19. I was working in a busy town centre ‘fun pub’ where my girlfriend at the time also worked. Sometimes we worked together, fixing drinks while people queued four or five deep at the bar. The girls were encouraged to wear shorts and fitted T-shirts. It was the first time I’d been in close proximity to someone who was being nakedly appraised – all these guys leering at her while they waited for their pints. I derived a strange kind of pride from it at the time. She seemed utterly oblivious to the effect she was having on these men. It seemed a natural progression, story-wise, to think about that power, and maybe that it wasn’t so innocent.

STP_Winter2013-425x561Also my grandmother died that year – the last of my four grandparents to do so. I’d been a kid when my mother’s parents died in 1976 and 1980. My grandfather died in 1982, but he was pretty aloof; I never really enjoyed any kind of relationship with him. My grandmother I got to know a little better. I would visit her in hospital on my way to work. One evening she was asleep when I arrived. She looked so vulnerable. I waited until she woke up and I told her I loved her. ‘I should think so,’ she said, mock archly. I was glad I was able to tell her that because she died maybe a month later. It was odd: I was sharing time with a girl, someone who didn’t know my grandmother, who didn’t know this side of my life to any great degree. The story came out of thoughts about that, and how we are different people depending on the person we are with.

KC: What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, and why did you first begin writing?

CW: It’s difficult to say. One of my early mentors, the novelist David Peak, always believed that some writers were born. It was something he could see in the work, in the application you showed, a natural talent. I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. I looked forward to doing so at school when many of my peers considered it a chore. It’s the most miraculous thing to turn a blank page into a breeding ground for ideas and characters and conflicts. It’s the best kind of fun, and when it’s going well, you can disappear into a magical zone where many hours and many thousands of words can go by almost without you realising it.

The writers than have influenced me most include M John Harrison, Christopher Priest, Cormac McCarthy, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Derek Raymond… I love stories, but I love stylists too.

KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

CW: Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, I think. I’ve never been so pierced by a novel. I read it for the first time shortly before my third son was born. In a bizarre way it has become a sort of guide to parental behaviour for me. It is beautifully written, startlingly unsentimental and deeply unsettling. A masterpiece.

KC: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award?

CW: It’s a great privilege. This is my fourth nomination. Shirley Jackson was both a wonderful writer and storyteller, so to be in with a chance of winning an award with her name attached is, I feel, a wonderful commendation of my work and a reassurance that I might actually be doing something right! The beautiful pebble I received for my last nomination is one of my favourite things to fiddle with when I’m grizzling over some plot problem or other. It’s like a big worry bead.

KC: What’s next for you?

CW: I’m working on a crime thriller called ALL YOUR DARLINGS starring Joel Sorrell, the PI who first appeared in BLONDE ON A STICK. I’m also trying to finish a haunted house novel called HOUSE OF SLOW ROOMS, set in France during the modern day and the end of the second world war. I’m also working with a videogame developer on an adaptation of my horror novel, THE UNBLEMISHED. There’s also a new anthology I’m editing called DEAD LETTERS, to be published by Titan Books in 2015.

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