There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good scare, be it a taut, terrifying novel, a disquietingly horrific horror film, or Ashleigh springing out from behind my office door to loosen a bloodcurdling shriek (She actually thought about it but I took too long on set.). Unfortunately, more often than not, those books or movies or Executive Producer Assistants promise the frights but ultimately fail to deliver the goods (And, specifically in Ashleigh’s case, one of those bacon cheeseburgers with Krispey Krème doughnuts in place of the buns that I requested the other day). So you can imagine how delighted I was to finally come across a horror novel that actually delivers – in a BIG way. The Unblemished is not for the faint of heart but for those who enjoy their horror grim, grisly, and unrelenting. Oh, and scary as hell. Highly recommended. On the other hand, if grim, grisly, and unrelenting is not your cup of tea, I would still urge you to check out some of author Conrad Williams’ other books because: a) his work is varied and b) subject matter aside, he is a delightfully brilliant writer. 
His latest, DECAY INEVITABLE, will be released by Solaris Books in August. 
Conrad has kindly taken the time to field your reader questions. A big thank you to him and big thanks to all of you who took the time to read The Unblemished and weigh in with your thoughts.
Enjoy the Q&A, then rest up and mentally prepare yourselves for tomorrow’s massive mailbag in which all of your questions will be answered: How was Carl’s pass on Faith? What were the actors’ reactions to the Space script? Who shot J.R.? (I’ll give you this one. Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen’s sister. Shocking, no?).
Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday gal Morjana.

Over to Conrad…


KellyK writes: “Some questions for Mr. Conrad:

1. Be honest now, how hard was it to get this book published. I loved it but I can see faint-hearted publishers heading for the hills after the prologue.”

CW: I’m glad you liked it, KellyK, thanks. It wasn’t hard at all – mainly because the publisher, Earthling, commissioned the novel. So they were kind of stuck with it… Finding a UK publisher was a bit more difficult. There are some queasy editors out there. But I’d promised myself to write the most horrifying book I could and I did not shirk a single scene. Eventually a couple of publishers came calling on the back of some good reviews and the novel winning the International Horror Guild Award ahead of Stephen King. I went with Virgin because I respect the editor, Adam Nevill, and liked his vision for the list he was setting up. Tragically, due to the credit crunch and Virgin’s takeover by Random House, that list has been cancelled before it got a chance to embed itself.

“2. I read somewhere that your writing is influenced by horror from the 80’s. Do you mean film or literature? And, either or, could you provide us with a listing of some of your favorites.”

CW: Only in that I was a teenager in the 80s and so I was first exposed to horror literature and films, then. Books, mainly. I remember ploughing through lots of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, then later Clive Barker. I wanted to write a horror novel that reminded me of those big, involving books I’d fallen in love with back then. THE UNBLEMISHED was intended, partly, as a tribute. Some of my favourites: THE SHINING, SHADOWLAND, INCARNATE, THE DAMNATION GAME, KOKO, RED DRAGON and (not quite so big, but just as powerful) FINISHING TOUCHES.

“3. Finally, I’d like to know What scares you?”

CW: Random acts of violence, stray dogs, choking, air disasters and something bad happening to my sons… I think that’s enough to be going along with.

AvidReader writes: “Given the dearth of good Hollywood horror out there, could you see The Unblemished being adapted to the big screen? Has anyone come sniffing around yet? If not, I have a feeling it will just be a matter of time.”

CW: That’s very kind of you to say so, AvidReader. There was a lot of interest from Hollywood when the book first came out. I think at one point we were fielding calls from fourteen different production companies in LA. Alas, not one of them bit. I think a number of them were put off by the whole Manser thread. But also the feeling that 28 Days Later covered the same kind of ground first. Another post-apocalyptic monster-fest in the middle of London was too soon after Danny Boyle’s film. My first novel, HEAD INJURIES, was optioned by Michael Winterbottom. I was contracted to write three drafts of a screenplay. For a while it was very exciting. I was having meetings with Winterbottom and his production team, we were discussing possible actors (John Simm was mooted) and directors (Tim Roth was an early suggestion), but despite their initial enthusiasm, the project was shelved. Now that I have a film agent, I’m currently noodling with an idea for an original script, but I’m only at the treatment stage. It will be a while (if at all) before I get it done…
Jshaw writes: “Some of the imagery the author came up with was so bizarre that I just had to ask: This book is so full of weird scenes and imagery that for a while there I thought I’d entered Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. How did you get to “that place”? Lots of drink? Sleepless nights? Or are you a naturally nightmarish/creative imaginer?”

CW: I’ll take that as an enormous compliment, thank you, Jshaw. Unfortunately lots of drink only leads to blackouts and a sore head in the morning. But I do have sleepless nights now and again. And I have a tendency to play out ‘what if’ scenarios in my head to (more often that not) awful conclusions. I tend to be very visual in my thinking, and my work in the past has been described as being ‘cinematic’ (not sure that’s a good thing as a novelist… but anyway), so I would say that imagery is at the forefront of what I do. I often visualise the scenes in my head, kind of like a storyboard, which helps lead me into the plot and discover the natural course of events and character reactions to various situations. If I’m stuck I’ll close my eyes and loosely ‘direct’ a scene to see where it might lead. I suppose it’s a kind of improvisation technique. Maybe I’m a frustrated film director…

“And – What are your other books like? Would you say they’re similar in terms of gore factor?”

CW: Not at all. THE UNBLEMISHED came out of a direct request to produce a book for the Halloween series Earthling runs. I decided that if it was going to be a horror novel, then it was going to be an all-out assault on the senses. A real effort to produce something terrifying. I wanted to write a book to frighten me, never mind anybody else. There were a few moments when a voice in my head said: ‘Woah, boy. That’s overstepping the mark.’ But I ignored it. Because I don’t believe in taboos, or limits, in horror fiction. As long as it isn’t gratuitous – and I don’t believe any of the ‘harder’ scenes are – then anything goes, I reckon. ONE has its moments, but its more of a bleak thriller I’d have thought. LONDON REVENANT is a dark, dystopian fantasy and HEAD INJURIES is pretty much a novel of the supernatural. THE UNBLEMISHED is certainly the most challenging thing I’ve ever written, in terms of subject matter.

TimC writes: “Questions for Mr. Williams –

– Where was the army while the creatures were attacking the city? In your mind, were they dealt with in the wings or had they not had the chance to mobilize yet?”

CW: It was difficult to say, without being expositional, but I imagined the first wave of monsters as a kind of infantry at the perimeter of the city, penning back the troops once they’d laid their eggs (and I think at one point in the novel I do hint at this). But I see your point. It’s always difficult to write about such ‘epic’ events while keeping the authorities at bay, but you have to suspend a little disbelief in such circumstances, I feel, because in reality they’d probably have dumped a couple of thousand tons of incendiary bombs on the city centre and that would be it, story over.

“- Given the, uh, open-ended nature of the book, do you foresee a sequel in your future?”

CW: I don’t think so. I’ve got a bit of material I didn’t use in the novel that might resurface as a short story (I’ve written short story sequels to both HEAD INJURIES [The Return] and LONDON REVENANT [O, Caritas] in the past), but as for a full-blown novel, I can’t see it. It would be a completely different beast, if I were to do so. Much more low-key and subtle. Just Sarah struggling to stay hidden with this ‘creature’ as it develops and its appetites begin to mature. Hmm… you’ve got me thinking now…

TheMightyQuinn writes: “Kudos to Mr. Williams for crafting the most skin-crawling creepily fantastic work of horror I’ve ever had the pleasure(?) of reading. A trip to Borders is in order as I intend to add a few more of his books to my collection.”

CW: Thank you so much – this kind of comment is what we writers crave. It’s the best kind of encouragement.

“Some questions for the author if it isn’t too late.  Can you tell us a little about your steps to success. According to your website, you cut your teeth on the small press before venturing out to write a novel. Did you find that writing short stories helped strengthen your writing skills? Will you continue to write short stories?”

CW: Short stories, absolutely, helped me to hone my skills and find my voice. I hope they’re continuing to do so. They also helped my confidence, especially when I started getting them published. I’m finding I write fewer short stories as my career continues, mainly because I want to be a success as a novelist, but I still love short stories and will write them whenever I can.

“Like a lot of would-be writers, I’m always interested in the writing process. Do you have a particular process? Do you outline or make it up as you go along? Are you an early riser or a night owl when it comes to writing? What is your foolproof cure for writer’s block?”

CW: I’m interested in the writing process too. It’s magical. I could talk about the minutiae of writing for hours, and often have, to the chagrin of many people I’m sure. I didn’t plan my first two novels. But for THE UNBLEMISHED I felt I had to plot it out, not least because I was on a pretty tight deadline and didn’t feel I could meander too much, looking for a plot to suggest itself to me. That said, I’m not too rigorous in my outlines. I welcome a story and characters growing beyond their confines. I’m happy to follow if instinct takes over. Before I had children I used to work early in the morning. I’d get up and do an hour or two before trekking into the office to do the work that put my meals on the table. But now I find I’m working late, because as anybody who has had children will know, they’re up at the crack of dawn, demanding porridge and TV. And I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you think you’re stuck, write something else.

Thanks to everyone for the questions and compliments. I’m grateful to you for inviting me on board.



31 thoughts on “June 5, 2009: Author Conrad Williams Answers Your Questions

  1. Ugh…Joe. One more ‘book’ to go…and already my emotions are totally drained. Whose CRAZYARSE idea was it for me to read these books???!!! AAAaaaarrggghhhh!

    But I can’t stop. It’s like a drug…it’s killing me, but I can’t stop taking it in. Now…excuse me while I go torture myself some more… 😛


  2. I’m sorry I didn’t manage to get some questions posted in time. Mr. William’s entry into the BotM club is the first of the horror entries that I can say I enjoyed completely. It truly delivered on the creepiness factor and had me starting at sounds in the dark. I’m enjoying the questions and answers that the others have posted though. As for the mailbag, looking forward to that. Happy birthday to Morjana. Now, off to bed for some long deferred sleep.

  3. Hi Joe (and Mr. Williams),

    Wow, I was getting scared reading the Q&A, then I went back and read Joe’s review of the book. EEK! I have this weird fascination with horror books and movies, and have read synopses and reviews, but I get too scared to actually read/see any of them! LOL!

    I think I made the right choice to not read The Unblemished, but hope that other books by Mr. Williams are not horror, because I’m interested in learning his writing style.

    G’night and hope I don’t have any nightmares!


  4. No more clues to titles of episode 14, 15, 16.
    Does that mean someone got them alright ahead of schedal and before MGM gave the okay or you just did not want to interfere with Q&A

  5. Hey Joe! Since I’m turning 30 tomorrow (june 7), how about a special birthday gift for me? An unknown fact about our fav and beloved wraith Todd? Or the wraith in general? That would brighten my day!!! XD

  6. Coucou Joseph!!!

    ahh je vient de voir le new trailer de sgu!! j’adore j’adore j’adore!!!

    En plus ce matin y’a Obama à la Tv pour sa visite en France concernant la débarquement en Normandie!

    Ma journée commence bien!!!

    Gros bisou!

  7. Hey Joe! I’m graduating high school today! 😀
    It’s been said that during the attack on Icarus Base, that Rush dials Destiny instead of Earth as he was supposed to. Is that true.

  8. Hey Joe,

    I just realized something! Shocking, I know. There should be a law preventing me from sitting and pondering things.

    But the other day you said people who don’t read horror books (ie. people like me) are too sensitive. I’m not quoting verbatim here.

    I might find horror too much for me, most of the time. I think horror is a subjective thing. Sort of like the phrase ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ In fact, one man’s horror might be another man’s (or woman’s) job. 😀

    Basically, I realized that I might know what freaks YOU out!

    I’d bet good money that my eight year old, adorable blonde haired, blue eyed, freckle-faced, 65 pound, 4’2″ child could strike terror into your heart!

    In fact, I doubt you could even spend a solid afternoon alone with her. C’mon, you can admit the thought is quite terrifying. Maybe I’m not the only *too-sensitive* person around here.

    I’m just sayin’…

    Trish 😈

    P.S. I think it’s great that author Conrad Williams came by for the Q&A. So, Thank YOU Mr. Williams! I’m sorry I’m too chicken to read your book.

  9. YAY!! My eldest son got down on one knee and proposed to his fantastic girlfriend last night and she said YES!!!! He asked her dad for his blessing first. I am SO proud of him

    *sobs into hanky*

  10. I’m one of those too sqeamish types but based on the author’s Q&A and your recommendation, I’m going to definitely check out one of his other books.

  11. Ugh. Just finished Stormbringer in The Stealer of Souls…read the last 20 or so pages, pacing through the house. Choked down breakfast…just now drinking my coffee (at half-past noon)…knew what was coming, still bawled my eyes out. Hubby came home literally 30-seconds after I finished the last word…and immediately thought:

    1. I was having a nervous breakdown, or 2. One of the cats died. Only when he realized I was both crying and laughing (at myself for being so silly) did he figure out what had me in such a state. And it was the STUPIDEST thing that had me sobbing. Horn blasts. Yup. I’m THAT easy. Horn-blowing seem to elicit a very emotional response from me. 😛 What a goof. What a stupid, idiot-goof. Blow a horn, and I’m in tears. Well…horn-blowing…and Moonglum…and… Geez. Glad I finished this morning…this way I have all day to recuperate.


  12. @ Das: “French Trawlers??!”

    Yeah, French Trawlers .. only, I haven’t seen any long-haired-pallid-ones on board yet. Most crews seem to be made up of the bearded geriatric-types, that like to sport woolly hats. But, i’ll keep an eye open (figuratively speaking, of course) 😛

    As for driving – Yeaaaaaaah, I can drive. Not legally, but lets not get picky over small details. 😛 I’d actually love to get my hands on a tank and take that for a spin through the neighbourhood. Always wanted to know what it feels like to run one’ve those at top whack down the main road 😀

    Oh, before I forget.. today was definately a must-see day for International Rugby. One Lions match, which was then quickly followed by a test match between England and Argentina. Lots of action, lots of fun.

    @ Shiningwit: Congratulations to you, the family, son and daughter-in-law-to-be 😉

  13. Another great Q&A, Thanks to Mr. Conrad. and I am one of the squeamish ones, afraid to read horror(nightmares) ,thats my story and I’m sticking to it,lol! But I am sure there are other books of his, that I could take a look at. So thanks for another great author to add to my list.
    – also @Shiningwit, congrats to you and your family.
    @das, are you reading Elric and its sad at the end, say it aint so?!?
    -Looking forward to a humongous(big) mailbag..
    – Happy Birthday Morjana! 😀 wherever you are

  14. @ Perragrin – Okay…now I’ve heard everything. “But officer, I wasn’t driving, my seeing-eye dog was!”

    You are a very naughty girl. 😉

    Are you talking about the Summer Tours? I’ve recorded an Australia v Barbarians match, and a Cheetahs v B & I Lions match…just not sure when I’ll get around to watching. I’m supposed to be over at my folks, helping them get their rental house ready for the 5 Russian gals coming tomorrow. IF they come. I hate this last minute stuff.

    As far as flowing-locked fellas go – Sparrow_hawk just left for Germany – I told her to take pictures of anyone (thing?) that looks like a Wraith. LOL… Let’s see how she makes out. 🙂

    Have a good one!


  15. @Shiningwit: Congrats to the soon-to-be-plus-one family!

    @Specter177: I’m not entirely sure that “congrats” is the right sentiment, but you must be really excited about graduating! My little brother graduates tomorrow; I graduated 2 years ago and I remember it was rather surreal. Do you have plans for next year already?

    @Trish: Would that be your daughter Allie? I’m planning on uploading a couple new pics of Bella later if you’d like to check them out…

    Has anyone seen Les Miserables? I’m going to see it later this evening….

  16. Not too many questions were asked to Conrad it seems, thats a shame, I completely forgot about it lol, if he ever comes back I may make more of an effort.. Sorry.

  17. @ Airelle – The Elric saga has the only end it can have – it is both good, and bad. Bitter, and sweet. I suppose you can say, it is balanced in this regard.


  18. @ Shiningwit: Woooo!! Congratulations be to you and your son! What a joyous occasion! 😀

    Remind him to not screw it up. 😉

  19. @ Das: Summer Tours.. Tests.. Whatever names they go by from country to country.. Yep. Can’t say that i’m all that enthralled with the Lions thus far. I’ve seen far better from them over the past few years. Buuut, I did enjoy watching the Barbarians playing (was that last week, or the week before? 😛 Can’t even remember!) And i’m getting some serious All Blacks withdrawls right now too. So serious in fact, that I found myself watching a documentary today on Montoya and his 2007 (?) entry into NASCAR >.>

    Sparrow_hawk’s gone to Germany? Cool! Which part? Ya know, from what I can remember from my childhood, there’s a fairly large contingent of flowing-locked fellas in and around Munich (actually, there’s a fairly large contigent of almost everything in Munich. The place is one big, multi-cultural-ethical-intergalactic party). Just dive into one of the numerous Beer Halls and take yer pick 😀

  20. @Shiningwit: Oh how cool is that! Mega congrats to your family and your future-daughter-in-law’s family! I’m sure it’s a bittersweet moment for you. Cheers! 😀

  21. A fantastic Q&A. Thank you to Conrad Williams for coming by to answer our (and especially my) questions.

    And, Conrad – let us know how that movie script is coming along!

  22. Hi Joe,
    Q&As are becoming quite frequent in your blog… cool.

    Oh and I Got to ride in a GT40 today on a racetrack. EPIC!!! It was so fast and awesome. I am now red instead of white cause we were displaying the car for like 5 hours in the burning sun and I refused sunscrean. LOL

    So here are my questions for the next mailbag

    1. Will Carlo Rota appear in Stargate Extinction as Mr. Strom?

    2. Is the Uniform Julia is wearing in the picture the Icarus Base uniforms you have been praising?

    3. If both the SG-1 and Atlantis movies are shot in the fall, is there enough time between fall and summer of 2010 to complete the movies post production cycle, or is more time needed?

    Thanks so much,
    Major D. Davis

  23. Wow. With all this talk about the gory nature of the book, I had no idea what to expect from this entry and came away impressed and pleasantly surprised. Conrad Williams sounds like the type of guy I’d gladly buy a pint if only to hear more of what he has to say on the subject of writing. Barring that, I suppose I’ll pick up his new book.

  24. Arrrghh! NOW I know where I had heard John Picacio’s name before – HERE!! Oh, how I wish I had discovered The Stealer of Souls a bit earlier…like, last July, when you did that Q&A with Mr. Picacio. I have been drooling over his art in that book, and I kept ‘seeing’ his name somewhere…and couldn’t remember where…until I went to his blog – saw a link to YOUR blog…then it dawned on me! DOH! I’ve been seeing his name HERE – in those links that I reminded you had gone missing.

    I am such a duh-head at times. 😛


  25. @Major D. Davis: are you a teacher? you keep asking questions all the time.

    and Joe, from what i saw of the sneak peak, i think it will be more fitting to not call it stargate and just leave the name universe because stargate was about much more than a wormhole portal.
    anyway i would like to know if you guys have planned for sgu to have a limited lifespan for the sake of the story, or is it gonna go on forever? and if its successful, could there be another spin-off? because i would like to see stargate run for the next decade or century or at most till judgment day, maybe after that like with bonus episodes or something.

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