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.