About the author

Conrad Williams is the author of the novels Head Injuries, London Revenant, The Unblemished, One, Decay Inevitable and Blonde on a Stick; the novellas Nearly People, Game, The Scalding Rooms and Rain and a collection of short fiction, Use Once then Destroy. He lives in Manchester, UK.

All content on this site is © Conrad Williams.

Wednesday 31 March 2010

Day Twenty-Three... Doc Holiday

500 words.

Weeks and weeks of chest pain and coughing and bronchial oysters go by and I decide it's time to surrender and call the doctor. I don't often visit the GP. I kind of believe in the body as a finely tuned self-healing tool. I was prescribed a course of antibiotics once in my life, and didn't take them because, FFS, it was just a cat scratch. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that. So I call the surgery and ask for an appointment. The earliest they can see me is IN TWO WEEKS. My doctor, apparently, is on holiday. Can I see someone else? (I reckon, because I never darken their door, that when I really do need to see a doctor, they should shove the trainee cadavers who are always wearing a trail into the waiting room carpet down the pecking order) I can, but I have to call again tomorrow morning at 8am. Cue visions of old things with various ailments sitting by the phone, arthritic talons poised above the redial key at 7.59. I'll probably have to stab my phone for hours before I get an appointment at an inconvenient time with a doctor who would much rather be on holiday than listening to the rattle and wheeze of my breathers. And then I'll be put on antibiotics.

Which I won't take.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Day Twenty-Two... Back on Track

542 words.

I'd like to think that these words, my first as a 41-year-old writer, were even more coruscating and insightful than usual.

No? Right, I'll get my coat...

Listened to Navigare, by Simon Scott (thanks, Nick).

Day Twenty-One... Gift-wrapped Wheels Come Off

0 words.

It was my birthday... give me a break. Despite not managing anything over the past two days, I've just noticed I've hit 40,000 words.

Day Twenty... Home

0 words.

The last day of a convention and I don't stick around, not when there's a five-hour journey involved. I was out of Brighton by 9am.

Day Nineteen... Wheels Come Off

54 words.

Woke up late. And felt like something that should not be allowed to exist had laid eggs in my chest that were beginning to hatch. I've had what I suspect is a chest infection for the last few weeks and a long night of alcoholic drinks and cold air had done its best to set my recovery back. I managed to traipse over to the hotel in time for the James Herbert interview at noon.

I'm in two minds about James Herbert. I read him a great deal when I was in my teens and thought his books were terrific – shorter than your average horror novel, they zipped along nicely – but as time went on and my reading broadened, I found his writing style wasn't what I was looking for any more. The last novel of his I read was Haunted, back in the late '80s or early '90s I read it in an evening. He does have that ability to drag you into a story and keep you going. An amazing knack, and one I wish I had a fraction of.

Anyway, the best bit of the interview came when Neil Gaiman, who was asking the questions, referred to the slew of imitators that had crawled out of the woodwork after Herbert's The Rats became an overnight success in 1974. 'Guy N Smith, for example,' said Gaiman (I'm paraphrasing here) 'and all I can do when I pick up a Guy N Smith novel is laugh out loud.'

'I think he's in the audience,' Herbert said. He was. To be fair to Neil Gaiman, after a stunned moment, he rescued the moment brilliantly...

After the interview I met the splendid John Berlyne for coffee and a chat and then attended a panel later in the afternoon in which various writers tried to explain how they positioned themselves in terms of whether they were horror writers, and Simon R Green merely droned on interminably about how great he was. After half an hour of this I was starting to feel pretty grim. I was due to be on a panel in the early evening but I knew I was not going to make it. I made my excuses to the organisers, had a wander around the Lanes for a while, buying little presents for munchkins and Rhonda, and got back to my B&B by 5pm. I tried to do some writing and failed miserably. I was a Brighton crock. I thought a little nap might improve me to the extent that I would be able to attend the Quercus launch at 10pm (keep an eye on Tom Fletcher, a very good, young British writer whose The Leaping is out imminently), but then I woke up at 1am and that was Saturday gone...

Day Eighteen... Busy

511 words.

I wrote those words freezing in the park in Brighton's Regency Square, blasted by the wind coming off the sea. I spent the afternoon at a series of publishing parties, drinking far too much free white wine. By the time the party on the pier kicked off at 9pm, I was 'refreshed' to say the least. A quick scoot on the ghost train and another drink or two inside before I had to rush back to my B&B, pick up my laptop and head straight to the reading café at the Royal Albion. I made it with seconds to spare and was pleasantly surprised to see a decent amount of people waiting to hear me read (these things can go either way... in the past I've read to a room containing six people, two of which were staff and three of which were known to me).

I read the prologue and the first chapter from Loss of Separation and it seemed to go down quite well. In the bar afterwards I enjoyed a good chat with some of the audience, most of it to do with flying and how safe it is when it goes well and how dangerous it is when it goes wrong. I don't want it to stop me from travelling, but I'm relieved when I know I've got a long, long wait before my next flight. I fly to Dortmund at the end of April...

Thursday 25 March 2010

Day Seventeen... Bifurcated

1243 words.

After breakfast (in bed) I found my narrative suddenly split in two. I'd been charging on with one strand of my hero's story only to suddenly realise that there was a bit I needed to tuck in earlier on, so I found myself with two leading edges to deal with. It meant that the word count came a little easier this morning.

Listened to: Biosphere
Currently reading: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster – this rather lovely edition:

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Day Sixteen... Pain Barrier

704 words.

There are a few worse feelings than having to get out of bed before 5am... but not many. Five and a half hours of motorway (is it me, or are there more roadworks now than ever before?) and I reached the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton with 200 copies of London Revenant for the delegates' bags. At least there were some friendly faces to greet me. Old pal Michael Smith, über-editor Stephen Jones and the laid back, affable Amanda Foubister, chairperson of the WHC 2010 committee.

I dumped the books, found my lodgings and went for a walk. I wandered around the Laines for a while, sucking up the ghosts of Pinkie, Dallow, Spicer and Cubitt, and bumped into another old friend, Peter Crowther and his lovely wife Nicky, then had a bite to eat, bought some bribes for the boys back home, then went back to the B&B and fired up the old MacBook.

Writing those 704 words was like hauling my own tripes out with a rusty hook. I intend to sleep well tonight and wake, refreshed tomorrow (they serve breakfast in bed at this place). I must write a Graham Greene-sized amount every day. Even with the inevitable hangovers. I must...

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Day Fifteen... Chapter Fracture

504 words.

It was all going swimmingly, and then I hit a chapter break. New chapter, change of pace, you can see the brick wall coming but there's nothing you can do to stop yourself from slamming into it...

Oh well. Slowly onward. Another BTGG day. Just.

I'm in Brighton for the World Horror Convention from tomorrow. So what better place in which to write at least a GG-sized amount every day.

By the way, following on from yesterday's post, if anybody is seriously interested in Fiction Factory, email me at ficfac [at] googlemail [dot] com

Monday 22 March 2010

Day Fourteen... Exterminate all Adjectival Thought

1007 words

I’m privileged to have attended Arvon’s Lumb Bank writing retreat twice as a teacher over the past few years. Any writer who wants to spend a week in beautiful surroundings with like minds should think about signing up for one of their courses. They’re not cheap, but they will pay you back immeasurably with good memories, encouragement and, hopefully, some good writing tips.

There are some little tricks of the trade that I passed on during my stints at Arvon (and in Fiction Factory, my online writing group... contact me for details!) that I find can perk up your work if you feel it’s not going well, or if it’s reading a bit flat. Simple, effective exercises, such as reading your work out loud to yourself (you'd be amazed at how different the written word comes across), writing three pages using sentences no longer than six words, writing a story without using a single adjective, writing a story (in fact, writing an entire novel) without using adverbs (which are Satan's pointless prose addition of choice). Most of these exercises encourage cutting. Less is more, and all that.

Anyway, I tend to overload on adjectives in my own work and then do a bit of pruning afterwards. Adjectives are buttered toast in the grammatical kitchen. Very nice and lots of fun, but too much can leave things looking a bit tubby...

Listened to: Insomnia by Biosphere and Diamonds Are Forever (Extended OST) by John Barry.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Day Thirteen... Paper Planes

552 words.

Excuses, excuses... I spent the day looking after boys. Fetching, carrying, making paper planes, recharging DS consoles, explaining how it could be that Manchester United were beating Liverpool when I insisted that Manchester United were an inferior side, making lunch, buying the pocorn I'd promised them, sharpening about a trillion blunted and broken colour pencils...

Listened to: The Thing OST, by Ennio Morricone.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Day Twelve... Returning

2028 words.

In 2004 I wrote a short story called The Return which was a sequel to my first novel, Head Injuries. The story was published, for anyone who's interested, in Andy Cox's splendid The Third Alternative (which underwent a title change and is now known as Black Static... subscribe!). The Return concerned the main character from Head Injuries and his return from illness and self-imposed exile. He tips up in Morecambe, his old stamping ground, and tracks down old friend Helen, who is in a persistent vegetative state. All the while, nasty things are going on...

Anyway, that's not really the point of this blog post. There was a character in The Return called Becky Slade. She was a ghoul, a death-chaser, a chronicler of atrocity. I liked her so much that I resurrected her for Loss of Separation (albeit with a name change... she's now called Amy). I quite like the idea of using characters or ideas I've explored in short works more than once, fleshing them out, exploring them some more, pushing them in different directions. A short story called The Pocket, written in 1994, found its way into London Revenant, as did The Umbrella from 1993. The Cello (1995) was integrated into Blonde on a Stick.

I don't see it as recycling the same old material (and I hope my readers don't either). For one thing, the chance that the audience for my novels have also read my short story output are pretty thin. I like to think of some of my short stories as dry runs to see if they would work in something much longer. Mike Harrison, a writer I admire very much – and a great influence on my work – does this kind of thing all the time. Indeed, it's fascinating to see it happen, both in technical terms and also because you're recognising something you read in one context, many years ago, being moulded in a different way. That story is as much a part of you as it is a part of the writer. Which means that your engagement with whatever novel it has now become embedded within is that bit more intimate and intense. At least, that's how I see it...

Listened to: Places, by Brad Mehldau

Friday 19 March 2010

Day Eleven... Pesky cannibals

604 words.

Blunted by a persistent cough. Haircut. School appointment. Various little admin jobs. Excuses, excuses. Still word count BTGG...

Listened to: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Road OST; Robin Guthrie, Imperial and Jonny Greenwood, There Will be Blood OST.

Day Ten... Scrivener

2157 words.

I posted elsewhere that Microsoft Word is gathering dust in my applications folder. I keep it now only as a tool to read incoming documents, although Tofu might yet mean that Word is relegated to the dustbin.

Scrivener is my writing application of choice these days. It is a lovely, lovely thing. I can outline my novel, add bits of research, URLs, pictures, and keep everything organised and tidy and accessible without having lots of windows open while I work on the words. It is software written for the writer in mind. There's a virtual corkboard and virtual index cards (I prefer to use the real thing, but they're there if you need them). There are some nice touches such as a keywords search (useful to see in which chapters a particular character crops up), a snapshot option (so that you can go back to the original if you mess up an editing session) and a customisable full screen so that you can work without desktop distractions (I'm using an old school green on black look... a bit kinder on the eye than black on white).

I've touched on just a fraction of the number of things this application can do for writers. I can't believe I've managed for so long without it. Mac users (no version available for PC types as yet) should check out the website for a free trial. You won't be disappointed. And no... I'm not getting any commission.

Listened to The Dark Knight, by Hanz Zimmer and James Newton Howard.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Day Nine... Sweet Left Foot

592 words.

More excuses. I play football on Wednesday nights. Not making four figures was worth it for the screamer I scored last night. You should have been there...

Listening to: Ghosts I by Nine Inch Nails (thanks, Tessa)

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Day Eight... Hook

1015 words.

There's a formula to writing screenplays. If you follow Syd Field, that is. And I did, when I adapted my own novel, Head Injuries, for Michael Winterbottom at Revolution Films. Mr Field is big on the three-act structure, and within that he refers to changes in the story, or 'hooks', that spin us around in a different direction. The three-act structure exists in novels too. At its simplest, it refers to beginning-middle-end. I'm into a hook now, I believe. I've moved out of the novel's beginning and I'm entering the second act. My character has found his motivation and is trying to defeat the obstacles that are in his way. He's making things happen, despite being a passive kind of guy. Difficult not to be when you've spent the last six months of your life withering in a hospital bed with more bones broken than intact... Anyway, placing this kind of framework on what I've written helps to stave off doubts that it's actually fly-by-seat-of-pants stuff and I don't actually know what I'm doing and never did...

Listening to Brian Eno: Music for Airports and Brian Eno/Harold Budd: The Plateaux of Mirror.

Monday 15 March 2010

Day Seven... Busy evening

511 words.

I run an online writing class on Monday nights. And Liverpool were playing Portsmouth on TV. There you go. Excuses, excuses. But I still had a better than Greene day.

Listened to the Heat soundtrack. Soundtracks have been in the background to a number of novels I've written. For Decay Inevitable it was this. For One it was this or John Powell's three Bourne soundtracks (minus the execrable Moby nonsense). I love soundtracks.

Send me recommendations...

Sunday 14 March 2010

Day Six... Where did that come from?

1132 words.

At 8pm I was thinking, arses... nothing today. I was on munchkin duty this morning so that Mum could potter about spoiling herself. The rest of the day was spent feeding and watering and ferrying munchkins to Hobbycraft to buy air-drying clay.

I fired up the machine this evening, intending to shamefacedly display my zero to the world. But then I thought, hang on, what if... and then... followed by... and in an hour I'd topped a thousand words.

Me: 'Look at what I managed tonight, in just one hour!'
Rhonda: 'Why do you need writing days, then, if you can work like that?'
Me: (panic, retreating fast) 'Oh, but it's very rare, such a thing...'

I ought to list what music I've been listening to, while writing. I get easily distracted by odd noises, so I often have headphones on. No lyrics. Soundtracks and ambient music, in the main...

Today: Biosphere, Shenzhou

What I'm currently reading: The Naked Pilot, by David Beaty.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Day Five... Backing up

1393 words.

While writing my recent novel, One, I suffered, or rather, my laptop suffered, a catastrophic hard drive failure. The machine froze when I opened a website. I wish I could tell you that it had happened while hacking into some top secret files, but I was actually looking at a guitar site that showed me the minor pentatonic scale (don't worry, this isn't the site that killed my novel)... Rebooting didn't work. Blank screens all the way. Calling Mike, old friend and Mac guru, didn't bring me any joy. He suggested trying a few things, but nothing worked and I knew it was getting desperate when he resorted to the old IT standard of 'keep switching it off and on again'. I lost two and a half chapters. About 10,000 words. There are few worse feelings known to man.

I spent a fortune retrieving the data from the corrupt drive, with the attendant misery that comes with depending on a bunch of London-based Boolean chancers who never pick up their phones, only to find, when I eventually got my Mac back, that I was still missing about 8,000 words. I had no choice but to rewrite those chapters. I'd like to think that they turned out okay, but there's a nagging feeling that what went before was much better.

Anyway, now I back up regularly. We're talking every time I stop typing for longer than about a minute. To two external hard drives. And a pen drive. And my MobileMe account. And every so often I'll email what I've done to myself. I urge you to do the same.

The one plus that came out of all that heartache was that the data retrieval company replaced my previously puny hard drive, free of charge, with a 300 GB monster. Hmm... I'd rather have my work back though.

Friday 12 March 2010

Day Four... Notebook nutcase

1160 words.

I love a handsome notebook. Often I go out and forget to take one with me and of course that means I'll be clouted by an idea and have to nip into the newsagent to buy a new one. But it won't be a nice one. It'll be what you'd expect for 99p. So I use it once and it goes in the notebook drawer. With about forty or fifty other notebooks. I have nice notebooks too. Whenever I travel abroad, I have to buy a new notebook from the country I'm visiting. What I'm trying to say is that I have too many notebooks. I have enough blank pages to last me a lifetime of notes. And I fail, spectacularly, to restrict one notebook to one project. So by the time it comes to write up a particular project, I have to spend several decades flipping through pages in various notebooks to find relevant notes. I try to be organised. Really, I do. I have a filing cabinet with printed labels that say 'Stationery' and 'Ideas' and 'Notebooks' on the drawers. The 'Notebooks' drawer is full.

I'm not the only writer who does this, am I?

Day Three... Too much of a good thing

774 words.

So the first two days (writing at full chisel in a couple of hours) I top 1K and today, when I have an entire writing day – 9 to 5 – all to myself, I can barely grind out 800. Typical. You have all these hours stretching out in front of you and you think, portion of micturate, and then you find yourself deciding that now would be a good time to rearrange your study because it's too cluttered in here to write.

Once upon a time, a deadline looming, a week booked off proper work in order to meet it, I came to the conclusion that my oven needed cleaning. With a toothbrush. Maybe I'm just mentally ill...

Days Four and Five are 9 to 5 too. Must... focus...

Oh well, at least I managed 274 words more than Graham Greene.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Day Two... Scars and girls

1135 words. Today I broke the 25,000 word mark.

I can't quite remember if it was on a forum or a letter to a small press publication but some years ago, I was 'accused' (if that's the right word) of being a one-trick pony in that seemingly every story I wrote contained a guy who met a girl, or vice versa. I dare say he was right, because, well, what else is there? Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl fall out of love. Girl kills boy with a javelin of ice through the throat.

I mention this now because I've just been writing about two damaged characters who meet after a cautious 'scorpion dance'. Boy and girl. So shoot me. The other thing about them is that their damage is not limited to psychological problems. It's physical too. These people have been through the mill. Scars blemish their skin like fractures in stone. Something else, apparently, that crops up with tedious regularity in my work. My old boss, actually, pointed that one out to me. 'Why are so many of your characters scarred?' she asked. I don't know. I find scars pretty fascinating. We all have them, don't we? Show me someone who doesn't own at least one scar, a tiny scar, and you'll be showing me a freak. That isn't an invitation, by the way. Keep your clothes on...

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Day One... Up at 6 a.m.

1341 words.

If I'm going to do this every day, I need to be more disciplined. Hard to do when for four days out of seven you're looking after a two-year-old force of nature called Zac. So I'm going to get up (usually around 6am) when he gets up and forego the lie in I usually have until Rhonda takes the boys to school. This morning I wrote a thousand words in two hours before Zac demanded my presence to watch his favourite TV programme, Show Me, Show Me. I got another couple of hundred words done in the John Lewis car park while Zac had his mid-morning nap. For anybody who is into the fetishism of writing, I write longhand in one of these, with one of these. When I'm working directly on to the screen I use this. Word, or Microsoft Fossil as I like to refer to it, is finished in my eyes.

Elsewhere, the estimable fantasy writer Steph Swainston warned me against blogging about word counts. 'That's not writing, that's typing,' she Capoted at me. I appreciate her concern, but counting words is something all writers do. The important thing, I think, is to do it when you've come out of the zone. I don't go the Graham Greene route, for example. Here was a man who hated the physical toil of writing to the extent that his manuscripts are dotted with little numbers where he had totted up his output so that he could put the damned thing aside once he'd reached his daily total of 500 words. Cracking writer, though, that Graham.

As is Graham Joyce, by the way, whose blog was the inspiration for this mad little exercise...

Monday 8 March 2010

Loss of Separation

It's been nearly two years since my last blog post. The reasons for this are manifold. Chief among them are that I always feel that the time I spend on this could be better spent writing (or not writing) the new project. There's also the suspicion that nobody even knows this blog exists and, if they do, that they have about a bzillion other, more important things to do than read it.

A number of writers I know have started blogging about works-in-progress and I think that's a great idea. So I'm going to do it too. It will mean I can put content on this blog, (hopefully regularly), and it might also gee me along to finish a novel that has to be delivered by October 15th. I'm currently 20,000 words into Loss of Separation, and this first blog will give you a little background about the novel to complement the excerpt that is currently available on the News section of my website.

I spent six months in Southwold from the end of September 2000 to March 2001. I had met my wife-to-be, Rhonda, in the April of 2000 and we both gave up our London jobs on the same day with the grand plan of renting somewhere by the sea, living on fish and wine, and writing novels. I wrote a novel called Penetralia (later to become Decay Inevitable) while I was there. And, in between long walks on the wintry seafront and mooching about in junk shops and drinking Adnams bitter, I read a shocking article in The Guardian. I can't tell you what it was about as it would prove a major spoiler for the novel, but I still have that clipping, pasted into a notebook, ten years on. I don't know why Loss of Separation (which was, for a very long time, meant to be called Consummation) has taken a decade to reach a point where I'm ready to write it, but that's writing for you. Other projects pushed to the head of the queue first, with more insistent voices. Maybe I was too young at the time to write confidently about a character who goes through so much. Whatever the reason, it feels right to do it now. The peat has shifted on the moors and the bones of what I'm trying to dig out are visible.

That said, despite its long gestation, the novel is proving to be a recalcitrant sod. I hit 20K and now I'm walking through mud. This blog will hopefully be the kick up the backside that I need.

I'll post a word count for the day (another reason to put my back into it... I don't want to come on here to tell you I've managed a piddling twelve words), along with any interesting titbit about the process of writing (interesting to me, that is; it might be about as interesting as All-Bran to everyone else). Please feel free to post comments or ask questions. Thanks for your time.