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.

Monday 19 April 2010

Day Thirty-Eight... On hold

I have edits to take in on Blonde on a Stick, so I won't be working on Loss for the next couple of days. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Day Thirty-Seven... Southwick to Amsterdam

2038 words

No, actually, it was 1038 words. But I also wrote 1000 words of a new short story. The novel also crept over the 50,000 word mark. All in all, a very good day.

One of the problems of writing a first-person narrative is knowing when to leave your character to his or her own devices. For example, the main character in Loss, Paul Roan, is currently travelling by train and ferry to Amsterdam, a logistic nightmare of a trip (have any of you ever tried getting away from the Suffolk coast without the aid of a car?) involving a bus ride, three train changes, an overnight ferry, another train and a tram. It's quite tempting (especially from a word count perspective) to sit next to your hero every step of the way and describe, in excruciating detail, the minute-by-minute travails of such a jaunt. The ticket colours, the quality of the stock they're printed on, the view from the window at any given moment...

You can't do that. Well, you can, but don't expect that sequence of your book not to be skim-read. It's important to truncate in some situations. I've actually written more than I might in this sequence, simply because his epic journey is hampered by his serious injuries; I find it interesting to see how he copes with the strain. Also, a key element of the plot is highlighted by what he witnesses during his trip. So I've managed to get away with a bit more scenery than I would under normal circumstances.

So I missed out on thousands and thousands of extra words because of the necessary lacunae of long-haul travel. The change of scene, however, provides a fresh impetus that's allowed me to open up the throttles a bit. But I can't help but gaze wistfully at my notes. How much more might I have written if Paul was to have travelled to Odessa, as I'd originally intended?

Listened to: The Didsbury avian choir.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Day Thirty-Six... Diary panic

35 words.

I'd just got started when I saw a tweet from Tom Fletcher (the writer, not the McFly guy) about Hulme, Manchester and remembered I had to be in Hulme too, later in the day, to have my photograph taken and to read a bit from my novel at an event organised by the excellent (and excellently named) Ra Page from Comma Press. But first I had to rehearse the extract and have a shave and find something half-decent to wear that didn't look as though it had spent the winter in Creaseville before travelling to Deansgate to get a mock-up of the cover done, which took for ever to sort out.

Hulme. So named because it's surrounded on three sides by water (the rivers Irwell, Medlock and Corn Brook). The Old Norse word for island is hólmi. Morrissey came from Hulme (he produced a VHS/DVD of promotional films called Hulmerist... see what he did there?). He also, apparently (and this is pre-The Smiths), wrote a play called Eating Toast in Hulme. He gave the only copy he owned to Tony Wilson and asked for his opinion. Wilson lost the manuscript and they fell out over it. Didn't Tony Wilson fall out with everyone? I didn't like him because when Bill Shankly resigned as manager of Liverpool Football Club, Granada TV sent a reporter to the city centre to conduct vox pop interviews with some of the fans. The reporter was Tony Wilson, and I remember he gleefully upset a lot of young LFC supporters who weren't aware of the news.

Anyway, I decided to walk from Deansgate to Hulme for this appointment at Kim by the Sea. I'd navigated the traffic island beneath the Mancunian Way and, noticing that I couldn't proceed down Princess Road without descending into the subway (don't like subways), I decided to cut through the housing estate. I emerged opposite a little park just by the eye-catching Hulme Arch Bridge. There were about a dozen guys sitting at the edge of it, shirts off, whip-thin, with the kind of scary-looking dogs that look as though they'd be much happier spending the day rootling around inside your body cavities than chasing balls or sniffing other dogs' backsides. They all, men and beasts, turned to watch me walk by.

Sometimes it means nothing. Sometimes it's just a bunch of guys people-watching while they bitch about work. But sometimes it could be that you made the wrong choice and you've wandered into a place you don't know at a time you shouldn't have. The only thing you can do is make sure the A-Z is rolled up and hidden in your pocket, open your body up and look as though you know where you're going. While getting ready to motor if someone shouts out: 'Hey, you! Knobhead in the creased clothes!'

Note to self: when talking to a printer, don't expect him to understand what a 'B' format paperback looks like.

Listened to: Our Love to Admire, by Interpol

Thursday 15 April 2010

Day Thirty-Five... Continuity Errors

1086 words.

In my first novel, Head Injuries, a character's eyes change colour. People who start a scene drinking from a bottle of cider end it by necking beer from a can. A car taken from an alleyway becomes a different make and model by the time it reaches its destination. It was a supernatural novel, so I can kind of get away with some of that. Eye colour change... woooh, spooky. But I obviously hadn't been paying attention to the details. I was young and excited by the fact I was writing a novel; I was into the story, to the detriment of the little bits of decoration I was hanging from it (but what's my proofreader's excuse?). I'm sure I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, writer to suffer from this sort of... oh no, I did it again!

The main character in Loss of Separation can only wear jogging bottoms because of his injuries... so why has he just turned up wearing a pair of jeans? Oh well, at least these days I'm noticing continuity errors like this.

I'm not sure how many people are out there reading this blog (not many, I reckon), but a couple of writers have been in touch to tell me they're finding it helpful and/or inspiring. Which makes it all worth while. Thank you.

Listened to: Soundtracks

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Day Thirty-Four... Nessun Lavoro

0 words.

Another sleepless Zac day. Another workless Conrad day. Had to deal with unexpected admin. Normal service shall be resumed tomorrow, hopefully.

Listened to: Granules of sand slipping through the hourglass of my life.

Day Thirty-Three... Nessun Dorma

259 words.

Zac has suddenly decided that he no longer requires a two- to three-hour nap. He was asleep for thirty minutes today. I missed the morning slot, and was co-ordinating a Fiction Factory session in the evening, so that half an hour was the sum total of my output.

Listened to: Zac, mostly.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Photographic Interlude

Perigee, Didsbury, January 29th 2010

It was Opposition Friday too... but I couldn't squeeze Mars into the shot. My lens was too long.

Day Thirty-Two... Lovey Day

621 words.

Zac (2) opened the curtains at 6 a.m. and looked at me, crumpled into my bed like something that had fallen from the sky, before declaring, eyes wide, hand outstretched, trying to convince me: 'Lovey day!'

He was right, though. It was, and is, a lovely day. A friend tweeted that he had witnessed two woodpeckers mating in nearby Didsbury Park. So it must be Spring. The first really consistently bright day of the year. And I spent it in my room, writing about a child's skeleton being discovered in a dilapidated hotel room. Cheery. I decided I would work until three on Loss, then spend the final two hours of the afternoon either fleshing out notes for Project X, or getting on with one of the short stories that are sighing in the corner of my Mac, tapping their watch faces.

But there's also been the promise (or threat) of wine on the patio with friends this afternoon. When they arrive, will I remain disciplined or will I cave in and absorb some sunshine and Chardonnay? I don't fancy my chances much...

Listened to: New Maps of Hell (I and II) by Paul Schütze.

Day Thirty-One... Out and About

539 words.

Sometimes I like to get away from the chair and the desk and the screen and go for a wander. I like to find a good place to have coffee and sit and write in my notebook. This is a good place for coffee. This is not. If I have to drink chainstore coffee, I go here.

Today I caught a train into the centre of Manchester and had a mooch around. I looked at insanely expensive things I would like but cannot afford and wouldn't buy even if I could. Fountain pens. Watches. Then I found coffee and wrote words and made some notes on a new project and listened to Spinnerette.

Friday 9 April 2010

Day Thirty... Lacking prolificity

0 words.

Didn't get up till late. Didn't have chance to write in the evening. Woe is me.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Day Twenty-Nine... Prolificity

1072 words.

Some people have described me as prolific. I suppose, compared to Harper Lee or Jeff Torrington or Harold Brodky, I am. But I wish I could write more quickly. I love hearing stories (hopefully not apocryphal) about writers such as Michael Moorcock, who would feed a roll of paper into his typewriter (so that he wouldn't have to tax himself by winding separate sheets into it) and pound out a novel in a weekend.

Georges Simenon is interesting. He would pack a bag, grab his typewriter and head off to some European city or other, check into a hotel and immerse himself so thoroughly in his work that he would have a completed draft of a new novel within twelve days (he could write up to 80 pages per day). He did this regularly throughout his adult life. In all he produced 200 novels (not counting the pulp fiction he wrote under various pseudonyms). There's a fascinating interview with him, available as a downloadable PDF, here.

I managed a novel in four months once. But that novel-in-a-weekend challenge... I'll have a crack at that one day.

Listened to: Bloodsport by Sneaker Pimps.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Photographic Interlude

Southwold, 2000

Day Twenty-Eight... Location, Location, Location

638 words.

I think in the best fiction I've read, a strong sense of place is as important as the story or the characters that populate it. One of the main problems facing a writer at the start of a novel, along with which point of view to take, is whether to locate the story in a real or imagined area. Aside from building a new world in a fantasy, there are, essentially two options. Set your story in a real place or set it in an imagined place. This might be loosely based on a real city (Graham Greene's Nottwich, for example, in A Gun for Sale, which is Nottingham in all but name) or it might be a complete fabrication.

I've realised, half-way through my novel (why can these things never hit me on page 1?), that the real location in my novel is now going to have to be changed. Something happens in the novel that is connected to the Battle of Sole Bay in 1672, but now I realise, crucially, that I need the date to be different. 1672 is not convenient for me. You inconsiderate Dutch warmongers. 1701 would have been ideal. So now it's the Battle of Winter Bay. And it's goodbye Southwold, hello Southwick.

Listened to: 3rd Symphony by Witold Lutoslawski (dig that rhythmic synchronisation), Tin Drum by Japan.

Monday 5 April 2010

Day Twenty-Seven... Reading Matter

766 words.

I have a problem when I'm writing fiction. I find it difficult to read it at the same time. There are a number of reasons for this. A) I don't want what I'm writing to be coloured by the style of the writer I'm reading; B) I don't want to suddenly come up with a new idea for a novel, which happens a lot when I'm reading someone else's fiction; C) I don't want to be distracted from one story (ie. mine), by another.

To combat this, I tend to read stuff that's the diametric opposite of whatever I'm up to. You might suspect this to be Mills & Boon. Or the directions on a seed packet. But realistically, I'll go with non-fiction (I like to read biographies of film stars or directors or writers and I'm also attracted to books about mountains and mountaineering and survival) or maybe short stories. I don't read an awful lot when I'm deep into a first draft. I wish I could, but I can't.

Listened to: There Will be Blood OST by Jonny Greenwood; Vertical Memory by Seed

Sunday 4 April 2010

Day Twenty-Six... Pesky Brains

1407 words.

The danger (or blessing) where a labour of love is concerned, an idea bolted down in my mind for the best part of ten years, is that it's so intractable that it won't tolerate any other ideas that might complement it. Well, standing in the shower yesterday, my brain was obviously in ninja mode, because it slipped me a new one that has completely messed up everything else. What if...? it connived. So now I've got to think about going back (once I've finished... never go back in the middle of something, oh no) and rejigging timelines and events and reactions and interactions and the whole slew, mickle and peck. Curse you, head organ (I love you, you daft hunk of meat)...

Listened to: Milk and Kisses by Cocteau Twins

Saturday 3 April 2010

Photographic interlude

I thought I'd dump the odd picture on here from time to time, just to add to the mood and break up all this text... Hope you like them...

Amsterdam, 20th February 2010

Day Twenty-Five... Percy Filth

501 words.

Percy Filth is a term my mum uses whenever sex raises its head on TV. I can remember, very clearly (or maybe it's a dream... I've not been able to confirm it) being in our living room in Lodge Lane, Warrington, some time in the 1970s. In fact, it would have been in 1976, or a year or two later. So I'd have been around seven years old. There was a play on television, and my mum and dad were watching it. I was watching it too, because Elisabeth Sladen was in it. I didn't have a clue what was going on, but because it was Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor's erstwhile assistant, I'd had my head turned. It was turned again before the end of the play, when her on-screen partner helped her out of her nightdress. Sarah Jane was showing off her 'busters', as we used to refer to them at school. 'Percy Filth,' Mum said. Quite right. Anyway, if there's someone out there who can confirm that I did see this and I'm not going mad, I'd appreciate it.

I've hit a point in the novel – about half-way – where I have to write an explicit sex scene. I've known this for a long time. I meant it to be at the middle of the book, a critical pivot in terms of plot, and decided I was going to devote an entire chapter to it. I'm not squeamish when it comes to writing sex scenes, as anybody who has read my fiction will know; I think that horror fiction works well when the characters are at their most vulnerable, and there aren't many more vulnerable moments than when one is in flagrento. But it's still a challenge. Comedy is never far away from a sex scene, especially one that is intended to be serious, intense, weird and frightening.

A writer friend of mine once gave me a little present, a red, plastic computer key with the word 'PANIC' on it. You were meant to stick it to your computer monitor, or keyboard, and hit it when you wandered into difficult fictional territory. I could do with one now. Wish me luck. Oh, and my friend? He stuck his to the bedpost...

Listening to: Until We Felt Red, by Kaki King (one of the best guitarists I've ever heard)

Friday 2 April 2010

Day Twenty-Four... Me and Michael Corleone

539 words.

I was determined, before starting this novel, that I would clear the decks of all short story commitments. But just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in. There's something very tempting about a short story. You finish it more quickly for a start. There's a feeling of accomplishment that you know won't come with the novel for months and months. I'd written a couple of short stories last year for editors who asked me for them and then there was nothing but reams of blank paper and plenty of time in which to fill them with novelish words. And then A asked if I'd like to contribute to X and B asked if I might have something they could use for Y and C came at me with Z. If you're invited it's difficult to say no. I seldom do. Mainly because I'm energised by the project and maybe get a quick idea that might work well, but there's also fear that if I say no, the invitations will dry up and I'll be back to where I was in 1986, writing on spec material with no idea of where to offer it.

I'd hoped to have six clear months in which to get a first draft of Loss of Separation completed and edited to a presentable state, but now I have five short stories I've agreed to write before the summer. I'm not complaining. I know there are writers out there who would give their eye teeth to be in a position where editors are passing invitations their way to submit to an anthology. I was one of them. I love to be asked. I need to find a way of splitting myself into two so that mini-me can crack on with the short stuff while I wrestle this novel into submission.

Listened to: A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe by John Surman