Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 17 January 2011

Conrad Williams interviewed by David McWilliam

David McWilliam continues his interview series with the brightest lights of contemporary horror with an interview with Conrad Williams. The full interview is online at the Gothic Imagination website but you can read the first few answers here.

Conrad Williams 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, Rain and The Scalding Rooms and around 80 short stories (a number of which appeared in his collection, Use Once Then Destroy). He has won the International Horror Guild Award (2007, Best Novel – The Unblemished) and several British Fantasy Awards (1993, Best Newcomer; 2008, Best Novella – The Scalding Rooms; 2010, Best Novel – One). He lives in Manchester with his wife and three sons.

DM: When you decided that you wanted to write fiction professionally, what was it that drew you towards horror as a genre?
CW: I didn’t decide to write professionally. Being paid to write stories was something of a happy bonus; a bit of a shock, actually. There was a point when I was very young – but already in love with the idea of creating fiction – when I didn’t realise people received money for writing. My first payment for a short story was £5, back in 1988. I have a photograph of the cheque…

I was drawn to horror from an early age. I derived a profound pleasure from being scared. I loved ghost trains. I loved to read the Pan Books of Horror, and the Peter Haining edited anthologies of ghost stories. I was also drawn to the gorier passages in my parents’ book collection. I remember reading the opening five pages of Jaws when I was very young, and later, scenes of decapitation in a novel called Amok (1978) by George Fox, about a Japanese holdout soldier. And I also loved sneaking downstairs to watch old black and white horror films. I’d sit on the landing and be able to see through the crack in the door of the living room. I’d have to beat a hasty and stealthy retreat whenever I heard one of my parents stirring from the sofa. Early films that influenced me were King Kong (1933) – so much so that I begged my parents to buy me a plastic kit of Kong that glowed in the dark (I actually found the thing, here), The Haunting (1963), Psycho (1960), Night of the Demon (1957) and the Basil Rathbone series of Sherlock Holmes films, which were anachronistic and propaganda led, but blessed with superb atmosphere and frightening villains, such as The Hoxton Creeper, who dispatched his victims by breaking their backs with his bare hands. Broadly-speaking, I’m attracted to the way good horror, in books and film, builds tension. I’m also drawn to the idea of ordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances.

DM: There is a cinematic quality to your prose that imbues even your most intimate stories with a strong visual quality. Have you consciously adapted techniques from cinematography or do you think that your style might have been unconsciously influenced by the language of film?
CW: I think anybody who is a writer in this visual age cannot fail to be influenced by it. I love film. There’s a part of me that is envious of scenarios such as that enjoyed (endured?) by writers such as Raymond Chandler, who was lured to Hollywood and locked in a room with a typewriter to produce pages for a film. I’m sure it would be a nightmare, but there’s something quite heroic about it too. I enjoyed watching the documentaries that accompanied the films Apocalypse Now (1979), ‘Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse’, and The Shining (1980), ‘Making The Shining’, in which you see, respectively, Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick on set, bashing out rewrites.

I tend to visualise my narratives at the same time as trying to fashion something out of sentences. It’s a weird, syncopated practice. I will, if I’m stuck, go off somewhere quiet and think about what happens in a sequence of scenes, playing them through my head like a storyboard. Maybe that bodes well in terms of a book-to-screen scenario. I’d like to think so.

DM: Which writers influenced your early work and how has your continuing reading affected the novels you choose to write today?
CW: When I was starting out, the horror shelves in my local bookshop (a WH Smith in Warrington) were filled with Stephen King and James Herbert. So I started with them, and favoured King. He produced a strong sequence of early novels that included Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978) and The Dead Zone (1979). For me, his following work never quite lived up to that amazing quartet, although It (1986) and Misery (1987) are later flashes of brilliance. After them I discovered Ramsey Campbell and I consider him a huge influence on my work, not least because much of it is set in the north-west of England, where I am from. Through Ramsey I learned about MR James, one of the few writers who can terrorise me. I liked Clive Barker’s short stories, but not so much his novels, although I did enjoy The Damnation Game (1985) and Weaveworld (1987). And Peter Straub is a criminally underrated writer who is as good as anyone in the field. His novel Koko (1988) is a first-class example of a book that transcends its genre. However, it is away from the more overt horror writers that I found my greatest influences. The writers I turn to time and again are M John Harrison (key works for me: The Ice Monkey (1983), Climbers (1989), The Course of the Heart (1990)), Christopher Priest (The Affirmation (1981), The Glamour (1984), The Prestige (1995)) and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian (1985), No Country for Old Men (2005), The Road (2006)).

The Road gave me the green light, I think, to write my own post-apocalyptic novel. I had notes going back ten years regarding such a novel, but I felt that my lyrical style might get in the way. But McCarthy showed me that it was possible to write about the most monstrous events in way that is almost poetic. The Road is both the most beautiful and the most devastating novel I’ve ever read.

DM: From London Revenant (2004) on through much of your later work you repeatedly use the city of London as the setting for a range of horrors. Can you tell me why the city holds such allure for you as the locus of so many of your narratives?
CW: Much of that is simply down to the fact that I was living there while I was writing. But of course, London possesses its own resonances, history, punch. It carries some weight in the way that, say, Warrington does not. London becomes another character in a story. People know it, so you can play around with a reader’s perceptions of the city in a way that you can’t with a small, relatively unknown town.

There was something about being an outsider in London that appealed to me, too. I lived in London for 13 years and I was all over the place. I moved a lot. I lived in west London, south London, north London and eventually bought a flat in Stamford Hill. I never felt at home, though. My flat was subject to a quite violent burglary (entry was forced through the ceiling) and I never felt comfortable living there after that.

And London tires you out. Getting anywhere takes time and effort. Travel in the city can be horrendous. People don’t talk to each other. They avoid contact. I owned my flat for four years and didn’t even see the people who lived in the flat next door to mine. There’s a tension in you that you only notice when you get out of the place. Much of that barely reined-in panic is what I’m chasing whenever I write a London novel. The city has its own list of horrors that you have to address as a writer if you want to locate something there. It’s unavoidable.

When I wrote The Unblemished, I deliberately subverted the genre’s tendency to have horrors uncoil in a sleepy seaside village™. The novel starts in some rural backwater, but very quickly the focus changes to London. Because, of course, if you’re a hungry predator you go where the meat is. You don’t plan world domination from a seaside cafĂ© in Bognor.

That said, the new novel, Loss of Separation, is set in a sleepy seaside village™ on the Suffolk coast…

Read the rest of David's interview at the Gothic Imagination site - the world's best Gothic Literature website, hosted by the University of Stirling.

You can also download a free Conrad Williams short story, 'Slitten Gorge' here.

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