Author Q&A with Conrad Williams

Dust & DesireLitro: Which is your favourite of your novels and why?

Litro: I’m fond of Head Injuries because it was my debut and I poured an awful lot of myself into that book. But I’d have to say Dust and Desire, because it was the first novel I wrote where everything – plot, character, dialogue, pacing – felt to me as though it had come together with any kind of harmony.

Litro: How long did it take you to write Dust & Desire?

It took around eighteen months to write it, although I had been toying with ideas for some time before that and had written a prototype Joel Sorrell story for a science fiction anthology.

Litro: What is your earliest childhood memory?

Conrad Williams: Being carried from my bed late at night and tucked into the back of Dad’s old van for a holiday in Mrs McKenzie’s B&B in Burghead. We’d stop for breakfast on the way: I remember sitting with my legs dangling out of the back, eating a bowl of corn flakes. I also remember a Mr Paris who took us to the beach to build sandcastles. He sang while we worked: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”. And there was a mynah bird in a pub that said ‘Up your nose’ when you asked it a question. I was around four years old.

Litro: What makes you happy?

Conrad Williams: My three boys make me very happy. Sometimes it’s like having a bunch of little comedians around the house. My cat hangs out with me all the time and makes me happy too. Other than that I get a lot of pleasure from my fountain pens and inks, taking photographs, cooking, and putting together my boys’ Lego sets. I’ve discovered recently that I love a bit of colouring in too.

Litro: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Conrad Williams: Since I was around 12 years old. It became something of an obsession for me in my teens. That said, I recently found an old exercise book from school in which I expressed ambitions to become a chess grand master and a left winger for Liverpool FC. So it looks as though the writing turned out to be my safety net…

Litro: What are you reading at the moment?

Conrad Williams: I’m reading 22.11.63. by Stephen King and The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (I like to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction on the go, unless I’m working on a story, in which case I steer clear of novels). Both books are fascinating and scary for different reasons.

Litro: What advice would you give to a first time writer?

Conrad Williams: Read as much as you can and read a broad range of subject matter. Read the weird stuff too: if you see a magazine about, say, fenceposts, leaf through it. Your imagination will thank you. Also, don’t try to find time to write. Make it. Decide on a part of the day – before everyone else wakes up, lunch hour, when everyone else has gone to sleep – and commit to it.

Litro: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Conrad Williams: I’m a big fan of Viz magazine. And I take photographs of single gloves I see lying around and post them on my single glove website.

Litro: How do you relax?

Conrad Williams: I like to watch football (although, as a fan of LFC, that’s hardly relaxing these days) or I’ll binge with my wife on boxed sets. Most recently we’ve raced through House of Cards and The Walking Dead. I also like to write letters to friends. Or anybody who wants one, actually.

Litro: What is your favourite book of all time?

Conrad Williams: I have favourites from various eras. Early on it was Run For Your Life by David Line (Lionel Davidson), a quite brilliant chase story as exciting as anything I can remember reading. Then there was M John Harrison’s collection, The Ice Monkey, which I read in my early 20s and threw a switch inside me, as a writer. He’s a huge influence. But if I had to choose one book, it would have to be The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Beautiful and brutal, and it has me in tears every time I read it.

Litro: Which author is underrated or deserves to be better-known?

Conrad Williams: Joel Lane was a good friend of mine who died, aged 50, just a couple of years ago. He was a stunning writer. He wrote short stories, predominantly, but his first novel, From Blue to Black is a magnificent piece of work. Joel never received the readership he deserved for that book.

Litro: What’s the worst job you’ve had?

Conrad Williams: I’ve delivered pizza and been a security guard, but the worst job I had was working as a trainee reporter for a local newspaper. It wasn’t the job itself that was bad – I wanted to be a journalist – but the editor made my life hell. He smoked a pipe in the office, and brought his hulking great chow to work every day. Lovely working conditions. I’d have to constantly drive to and from the town we were reporting about (we were based five miles away). He was a deeply unpleasant man and a bully. It was my first experience of full-time work and it was the most miserable ten months of my life. In the end I kicked it into touch and went back to sixth form to re-take my A-levels.

Litro: What is the most important thing life has taught you?

Conrad Williams: I was cripplingly shy as a child. It wasn’t until I moved to London in my 20s that I began to come out of my shell. There is no reason to be shy. When I think of all the various opportunities I missed out on because of that lack of confidence I could scream.

Litro: What’s next?

Conrad Williams: I recently delivered the second Joel Sorrell novel, Sonata of the Dead, and I’ve started on book three – Hell is Empty – which needs to be done by the end of March. I’ve also edited an anthology of short stories called Dead Letters, which Titan will publish in the spring. I’m also close to finishing a novel about a haunted house.

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