I suppose I've always had darkness in me. Writing it out is like drinking water; it's essential, but I kind of take it for granted. If I wasn't exploring my fears in this way, I don't know what I'd be doing. Quite possibly scratching my name into a cell wall in some psychiatric prison hospital.
I've always been a shy, sensitive soul and spent a great deal of my childhood observing other people. As a result, I used to spend a lot of time on my own, thinking. I've always been a worrier—there are photographs of me during my toddler years wringing my hands. I struggled to sleep, affected greatly by the dark. I had a light on the landing until I was a teenager.
I started writing short stories at school and naturally drifted toward the more unsettling end of the spectrum. I suppose it was a form of compensation for my tendency to blend into the background: I enjoyed getting a reaction. My first exposure to horror fiction as a reader was via Stephen King and James Herbert and the Herbert van Thal—edited Pan Books of Horror. That was all that was available in our bookshop in Warrington, England. Later I discovered Ramsey Campbell and through him learned of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft. I was given a copy of M. John Harrison's The Ice Monkey, which I devoured. His work, specifically Climbers and The Course of the Heart, played a great part in how I developed as a writer. My first novel, Head Injuries, was very much an homage to him. Another British writer whose star is once again in the ascendancy after a long career is Christopher Priest, who similarly had a great impact. Through these writers, who worked at the edges of horror, I learned that you could write effective horror stories by building mood, by referring obliquely to things. Horror is not just the opened body lying at our feet but the shape growing in the corner of the eye, always just beyond our ken.
I'm seen as something of a miserablist, but I'm possibly just a realist. My characters tend to be people who are failing to make their way in life. They struggle, they try to do the right thing, but it doesn't quite work out. Much like most of us, in fact. Horror has never impinged directly upon my life. I've never seen a dead body. I've never witnessed violence, other than filtered through the media. I've never been mugged or broken a bone (touch wood). But I play out the most appalling scenes in my mind in terrible, cinematic closeups. I have jumped from the 90th floor of the World Trade Center. I have been pulverized in countless air disasters. I've been dismantled by tiger sharks. I don't know if it's some kind of pressure valve release for me, a way of handling stress, but I can't not turn away from the awful picture show behind my eyes. It's the ultimate in rubbernecking. Maybe I should get help.
I became a father for the first time in 2002. My third child (they are all boys) was born in 2008. My latest novel, One, is about a father who survives an extinction-level event and sets out to see if his five-year-old son is still alive. It's a book I dreaded writing, but I couldn't have written it if I wasn't a dad. I would come away from that novel close to tears most nights. Having children nails what love means, absolutely. The only problem is that it nails what horror means, too.
|Conrad Williams is the author of five novels and a collection of short fiction. His latest novel is One (Virgin Books). He lives in Manchester with his wife and three sons.|