Sonata of the Dead: ★★★★★

A great review of Sonata of the Dead from risingshadow.net

…perfect and compelling thriller fiction… one of the best and most intriguing novels of its kind. It’s every bit as good as Dust and Desire.’

The Offing

The waiter was a young man with high cheekbones, a half-mask of light stubble and a tattoo in burgundy and ochre that peeked out from the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. He kept yawning and rubbing his eyes. Her mother allowed Fearne a diluted glass of the white Burgundy she was washing her bivalves down with. Each time she heard a boot gritting on the pavement she lifted her head in case it was Dad, but he didn’t appear. Her mother flirted with the waiter, her chin slicked with butter. Fearne wanted to be in her room listening to music through her headphones, reading her book, anything else.

‘Do you live around here?’ her mother asked the waiter. Fearne turned her face away.

‘Yeah, just up the road in Mapleton. But I’m aching to get out. I’m busting a nut. I don’t trust the power station. I don’t trust the sea. This place is a ghost town and nobody here realises that yet.’

‘What’s wrong with the sea?’ Fearne asked. Her mother arched her eyebrow, evidently amused that she’d engaged with another human being, and a boy at that.

‘It’s like a tsunami, only in super slow motion. Tide goes out. Comes back with interest. I don’t want to be around come that reckoning.’

‘Oh don’t be so apocalyptic,’ Mum said. ‘Guy your age. You shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’

‘Yeah well,’ he said, ‘I’ve been here all my life. I’m not just a tourist.’ He seemed about to say more but he pressed his lips together and collected plates instead. ‘How was the meal?’

‘Lovely,’ Fearne said. ‘What’s wrong with the power station?’

‘Nothing,’ said the waiter. ‘Guy my age? I shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’

‘People around here,’ her mum continued (Fearne recognised the drawl that alcohol lent her voice), ‘and I’ve heard them, still talk about the sea as if it should be placated. As if we should be sacrificing our first-born sons or daughters. Flinging them piecemeal into the waves, like rubby-dubby. Like chum. What do you think of that?’

‘You don’t have to worry,’ he said, smiling at Fearne. She felt her cheeks burn. ‘Your daughter is no child.’

‘She’s my little girl,’ her mum said, tartly. ‘She always will be. My baby.’

For a moment Fearne thought her mother might cry, but she cut it off with another gulp from her wine glass. Thirteen years old. On the cusp. Like this place. Her hips were becoming wider, like the bay. Her breasts were swelling, like the ocean. She felt something like the tide pulling at her insides. Childhood was something she had wanted to escape for so long, but now that time was here, she feared it. She wanted infancy back. The comfort and simplicity. The lack of confusion and doubt.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 14.46.30My story, The Offing, which originally appeared in Terror Tales of the Ocean (ed. Paul Finch, Gray Friar Press) is to be reprinted in Best New Horror 27 which will appear later this year from PS Publishing.

OMOHO

mm

Marathon Man

Lancaster University, 1993. I’m in a class. It’s the creative writing MA. My tutor is Alan Burns. He wrote Europe After the RainBabelDreamerika! He was one of a group of experimental writers knocking around in the 1960s which included BS Johnson. Alan used to talk about cut-ups a lot. And he was fond of this exercise: choose a word and don’t say anything but, all day. See how it makes you think. See what it does to the word. How does it change your perception of what words mean. Fishpaste. He spent all day walking around saying nothing but fishpaste. He had a dream once, in which he was playing in an orchestra and he was sweating because he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. But then he looked to one side and there was Picasso on the cello, so then he knew everything would be fine. Interesting guy, Alan Burns.

Alan Burns

Alan Burns

So this class. I remember he was talking about the OMOHO. The dread of the OMOHO. The impossibility of it. One Man On His Own. He was arguing that you can’t have it in fiction. It does not exist. It should not exist. You try to write a novel containing just one character and you are dead in the water. You need obstacles, you need opposition. You need an ally. You need an antagonist. He referred to Europe After the Rain, in the embryonic stages of which he had created a character moving through a post-war terrain. The idea for the book wouldn’t form. What was his protagonist doing? And then Alan realised, he was looking for his sister. Now he had a story. OMOHO is no story.
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That was over twenty years ago. The OMOHO stayed in my thoughts, nagged at it. I wanted to to have a crack, to prove Alan Burns wrong. I wrote short stories about single men in dreary urban dwellings struggling with relationships while the supernatural loomed. Was it any surprise that I would be lumped in with the other glass half-empty slipstream writers that came to be known as the Miserablists in the early 1990s? I even toyed with using OMOHO as the title of a novel. I decided, when I wrote my post-apocalyptic novel One, that I would try writing an OMOHO. But Alan was right. You just can’t get along without other people, even when most of the people are dead. I ended up introducing survivors, until the novel was populated by quite a healthy cast list. So much for OMOHO. I couldn’t even manage it in a world depleted by a catastrophic natural disaster…
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In Dust and Desire, Sonata of the Dead and (coming in November 2016) Hell is Empty, I’ve reached a compromise. Of course Joel Sorrell, my PI, is not One Man On His Own. He lives in London for Pete’s sake. But in many ways, he’s completely isolated. His wife is dead. His daughter has deserted him. He couldn’t hack it in the police force and got out, not without rubbing plenty of people up the wrong way, people he now needs to get on side if he’s going to get anywhere with his MisPer cases. Even his own cat treats him with contempt.
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I’ve always liked the lone wolf, in both literature and film. Put me in front of any number of 1970s paranoia thrillers and I’m a happy boy. The main characters in these films are not strictly OMOHOs… But… they kind of are. That’s the point of them. Who can they trust? Nobody. Three Days of the Condor (Robert Redford, OMOHO by lunchtime), The Parallax View (Warren Beatty, OMOHO on a bomb-laden airliner), Marathon Man (Dustin Hoffman, OMOHO jogging through NYC), The Conversation (Gene Hackman, OMOHO bugger). And on the page too I prefer the mavericks, rather than the police procedurals. Especially the unnamed Detective Sergeant from Derek Raymond’s Factory novels. Yes, he works in the Force, but he’s in limbo, stuck at his rank because of his obstinacy; out on a limb working at A14: Unexplained Deaths.
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I like the romance of the loner. The helpless introspection and attendant self doubt. The vulnerability. I like to see them skating on thin ice and sailing close to the wind. The desperation. I like how the rogue element will push the boundaries of what’s legal in order to make a breakthrough. Not for me the conventional interrogation with a tape recorder and an officer keeping tabs. Good cop, bad cop? No thanks. I prefer questions on the lam, and actual harm if the answers don’t pass muster. Search warrant? No time for that. Rough justice rather than a by-the-rulebook prosecution. My boy isn’t in it for the collars and the kudos. It’s personal for him. He’s in it for the result. The permanent solution. Dead men can’t get off on a technicality. Sometimes you really are on your own.

CWA Daggers 2016

9633431_origMy story, Rosenlaui, from The Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis (edited by Maxim Jakubowski) has made it on to the shortlist, released today, for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger award for short fiction. The CWA judges say this of Rosenlaui:

‘An inventive and beautifully written new take on the encounter of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach, told by a wheelchair bound boy who communicates only through blinking, but who is a keen, if perhaps unreliable, observer. Williams’ control of the narration keeps the story both thrilling and reflective, and casts an unusual shadowy light on crime fiction’s most famous showdown.’

It’s a great thrill to be in the running against such strong competition (including old chum and Watson, Little stablemate, Chris Fowler). The awards ceremony is in London on October 11th.

Sonata of the Dead: Teaser #5

train copyShe wasn’t coming. Nobody was coming. Nobody I wanted to see, at least.

All the lights went out. The departures board stuttered and died.

I felt my back bristle. I moved out from behind the ticket machine and heard the consternation of staff on the platforms, and passengers cheated of their information. A fire alarm went off. People began moving towards the exit. I stayed put, shrinking into the deep shadow of an entrance corridor. I heard the clatter of roller shutters as they crashed down.

About a hundred metres away, a figure moved out of a thick darkness that was wadded up against the far wall. I kept losing it in the gloom. It wasn’t Sarah, that was for sure. It was like a magnet shifting through iron filings. It coalesced and disintegrated. The absence of light, or of anything on the figure that might have reflected it – glasses, belt buckles, polished leather – meant that it sometimes shrank from view. I couldn’t track it. And then it would be over there to the left, a little closer now. It was ranging from side to side. I had the horrible feeling that it was trying to sniff me out. I imagined something blind, something monstrous with unhinged jaws sucking in the flavour of my warm body, homing in. But now I did see something gleaming, and it was a broad blade. I thought it might be a machete, but that could have been fear enlarging it. I was torn between running for my life and sticking around in the hope that I might catch a clearer glimpse of my stalker and put a face to the threat, level this playing eld. Maybe even disarm him, finish it tonight.

But fear was a series of tiny eggs hatching in my gut. The last time I’d fought a man with a blade, I’d almost ended up with a new mouth. I felt weak and tired, the comedown from a jag of adrenaline at the thought of being reunited with my daughter once again. And maybe this wasn’t about me. Maybe this was a guy coming to rob Paddington Station. With a machete. Yeah, right. The shakes intensified when I thought of that weapon piercing Gower, Treacle and Taft, making steaks of them, life spraying in trajectories created by a millimetre-thick edge of steel.

I got moving myself, but not before I decided to match the figure’s trickery. I slid my watch off my wrist and into my pocket. My wedding ring too. Buttoned my jacket and turned up the collar. I headed for the edge of Platform 1 and dropped on to the tracks as quietly as I was able. Hugging the wall under the lip, I made for open air, crouched low alongside the rails.

I passed under Bishop’s Bridge Road, and waited for a while in its shelter. The space under the roof of the station was utterly black. How hard could it be to replace a fuse? And then a footfall on track ballast; the harsh music of crushed stone. The weapon was fully brandished now; it swept the air before it in broad, slow arcs. I backed away, ready to run if need be. The sight of the steel made the scar on my face ache.