At the World Horror Convention in Toronto (March 29 – April 1), Conrad will be participating in the mass signing at 8pm on Friday 30th March. He will be reading from his work on the same night at 10.30pm and will feature on the panel WRITING ON THE EDGE at 2pm on Sunday 1 April. His new novella, The Scalding Rooms, is due to be launched on Friday evening between 5.30 and 7.30pm, alongside a number of other new titles from PS Publishing. Programming and schedule times are subject to change. Details here.
• Winner of the 2007 International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel •
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A blood-crazed lover of amputee victims.
A mother determined to protect her only daughter no matter the cost.
A serial killer who believes he is the rightful son and heir to a horrific, ancient dynasty.
And one dying man who must make a stand against a horde of vengeful monsters who knew the shadows of London before the city even had a name.
This Halloween, if they catch you, you will beg for death…
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The Evil Monkey’s Monday Morning Monkey Show
“Williams’ threat emerges from the world like an optical illusion being revealed, then you find that society fell apart while you were looking somewhere else… If fantasy and science fiction can encourage us to imagine there could be more to the world than we know, The Unblemished… [is a book] that make us hope there is not. This new mass-market horror series could hardly be off to a stronger start.”
David Hebblethwaite, The SF Site
The full review is here.
“Williams is an artful writer and his stark narrative is chilling and thrilling, relentless and fearless. As the antagonists rise up, Williams takes the reader on a journey coloured crimson, a tireless and unflinching descent into a landscape more usually associated with the back rooms of the abattoir. This is visceral writing, grim sentences coldly depicting scenes of clinical gristliness, and all the while, the pressure builds and builds.”
John Berlyne, SFRevu
The review in its entirety is here.
“On the surface, The Unblemished seems yet another addition to the varied offerings of apocalyptic horror. Don’t be fooled, however – top-notch writing skills, poetic vision and beautiful prose raise this way above your Hammer House of Horror… an unusual – as well as highly accomplished – terror.”
Nick Ryan, Sunday Express
Keith Brooke, The Guardian
The full review can be found here.
Peter Tennant, Black Static
“[Williams’] carefully crafted descriptions of horrific images, along with the ability to suggest they are even worse than words can tell, is reminiscent of Poe and the early stories of Clive Barker. Not for the squeamish, but no fan of literary horror should miss it.”
Lisa Tuttle, The Times
“Williams possesses a poet’s appreciation for language, a talent for painting Boschian nightmares with generous dabs of prose as beautiful as anything by Keats. This prose is at turns stark and hallucinogenic, building surrealistic and sadistic imagery upon the mundane and familiar. The effect of such a conglomeration of sequences is disorienting in all the right ways. At turns witty, shocking, and (yes) actually horrifying, The Unblemished is a triumph of the macabre. This novel is nothing less than truly epic, though still nasty and thoughtful and meaty.”
Daniel Robichaud, Horror Reader
“THE UNBLEMISHED ought to shake up and impress a lot of people, it ought to increase the Conrad Williams Fan Club by tens and yet more tens of thousands of new readers. This is horror literature unabashed and entire, at full imaginative stretch, beautiful and blazing. Williams possesses a fearless heart and an absolutely gorgeous soul.”
“Williams has built a whole mythology, one that makes the book feel like a cobwebbed relic from another time. Dust it off, if you like. Just do it at, say, ten in the morning. In a crowded room. In a military compound.”
Time Out Chicago
“Horror at its most visceral and disturbing… highly recommended.”
“[A] rich, emotionally engaging and extremely fast-paced novel… The Unblemished achieves the admirable, tricky task of interweaving physical horror with spiritual terror, reaching impressive heights of panic in its harvest of suspenseful shenanigans and heartfelt archetypes… an unapologetic white-knuckle thriller…”
William P Simmons, Infinity Plus
“Conrad Williams takes us on a roller-coaster ride through ancient buried secrets and body-horror invasion into the pulsing gut of apocalyptic British horror.”
“The fact that Williams chose a human being to be the most chilling villain in this novel of powerfully conceived monsters is but one sign of his brilliance as a storyteller. The Unblemished combines a carefully orchestrated accumulation of paranoid detail reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell with passages of vividly described (and highly graphic) transformations evocative of early Clive Barker. But what impressed me most was Williams’s ability to evince true compassion for the ordinary human beings trapped in these extraordinary circumstances.”
Steve Rasnic Tem
“An apocalyptic nightmare narrated with great vigour, clarity and stylishness. Steel yourself for some hideous sadism — there’s awe along the way.”
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David Langford, SFX
“Conrad Williams’ novel of a world beneath our own positions itself somewhere on the spectrum between Iain Sinclair and China Miéville, but moves off smartly at an oblique angle to both. Williams may be in the process of developing a new genre, a kind of matter-of-fact Gothic which can draw conclusions about the contemporary heart by rifling its dustbins. Readable, rebarbative and frightening.”
M John Harrison
“Williams describes the capital with hallucinatory clarity and inserts numerous photorealistic close-ups of abandoned objects and random violence. On to this detailed topography he superimposes an alternative network spotted with nodes of intense surrealism.”
Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday
“Williams creates existentialist horror with hallucinatory imagery and prose that is as muscular as it is tender, and laced at times with quite extraordinary beauty. To paraphrase one potent image, this will stud your brain with little cloves of madness.”
Nicholas Royle, City Life (Book of the week)
“This is a book which effortlessly slips sideways from horror to psychological thriller to fantasy to urban social comedy to neo-noir; Williams is utterly in love with all of these genres and part of the point of ‘London Revenant’ is to stuff as many of them together as possible. The book moves from moments of lyricism to moments of utter disgust with little clashing of gears. Williams is obsessed with what things feel like, whether they are extremes of erotic pleasure or viciously inflicted pain. If ‘London Revenant’ has deep fault lines within it, they come mostly from a surplus of virtuosity.”
Roz Kaveney, Time Out
“His writing is almost visionary at times, illuminating sights, moods, emotions, moments that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The prose is absolutely gorgeous, the imagery truly memorable and dreamlike, and the plot moves along very nicely indeed. All in all, this is a pretty special novel… Williams has an eye for the lonely, the sad, the wan beauty that shines within moments of extreme horror like an oil slick rainbow. Buy it today, and starting reading a modern master of the genre.”
Gary McMahon, laurahird.com
It’s so late, it’s early.
It’s so late, it’s early. It feels the tunnels radiating out like veins teased from Its body. Further along this platform stands an athletic man in trainers, jeans and a T-shirt upon which the words Foo Fighters are neatly stencilled. There’s a woman reading the Evening Standard, the toe of her left foot tapping against the painted kerb at the platform edge. She wears glossy black clothes; her legs are thin, her trousers tight around her buttocks. A courier bag filled with box files hangs heavily on her shoulder, as if it were some kind of penance. She looks like a tired raven. The last train to Upminster is a minute away. On the opposite platform, a couple are clinched, kissing each other greedily. There are no other people around.
It strolls down the platform and buys a Crunchie bar from the vending machine although It won’t eat it. It can’t abide the sickly sweet taste of Topside food, everything sugared and salted to hide how unpalatable it all is. How mass market. Its guts churn at the thought of the greasy junk that passed Its lips in the past. Those memories will help It now, the rage at the way It was forced to eat that rubbish, that shit. E numbers and monosodium glutamate and xanthum gum and riboflavinoids and disodium guanylate – whatever that is – and fuck it, and fuck it all.
The woman has turned to glance at It before returning to her newspaper, and It feels happy that it was just a glance. Because doesn’t that mean It’s still got some normal in It? It still blends in. Maybe It looks like a guy wending his weary way home from a building site, pock-marked with plaster dust and paint, the grime from a day’s solid graft. But It really ought to be invisible for this. It can’t afford to make these errors. It can’t afford to be caught. Next time the world must be blind to It. Not even a glance. As if It were a ghost.
It assesses the way she is standing, the spread of weight, the lie of her fulcrum, her natural balance and poise. She weighs maybe a hundred and twenty pounds. She’s on the back foot. That big bag of homework will need to be compensated for. Further. you can see, without trying too hard, how she would look naked. A bit of a belly on her; slim in the hip and thigh; breasts high, but slowly going to seed. Rounded shoulders. Too much time making eyes at the VDU. Emails and spreadsheets. It can imagine her in the morning, after the shower, sizing herself up in the mirror. After tonight, well, she won’t ever wish for her youth back again.
From here, you can smell the woman’s perfume despite the charred persistence of diesel fumes. Foo Fighters is rubbing his eyes and trying to focus on a paperback. Across the track, the kiss continues: he’s holding on to the shivering meat of her thigh as though she were about to come apart in his hand. Her fingers flutter at his groin for a second. It wonders if he can taste any of the rubbish she will have eaten for dinner.
The breeze quickens.
In the moment before the grime-streaked snout of the train powers into the station, the lick of preceding blue light across the tunnel walls becomes almost liquid as time thickens and masses at Its shoulders. It becomes incandescent. Like the silent flight of black holes around It, Its focus diminishes until only she remains fixed within. The deliberate fold of her newspaper, the movement of her hand as she flicks an errant strand of hair from her eye, the shift of weight from one foot to another. The drop and tilt of her hips – all scorched on to Its retina as surely as if It were staring at messages written in the sun. In two steps, It is upon her. The way she stiffens tells It she’s aware of something even though It’s moved silently but anyway, she’s too soft, too slow, too late now. One hand at the small of her back to counter her instinct to retreat; one at the dip between her shoulder blades: Its movement is fluid and inexorable. Her head flies back, her hair whipping Its hand as she disappears over the edge. The scream could have come from her, the witnesses, the train as it tried to abort its charge. No, the scream is coming from It as It flees through the tunnel marked NO EXIT. Foo Fighters, if he’s pursuing, is not as lithe as he looks; more likely he’s staring down at the rails in shock or trying to help. Its hand plucks a blade from the pocket of Its jacket and It slows down. Its heartbeat is steady. It went well.
It makes Its way quickly to the interlocking service tunnels, donning Its bicycle mask to protect It against the grime. Home is a long walk from here but It’s done it before on dry runs for this very day.
Next time, there’ll be more choice. It plunges into the infernal Circle Line, praying to God that she’ll be all right.
© Conrad Williams
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Some nights you can hear screams rising up from The Eyes, the abattoir on New Cut Lane. Those screams belong to the animals queuing up to be slaughtered there. Well, most of them do…
The Eyes is a brutal place to work, let alone die. Many lives have been lost there over the years, sometimes due to faulty machinery, sometimes because of disease, and occasionally when the trapped animals turn on their executioners. But it remains the only employer for most of the people who live in and around the town of Red Meadows. The alternatives include alcohol, random violence and suicide. Some might say those were vastly more attractive. Junko Cane would disagree. Having clawed his way back from a grim life of gang warfare, he is happy with his job, despite the ogreish abattoir boss, Max Grappen. The work, though unpleasant and treacherous, puts food on the table for his wife and child. Life, such as it is, has its comforts.
The shadowy past that Junko has tried to leave behind won’t give him up so easily, though. When he stumbles across Max Grappen’s key card Junko’s curiosity gets the better of him and he uses it to access the hidden world of his employer. But he is not the only person investigating Grappen’s past. The enigmatic Boa Cleethe, injury analyst, is also suspicious of the abattoir chief. And Junko’s nemesis, crime lord Krave Wheaste, is breathing down his neck.
What Junko and Boa discover together will not only put the wider population of Red Meadows into terrible danger, but will menace Junko’s fragile family and expose the shocking, insane and murderous secrets of The Eyes.
“Williams’s basic plot, that of the once-violent man who must resume that existence and the bloody results of his choice, is one familiar from Western and crime dramas. Williams’s success is in using that well-established plot as a frame on which to hang an exploration of memory and identity. In one of the novella’s more striking scenes, Junko and the other workers at the slaughterhouse watch the approach and crash of an unscheduled delivery train whose contents are so horrific as to be stupefying. It is a fitting trope for the impact Junko’s resurgent past has on his and his family’s lives. As often happens in Conrad Williams’s longer work, the ending of the narrative brings with it the revelation that certain aspects of the story its protagonist has just survived have been hallucinations; yet in this case, such disclosure only highlights the conjunction of Junko Cane’s inner and outer worlds.”
John Langan, Dead Reckonings
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Gray Friar Press
This is no ordinary storm …
Ben and his family move in to a French house cloaked by storm clouds. The walls fail to keep out intruders. Warnings appear. There is an accident. There is death. There is rain. Much rain.
This is Conrad Williams’ new novella. Remember to breathe.
John Langan, Dead Reckonings
“Rain is a disturbing snapshot of a failing marriage, looking back at happier times and trying to figure out where it all went so badly wrong. The characterisation is spot on, and the outré elements enhance the growing sense of unease as the story progresses, the feeling that otherworldly forces are involved. The writing is moody, evocative, involving, packed with incidental detail and chillingly perfect metaphors. Williams is equally adept at describing the almost sublime eroticism of happier times and the gut-wrenching horror of the finale… Williams’ skill at creating atmosphere, delineating damaged characters and simply shocking the reader to the core is as evident here as in any of his longer works.”
Peter Tennant, Black Static
“Rain is a tight, compact story that moves along with enough intensity and emotion to leave you exhausted by the time you reach the dark, disturbing ending. Even with the low page count of this one-sitting novella, the story is packed with more real-world sentiment and dark despair than many epic novels ten times the size. Rain is one of those novellas that stays with you long after you set the book aside as the wonderfully crafted writing and rich emotion-filled drama works its way deep into your imagination. Williams so perfectly captures the despair and emotion that accompanies the breakdown of any relationship that you will feel that he has plucked this story straight from the real world… barely a word is wasted as Williams leads the reader through the rich atmosphere and quiet horror until the nerve-shattering conclusion. I highly recommend everyone pick up a copy of Rain by Conrad Williams and discover for yourselves the outstanding talent of an author who truly understands the horror genre.”
Joe Kroeger, Horror World
“… a demon Spirit, weaving beautiful nests of tight prose, hatching spectacular nightmares out of love, guilt, remorse and unreliable memory. The flights of his fiction are dazzling and dangerous.”
“I loved it. His portraits of everyday loneliness are brilliant. Altogether I thought it one of the finest and most haunting modern spectral novels I’ve read.”
“Incendiary stuff… marks Williams out as a writer of rare if warped imagination.”
“…beautiful prose in this brooding and mysterious tale… A first class novel.”
Peter Crowther, Interzone
“Lean,compelling prose marks this out as a thriller of real distinction.”
“‘Conrad Williams’ debut novel casts an irresistible spell. [It is] obsessive, menacing and full of bizarre imagery. Along with its narrative surprises, remorseless invention and astonishing emotional range, it offers a host of more traditional fictional pleasures: acute perceptions of character, naturalistic dialogue and some fine evocations of the fears, desires and cruelties of adolescence… An extraordinary novel: subtle, stylish, witty, dark and visionary.”
Andrew Hedgecock, Time Out Net Books
The man in the gaberdine coat worked the far end of the beach, tucked under the protective shadow of The Battery. His dog lolloped around at his feet until, bored with the ceaseless sweep of his master’s metal detector, he lay down on a rock and watched the seagulls.
I half-heartedly sketched the dog, keeping an eye on the man’s progress. What was he looking for? I must have seen him every time I came anywhere near the beach but I had yet to witness him digging anything up.
‘I think,’ Eve said, dipping her head to lick my ear, ‘the man in the gaberdine coat is a spy.’
‘Oh really,’ I said, turning to kiss her. ‘Who’s he spying on?’
‘You and me. He’s recording this conversation too with an ultra sensitive microphone. Watch.’ She wetted her lips and whispered: ‘Hey, man in the coat, I want to suck you off.’
The man jerked upright and looked in our direction. I laughed, surprised by the coincidence and rested my head against her leg. The anger I’d felt had vanished. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t turned up on time or had left me spinning like a scrap of paper in the wind. It didn’t matter how panicked I’d become. ‘he was here now. That’s what mattered. I looked up at her face, the strong chin and the whorls of fair hair on her jawline. The broad mouth. The pulse in her throat. A blue vein, fine as thread, worming across her temples. I felt whole. I felt nourished.
‘I wish I knew what he was looking for,’ I said, shading, without any great conviction, the dark areas beneath the dog’s body.
‘Come on then,’ Eve said, pushing me away. ‘Let’s find out. Come on.’
I followed her down to the sand where she was trotting towards the figure. The dog stopped panting and watched, its body suddenly becoming more poised, as though scenting prey.
When I caught up with her, she was finishing off a question.’ well known for that then?’ was all I heard.
He shrugged. Guiltily regarding the worn handle of his metal detector, he stuck out a hand and I shook it. The skin was very cold and smooth as soap.
‘David,’ said Eve, ‘this is Grainne Chawney. He’s an archaeologist.’
‘An archaeologist? In Morecambe? What are you expecting to find? Fossilised chip forks? Prehistoric Screwball cartons?’
‘No, he’s looking for bodies.’
‘Fascinating,’ I said, feeling a jolt as I wondered what might be under the sand. It sucked at my feet here, where it was gluey with water. I thought of the photograph Seamus had shown me of Dale Paris, taken just a matter of hours before his death. He had no clue, as he smiled into the lens, of what was to befall him. Or was there some kind of sign after all, some omen that one noticed but thought nothing of? Were dreams different, in the final, breathing sleep? Did animals shy away, smelling death? Dale Paris would be dressed as he was in that photograph still, but he’d be bones now.
‘What’s the range?’ I asked, reaching for the detector, which he passed to me.
‘Not great,’ he said. He had a gentle American accent. ‘Six, maybe eight feet.’
‘Shallow graves,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that Morecambe Bay was a tipping site for corpses.’
‘I’m here because of the chapel, really. There’s a lot of stuff emerging in the cliff as the sea erodes it. We found a bone comb last week. Twelfth century.’
‘Jesus, really?’ I said. And then the detector went off. I’d been ranging it around the sand by my feet. ‘It must be one of the eyes in my boot,’ I suggested.
Chawner’s lips spun around the tight O of his mouth.
‘Ooh, exciting,’ said Eve. ‘Let’s dig it up. Could be a fortune.’
‘Could be a barrel of nuclear waste,’ I said, cheerily. Chawney took out a trowel and hacked at the sand. ‘I’ve been up and down this beach for hours,’ he spat, ‘and you come along and hit pay dirt straight off.’
‘Sorry,’ I said, happy to leave him and his rusty old tins in peace.
‘You never know what you’ll find. There could be horses and carts down here. Lots of places in this bay where the sand is unstable. Suck you down quick as you like. I know ah, shit. What’s this?’
He surfaced, sand coating his knees and the cuffs of his shirt. He held a curved black mass in his hand; it was about the same size as his palm. He started scrubbing at it with an old toothbrush from his jacket pocket.
‘Looks like a soap dish,’ Eve said.
‘I’m going to get this back to my room,’ Chawney said. ‘Got some stuff to clean it with there. Want to come? I can show you some of the other things I’ve found.’
I handed his detector back. I was going to decline but Eve was already pulling me after him. His dog, which he introduced as IQ, followed at a distance.
Chawney lived in a flat above the Gingham Cafe, on the seafront road amid dozens of guest houses, cheap markets and amusement arcades. His living room was bare but for a low table covered with audio tapes. Vincent Price reads Edgar Allen Poe, I saw. There was also a box of cheap paperbacks in a corner and a lurching futon, covered with a throw that looked as if it had done some time as a shroud. IQ sensibly ignored it and flopped down by the books. A plastic tray of cress on the windowsill wasn’t up to much. Neither was Chawney, who was looking out at the sea.
‘Would either of you like a drink? I’ve got banana Nesquik or Cup-a-‘oup. Leek that is. With croutons.’
‘Coffee please, doctor,’ said Eve, falling into the futon and trading places with about ten pounds of dust.
‘No coffee, I’m afraid. Ditto tea. I can’t stand the stuff. And it’s professor. But you can call me Grainne.’ He was rotating the artefact in his hands, turning it this way and that in the light. ‘You know, I think I know what this is. Won’t be a mo.’ He stepped through a door and pulled it behind him. The door failed to snick shut and swung back slightly into the living room. Blue and white floor tiles, smeared with grime. The end section of a melamine wall unit. A dried up plant in a pot on the floor.
I heard water rushing into a steel sink.
‘Let’s go, Eve,’ I said. ‘This bloke’s a nutter. He doesn’t like tea.’
Eve pressed a finger to her lips and, glancing once at the kitchen door, hitched up her skirt. ‘he wasn’t wearing any knickers. She yawned wetly at me as she spread her legs. Using the finger she’d hushed me with, she rubbed at herself until she was red and my throat was dry. Even the dog’s ears pricked up.
‘As I thought,’ came Chawney’s voice. ‘I had to give it a bit of a seeing to but it’s come up nice and clean now.’
Eve raised her eyebrows and I brayed laughter. She repositioned her skirt. As Chawney returned to the room, she began sucking the tip of her finger. I found it difficult to sit down.
‘It’s a palate,’ he said. ‘A human one, still attached to part of the jawbone. Over thirty years old. Look, you can see some of the teeth contain fillings.’
‘Shit,’ I said. ”houldn’t that go to the police?’
‘I’m sure it should. But it isn’t going anywhere. I’m having it. Come and have a look at the rest of my stash. Most of this is from Heysham ‘ he’d disappeared into the kitchen again ‘ some pretty rich pickings in Heysham. But you’ve got to watch out for the shit they pump into the sea from that damned power station. You’ll see me in waders most of the time. And a mask. I’m not stupid.’
I followed him into the kitchen. There was an ironing board set up in the corner with a heap of grey clothing on it. He was digging around in a wicker basket, holding up trinkets that I couldn’t identify. ‘Bracelet, bronze. Bone comb I was telling you about. Coins, last century. Pen inscribed: Willy loves Edna. Must be seventy years old at least. Bet I could get it working again.’
‘Shouldn’t all this stuff go to a museum?’ I asked, not really caring one jot because I could now see that the clothing on the ironing board wasn’t clothing after all. It was a great heap of skin, divested of bulk and bone, oily with some kind of moisturising unguent.
‘I’m sure it should. But it isn’t going anywhere. I’m having it,’ he repeated.
I could see the shape of the arm, the hairs standing out on it. The hand was like an empty Marigold. A pale band indicated where a wedding ring had been. The light dimmed. I felt a hot flush at the base of my neck. Neither Eve nor Chawney were speaking. One of the fingers moved. I turned slightly and looked up through a sudden prickle of sweat. Eve was moving silently around the back of Chawney, who had become thinner, as though he was losing his substance to the heat of the room. Pain rippled into the centre of my skull and I retched. I didn’t feel at all well.
‘Okay?’ asked Chawney, his head folding towards me.
Eve appeared through him, as he finally lost his solidity and I lurched towards the door which had somehow become just another section of wall.
‘Watch out!’ Eve yelled, scooping an arm beneath one of my flailing limbs. Somehow I staggered outside without falling over. The sodden air revived me a little as I set off down the promenade, fearful of a return to my own room; it was too much like being in a cell and anyway, despite the cleaning up that had been done, I was certain I could still smell the sour reek of fear and shit whenever I passed Duncan’s door. I heard Eve behind me, and as her hand dropped on my arm there was a squeal of tyres as someone slammed on the brakes. I turned in time to see a small boy nudged slightly by a severely dipping Sierra at the pedestrian crossing. It tipped him over and the bag of aniseed balls he was holding scattered across the road.
‘Shit ‘ I began.
‘He’s all right,’ said Eve, tightening her grip although she hadn’t bothered to look.
I allowed her to steer me back on course and we walked in silence while my body tingled with an unbearable itch. I felt that my surroundings – the people, the buildings, the seagulls – were stamped with some kind of mark, a potential. That at any moment they would reveal their true purpose instead of simply carrying on as they had been for however long their existence had lasted. It felt like the one time I had tried MDMA. Suddenly, the skin of everything around me had seemed transparent. I’d been afraid to look down at the ground in case I saw its hidden secrets.
© Conrad Williams
“The elegance of his narrative is unfailing. Like Hieronymus Bosch or M John Harrison, he is a painter of infernos, his torments always briskly inventive, his grotesquerie always delineated with flair; pure visionary acid. Nearly People is cruelly brilliant, a dagger in the vitals.”
Nick Gevers, Infinity Plus
“Conrad Williams delivers a tour-de-force experience with Nearly People. This is a tremendous piece of writing, destined for great things.”
David Howe, Shivers
“Nearly People is one of the best-written pieces of fiction I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended.”
Paul Lewis, Alien Online
“With its slipstream refusal to exploit genre conventions, and lack of definitive answers, Nearly People could be viewed more as emotional metaphor than as a standard SF/dark fantasy narrative of discovery and active response. Is the metaphor personal or universal, obsessive imagination or expressing the catastrophe that comes in the wake of revolutionary social change? Williams leaves it for his readers to conclude… if they can.”
How can he smoke if he has no lungs?
What was louder? Her feet clanging on the textured metal staircase or the thrum of blood in her ears? The zig-zag of black iron dipped and lurched sickeningly, a rending noise cancelling everything else out as the pins connecting it to this rotten brick worked loose. She had to stop and scrunch herself into a corner of the stairwell as a helicopter chattered past; fortunately, its cameras were trained on a different area of the street. Carrier glanced upwards, at the window she had vacated. A figure was hunched over the frame, looking across the city, a pall of blue smoke wreathing its head.
She continued down the fire escape. Not right. Not right. Not right. The words fit the rhythm of her feet on the risers. It helped her to put one foot in front of another, so she went on. Not right. Not right. It had been Kram she had seen bolted and splayed to the wall. Hadn¹t it? She forced her mind to return to that bloody spectacle, but it would only offload flashes of memory, as if the entire sequence were too much to relive again.
Kram riveted to the wall.
Kram¹s slack face, a pink froth of saliva dried to a glaze on his lips.
His eyes. His eyes.
It was Kram. His chest had been vacuumed clean and sealed shut with rough sutures. Broad black bruises spoilt his torso where the Tar Babies had performed their thoracic evacuation on him. Tar Babies invariably used tin snips, or some similar tool, to get at that sopping cargo.
It had been Kram. No question. She imagined those cold blue lips now, curling softly as he loosed his intoxicating promise into her ear… somewhere you can fly…
So what the hell was he doing stealing around the burned hospital? And after curfew?
Carrier snorted laughter and had to put a hand to her face to stifle any more. Rain had turned the street to a glassy film of blue orange. Studs of sodium light fizzed in the walls; blades of soft colour pushed through the dark, at times dazzling her. For a moment, she was disoriented. The black claws of buildings were like beggars’ hands beseeching passers by for coppers. Something with more death than dog in it worried a cluster of ancient refuse bins. Tin cans clattered and spun on the pavements. Someone screamed somewhere far away.
Pressing her hand against the drive in her pocket, Carrier struck out west, hugging the backstreets, keeping the knife loose in her hand, its blade coated with grease to kill its propensity to flash.
She noticed the moon, warped and muddied through the filthy synthetic enclosure, some three miles above the city. For a while, she watched it waxing and waning through the impurities in the domed roof, until a raft of high cloud smothered it. Now she moved again, more confident in this fresh darkness. She made a series of turns into crannies and nooks so narrow they hardly deserved a name, but their labels glowed in the mouth of every turning: Wasp Way, Priest Niche, Spinney Street, Hatchet Rise. She was making good progress, and was soon across the canal – a mere ten minutes from home – when, turning into Godless Arch, she was brought up sharp by a Mower eating its supper.
Oh… shit… Dead soft, the words sucked back into her lungs, on a carpet of frigid air. The Mower was trying to empty the contents of a human head onto the road. Mouthless, it pressed its food against its throat, where teeth were ranged horizontally, peeking out of the flesh. It was necessary to fling its head right back in order to expose as much of its throat as possible during meals. Its eyes were visible at these moments: dull, ochre orbs writhing with tics. Its face was dead flat; nothing so grand as a nose provided relief, just a few strings of wet flesh, guarding a supersensitive membrane, like bars. Carrier hoped that her scent would be overpowered by the gobbets upon which the Mower was gorging itself.
Retreating slowly, she circled back, retracing her steps to the canal, where she selected a different route. The alert on her wrist began squawking at her. Time turning against her, she ran.
© Conrad Williams
“Powerful and tragic. Centering on humanity’s worst sins, Williams exploits and examines what happens when fate finally catches up to you. This is 80 pages of dark, ultra-violent, thought-provoking congestion. What you have here is three sculpted stories running simultaneously, interlacing slowly, divinely. Five out of five stars.”
“Game is a novella that takes the material of very hardboiled crime fiction and adds a horror/dark fantasy twist. It’s a story diamond-hard in tone, studded with imagery that will stay in your mind whether you like it or not, evoking a brutal world where evil flourishes and the innocent are liable to die horribly.”
Gary Couzens, Infinity Plus
“Pacy, hard-edged, and almost feverish in the intensity with which it moves towards its blood-soaked and righteous climax. The writing, as always with Williams, is both earthy and luminous, illustrating his ability to relate scenes of savage violence and corruption with clear and lucid prose. A blistering tale [that] reminds us of the genre’s continued transgressive power.”
The Alien Online
“A modern masterpiece of noir.”
“Conrad Williams possesses a ruthless imagination and the sensibility of a poet, breathing undeniable urgency into characters almost too easy to identify with. Game is a dark treasure… the author’s prose is like fine crystal on the verge of shattering. This novella is inspired modern noir fiction well worth experiencing.”
William P. Simmons
“…taut, controlled prose that draws you in and won’t let go.”
Neddal Ayad, Dead Angel
“A ferocious adventure. It is amazing. The shocking twists in plot keep you off balance and that accounts for some of the sting in the punches, but mostly it is Williams’ extraordinary writing. The dialogue, the narrative, even the damned section titles are memorable. Conrad Williams types a mean key.”
Doing the rounds. Getting things sorted. Rely on others for the important deals, the stuff that matters, and you’re asking to get fucked. It was non-stop, this job.
He dropped Brimelow off near his bedsit in East Ham and told him to break the gun up and lose it in at least fifteen different places. The bodies he would sort out. You couldn’t leave the mucky-mucky to gimps like Brimelow. Every outfit had its staff, every hard cunt his minions. Trouble was, nine out of ten times they were denser than neutron stars. They had to be. You couldn’t have smarts working under you. It would be constant yakking, offering this hypothesis and this prognosis… no, no, no, you don’t want to shoot him through the eye, he could survive that. Statistically, your best bet would be to… You needed shtoom guys who acted first and then didn’t think later. Brimelow was like that, with the bonus that he did the admin extremely well, while Eachus got on with the wetwork. He did the admin well because Eachus got on with the wetwork. He appreciated not being involved.
Alone in the car, Eachus ramped up the stereo – he liked to listen to Bowie when he was on rubber glove duty – and toed it along the A13 to the Royal Docks Road turn-off. Factories, desolate retail parks, gasometers and open wasteland stretched out around him like some film set that didn’t know what it wanted to be. He took a turning into badlands near the Docklands Light Railway depot and killed the headlights. Up ahead where the lane petered out, he saw Chettle’s silhouette against the bonfires. Beind him, piers and jetties fingered the great oily bend of the river at Gallions Reach. Lights from the short-haul jets taking off from London City Airport snagged and stretched in the water like strange phosphorescence. By a couple of rust-savaged oil drums, a drunk in clothes that resembled rolls of grey fat was silently, determinedly, fucking his senseless girlfriend while she leafed through a magazine, the pages of which had been sun-bleached to invisibility. The smell of burning shit drifted through the night.
Eachus got out of the car and ambled over to Chettle, who was watching the lovers while he worked the pump mechanism on his air rifle. Chettle wore a skull cap, the rim of which ended just where his eyes began. From what Eachus could tell, there wasn’t much in the way of a head to cover. Chettle made tapioca appear schooled. ‘How’s college coming along?’ he asked, his usual gambit.
Chettle spun around and smiled with a mouth that was like a split in a dried orange. ‘Studying for my fucking no levels, as fucking usual,’ he said. ‘You still mates with that Italian chap?
‘Oh yes,’ said Chettle. ‘Fuctifino. Me and him are snug as fucking buggers.’
Eachus snickered. ‘Nice to see you again, Chettle. I need to use one of the incinerators.’
‘Got one fired up fucking right nice. Shot a couple rats earlier. Size of footing fuckballs.’
‘That’s great, Chettle. You stoke up the barbecue. I’ll go and get the chops.’
Chettle went off to the great iron incinerator. The drunk had fallen asleep. His partner was trying to get her knockers on but hadn’t realised that she was pushing both legs into one hole. ‘And they say romance is dead,’ Eachus whispered to himself as he moved back to the Alfa and opened the boot.
He hoisted the smaller of the two bin liners on to his shoulder. What was this girl’s name? Betty? Brenda? He couldn’t remember. She gave good head though. Spectacular head. The pair of them were tough bitches, he had to give them that.
Desperation pushed some wild buttons. He knew all about desperation, the ability it could draw from you. The girls had done him proud. And now he was giving them time off, for good behaviour. Her head was in a Waterstone’s bag, covered loosely with newspaper so she could have a last read. He lifted the bag and clenched it between his teeth while he shut the boot. The newspaper shifted, allowing him a look at the untidy swordplay that had taken her head off above the top lip. He’d never been able to get a clean neck cut. Her tongue sat in the gash like an unwanted oyster that had dried in its shell. The fading smell of Doublemint wafted off it.
© Conrad Williams
I was on my way to work when Louise appeared, seeming to peel away from the grey cement walls of the block of flats opposite. She drifted into my arms. I could feel her bones, thin and febrile, poking through the shredded leather of her jacket. As I drew her inside, I noticed it was a jacket I’d given her, five years ago – the last time I’d seen her. She made sticky, glottal noises into the crook of my arm as I led her upstairs. Her hair was matted with dog shit; her mouth pinched and blue.‘What are you on?’ I asked, but the question could have been directed at myself. I should have been taking her to hospital. She didn’t answer.I sat her down in the hallway while I ran a bath. My face dissolved in the mirror.‘Can you…?’ Clearly, she couldn’t, so I undressed her myself, trying to keep my eyes off the breasts I’d once caressed. Unbidden, a memory of me rubbing olive oil into them on a hot beach somewhere made my cheeks burn. ‘Let’s get you into this bath. Come on Louise.’ She’d lost weight. The skin around her navel was purpuric and slightly raised, like that of an orange. I hoped her condition was due to vitamin deficiency and exhaustion. I wished I hadn’t written to her.She revived a little when the suds enveloped her. She found some kind of focus, frowning as I no doubt looped in and out of view. Her slight overbite rested upon her bottom lip: something I’d once found irresistible. Now she just looked afraid.‘It’s been like – ‘ she began, and coughed a thick clot of mucus on to her chin, ‘- like I’ve been drowning. All this time. Just as I thought I was leaving, going out like a candle, you rescued me.’ She collapsed slowly into the water; her ribs, for a moment, seemed like huge denuded fingers pressing against the flesh from inside, trying to punch their way out.There was nothing particularly unusual about our relationship to warrant my attempt to contact her. At the time, I was nineteen, she eighteen. We said we loved each other. Although we had no money and still lived with our parents, we believed we were independent, different from anyone else because we were intelligent; we were mature about sex.We were stupid. We were children.We holidayed in Wales one summer, borrowing a caravan that belonged to a friend of my father’s. We buried each other in the sand and lost sleep, fucking with impunity. It was exciting, hearing her approach an orgasm without fear of a parent barging in on us. She missed a period.I wanted to go with her on the day she aborted. I’d travelled to Stockport with her to make the appointment, sitting in a waiting room trying to avoid the female faces around me, watching faded vehicles slew across wet, wasted dual carriageways which reached into the dun fug over Manchester. Louise’s mother went with her when the time came because she paid for the operation. The private clinic was picketed by pro-lifers that day. Louise told me they pleaded with her to re-consider, that they would help to bring up the baby. It fluttered in her womb. Ink blot eye. Fingernails.When I saw Louise again, she’d gained something which made me nervous for a while, something which shone dully in her eyes as if the surgeons had implanted some strange, ancient wisdom at the time of termination. We talked about it and grew very close; smiles and kisses drew a frosting over the bad area, like icing decorates the mould in a cake. I suppose we believed we were richer for the experience. Louise became clinging; I thought it was love. I never believed that we would be together for ever but she didn’t doubt it, as if this trauma provided a bond we must never break. Sometimes I’d lie awake at night feeling like the carcass of a sheep; she, a dark scavenger of emotions, burrowing ever deeper into the heart of me. That I felt guilty for entertaining such thoughts shouldn’t have brought me comfort but it did.It was like laying down a bundle of kindling when I tucked her into my bed. I left a window open and glanced at London’s centre. It seemed strange that I would be working in that glut of noise down there while she slept, a Rapunzel in her tower. I left a note with my number by the bed, in case she should wake up. I had to lean over and smell her mouth.On the Northern Line, I tried to spot other faces which bore the same kind of expression as Louise. A fusion of vulnerability and assuredness. The look of someone who knows they will be protected and cared for. I couldn’t find anything like it here. Maybe it was London which prescribed a countenance of stone; to progress here, you oughtn’t allow any emotion to slip.It was a photograph that did it. A black and white shot of Louise staring out of my bedroom window, one breast free of a voluminous cardigan, her body painted white with morning sunshine. She wore a sleepy, gluttonous expression: we’d just made love. I’d placed some crumpled cellophane over the lens to soften her image. When the picture fell out of a book, I wondered what she was doing now. It pained me to think that the partners we felt so deeply for can be allowed to drift out of our lives. We were both five years older than the time it had ended. Old enough, responsible enough to face each other on a new footing and be friends…… Ha.I thought about her all day. I even tried calling her but all I got was my Duo plus: ‘Hi, this is Sean, all calls gratefully received, except those from Jeffrey Archer or Noel Edmonds… ‘‘Lou? Are you there? Pick up the phone.’I left the office as early as I could and caught the tube back to Belsize Park, having to wait an agonising time at Camden for the Edgware connection, which was late due to I don’t fucking know – litter on the line, driver claustrophobia, lack of application.She was still in bed when I got back. I heated a bowl of celery soup in the microwave and fed it to her, remembering too late that she despised celery. And what else? Beetroot? She didn’t seem to mind now though, her belly grateful for anything to mop up the misery in which it was dissolving. The early February sky shuttered out the light in grey grades across my wall; she became more beautiful as darkness mired her features.She sat up against the headboard, the duvet slipping away from her body. She didn’t attempt to cover herself. I gave her a tee-shirt.‘What happened?’ I asked, lighting a candle – she wouldn’t have appreciated the harshness of a bare bulb.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘It’s like I described earlier. I feel as if I’ve been gnawed away from the inside. For a while, I thought it was cancer.’I bit down on my suggestion that it still might be; the candle’s uncertain light sucked the gaunt angles of her face and shoulders into chiaroscuro.‘Lie with me,’ she said.My sleep was fitful; I was expecting her to murmur something that would shape the formless panic I was barely managing to fasten inside. I lay awake listening to horses clatter lazily up Primrose Hill Road at 5 a.m., trying to delve for conversations we’d had, or pregnant pauses stuffed with meaning. All I could remember was the sound of her crying.I nipped outside at around seven, when she was stirring, to the baker’s for croissants. I picked up a pot of jam and the newspaper, a pint of milk and headed back to the flat. Only gone ten minutes, it was some surprise to find her showered and dressed, painting her nails and listening to one of my Radiohead albums.
‘We’ll go out after brekkie,’ she said, slackly pursing her lips and blowing the varnish across their wake. For a moment, it seemed she was miming a blow-job. ‘You can show me around Camden.’‘How are you feeling?’ I asked, unwrapping the croissants and offering her a knife.‘Better.’ She broke off a corner of bread and chewed it, dipping her next bit into the virgin surface of the jam, getting crumbs in there. That was something that pissed me off no end when we were together. It didn’t bother me now. Maturity, I suppose. She looked at me slyly, as if she were testing me; I ignored it.‘It’s good to see you, Louise,’ I said. ‘Really.’‘It was a beautiful letter. How could I not answer it?’‘I didn’t necessarily expect to see you on my doorstep… you know, a letter, a phone call or something, to let me know how you were.’‘It was an invocation, Sean.’‘A what?’‘I said, it was an invitation. You called to me, I was on the brink. Your timing was immaculate.’ She raised an eyebrow. ‘It always was.’