The Napoleon of Crime

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Lionel Atwill as Moriarty in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon’ (1943)

Yesterday I discovered that my story, Rosenlaui, will be included in Constable & Robinson‘s forthcoming The Mammoth Book of Professor Moriarty Adventures, edited by the venerable Maxim Jakubowski. The story concerns events in Meiringen, Switzerland, on the eve of that momentous confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls.

This is only the second time I’ve ever written a story containing someone else’s creation (I had a story in Stephen Jones’ Dracula anthology – another ‘Mammoth’ book – back in 1997), and I had enormous fun with it. I would certainly consider doing something similar in future (are you listening, Ian Fleming Publications?).

Ghosts and Deadlines

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I’ve been working on a novel with the working title HOUSE OF SLOW ROOMS for the best part of three years. I’ve not been writing it every day, but I’ve certainly been thinking about it every day (which is, some would say, the same thing, or at least part of the job). It has had to take a back seat to a number of more urgent, time-sensitive projects (for ‘urgent, time-sensitive’ read ‘paid’) and because it isn’t part of any publishing contract, it has no deadline, other than those I pin to it. And then reschedule, with depressing regularity.

I like deadlines. I like the sound they make when I meet them. I imagine the sound as the wet splat you hear when Andrew Lincoln kicks a zombie’s head in. I’m pretty good at meeting deadlines and I do love to have a date set in stone that I can work towards. A July 2015 deadline for something else I’ve got to write has provided me with an unofficial kick up the pants for HOSR, otherwise it will go on the back burner for another six months. So I’ve given myself until the end of February to at least knock it into some kind of shape. To at least wrestle an ending out of it, so I can call it a first draft. I’m at the 80,000 word mark and it feels as though there’s not much more to go (although I am retro-fitting a new character and sub-plot, so the word count could swing up into six-figure territory).

Progress Check

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I worry (just a little bit) when the writing seems free and easy, when the next scene shapes itself and solidifies before me as I’m about to wrap up the scene-in-progress. I fret (a tad) when I know what everyone is going to do and say, just before they do or say it. The words fly by; the pages stack up. It’s a nice feeling, and one that happens so rarely. So why would I warn against it? If it writes quick and easy then it will read quick and easy, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

I don’t want to come across as the tortured scribe, extolling the virtues of agonising over every phoneme; polishing each word, phrase and clause until it all shines with the self-righteous glow of punishing labour (I certainly don’t work that way). And I definitely don’t yank on the reins when I’m at a canter. But I do tend to cast a more critical eye over what I’ve produced. Writing at speed (usually) means a falling back on the cliché crutch, in idiom as well as location or character trait or behavioural tic.

In the same way that the Beatles, say, produced simple, apparently conventional songs that sometimes pulled the rug from under your feet with the appearance of an unusual couplet, or unexpected chord changes, so a piece of writing can be lifted to a rarefied plane thanks to the inclusion of a plot thrust out of left field, or sparkling dialogue, or idiosyncratic characters who behave like human beings, i.e. spontaneous, random, odd.

I love unpredictable writers and writing, and crave them even though novels and short stories contain their own conventions and formulae. Within that fixed trinity of beginning, middle and end there is an infinity of possibilities. An easy path from A-Z might get you to your destination more quickly, and more safely, but it might make for an uninspiring journey.

Kindle surprise

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Two recent short stories, originally published by the good people at This is Horror and Nightjar Press, are available to buy online. The Fox was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award and was well received by Starburst: “As events unfold, a knot appears in your stomach, twisting tighter and tighter until you reach the denouement.” Adam Nevill said of The Jungle: “In a Conrad Williams story you always see the very texture of the world’s simplest wonders and sudden horrors, but through eyes you thought had closed in your past.”

Priced at £1.99 each ($2.99 in the States). Cheap as chips. Or fries.