My third collection of short stories, I Will Surround You, is to be released by Undertow Publications in October this year. The collection will include short stories published in recent years and will feature such award-shortlisted fiction as Rain, The Fox and Raptors. There will be two original stories especially written for the book: Cwtch and Trash Polka. Until then, feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover by artist Mikio Murakami.
I’ll be headlining a night of spoken word and poetry at a special Halloween version of Manchester’s highly-regarded Bad Language.
The event takes place on Wednesday, October 31 from 7:30pm until 10:30pm at The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham Street, M4 1LE.
Open mic slots are available. If you wish to take part you can do so by e-mailing email@example.com from 5TH OCTOBER onwards.
At least five slots are reserved for people who have never performed on the Bad Language stage before and this month they are encouraging, in particular, horror writing.
You can keep up with Bad Language’s events by following their Twitter feed: @BadLanguageMcr
In addition to stories written in recent years about an owl (The Owl) and a shrike (Slitten Gorge), as well as a novel born from the question: What if people behaved like insects? (The Unblemished), I’ve just finished some stories about a pike (The Pike) and a wolf – well, sort of – (Manners). I’m now at work on a story called The Fox, which is all about a badger. No, just kidding, it really is about a fox. I’m not sure what it is that keeps drawing me back to wild animals. I grew up in an industrial town in the north-west of England and apart from school visits to Chester zoo, the closest I ever came to tooth-and-claw was witnessing a hawk clutching a mouse on a neighbour’s fencepost. Sometimes there was a heron in Sankey Valley park. But nothing, you know, exotic. That changed when I went to live in France in 2003. We had bought a crumbling farmhouse near Cognac which had a resident barn owl and at least one snake, which liked to cool off in that year’s lethal summer by wriggling into the cracks in our stone walls. In the garden I once, thrillingly, found a praying mantis. The Owl was written, not in tribute to the barn owl living in one of the outbuildings, but another that had somehow found its way into the attic and become trapped and we found, desiccated near a window, when the estate agent was giving us a guided tour.
Horror writers, I suppose, are naturally drawn to that wild element that flickers within, whether it be in a predator or a human being prone to violence. I might be wrong, but the fox – despite its willingness to visit urban areas – is an animal that carries more than its fair share of wildness within it; an animal that surely could not be domesticated. On a visit to a forest zoo in France (Zoodyssee, just south of Niort), I came face-to-face with a fox in its den, albeit separated by a pane of glass. That I’ve never forgotten its stink, or its scream, or the flash of pure fury in its saccadic eyes when I got too close, or the V of its gaping mouth is probably why I felt the need to somehow capture its mercurial character in a story.
Related to dogs, yet solitary and cat-like in behaviour, the omnivorous fox is a clever – some might say calculated – animal. It can conceal its scent by leaping on to the backs of sheep or using its bushy tail to erase its own tracks. It can attract prey to it by imitating the bleats or yelps of a lost lamb or injured rabbit. Cunning indeed… (on that visit we also saw vultures fighting over whole, raw chickens, but that’s another story).
Next up, I’m planning to write about worms. Not quite the same thing, but still wild I suppose.
He struck into the fish and the immediate resistance of it corded his forearms; it was a big bastard, maybe twenty-plus pounds. The far bank, the factory, the wedges of leaden cloud rising on the horizon, all of this receded until his focus took in only the tip of his rod and the boiling surface of the canal just beyond it. It was in such moments, when the world mostly went away and he was blindly connected to the animal on his hook, that he felt anything like alive. His mind stopped harking back to a time when he wished he might have been happier. It did not pick at the scab of his grandfather or mope over the decay that drove his parents apart. His skin was just a dull sack that contained him, rather than a complex structure that was degrading, conspiring to pull him apart. There was a single, pure thought. How to deliver something from one element into another.
From Born with Teeth, out soon from PS Publishing.
Conrad’s new collection from PS Publishing, Born with Teeth, is at the printers. Though not available until October, copies will be on sale at Fantasycon in Brighton at the end of this month. It is available in two versions; a hardback for £19.99 and a limited edition (100 copies only) signed, jacketed hardback for £39.99. The cover art is by Caniglia.
The collection contains a selection of Conrad’s stories from the past ten years, including Tight Wrappers, a story featured in the Best New Horror series, the British Fantasy Award-nominated The Veteran and a brand new story – The Pike – written especially for the book.