Monday, May 11, 2009

Conrad Williams Interview (by Charles Tan)

Conrad Williams--"68° 07’ 15"N, 31° 36’ 44"W"

"68° 07’ 15"N, 31° 36’ 44"W" has a certain tone. Was it easy or difficult for you sustaining that particular tone?

I found it fairly easy, once I'd played around with the voice of the story for a while. But maybe that had something to do with its relatively short length. I was trying for a kind of vile elegance. I felt the story needed some unusual textures, something skewed and knotty. I wanted readers to sense insanity trembling at the edges of the page. I'm not sure how successful I was in capturing that, but I had enormous fun writing it.

What was the inspiration for the story and what made you finally settle on the coordinates as the title?

I've always been in thrall to the kind of character that possesses a supernatural elusiveness. He's always a few steps ahead, flitting out of view at the moment you think you have him. Dracula is the obvious example. I'm also attracted to the idea of the enemy within. I thought about someone driven to the edge of madness by a foe who has killed off his crew and goes in pursuit no matter what it takes. I love maps and I was spending some time looking at Google Earth, trying to find a dramatic location where I could end the story. I found a great ice mass in the Arctic and it was really only as I was shutting down the application that I noticed the coordinates in the bottom corner of the screen. Written down they look evocative, mysterious. You know they refer to a tangible spot on the planet, but without a map, it's all just so much alien code. Although there is a drawback. I was asked at the World Horror Convention what my pirate story was called and I couldn't remember... In future I think I'll refer to it as '68'.

Ending a story can sometimes be tricky but you succeed with this one. Was this originally the ending that you envisioned and for you, how does endings play a role in scaring the reader?

SPOILER ALERT - Don't read this if you intend to check out the story...

You can either go for the big payoff in which you tie off all the strands and leave it neat, or choose something a little more ambiguous. I think ambiguity, especially in horror fiction, is an underrated element. You can draw out enormous power by leaving things a little vague; leaving things to the reader to decide in other words, because what is going on in the little cinema behind their eyes is much more intense and frightening that anything you, as a writer, can confront them with on the page. I liked the idea of Captain Low finally cornering Greenhalgh – who he has suspected is Fetter throughout the story – in the icy wastes. The ship, his crew... they're no longer important to Low. He has found what he was looking for. His quest – he believes – is over. Now he wants to simply walk his quarry into the wilderness. He's forcing the pace, he's waiting for something to happen. What comes next is up to the reader...

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