Charles Tan Interviews Conrad Williams

Conrad Williams’ novelette “Raptors” is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What made you decide to focus on the predatory nature of birds?

Conrad Williams: It’s not the first time. Over the years I’ve written quite a few stories that feature birds in some (usually ominous) capacity, such as All Your Dead Heavens, The Owl and Slitten Gorge. I wrote an unpublished novel called SIPPING MIDNIGHT when I was 20 that contained rooks and crows as signifiers of evil intent. I love birds, but there’s something about them that is primal and savage – anybody who has seen a bird of prey in action, or the thug that is the magpie throwing its weight around in a back garden will understand where I’m coming from – and of course it has been proven that they’re directly descended from dinosaurs.

Charles Tan: What were the challenges in writing Raptors?

Conrad Williams: The main challenge, I think, was creating a character that was alluring and yet possessed some numinous quality. And was quite possibly alluring because of that ‘otherness’. I also needed to have a protagonist who found himself utterly beguiled by this person to the point where he doesn’t know how to behave. He is confused, lost, frustrated. And deeply scared too. She’s a passive creation, superficially unaware of her magnetism. He’s so wound up by her that he experiences violent emotions towards her in the same moment of complete devotion. He knows something is wrong with this woman, but he can’t help himself. He’s swallowed the hook. I wanted the mood of the story to be like one of those strange summer evenings: sultry and grainy and poised on the brink of the magical.

Charles Tan: How did you come up with Dervla as a character?

Conrad Williams: The same way as with any other character, I suppose. I used to work at a very busy town centre bar with a high turnover of staff. She’s a synthesis of one or two real people and possesses a number of traits I’ve observed in friends and acquaintances of mine… the good bits, of course. I find it quite fascinating how some people, quiet people, tiny and birdlike in many ways, can wield incredible power over people much larger and more physically intimidating because of a rare beauty or physical attractiveness. I wanted to write about a person who could use this almost primal charm to disarm, but who also displayed predatory qualities during such vulnerable moments. A character as honeytrap, strong and focused, but who nevertheless needs the help of ordinary human beings in order to access her prey.

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