The Weird and Liz Williams: A Short Interview

Liz Williams (1965 — ) is an English writer of science fiction and fantasy whose first two novels, The Ghost Sister (2001) and Empire of Bones (2002), were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. She is the daughter of a conjurer and a gothic novelist and has a Ph.D. in science from Cambridge. From the mid-nineties until 2000, she lived and worked in Kazakhstan. Short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s SF Magazine, Interzone, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, The Third Alternative and many others. The beautifully written weird tale “The Hide” (2007) included in The Weird compendium conveys a wonderful sense of place and of modern unease. You grew up in an incredibly creative household. Did you have a sense of this at the time or only later? And how did it manifest in terms of what you thought was “weird” as opposed to other kids?

Liz Williams: I did have a sense of this at the time in that other children considered my parents to be interesting (thankfully not ‘weird’ although perhaps they were too polite to say!). I was, in my teenage years, conscious that a lot of people’s parents didn’t have books on demonology on the shelves, but my friends’ families were actualyl quite interesting. What writers were your introduction to the  “weird”, whether the Weird Tales kind of weird or something even stranger?

Liz Williams: Probably the immortal Jack Vance, who is pretty weird! And the usual SF and Fantasy canon. Is there such a thing as “too weird”? If someone tells you something you’ve written is “weird” is it usually a compliment?

Liz Williams: I think some work can be impentrable and that’s probably an issue — I am old fashioned and like story and plot. It’s usually a compliment, however. Your story “The Hide” in The Weird is beautifully written, features an unusual situation, interesting characters, and has elements of the mysterious. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to write it, and how it fits in with the rest of your fiction?

Liz Williams: It came about as a result of a visit to a hide near where we live – we are out on the Somerset Levels near a large bird reserve, and it’s a rather sombre, reed-fringed sort of place. It’s filled with white swans and cormorants and these feature as the same sort of spirit bird in The Hide. The Levels are a fascinating place, on the borders of the island of Avalon (the modern Glastonbury, which still is more or less an island whenever the local river floods over) and I am writing more in the same setting. Do you personally see a difference between “horror” and “the weird” and “the gothic”, and does it matter to you as either a writer or reader?

Liz Williams: Horror and Gothic fiction can be quite conventional in that they follow tropes, whereas a lot of ‘weird’ fiction does not. It doesn’t matter as a reader, but as a writer I have no aversion to something being pigeonhold. When the weird in weird fiction fails for you, what’s usually the reason?

Liz Williams: I think you can tell when an author is trying too hard and sacrifices other aspects of the story, but mileage varies. Is there one weird story in particular that’s a touchstone for you?

Liz Williams: Not in particular but you could take a pin, blindfold me, and shove me in front of a Jack Vance anthology and you’d probably get a result.