Interview With an Author: Paul Cornell

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Paul Cornell and his book series, Witches of Lychford
Author Paul Cornell and his book series, Witches of Lychford

Paul Cornell is a writer of science fiction and fantasy in prose, comics, and TV. He is one of only two people to be Hugo Award-nominated for all three media. He’s written Doctor Who for the BBC, Action Comics for DC, and Wolverine for Marvel. He’s won the BSFA Award for his short fiction, an Eagle Award for his comics, and shares in a Writer’s Guild Award for his television. He lives in Gloucestershire with his wife and son. His latest novella is Last Stand in Lychford, which is the final installment in the Witches of Lychford series. Paul recently agreed to talk about the series with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for the Witches of Lychford series?

I wanted to write about a town very like the one I live in, and I wanted to be able to tell real-life stories through the metaphor of rural fantasy.

Are Autumn, Finn, Lizzie, Judith, Luke, Zoya, or any of the other characters in the series inspired by or based on specific individuals?

I guess Lizzie is a lot like my wife, who’s also a vicar in a town like that, but she doesn’t share any of Lizzie’s issues. The others are a kind of blend of a lot of different people, more created by the needs of the books than taken from life.

How did the series evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes, over the course of the five novellas, that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I think, a couple of books in, I started wanting to demonstrate throughout that rural fantasy doesn’t have to be cozy, that actually the faultlines of modern life run through quaint little market towns too. Brexit is particularly an issue in the countryside, and watching my town ripped apart by the vote inspired the third book. There aren’t really any lost scenes.

Did you always know the series would be five novellas? Is there a chance you may return to Lychford to tell more stories?

Five seems a number that I like for a series. The Shadow Police was planned as five books too. I guess it’s because it means there’s a middle book. At one point I thought I’d just keep going, one a year, but not being able to finish Shadow Police made me very much want to finish a series and complete an arc, and indeed that’s been very satisfying. And yes, I wouldn’t say no. I might put the occasional story online or try to sell them somewhere. I have a vague idea for one already.

Is Lychford based on or inspired by a real place?

Yes, the little town I live in. Pubs, landmarks, etc. from it get transplanted into Lychford. I’m on the local Arts Festival Committee and run my own literary festival within it, so the activities of that committee in book four are very fondly taken from life. One friend of mine told me that if she was going to appear she wanted to be tall, so I made her into a giant.

You have written books, novellas, comics/graphic novels, and for television. Being prolific in all of these different mediums, do you have now a preferred media for your projects?

I think in the end I prefer prose, but moving between them all is one of the great joys of my life.

Do you know if/when you may return to your Shadow Police series?

No, it’s out of my control, rather.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I listen to audiobooks rather than read novels. The last of those I finished was M. John Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, which was staggeringly brilliant.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

M. John Harrison
Christopher Priest
Dorothy L. Sayers
William Gibson
Lauren Beukes

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I really loved the Danny Dunn, Boy Inventor, books. And anything by B.B. Let’s say The Little Grey Men.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

One of the way too many scary UFO books I frightened myself silly with.

What is a book you've faked reading?

Moby Dick. I used to really enjoy going to tutorials not having read the book, but I usually did.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Not really, I like to know about the content.

Is there a book that changed your life?

The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks, as a small child, set me on course to be a writer.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Right now, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, but I also think everyone should read Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

I wish I could recapture the wonder I felt as a child experiencing SF for the first time by reading authors like Frank Herbert out of my local library.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional artforms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I’d like to mention how huge a fan of Kate Bush I am. 50 Words for Snow is very under-rated, but I think the second side of Aerial is my favourite work of hers.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Watching Test Cricket at Lord’s, in a very good seat, with the weather just right. Cricket soothes all the different parts of my brain at once.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

I tend to ask myself anything I want to be asked in interviews anyway!

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a hard SF novella and a movie script, so all that’s left this year is checking art and giving notes on my four creator-owned comics that are due out in 2021.

Book cover for Last Stand in Lychford: Witches of Lychford Series, Book 5
Last Stand in Lychford: Witches of Lychford Series, Book 5
Cornell, Paul