Monday, 30 November 2009

Mister Writer: A mini interview with Paul Cornell

Best known for his work on Doctor Who and Bernice Summerfield, British writer Paul Cornell is now making his mark at Marvel Comics. His work can currently be seen in new titles Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Dark X-Men, and The Indomitable Iron Man.

PLM: Can I start by asking you at what age you decided you'd like to be a writer, and what inspired that decision?

PC: I was eighteen, and I'd just flunked my first term of astrophysics at UCL and left the course. I had no other way to earn money, so I had to turn my hobby into my profession. I think being flung in the deep end like that is a very good way for a young writer to learn quickly, but I wouldn't encourage it.

PLM: So how did you cope with the pressures of turning that hobby into a hard cash? How long did it take to start earning something like a healthy crust?

PC: It was about six years before I started selling anything meaningful.I lived in poverty, basically, helped by the Enterprise Allowance scheme.

PLM: During the time you were struggling, did you have a mentor figure to guide you through the vagaries of writing, or have you relied purely upon talent and your own natural evolution as a writer?

PC: I think my earliest mentor was Hilary Salmon at the BBC, who tried very hard to get me writing something else that could be made after my early competition win. Then Steven Moffat came along, and introduced me to his producer then, Sandy Hastie. Through her I met Russell Davies, and everything went from there, really. Moffat's responsible for a lot!

PLM: And what were the best bits of advice they gave you?

PC: I couldn't pin particular advice to particular people, but I think the best thing I was ever told was to listen and change when someone gave you reasons they'd rejected a particular piece. Someone who goes 'no,you see, what I was trying to do...' is delayed the point where they can start being a writer.

PLM: So, almost two decades and God knows how many words later, having worked on the likes of Doctor Who, Captain Britain & MI-13, and Black Widow: Deadly Origins, you're now in the position where you've been labelled as the man who might 'lead...the next British invasion of writers in Amercian comics'. Do you have any parting words for those just beginning their career, or struggling to progress, which might help or inspire them to reach the same levels of success?

PC: Well, I sum it up in one line: 'listen when an editor tells you why they've turned down your story, do not make excuses, change as a result of what you hear.' And it's also true to say that, while it's very difficult to succeed, it is possible, and showing up for every opportunity and keeping on trying is the only way it happens.

PLM: Thank you very much indeed, Paul.

Please join me in a toast to Paul. I've had the pleasure of meeting Paul (albeit briefly!) a few times now, and he really is a fabulous chap. You can follow his success on his website.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation to my preferred charity, the Myasthenia Gravis Association. Thank you.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hero: a tribute to the late Edward Woodward

This post probably doesn't belong here. It is an entry concerned with neither the technical aspects of writing, or the grind, or advice from illustrious peers. It is a tribute to a hero who passed away today.

From Moorcock and Williams Blake's bat-shit unity of vision, to the lyrical narratives of Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waites, and Barry Adamson, many men have influenced the type of writing I do, but very few have influenced the type of characters I use. Edward Woodward was one such man.

Pretty much every project I've conceived has had one archetype in there somewhere. He may or may not be a major character, but somewhere amongst all the lunatics, thieves, deviants, murderers and rapists there'll always be The Decent Man. Sure, his name is always different, but he's easy to spot once you know who you're looking for. He'll have a shot of Harry Morant's barely contained outrage, a dash of David Callan's social disposition, and a healthy dose of Robert McCall's wearied inability to escape his 'trade'. He'll always be over the hill, have few friends, and maybe even have something of the pathetic about him, but he'll always pursue what's right...or fight tooth and claw against the powers that make him do otherwise. Compared to most of the other self-serving freaks and schemers that litter my work, that makes him a rarity.

And why does this Decent Man occupy my work? Well, words like 'Towering' and 'Masterful' are often misused when applied to actors, but not in Edward Woodward's case. When I first saw him in Breaker Morant, he blew me away. I was so used to laconic, laid-back American actors like Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford, that this British man--with his gravitas and authority--was unlike anything I'd seen with the possible exception of Bond or Obi Wan. Woodward was so much more intense. Morant was intense. Callan was intense. McCall was...well, The Equalizer was the first TV series I became truly hooked on, and all because of the boiling rage of Robert McCall. This wasn't some cool-hand rogue or vigilante who kissed the girls and killed the baddies with a yanky drawl and a sense of boredom. This was a man who railed at the world and kicked against it with a British accent and a scathing fury. This was my type of hero.

The Morant/Callan/McCall hybrid will always be there in my work, but sadly Edward Woodward is no longer with us. All I can do is thank him, because he shaped a unique aspect of my output, and occupies a unique place amongst the pantheon of men who will always be an influence to me. I only hope I can do that influence some justice.

Edward Woodward, I salute you, and, more then that, I thank you.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation to my preferred charity, the Myasthenia Gravis Association. Thank you.