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A Chat with Paul Cornell
by Catherine Book
August 20, 2015
Paul Cornell hails from England and I was very grateful he had time for me while visiting at this year’s Phoenix Comicon.  He is an amazingly prolific… person.  He writes…  everything:  novels, short stories, screenplays, and comics.  Enough for a couple careers.  So I asked him what he thought he was most well-known for.  Oh, Dr. Who, he said without hesitation.  However, he really wants to be known for other things, as well.  But, he was quick to say, he loves Dr. Who.  He keeps returning to the genre and loves the fan culture around it.  He doesn’t try to distance himself; he embraces his Dr. Who-dom while hoping his fans find other things he does just as rewarding.  His favorite thing is to find fans who enjoy both Dr. Who and any of his other characters or stories.  So, what does he do best?  Prose, he answered.  He feels he’s still learning how to be a novelist.  He published two books several years ago and has just recently come back to writing novels.  He’s had two books in the past two years with a brand-spanking new one coming out in September this year.  And the premises sound fascinating.  And he’s just recently (Feb 2015) published a collection of his Dr. Who short stories – of which he is inordinately proud.

In 1991, when Dr. Who went off the air the first time, Paul wrote a book titled “Timeworm Revelations” which was, he believed, going to be a continuation of the genre.  Nowadays, it’s quite common to see a popular TV series or movie being followed (if not preceded) by books and/or comics;  but it was new then.  What was he doing when he published his first Dr. Who book?  Living in poverty and trying to be a writer, he replied.  He likes to say he never held a job.  Well, he did have a job once – for half a day – pushing meat through a circular saw in sub-zero temperatures.  He didn’t like it very much and gave up at lunchtime.  So, after many years of poverty – and supporting a family – he’s quite proud of his successes.  Although, he confessed, sometimes it’s still hard to grasp that fact.  Writers, he confided, are quite good at seeing the negatives in their own career.  With a foot in three camps – prose, comics and TV – he has something of a safety net if one of the three isn’t working. 

He does find himself concentrating on one, to the detriment of the others.  Lately, he’s been doing a lot of comics.  He’s working on about ten different things that will probably come to fruition all at once.  He just published issue #1 of This Damned Band from Dark Horse this month.  It’s a humorous take on a 1970’s rock band that has a public persona of worshipping the Devil when they discover, to their horror, they really do worship the Devil. He collaborated with Tony Parker on the project.  And the new comic The Four Doctors from Titan Comics came out this month, as well.  A grand project involving four of the Doctors; a collaboration with Neil Edwards.  Now he wants to turn back to TV for a while.

Is he comfortable moving between these different venues?  Ideally, he mused, he’d like to be able to concentrate on just one thing in a day but the demands of deadlines don’t allow for that.  Prose is where he finds the most comfort.

How does social media work for him?  Oh, vastly, he replied.  Twitter is, for him, as natural as breathing.   He sees it as a natural extension of a writer – like being a writer in miniature form – a chance to tell fans and friends something and get immediate satisfaction in the number of followers.  He has a Facebook page but finds Tumblr is a bit more difficult.  Does he get a lot of email from fans?  Oh, yes.  He tries to answer but doesn’t always get the time to get to all of them. He tries to reply when a fan thanks him or comments on his work; but he finds it easier to ignore the requests to read someone else’s work than worry on how to politely refuse.  He’d actually much rather spend his time writing.

What’s he working on now?  He just delivered the third book in his Shadow Police series which should publish in December this year, if all goes well.  He’s finishing his short story collection, due this year.  He just finished issue #5 of This Damned Band and the last issue of the Dr. Who cross-over comic of the Four Doctors.  He’s working on a TV script and pitching two different TV shows.  Anything on his wish list to do?  He had an idea the morning of our interview for a comic that has grabbed his imagination.  We’ll have to wait to see what he comes up with.

Is there a method he follows when he writes? He likes to write a big plot – a big roadmap, if you like.  He likes to work in his home office, which is in his wife’s vicarage, and which is full of action figures and comic art.  But he can find a way to work just about anywhere, if necessary.  He looks on writing as a trade with a learned skill-set.  Nothing mystical about it, he assured me.  He doesn’t happen to believe in muses or writer’s block.  He sees writers block as a symptom, rather than a condition, that is really about recognizing what’s wrong in what you’re writing.  If he can’t figure it out, he might just sit and write rubbish until something good comes out.

Of what is he most proud?  In prose, he cites his Jonathan Hamilton short stories.  In comics, he likes This Damned Band and his Knight and Squire.  But with so much to choose from, fans might find it much harder to pick just one.

Thank you again for your time and thank you for your genre contributions.  Keep ‘em coming.

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