At first glance, Joel Cornah’s fantasy novel The Sky Slayer may not put you in mind of Terry Nation’s sci-fi classic Blake’s 7. But the author has revealed that the inspiration for the story came right out of the 70s bleak space opera and the high seas piratical adventure would never have been the same without it.
“I first watched Blake’s 7 when I was quite young,” Cornah says. “And I remember loving the crew dynamics especially with the two leads. Blake, the heroic leader who desperately needs someone to hold his feet to the fire and hold him to account and Avon, the sarcastic cynic who does just that. A joke developed between myself and some friends that Blake and crew were basically space pirates and this inevitably led to me imagining them as regular pirates in the golden age of piracy.”
But The Sky Slayer isn’t simply Blake’s 7 with the names and places switched around. It exists in a world Cornah had been developing from childhood. “I grew up with four siblings and used to tell them stories about their favourite dinosaurs, penguins, and dragons. We created a whole world for them to inhabit and built cultures for the various species complete with maps, family trees, and eventually geopolitical intrigue. As we got older, the stories got more grown-up until I decided to write them down properly as novels.”
Joel has struggled with dyslexia since being diagnosed at the age of eleven and at one point didn’t have the confidence to pursue a career as a writer.
“It’s the dynamic of Blake and Avon that always fascinated me the most, two people who should despise one another, and yet desperately need one another, eventually growing to love and respect each other. That kind of development and relationship was really interesting to me and I’ve rarely seen it done in quite the same way.
“I already had a heroic character in my fantasy world – Rob Sardan – and he had just failed in a big way in one of my previous novels – The Sea-Stone Sword. He desperately needed an Avon. Someone to tell him he was full of it, that he was dangerous, and that heroes need to keep their feet on the ground, even if their heads are in the clouds. This needed to be someone who Rob could respect, too, otherwise why would he listen to them? That was the brilliance of Paul Darrow’s performance as Avon – he might be mean, cynical, and dark humoured, but you still found yourself respecting and admiring him.”
See our Interview with Paul Darrow here!
“I had a character I’d been developing for another project in the same universe but I suddenly felt like she would fit this role. Alya was an intelligent strategist, with no time for heroes and big, blustering brutes; she didn’t have time for anything that distracted from her main goal, that of creating a ship better than any other. With a few tweaks to the timeline, I decided I could send her into Rob’s path, have them meet, and break out into an adventure.”
The story delves into what heroes are, and who they are. Alya provides the perfect counter to Rob Sardan’s idealised vision. It’s a story that confronts the painful consequences of the big heroic events of a legend and presents us with the very real damage done to all parties.
“Anyone who has seen the first few episodes of Blake’s 7 will remember that it begins with a prison break, and that’s how I start The Sky Slayer, though it is a very different prison and they escape for very different reasons. They sail a ship unlike any other, faster and stronger than most, and dearly desired by their enemies. These were not all intentional parallels, though I feel they bled through subconsciously and now that I look back on it I see them!”
The writing in Blake’s 7 presents a very up front and bleak view of heroism, and that was something I’ve been keen to capture in spirit. Though The Sky Slayer has something of an optimistic outlook, it comes with a healthy dose of skepticism and realism, even in the fantastical setting of a world with magic, gods, and dinosaurs.
So, if you want a pirate based fantasy with a Blake’s 7 feel, try The Sky Slayer out for size. It’s in all the usual places (as well as Cornah’s personal website);