Paul Cornell is a writer of SF & Fantasy in prose, comics and television. He’s written Doctor Who for the BBC, Batman and Robin for DC and Wolverine for Marvel. His Shadow Police urban fantasy novels are out now from Tor. 2015 looks set to be a big year for him, with new book releases, a short story collection, and many creator-owned comic titles.
He has won the BSFA Award for his short fiction, the Eagle Award for his comics, and shares in a Writer’s Guild Award for Doctor Who. He’s one of only two people to be Hugo Award nominated for prose, comics and television.
RM: You’ve worked on a lot of titles involving aliens, notably Saucer Country and an X-Files companion piece. Do you harbour any fascination with real life alien theories or is it just a topic that appeals to you creatively?
PC: I’m a Fortean, in the tradition of Charles Fort, who enjoyed and was intrigued by anomalies, but kept a wry distance and withdrew his belief. I’ve been fascinated with the UFO myth since I was a child, when I’d spend far too much time reading scary books full of “real life” aliens. It’s gorgeous, romantic stuff, a kind of cargo cult based on a few things glimpsed in the sky. A load of it was deliberately fostered by – indeed, at times literally written by – the US intelligence community, who preferred people to see flying saucers rather than the U2. A tiny, tiny fraction of it may be real. Or that might just be the romantic side of me talking.
RM: You’ve got to explore some pretty iconic comic book characters like Lex Luthor and Batman and Robin, and give them a very alternative slant. Is that liberating, or do you feel the pressure of potential fan backlash if you take it too far?
PC: I’ve often experienced that backlash but, done right, that’s part of a game played between the audience and the creator, a flirtatious relationship. Increasingly however, the idea that such teasing is fun has turned into the audience having more care for fictional characters than real human beings, protecting the former and abusing the latter. I always try to find something new in an established character that is nevertheless obviously there.
RM: Between DC, Marvel and 2000AD you’ve covered off working with three of the heavyweights of the comic world. Do you find that influence filtering into your writing for other media?
PC: The influence is more the other way round. I seem to bring to my comics work a bit of what I do in television and in books, but the media are moving together in terms of approach all the time.
RM: It’s certainly tricky making a living solely as a book author in the modern literary world. Do you think it has become even more essential for writers to work in as many media formats as possible?
PC: Absolutely. It gives a writer multiple redundancies, in case one area of their career fails. Also, each medium benefits from one’s exposure to the others. It feels to me like a balanced diet.
RM: Working on the podcast SF Squeecast affords you the opportunity to unleash your own “inner geek” and examine genre subjects you feel strongly about. Does that offer up any unique insights, examining SF and Fantasy from both sides, as fanboy and the focus of fan attention?
PC: I’ve gotten more comfortable with being both a fan and a creator as the world’s got used to more and more people doing that. Fandom won the culture war about twenty years ago. Everyone’s a fan of something now. At Doctor Who conventions I like to lead with the fan part of me because, it having been so long since my episodes aired, I’d feel like a fraud otherwise. In other arenas I emphasise other aspects.
This “wearing many hats” approach has increasingly become the way humans are, which suits me, as long as I can put on my top hat every now and then and say “actually, I’m a committed and serious writer who cares deeply about being professional”. The trouble is, putting that hat on invites people to throw fruit at it.
PC: I skim them. I get a feeling for what the audience, in general, are thinking. Amazon is great for that. I took the point, for instance, that London Falling starts slowly, then speeds up and stays at that speed, so in future books I’ve tried to crash in right from the start.
Like all writers, I tend to ignore the pile of good reviews and focus on the bad one, but I’ve gotten to a point where even the worst don’t hurt me. I’ve gained a resistance to them through exposure.
RM: You have, of course, written four of your own unique titles, including two Inspector James Quill novels. What’s currently on your plate? Any more from the supernatural detectives?
PC: Yes, the third novel in the Shadow Police series, all being well, will be out on December 3rd, and I’ve got a novella in Tor’s new imprint coming out in September. Also, mid-August sees the release of A Better Way to Die, my collected short fiction, of which I am very proud. Also, there are three, possibly four, creator-owned comics titles in the pipeline this year, the first of which may have already been announced when this goes up. And of course, this summer I’m writing the huge Titan Comics multi-Doctor crossover event, which takes over their whole Doctor Who range. It’s a huge year for me!
RM: Is there any overarching theme linking the stories in A Better Way to Die?
PC: In its longest version, it’s literally every piece of short fiction I’ve ever had published, so there’s no linking theme, but my four Jonathan Hamilton stories, and my two Wild Cards stories are in there,
so it includes two sequences. I’ve provided short pieces talking about what was happening at the time I sold the stories, or talking about the themes therein. It’s a lovely collection. We’re awaiting a foreword from John Scalzi, which is very kind of him.
RM: Going back to the upcoming Doctor Who comics you mentioned, I’m aware the exact details of the plot for these comics are somewhat of a closely guarded secret. That said, can you give us any insight into where this is taking the series? And is this going to purely form part of a separate “parallel universe” series, or is there any hint of crossovers between the comics and the TV universe?
PC: The comics plug into specific gaps in the TV universe timeline, so it’s all meant to be in sequence. My crossover event starts after each of the main comics has finished its first season of publication, and brings the Doctors together from particular points in their history. The familiar companions from the comics will all be there.
The plot is about an impossible photo that implies the end of the universe, but it’s mostly an excuse for a summer blockbuster in which the Doctors interact a lot.