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Paul Cornell Interview

paulcornellIf you read books and comics or watch television, the chances are that you’ve come across something Paul Cornell has composed. Paul has worked with the BBC on Doctor Who, Robin Hood, Primeval, Casualty and Holby City; Marvel on X-Men, Wolverine, Young Avengers and Fantastic Four; DC on Batman & Robin and Demon Knights; and 2000AD on multiple franchises too. Although the majority of Paul’s original work spans the medium of comics and television, in 2012 Paul kicked off the James Quill / Shadow Police novels.

London-Falling-UK-397x600The first of these novels, London Falling, might have been Paul’s first venture into dark fantasy, but Fantasy-Faction were mightily impressed. We gave it 9/10, and agreed with Ben Aaronovitch – author of The Rivers of London – when he praised the book as: ‘An irresistible blend of guns, gangsters, cops and monsters that grabs you by the eyeballs and never lets go. Start this book early in the day people, because you ain’t going to get no sleep until it’s done.’

Well, with the second book out this week and with a brand new direction for the cover art (something we think is mightily important, as we didn’t think the original cover gave the book real justice), we got in touch with Paul about the possibility of stopping by F-F and telling us more about the book. Paul got back to us and we came up with the idea of doing an author to author interview (Mr Adrian Tchaikovsky – author of Shadows of the Apt – being the other author). The resulting interview and blurb for the book follows:

AT: Severed Streets is the second James Quill book. For those who haven’t read it yet (and why not?) can you give a quick hard sell for London Falling?

PC: London Falling is Luther meets Buffy, modern London coppers suddenly gaining the ability to see the supernatural, and having to use real police tactics to survive.  A lot of police procedural research, a lot of dark humour.  Amazon call them the James Quill series, but ‘Shadow Police’ is what’s on the cover, and I think tells the reader that my four (or maybe five) heroes get equal time.

AT: You’ve got a very strong cast in Quill and his team – and a diverse cast as well. Can you say a little about what led to that particular set of personalities? How did you assemble your team?

PC: They’re all different parts of me, I think, from Quill’s restrained impulse to kick in the door to Ross’ analytical broken-ness.  Costain and Sefton, the two undercovers, are the bad guy I know I have been at times (I’m always willing him to do the right thing) and the pushed-down good guy who found a way to break out of that pattern of behaviour.  The four pillars of something is an ancient basis for a team, from the Musketeers to the Fantastic Four, and finally made flesh by the Beatles.  But five might turn out to be stronger than four.  I wanted a very human London copper, in the form of Quill, put upon and doing his best, a really quite strange intelligence analyst, in the form of Ross, who’s basically made up her own personality, and two undercovers of very different character, Costain, who’s not afraid to cross the line, and has, and will again, and Sefton, who hasn’t yet found his place in the world, but does through the new world the team encounter.  I do deliberate diversity, that is to say I choose ethnicity and orientation and am interested in what those things mean in the modern world, and it’s like every other choice a writer makes.  Including gay cast members and more than the standard number of one nice black man standing at the back doesn’t ‘just happen naturally’, because nothing in novels does.

AT: Costain is a wonderfully complex character – and sinister enough that it’s a bit worrying he’s part of you – and you’re right that it’s not just the James Quill show.  Something I try to do in Shadows of the Apt is make sure that every character has an arc – that they’re all changed by the events that they live through. That’s certainly true for the cast of London Falling – and not just in the expected “reaction to the supernatural” sort of way. By the end, they’ve all walked a very personal journey to get where they end up. For me, that kind of development often involves putting them through the wringer, and you’re certainly not shy about making your characters suffer for your art.  Is there one character in particular who you give a particularly hard time to? Or perhaps has saved up some bad karma for future books?

PC: I think Costain suffers a lot at my hands because his position, at the edge of doing the right thing, I find really interesting.  I suspect he’s on a redemptive journey, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the most interesting way for him to go.  Sefton’s journey is positive, but it’s still going to be hard.  Quill’s in for some major trouble later on.  I feel like letting Ross off the hook because she’s already been through so much, but I mustn’t play favourites like that.

AT: The new book picks up where London Falling left off – with the squad still dealing with the fallout of their last investigation even as a new case is breaking. How does Severed Streets up the game for the team? Can you give a hint at any surprises in store?

PC: The team think it’ll be the big target operation that’ll let their boss, who’s far too lenient in letting them do what they do, and they now know there are reasons for that, justify their existence.  It’s a huge case, the murder of a Cabinet-level MP by something invisible to normal eyes.  As high profile deaths mount up, the team are left the same message as written on a wall by Jack the Ripper.  The book is, to some extent, an attack on Ripper mythology, a tearing up of it, but there’s also a dirty great menace with a knife that could come out of the wall for any of them at any moment.

 AT: Despite having the supernatural often graphically present throughout, there’s a real down-to-earth realism about the characters and the way their approach their impossible crimes. How much research went into the series? (NOTE: thinking both police and occult)

I really want the books to feel very grounded, so I ask my police and intelligence officer sources for loads of detail.  I also, in this case, asked civil servant friends about the geography and workings of Parliament.  I was into ritual magic myself when I was younger, so I hope the numinous in these books has a bit of emotional oomph to it while being based on the novels’ own internal logic (the nature of which will become clearer as the series goes on).  About ninety per cent of the London lore is genuine myth, from my huge shelf of books on London legends.

AT: We’ve had paranormal romance as a recognised meme for a while, but you and other writers like Ben Aaronovitch appear to be pioneering supernatural police procedural fiction –  do you feel you’re breaking new ground in the genre?

PC: Ben and I are old friends, and I think he’s as amused as I am by how close in subgenre the books we’ve written are, by there’s a clear line between them.  I think I go darker than he does, and we’ve set our realism at different levels, play it in different ways.

AT: Paul – you’ve tried your hand very successfully at a lot of different writing forms. Reading London Falling, I was struck by how well it would work as an on-screen drama. Have you had any thoughts about transposing it into a different medium?

PC: It’s been optioned by a TV production company, so I hope that happens.  The audiobook is really pleasing, read in many different and apt voices by Damian Lynch.  I do a lot of my heavy lifting through dialogue, so I guess that translates.

About the Interviewer

120111tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy series, starting with Empire in Black and Gold, and with the final volume, Seal of the Worm, coming out in July this year. War Master’s Gate, the penultimate book in the series, has been shortlisted for the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Award.

 

The Severed Streets

Summer in London: a city in turmoil. The vicious murder of a well-known MP is like a match to tinder but Detective Inspector James Quill and his team know that it’s not a run-of-the-mill homicide. Still coming to terms with their new-found second sight, they soon discover that what is invisible to others – the killer – is visible to them. Even if they have no idea who it is.

Then there are more deaths. The bodies of rich, white men are found in circumstances similar to those that set the streets of London awash with fear during the late 1800s: the Whitechapel murders. Even with their abilities to see the supernatural, accepting that Jack the Ripper is back from the dead is a tough ask for Quill’s team. As they try to get to grips with their abilities and a case that’s spiralling out of control, Quill realizes that they have to understand more about this shadowy London, a world of underground meetings, bizarre and fantastical auctions, and objects that are ‘get out of hell free’ cards. But the team’s unlikely guide, a bestselling author, can’t offer them much insight – and their other option, the Rat King, speaks only in riddles.

Relying on old-fashioned police work and improvising with their new skills only lands them in deeper water, and they soon realize that the investigation is going to hell – literally. And if they’re not careful, they may be going with it . . .

The book is released on Thursday 22nd May 2014 and you can see Paul’s blog for more information on the book throughout release week and/or follow him on Twitter (which would be a wise decision, because he is one of the most insightful people talking about the genre today!).

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  1. […] have a new interview up on Fantasy Faction, this one with my friend and fellow author Adrian Tchaikovsky.  I think we […]

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