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.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Running in the Family: A mini interview with Leah Moore and John Reppion

As a new/struggling writer, I'm always intrigued to learn how the big names go about their trade. So, I contacted one of the comic-book industries best known duos--Leah Moore and John Reppion--to ask them.

PLM: I think I'm right in saying you only had a Tesla Strong short in Terrific Tales to your names when you both decided to pack in your day jobs and start writing your first Wild Girl mini-series for Wldstorm. What made you go for it in such a big way? That must have required serious cahoonas!

Leah: I had done a Solomon story for Terrific Tales #5, and a Paul Saveen story for Tom Strong #19 so I only had 16 pages of comic under my belt at that point… Yes, looking back it does seem slightly premature to pack in the day job and go for comics all the way. Our rationale was that with both of us working different hours at our part time day jobs, there wouldn’t end up being much time where we were both together, and we wouldn’t get much work done that way. We were really new to the whole process and we were still really cautious at all the different stages of writing the issues, so they took ages to write. If we hadn’t given up our jobs I doubt we’d have got all 6 issues of Wild Girl even written!
The other factor is that the dollar to pound exchange rate was pretty good back then, and Wildstorm page rates are pretty good anyway, so the money from doing an issue of Wild Girl seemed like plenty to live on at that point, compared to our part time wages anyway. Then the pound went into freefall and we had to learn to write faster, which can only be a good thing, and now we are faster, and the rate is pretty much what it was in Wild Girl days, so all worked out okay in the end. Scary looking back on it though!

PLM: I'm intrigued by the dynamic of co-writing with your partner. I know a lot of couples who can't agree on what to have for tea, never mind what to put into something like Albion or The Whispering Gallery. Do you have many "artistic differences", and, if so, how do you get around them? Do you ever have those uncomfortable "going to bed in silence" moments?

John: We do disagree about work sometimes but really it’s just like the other things you mentioned – eating or going shopping or whatever. We spend about 99% of our lives together and, naturally, we don’t always agree on everything but, for the most part, it’s never anything so huge that we actually end up not speaking to each other. We completely fell into co-writing – it was just a natural thing – so we don’t have any rules or special methods or protocols. We just do it. I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed in terms of a story because we’re both on a very similar wavelength. Most of our disagreements come from a frustration that we’re not able to communicate telepathically.

PLM: It's great to see a pair or writers like yourselves--who are crafting an increasingly respectable resume--taking the time to write for small press anthologies like Accent UK's Monsters and Predators, and to attend not just the big conventions like BIC and Thought Bubble, but small ones like Manchester. What is it that makes you keep in touch with the grass-roots of the industry?

Leah: Well the first thing is always the opportunity to meet and work with new people, and to get involved in interesting projects. I think a lot of people use these criteria but only apply them to paying gigs, but we have always enjoyed putting together small stories for people or going to small events just because it's fun. The people you talk to at a small event are no less likely to figure in your later career than the people you meet at larger events, and to be honest you are more likely to meet people who are relatively unknown in the wider industry and grab a chance to work with them on a little unpaid project before they get scooped up by a big publisher to go and be famous! The short stories we do always let us have a break from the big series we are working on the rest of the time, so they let us relax and stretch different muscles than normal, and it's no bad thing to have a portfolio of different stories in different genres to be able to point people at. We have done some really quirky stories for Accent UK that we would never have had the chance to write otherwise, and now they exist, and people can see what we do when we aren’t under a contract, or being paid to fulfil a brief.

PLM: I imagine working on your own characters is a lot easier than working with established characters like Dracula, the Doctor, Archie and the like. Do you feel any pressure from things like fan expectation and these characters' inherent baggage?

John: There’s definitely pressure and a weight of responsibility when writing a character like Doctor Who but at the same time there’s this vast pre-defined universe that you’re able to draw upon which sort of make things easier. If you’re writing an original character you have to establish everything and you have to try to hook the reader in – keep them interested and wanting to learn more – at the same time as telling your story. I think the most fun we have is when we’re allowed to expand an existing universe like we have with Holmes because you get the best of both: you can nod and wink at all these past cases and characters but, at the same time, you can re-define certain aspects. To be honest though, we always have fun whatever we’re writing – the most important thing is always to find the aspect of the project which interests you the most and concentrate on that. Certainly you want to please fans of Dracula or The Darkness or whatever but you’ve got to be enjoying it yourself as well. People can really tell if you’re not.

PLM: Thank you to you both. I look forward to seeing you at Thought Bubble!

For more information on Leah and John, please visit their website...and marvel at John's marvellous moustache!

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

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Follow You, Follow Me

I think my life is drawing to a close...

I was driving home the other night, and it suddenly occured to me that I've hit that awkward age where navy blue doesn't seem that bad a colour, Genesis don't seem to be that bad a band after all, and the speed limit is (almost) quite fast enough, thank you. Oh dear. It'll only be another few years and I'll be tootling along country lanes at 15mph followed by a crocodile of angry young men in Suburu Penises and BMW Wankers. They'll be venting their frustration by tooting their horns whilst I remain oblivious in my bobble hat as I hunch over the wheel and piss into a plastic bag. I can't wait.

I'll also be one of those old men who seems to struggle with the most rudimentary of technology. Mind you, I'm not a million miles way from that now. For a man who runs a website, I barely know how to string two bits of HTML together, never mind how an FTP works.

With this in mind, it is with some surprise that I can announce The Valentine
Chronicles (AKA the best British sci-fi the British have never heard of!) now has not only its own Facebook group, but a Twitter thingy as well! Gosh!

Admittedly, I have very little to so with these developments, and all kudos must go to Mister Matthew Birdsall AKA Mr B, or Hellbelly, depending on who you ask. I've known Mr B since I was 9, and he's stuck with me through even the darkest moments in my personal development (Dragonlance, Phill Collins, poncey shirts) to become one of my staunchest supporters. I can honestly say that without the encouragement of mates like Mr B, there wouldn't even be a Valentine Chronicles. He's also a flippin' good photographer. Matt, mate, I salute you.

So, please, show Mr B your appreciation and head over to the Facebook group, and follow The Valentine Chronicles on Twitter. As for me, I'll see you in a few year's time. In my rear-view mirror...

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

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

I Love You

It's Valentines Day again, and that means The Valentine Chronicles is celebrating its second birthday. So it's time I gave you a gift or two, right?

Well, how about I give you the conclusion to our current serial, Frozen? And what about a brand NEW gallery, one that features sketches and artwork by some of the UK's best talent, including:-

Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Judge Dredd, New Statesmen)
Sean Phillips (Marvel Zombies, Hellblazer, Third World War)
Frazer Irving (Gutsville, The Simping Detective, A Love Like Blood)
Peter Doherty (Batman & Superman: World's Finest, Judge Dredd, Armitage)
Jock (Green Arrow, The Losers, Lenny Zero)
D'Israeli (Stickleback, XTNCT, Lazarus Churchyard)
Dylan Teague (Judge Dredd Megazine)
Wynn Ryder (Cannibal Island, Flight of Moths)
James McLean (Quarry Grove, Beowulf, M.A.S.K.)

Would you like that? And would you like to get all this good stuff, for FREE, on a site devoid of ads and pop-ups? You would? Okay. Take them. They're yours.

Because I love you.

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

Do You Love Me?

As ever, Screaming Dreams (the publisher of the fine Estronomicon eZine) is holding its annual Dead of Night Awards, and yours truly is humbled to be included in the list of nominees for "Best Author".

So, if you fancy voting for me, then please e-mail steve[at]screamingdreams[dot]com and let him know. I'll love you for ever if you do. If not, then you can kiss my arse, you snivelling ingrate. ;0)

Thursday, 5 February 2009


This week sees the release of the latest Twisted Tongue magazine. This latest edition brings you a great article on the evolution of the Valentine Chronicles, detailing the site's initial conception through to the creative juggernaut you see today. Have a gander and you'll see not only the mammoth team effort behind the Chronicles, but also how devilishly handsome the creators are!

If that weren't enough, you also get a corking variety of fiction and poetry from more then FIFTY authors, as well as articles, interviews, and another fine cover from the uber-cool Steve Upham.

As ever, you can download Twisted Tongue for FREE from Lulu, or pay a scant £4.50 for a printed copy.