Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Paul Cornell
by Ti Mikkel
TI: Hi, Paul. You’re a writer in prose, comics, as well as in television, so I’d love to start our sit-down with a few questions about the craft itself. Out of the three mediums I’ve just listed, which do you prefer most?
PAUL: I have to change mental gears between each medium. I think I prefer prose, because I’m in control of everything, but I love working with artists in comics and actors in the media they’re involved with. There’s nothing like creative input from another team member.
TI: How about aspiring writers–any tips for them?
PAUL: I have a sentence I always use. ‘If you’re fortunate enough to get notes from someone in a position to commission your work, don’t argue, listen, and change your work accordingly.’ That’s incredibly hard to do.
TI: Let’s say I’m a baby writer. What mistakes am I definitely going to make?
PAUL: New writers always start scenes, stories, too soon. We don’t care what anyone had for breakfast. And they always put too much dialogue in speech balloons.
TI: Do you keep a journal?
PAUL: When I was young, not now. My newsletter kind of serves a similar function.
TI: How about music. What do you listen to when you’re writing?
PAUL: Nothing. I can’t have music on. I sometimes have cricket on in the background.
TI: Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, please share your secrets in overcoming it.
PAUL: I don’t think there’s any such thing. Sure, you might need to stop and think about something you’re working on, but while you’re doing that, you can always write something else. Just starting writing often helps (with anything), because you’ll be rewriting it anyway, so why be afraid of writing rubbish? I’m aware of an associated condition I do suffer from, where I start to think I’m a terrible writer. It’s my alarm system. It means I’ve made a wrong turn a few pages back and shouldn’t build on it.
TI: Interesting. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
PAUL: A commissioner, I’d like to think. I’d still like to run a small publishing house or comics company. I like what I see on that side of the fence.
TI: What are you reading right now?
PAUL: I just finished the first of Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries,All Systems Red, which was excellent SF and put me in mind of classic Westerns.
PAUL: I’m of course watching Doctor Who,but I’m very much looking forward to the return of Star Trek: Discovery. I think it might even beat DS9 as my favourite sort of Trek.
TI: That’s high praise, indeed. What’s your day-to-day like?
PAUL: I try to do an *amount* of work each day rather than have set hours. So I try for 2000 words of prose or five pages of comics or TV.
TI: So you write seven days a week?
PAUL: I write five days a week, because I’m looking after our young son, Tom, for much of the weekend.
TI: Let’s talk a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
PAUL: I grew up in the chalk downs of Wiltshire in the west country of England. Readers of my horror novel, Chalk, will have a pretty good picture of what it was like.
TI: Did you know when you were a kid that writing was the job you wanted?
PAUL: No, I wanted to be a scientist, and got as far as starting an astrophysics degree before realizing I didn’t have the commitment to handle the maths. I started writing seriously to support myself.
TI: Did your parents encourage your career choice?
PAUL: No, and they were kind of forced to accept it, because I wasn’t around.
How about a teacher?
PAUL: I wrote rather in spite of my teachers. One English teacher, Mrs. Skipper, rewarded me for imagination, and that was a great moment.
TI: Three cheers for, Mrs. Skipper. I’m sure there were books that influenced you when you were just starting as well.
PAUL: Dan Dare, W.E.Johns, B.B., Hugh Walters, Asterix the Gaul, the post-Star Wars SF boom, which led to my Dad taking me to theatrical releases of some ridiculously inept movies.
TI: Let’s talk about one of my favorite characters: Abigail. Did anyone specific inspire her? Did anything about her surprise you while writing?
PAUL: I guess she’s a variation on a viewpoint I often have, the rather domestic, everyday person who’s a bemused onlooker/victim of the fantastic. Bernice Summerfield, my Doctor Who companion, is a bit like that. The difference with Abigail is that she’s aiming herself at something glamorous, the life of an actor, but what gets in the way, the world of super powers, is more glamorous, and makes her aims more mundane.
TI: How about Charlie Soper from KNAVES OVER QUEENS?
PAUL:Charlie’s another voice from outside the world of aces that commentates on them. He’s a British intelligence officer in the John Le Carre mode who everyone thinks has psychic powers, but who doesn’t. He’s got a chip on his shoulder about standing up for ordinary people, and jokers, in the midst of ace-related double-dealing. He’s a very down to earth Londoner in this glamorous world, who gets by on legwork and research.
TI: What’s it like writing in a shared world and writing characters created by others?
PAUL: I love being part of a shared world, with everyone sharing each others’ characters.
TI: How about having others write your characters?
PAUL: I do sometimes have to do rewrites for British-sounding dialogue, but apart from that I generally really enjoy it when another writer wants one of my characters to turn up.
TI: Are there any projects in the pipeline you’d like to talk about?
PAUL: Sometime in early 2019 IDW Comics will be running a Kickstarter for the finale of my creator-owned comic Saucer Country. I’m going to need all hands on deck for that.
TI: I’ll certainly keep an eye out for that. One last question before we go: Are Abigail and Croyd really over for good? Please say it isn’t so.
PAUL: I think they are, because he’s wrong for her long term, and they both know it. I’m enjoying writing them as friendly exes.
TI: Well I, for one, am still holding out hope. Thank you so much for your time, Paul.
End of Episode one of “Talking With Ti” with Ti Mikkel