This week we continue our series on the ‘blog: interviews with speculative fiction authors and illustrators about things that matter to them and to us here in the Wayfarers. Our first interviews (with J.M. Frey and Tim Marquitz and the legendary R.A. Salvatore) were very well received and we’re ecstatic to have bestseller Bernard Cornwell with us today. If you’re new to the site, please take a moment to check out our home page and read what the Quest for the Cure is all about – raising $100,000 for cancer research and support worldwide, by doing a 500-mile trip from Belfast to Edinburgh this October using only medieval gear.
Known best for his Sharpe series, historical writer Bernard Cornwell has been writing for more than thirty years and has produced countless bestsellers. Both his Warlord Chronicles and his Saxon Stories books are set in Medieval Europe and served as a big part of the inspiration for the Wayfarers.
1. In your opinion, is fantasy inherently about the hero’s journey – literal or rhetorical – or about something else? How does this play out in your work?
I honestly have no idea – I mean, it’s fantasy! And fantasy, surely, is about the imagination loosening its bonds with reality. It can take many forms; inspirational, horror-ridden and everything in between. Inasmuch that most written or filmed fantasy needs the framework of a story then it might be compared to a journey. How does it play out in my work? Again, I have no idea! Truly. I don’t analyse my work at all. I would say I write earthbound stories and rather shy away from fantasy, but I imagine others would disagree!
2. How does your work involve people, events, or actions that change the world?
Only in passing and by accident. Most of my books are set against a military-historical background and, inevitably, some of them are concerned with world-changing events, but that’s not a sine qua non. I think they’re about men and women under severe pressure, especially moral pressure.
3. Who inspired you to write? Not your writing style specifically, or characters, setting, etc.; who inspired you to put pen to paper in the first place?
I was a journalist for many years, so I lost the fear of the empty page. Then I fell in love with an American, couldn’t get a Green Card (work permit) so idiotically told her I’d make some money by writing a book. That was it! The inspiration (or necessity). I look back on it and think we must have been crazy (and in love), but it worked. We’ve been married 32 years and I just finished the fiftieth novel.
4. We’ll be walking for four weeks, and our average day is going to see 17 miles of walking done. Motivation has always been a key part of our training. When the going gets tough – in your writing or your life – what do you do to keep going?
Irish whiskey is an enormous help. Usually there isn’t an alternative except to keep going?? I suppose people could just give-in and give-up, but those people wouldn’t have started the walk in the first place? Still, a bottle of Jameson might be a great walking companion.
5. Arthur was my hero growing up, and remains so to this day; without my vision of him being tempered by works like your Warlord Chronicles this Quest may never have come to fruition. What do you think Arthur’s place – and the place of the Matter of Britain in general – is in the literary world?
Arthur is a completely malleable hero! He began, in the Celtic saints’ lives, as a villain. He became a warlord. Chretien de Troyes, and others, made him into the exemplar of chivalry (and added adultery). Tennyson turned him into a muscular Christian hero. T.H.White invested him with literary magic. Every age writes the Arthur they want and he becomes that. He long lost any touch with reality. He’s the true hero for all ages and I suspect that a thousand years from now they’ll still be writing Arthurian epics in a form we would find unrecognisable, yet inspirational.