Interview with Paul Cornell


Interview conducted by Nathan Bottomley at the March Tavern
Australian Museum Hotel, Sydney
3rd March 1995
As it appeared in Broadsword issue three
Action by HAVOC
(Oh very funny!!!)
And thanks to Paul's Mum and Dad
(I like Bread and Butter and Honey, in fact I like food)

'When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'
Hilaire Belloc
as featured in Revelation

Nathan: How are you this evening Paul?
Paul: I'm fairly drunken, apart from that I had a little bit of a sore throat a couple of days ago, but it seems to have gone. The jet lag is still holding off.
Nathan: How come you're in Australia at the moment?
Paul: I'm here for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, in Sydney.
Nathan: Should we draw any conclusions from that?
Paul: Only that I know a lot of Doctor Who fans.
Nathan: You just finished Human Nature, which is going to be your last New Adventure, is that right?
Paul: Yes indeed it is. (Since then, of course, I've been persuaded to stay, with the bait of the 50th NA, a very silly concept and a huge advance...)
Nathan: Can you give us a little summary about Human Nature?
Paul: Its about a Doctor Jon Smith from Aberdeen, who finds himself teaching at a school for boys in 1914 England. While Benny is on holiday recovering from her tragic experiences in Sanctuary, in that same village. The Doctor as such, isn't in it. But its got connections to the Doctor. And of course it introduces the new pet companion, Wolsey the cat.
Nathan: How did Wolsey come about?
Paul: A friend of mine has cat called Wolsey, and I wanted there to be a cat in the TARDIS, and I put it to Peter Darvill-Evans and Co. And they said No no no.
And then a few nights latter at a nice drinking session Rebecca said, 'Thish cat Poll, Thish cat Wolsey, we'll av im we'll av im'. Wolsey is making quite considerable contributions in the future New Adventures. Notably, Gareth Roberts has submitted a plot where Fifi the evil cat from hyperspace comes aboard the TARDIS and Wolsey is the only person on board who knows there's something wrong.
Nathan: That's superb, that's superb. Can you tell me a little bit more about Human Nature? Are there any blacksmiths in it, for example?
Paul: There's a blacksmith called Nathan Bottomley, Nathan Bottomley. It is of course a continuation of my usual thing of including the names of people I know throughout the novel. Not in a Star Trek 'Oh this is somebody we know' way, but in a situation where another name would have been called for. So you don't actually trip over it. If you don't know the person, then you don't notice him I hope.
Nathan: What is your philosophy of the New Adventures, what do you think succeeds as a New Adventure?
Paul: Well for a start we've got to push this envelope. Doctor Who is dead, the New Adventures is all that is left, we've got to change things we've got to take that format, make it relevant to the times we are in now, and keep going forward with it to innovate, as Rebecca keeps saying, that's one of her favourite words. I think that with books like Tragedy Day, All-Consuming Fire, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Set Piece, we're now in the situation where the New Adventures are tremendously different to where we left Doctor Who on television. Certainly we are coming back to our own concepts. The Chelonians are appearing again, we're going to the land of fiction again, Kadiatu is making a couple more appearances. Rather like season three of The Next Generation, we're starting to refer to our own concepts now. We have kicked the original series in the teeth finally. Much as by the third season of Next Gen. nobody was thinking of Star Trek any more. And certainly under Rebecca's leadership we got to that point now finally.
Nathan: Last year when you were out here you suggested that was a disadvantage for the New Adventures, have you changed your mind?
Paul: Well yes. The New Adventures, thanks to the Missing Adventures arriving, and that's merely the art of pastiche, a very narrow and crap little art, are where the innovation is. And frankly I'd rather be in the New, than the Missing.
Nathan: I'm going to write a Missing.
Paul: Of course you are mate. I'm also writing a Missing of course, hopefully, with my Discontinuity Guide partners Keith Topping and Martin Day. Its called Doctor Who and the Goblins from Neptune. Its a season seven adventure. We have a big Kung Fu battle, with Pertwee holding off thousands of assassins, we have an alien race which are just deeply misunderstood. We have Dr Traitor, a very fine chap, who's working for the British, we have the Unit equivalent in Russia, the Soviet version of Unit.
Nathan: Last night saw us watching Shakedown: The Return of the Sontarans its not your first time but it was ours. What do you think of Shakedown?
Paul: Well its written by Terrance, so its of course perfect. But between his script and the final product several strange errors crept in. Which was of course because of the evil advisers that surround Terrance and shape his every move. I think it was more guns than frocks, but what we need is more frocks less guns.
Nathan: You're a frock aren't you?
Paul: Very much so.
Nathan: How do you characterise the frocks in the new adventures?
Paul: Well I'm a very floral frock personally. I'm a frock that believes in the old frock values, it's strange really because I'm a frock that every now and again is seduced to the gun side. I think what would the guns like? I try desperately to give them what they like, but when I try, when I try, the bastards just shout at me and hate me anyway. So I think I'll go back to the frock side.
Nathan: Aren't the frock lobby bound to be behind the MA because they are pastiche of what Doctor Who was like?
Paul: No, because what the frock lobby want in the middle of all this guns stuff is the fact that the villains fall into their own traps. As Marina Warner said in her series of lectures Managing Monsters on radio 4, just before I came out here, what's missing in popular culture is a hero that uses his wits, his intelligence to show that violence, degradation, genocide are simply silly, and part of what camp is saying is that the everyday things of life, making a cup of tea, hanging out with your friends and being nice to each other are infinitely more great and noble than the big gunnish, macho dreams envisaged by all the fascists in this world, and I think if anything the NA will see Doctor Who going on in the tradition of being a pacifist hero, never being cruel or cowardly.
Nathan: What would you characterise in your work as gun stuff?
Paul: Well, No Future was a kind of big appeal to the guns in us all. Its got the Brigadier in it, its got old enemies in it, its about as gun as I can get chaps.
Interruption
Nathan: Keep going please Paul.
Paul: Well I hope that this new fanzine, Broadsword, will encourage other NA writers to put articles in it and soforth.
Nathan: How well do you think that people have captured McCoy?
Paul: It depends, I think a lot of people, especially before MAs came along, were just writing for whatever doctor they wanted to and just putting him in McCoy's clothes. Actually in Human Nature Doctor Smith is very much a season 24 Doctor, I don't want to give away the bit plot mechanism, he has a romance. It's doctor Jon Smith and his human involvement with a woman called Joan.
Nathan: I've actually read the prologue to Human Nature and its incredibly funny, I mean its tremendous. Its Bernice's point of view, I was just screaming aloud at how clever it was. Have you got advice for people writing submissions for either series?
Paul: I have a few points, for a start its possible, it can happen, it does happen all the time, it happens four or five times a year. A new writer with no experience of having been professionally published will get a professional book thanks to this line.
Thanks to this line five of those writers already have got agents and are on the road to being professional writers in a bigger sense, so don't give up.
If they write back saying do this, do this, do this, then do it. If they write back to you saying thanks for your submission, form letter, form letter, form letter, do it anyway, make it better next time. But if they give you any advice at all it means that you are in the right pile and you'll get there eventually. The final stage of this pile is we don't think much of this plot, but you needn't bother sending us prose any more, we'll just look at your plots. Which means that they think you're a good writer. Don't put the Valeyard in it, don't put any old monsters in it or old villains, the Valeyard is a magnet for crap, old monsters are just a mask to hide behind. Put the Doctor and Co on the first page because they just flip through to where they appear anyway. Read a lot, try and put in something important that's new. Also something that can be summed up in 24 words or less. Every single one of my books can be done in two sentences. A battle inside the Doctor's mind. Doctor betrays Ace to save the world. Villain appears who knows all the Doctor's tricks and uses them against him. The Doctor is human in a little village, fights off aliens as human. Vampires loose in modern Manchester. I think that's probably all the pretentious waffle I have tonight.


The books of Paul Cornell are many, this enigmatic author has wrtten:

Timewyrm: Revelation
Love and War
No Future
Goth Opera
Human Nature
and soon to be released Happy Endings, where the wonderful Bernice Summerfield will be wearing a frock.

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