Thursday, June 23, 2016

Interview with Joel Cornah, author of The Seastone Sword

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase has pleasure in interviewing Joel Cornah, author of The Seastone Sword. A sequel, The Sky Slayer, is coming from Kristell Ink in September 2016.

The blurb for The Sea-Stone Sword talks about blurring the line between hero and villain. Why is this significant?
Heroes are people, and people are complicated. The story is driven by a number of factors; chiefly by a young boy who has heard all the stories of heroes going out and changing the world with amazing adventures. He wants to be one of them, but being so young he has only the aesthetics to draw from.

He wants to be seen as a hero. He wants to do all the visually heroic things. Pulling people out of danger, fighting monsters, defeating villains. The story then explores whether or not those are the things that actually make someone a hero. Motivation, method, and public perception are all factors that he hadn’t really thought about, much to his detriment.

There are terrible consequences to rash actions done simply to look like a hero.

The next book, The Sky Slayer (coming September 2016), deals with the aftermath, and builds on Rob’s character, discovering who he is now that he’s done the ‘hero’ thing. What is left of the human being after the legend has been built?

How has your world developed over time?
 The world of Dyngard was created about twenty years ago! Perhaps more. I have four siblings, and when we were growing up, I would tell my younger brothers stories about their favourite dinosaurs, penguins, dragons and all kinds of creatures. We made maps, family trees, and histories for the various peoples and cultures.

As we got older, the stories got more complicated, the politics more grey, and the map got bigger. Eventually I decided to start writing the stories down properly and in some sort of order. I chose some of the main characters we had built over our childhood and gave them backstories that I wanted to explore through adventures in this weird and wonderful world.

Which came first: world, characters or story?
 The world definitely came first. While we had a lot of characters we had invented while telling the stories when we were growing up, they were very simply painted with broad brushes. Rob, for example, was originally just a big, strong, hero who could rush in to save the day. Though he slowly became a bit darker, he was always kind and physically affectionate. I decided I wanted to know what made him that way. How could he be simultaneously so dark and brooding, and yet be so full of love?

The Sea-Stone Sword very much came out of the desire to find out what happened to him to turn him into this complex and nuanced character when he grew up. The story is about him growing up, and becoming a better person. Still strong, still brooding, but still completely full of love. That was very important to me.

How do you explain Tolkien’s continuing popularity? Why have his stories endured so well?
Tolkien did something that few others have achieved and I think what helps it to endure is his complete, un-ironic love for his world and characters. He took it seriously, even when it got very silly, and I think people appreciate that. Love it or hate it, Tolkien clearly loved it with all his heart. That kind of affection always comes through.

The world of Middle Earth breathes and lives, and you can feel it in every page. Tolkien kept it alive since he was a young man in the trenches. He wanted to create something that reflected his heart and mind, and as a living human being, Middle Earth remained a living creation.

The Doctor: do you have a favourite?
 Sylvester McCoy! Without a doubt, he was one of the most interesting Doctors. He was my first Doctor, of course. I first started watching in the early 2000s when a satellite channel called UKGold would show long omnibuses of Doctor Who stories, and the first one I saw was The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. I was hooked instantly.
McCoy tapped into something that always made the Doctor such a great adversary to the evils of the universe. He could make them underestimate him, make them think he was nothing more than a bumbling clown, and all the while he would be slowly dismantling them piece by piece.
Also, I liked his hat.

Do you use Scrivener or Word? Or another word-processing program? Or even pen and paper?
Word, I’m afraid. I know plenty of people swear by Scrinvener but I’ve found Word to be my trusty companion for many years. It’s just what I’m comfortable with. Right up until the point where it crashes and corrupts the files, but let’s not talk about that.

Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?
I used to have a cat named Sammie. He was a one-eyed grey cat we found in a shed next to our house when we first moved in. The vet estimated he was about eighteen years old when he died, but we were never sure.

He was a mysterious little thing who would do great impressions of a mime artist in an invisible box.

I did write one story about him. In the short story collection Felinity I wrote about a mysterious one-eyed cat who was ageless and immortal. I think it was a nice little tribute to the cat.

Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?
Little screen. I love episodic story telling. I think it offers more scope for character development, world building, and I can improve pacing. I also enjoy the between-episode or even between-series speculation that can go on in reader communities. It can help build anticipation and appreciation.

Game of Thrones: any views?
Plenty! I enjoyed the books and the TV series has been a little hit and miss. The hits have been very impressive, while the misses have been painfully bad. I suspect there is a divide between how TV executives view female characters and how publishing houses do. That might explain the treatment of some of the women on screen vs how they are in the books.

What is your view of Star Wars, and the latest episode (if seen)?
I was never a big Star Wars fan, but I did enjoy The Force Awakens far more than I thought I would Rey, Finn and Poe are a delight and I hope we see their characters develop in new and interesting ways going forward.

I’m a bit of a Finn/Poe fan in terms of what the romantic arc could be, if I had my way. As long as Rey keeps kicking ass and fighting evil, the galaxy will be safe!

What is your favourite Science Fiction (or Fantasy) film? Or series?
It’s difficult to say. Obviously, The Lord of the Rings was a huge influence on me and it’s still something I come back to year after year with new eyes and new appreciations.

But Avatar The Last Airbender, the animated TVseries (2005-2008) is certainly one of my all time favourite fantasy series. It was just a beautifully written, beautifully drawn, and beautifully scored piece of television, the likes of which I doubt we will see again.

It was so lovingly created, the creators were determined to treat the animators better than the industry tends to, and they just seemed to have so much respect for the cultural inspirations for their world.

It was brilliant storytelling, amazing character development, and it’s amazing that something this abashedly and bravely feminist was given prime time billing when it was.

Are you a Luddite? Or do you prefer to be on the bleeding edge of technology?
I’m a fan of technology, certainly! I’m always suspicious of people who shake their fists at technology and wonder if they don’t see the irony when they most likely have had their lives saved and made better by that very same technology.

The internet is a powerful tool that has revolutionised our world, and we have to realise that it is still in its early stages. I’m intrigued and excited to see what will become of it in the next fifty to one hundred years!

Are you--or have you ever been--a gamer?
I used to play on my brothers’ Nintendo (NES, SNES, N64 and Game Cube), but I slowly fell away from it as I realised I wasn’t very good at most games. I still occasionally play Tetris, though.

Would you prefer an independent bookshop, or a big chain?
Since I kind of run an independent bookshop I guess I have to go with that. And since I’m with an independent publisher, we should all stick together!

Do you have your own office, study or writing space, or can you write in a cafe or the library?
I have a desk in my bedroom that houses my laptop, but I do occasionally take it with me on the road. On a quiet day I will pop my USB stick into my work computer and do a bit of writing if I can get away with it.

Who do you consider are your major influences in writing?
Besides Tolkien, I have to credit Ursula K. Le Guin for her Earthsea series, which was incredible. Robin Hobb’s Live Ship Traders also did a lot to push me onto the seafaring setting; her lively and complex world always kept me coming back for more.

Karen Miller’s book Empress was something I was reading while working on The Sea-Stone Sword and looking back on it now I can see how she influenced me.

Seanan McGuire has been a more recent discovery that has definitely boosted my confidence in a lot of areas. Seeing someone write about experiences quite close to home for me has given me more of an eye towards being able to include certain things and characters. Her books, especially Every Heart a Doorway and the October Daye series, are amazing.

What writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Again, you mean besides JRR Tolkien?
I’d love to talk to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, writers of Avatar the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. I just want to get into those guys’ heads.

Rebecca Sugar, writer and creator of Steven Universe, also seems cool and I’m sure we could talk for hours and hours!

I’d love to meet Ursula Le Guin, too, now that I think about it. She has created such a powerful series and is very outspoken on important issues within the genre. I find her very encouraging and a delight!

If you could have any director to shoot the film of your book(s), who would you choose?
I have no idea! I don’t really know directors. Anyone who ISN’T M. Night Shyamalan! That would be a nightmare!

How would you define Speculative Fiction?
Anything that asks the weirdest forms of ‘what if’ questions. What if there were elves? What if there were aliens? What if there were alien elves? What if they were also ghosts? Ghost alien elves!

On a scale of 1-10, how eccentric are you?
Eh, probably about a 3. I’m more just awkward than eccentric. And not the endearing, slightly charming kind of awkward. More the Ed Miliband kind of awkward. 

About Joel Cornah

Joel Kristoffer Cornah, hailing from a small isolated village in Lancashire, is the author responsible for The Sea-Stone Sword. He was awarded a degree in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moors University and spent seven years writing a comical newspaper for The Barrow Downs Tolkien discussion forum. Accompanying this paper was a comic strip series called The Phantom and Alien, a bizarre story of bus drivers, dead people, and a slime child bent on inconveniencing everyone around him. Currently working for a charity café in Parbold village, Joel is often found deep in discussion of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the long history of Doctor Who, and desperately trying not to frighten people away. Often with limited success.

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