Saturday, May 26, 2018

Interview with Joel Cornah, author of Shards of the Nightmare

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase has great pleasure in interviewing Joel Cornah, whose new novella, Shards of the Nightmare, we featured on May 1.

Shards of the Nightmare forms part of the same series as your first book, The Sea-Stone Sword, and its sequels. What is the Sea-Stone sword and why is it important?
The series deals with symbols of power in different forms. The Sea-Stone Sword represents physical power, the ability to do things through force. It is bound up with the power of the sea because controlling the sea is incredibly important in a world where trade and travel are keys to power.
In a very literal sense, the Sea-Stone Sword is a big, stone sword. It is huge, difficult to wield, and so heavy that it exhausts its bearer. The impracticality of it is not a mistake and was quite intentional. A lot of the magic in these books deals with the personal consequences for the one who holds it.
The longer somebody holds the Sea-Stone Sword, or indeed any source of power, the more it takes them over. Soon, whatever goals or desires they had, which drove them to find it in the first place, become twisted, exaggerated, and eventually distorted beyond recognition. The Sea-Stone Sword is a major symbol of this and its effects on those who take it are horrible!

Your protagonist in the first books was Rob Sardan, a pirate who is a troubled hero. In Shards of the Nightmare, Sini is a very different character. How does she differ from Rob Sardan and were there any challenges in writing her story?
Rob is a very intense person in the first book. He has a very set vision of himself and has a certain view of the world that is slowly questioned and deconstructed over the course of the series. While he does care about the people around him, it is offset by his very twisted sense of how to do the right thing.
Sini is a much more cheerful character, one who is more optimistic. Though she is given plenty of reasons to be miserable, she maintains a positive outlook. Some of this is helped by her loving bodyguard, Merri.
Writing Sini was a joy at times because I suddenly had the freedom to write such a happy character. I’d missed it. She faces dark times and comes through changed, but still has a hopeful outlook.

Her father Varirosi says he wants her to be a boy but the Seer says she is a girl – what is the significance of this?
Varirosi likes things to bend to his will. He wants Sini to be his son, he wants her to be a reflection of him, and so he defies everyone around him to insist upon this. Sini knows who she is, and she knows that she is not his son.
In his power and violence, Varirosi tries to make the world be the way he thinks it ought to be. Part of Sini’s quest is to find some way of helping him recognise the truth of things.

In this book, the parents are the villains of the piece – tell us more about that.
I have a tendency to write about found families and friendships more than familiar relationships. There’s a long history in fantasy of the hero discovering their ‘real’ family to be of an ancient line of magic, or of royalty. Sometimes both. And this is more often than not a great thing for them, though it may throw them into adventure.
For this story, I wanted to look at the consequences of having a family of unthinkable magical power. Or even just of power. I wanted to ask what happens to a child who sees the abuse of power and doesn’t make excuses but realises how wrong it is. Sometimes the hardest people to stand up to are our families when we see them doing something wrong.

The world in these stories is intensely imagined and detailed. Will you explore it further, or move on to other worlds?
I have a lot of plans for this world, yes. But I do want to write about other worlds, too. I am currently working on a novel set in modern day Helsinki. I’d also love to write a sweeping Space Opera one day.
But Diyngard is my first love, and my deepest source of creativity. I could write in this world forever and not get bored.

On your web-site it says you are an active member of the Tolkien Society. Tolkien almost invented the Fantasy genre single-handed. But Fantasy still gets a bad rap from literary critics. What are your thoughts on this subject?
It’s interesting that in Tolkien’s day he talked about this, though he specifically referred to Fairy Stories. A lot of the attitudes he criticised about how people dismissed fairy stories have crossed over to fantasy as years have gone by.
Because fantasy employs a lot of imagination and, well, fantastical imagery it is often dismissed as childish.
There are legitimate issues in the genre. Too many men, too many big men with big swords being bad and getting away with it. Women treated poorly, both in fiction and in reality. However, these problems are in no way isolated to fantasy and are a problem both in the industry at large, and in society at large. Fantasy seems an easy target often because many of its tropes are so bombastic in nature.

As I understand it, Tolkien’s world started from the imaginary languages he created as a young man. How important is his language in understanding his world?
It is immensely important. The cadence and meaning behind words and names was incredibly important to Tolkien. A lot of the Silmarillion dives into this and it is always helpful to read The Letters of JRR Tolkien, too.
It is clearly something he was passionate about and informed a lot of his decision-making. The number of characters whose names changed because they weren’t quite ‘right’ is a testament to this.

Do you prefer the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit?
I love them both for different reasons, but if I had to choose, I’d pick Lord of the Rings. There’s just more to digest in there, and many more emotional themes and ideas being dealt with.

Tolkien was a university professor with a penchant for beer and smoking a pipe. He is supposed to have seen The Lord of the Rings as an attempt to create the myth that England lacked. Did he succeed?
Not really, and I think his goal changed over time. If you read early versions of his legendarium in The History of Middle Earth you can see his attempts there. But as the stories grew and changed, he realised that his original plan didn’t really fit with them. He wanted a sort of Mabinogion style book of myths in the Silmarillion, but what he achieved was something very different.

Oxford! It seems to have a unique role as a fictional destination, what with Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Phillip Pullman and more – not to mention Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse. Why do you think it inspires so many writers of fantasy?
I suspect the university has something to do with it. Allowing rich old men to get a grip on academic studies and then try their hands at writing fiction in an environment that encouraged it. That’s not to say it was easy, Tolkien famously complained about all his academic work getting in the way of his creative work.
I think it is, or at least was, a city that helped artistic people develop because they often had money. Oxford isn’t cheap as I am discovering first hand!

Dr Who – what are your hopes (or fears) about Chris Chibnall as show-runner? What about Jodi Whittaker as the new Doctor?
Chibnall is a writer who has grown a lot over the years. Some of his early work on Torchwood makes me cringe (Cyberwoman isn’t exactly top class). But since then he’s had a lot of experience and time to develop. I’m cautiously optimistic about the future and what I’ve seen so far gives me hope for the new direction. Less dark, gritty, brooding. More bright colours, excitement and fun!
Jodie is a brilliant actor and can make even terrible scripts sing with light and excitement. Also, she’s northern. Lots of planets have a north!

Which Whovian monster would you least like to have to escape from – or fight?
The Myrka!

What are your feelings about the Sonic Screwdriver, if any?
I do love the old Sonic Screwdriver. It’s such a silly idea and I will never hate it. Though it can be over-used to skip over difficult plot points and save the day like a magic wand at times. A clever writer can still work around it.

I’m quite intrigued by long-running shows like Dr Who, Star Trek, or Star Wars.
I was a small child when Dr Who started and it’s still going strong (after a long hiatus). Star Wars appeared in 1977 and my nephew, who was born in 1978, is a lifelong fan. There’s clearly some kind of phenomenon going on here – what are your thoughts?
Some of it is down to audience reaction. People love these stories and can’t get enough of them, so there’s clear demand for them. Even when studios and corporations try to cancel them. People get used to things that have been around for a long time, too. So, the longer a show or franchise is around, the more people will want it to stick around. Generally speaking.
Some of it is, of course, cynical cash grabbing by big studios. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun and mean a lot to people. These stories speak both to their own time, and down the years, too. The original Star Wars movies are soaked in the political and social attitudes of the day, but still resonate. The same will be true of the newer Star Wars movies, I’m sure. | Amazon UK

About Joel Cornah:

Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, and The Sky Slayer.
He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.

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