Friday, 27 December 2013


Firstly I would like to thank you, Mr Cornwell, for agreeing to be interviewed by me and that I am honoured to be doing so. I have been a fan for many years, since the 80’s when I was first persuaded by my then boyfriend to read your Sharpe books in Reader's Digest. Then I found your Uhtred books and I have to say that these are my favourites. I loved Sharpe but Uhtred really rocks for me, especially as I am a re-enactor of the late Dark Age period. So welcome to The Review Group Blog and thanks for coming today!

First question: I see that you are now settled and living in the US. Do you ever miss the UK and do you come back often?
I do miss it!  I normally visit a couple of times a year, so I get my ‘fix’. I married into America and have now spent half my life here, and I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of it here, but Judy, my wife, loves Britain, so we do visit as often as we can.  What I miss most is cricket!  That and rugby!
Second Question: What was it like growing up in England and what or who were your early inspirations in writing?
Growing up in England was horrible, but that wasn’t England’s fault. I was adopted into a ghastly family of Christian fundamentalists who tried to beat me into a state of salvation, an effort that failed totally. But that was all a long time ago, and despite them I discovered a passionate love of history. I suppose the biggest influence on my writing was C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series which I discovered as a teenager, and Sharpe is really just Hornblower on land, though of course he’s a very different character!  

Third Question: Have you always written historical fiction, or have you ever, or will you ever dabble with another genre?
I dabbled in thrillers some years ago and wrote, I think, five. I enjoyed them, but not as much as I enjoy writing historical fiction, and it seemed sensible to stick to what I enjoyed most. I doubt I’ll dabble again, though who knows? 
Fourth Question: Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I wish I knew! I suppose they come from reading . . . endless reading of history. I suspect it’s an unconscious process. I read a lot of history and some eras appeal, and some events trigger an idea.  Right now I’m in the middle of writing the stories of Uhtred. The ‘big’ story in that series is the making of England . .  a process about which the English are extraordinarily ignorant!  There wasn’t always an England, and it had to be made by warfare, and that was a story I long wanted to tell, but to tell it I needed a smaller story – the tale of, say, one family. So I had a basic idea – the making of England – but the spark for writing the series didn’t occur till I met my real father much later in life and discovered he (and me) was descended from Uhtred of Bebbanburg. And that provoked the stories. So it’s a complex process, and not entirely rational! 

Fifth Question: Your books always appear to be very well researched and you know your eras very well. How much time do you generally take to research before you start on a series and do you research the era as you write?
Research is a lifelong project!  I’ve been reading history since I was a child and it’s all research. And yes, I go on researching while I’m writing the books. Each book will throw up a particular problem – in The Pagan Lord it was a question of what Chester looked like in the early 10th century. You can’t expect to know all those details! So the research has to be done on the fly . . .
Sixth Question: Do you visit the places you write about to get a feeling for them?
Always!  Though I should qualify that. If I’m writing about the recent past then yes, always. If a scene is set very far back and in an area which has subsequently been smothered with roads and buildings, then possibly not. But as far as possible, yes. 
Bamburgh Castle

Seventh Question: As a re-enactor, I find that it really does help with getting a feel for the era I write in. Do you talk to re-enactors in your period, have ever you held a sword and shield, stood in a shieldwall, or fired a cannon or shot an arrow?
I do talk to re-enactors, and have got some splendid ideas from them. I’ve never re-enacted myself, but I have held all the weapons I write about, and fired black-powder muskets and rifles.
Eighth Question: Uhtred is quite a character. I love his pragmatic attitude and his live for now mindset. Is he based on anyone in particular? Are any of your characters inspired by anyone you know and who of your characters do you think is most like you?
None of them are based on anyone I know, they all spring totally out of the imagination. I always think I most resemble Obadiah Hakeswill from the Sharpe books.
Ninth Question:  What era do you like the best? And which is the easiest to write and research in?
I like the era I’m writing about!  Whatever it might be. I don’t think I have a favourite. As for which is easiest? I’m not sure the comparison can be made. Plainly, if I’m writing about, say, the Napoleonic Wars then I have a wealth of information to help me, while if I’m writing about, say, the Saxon period, then there’s far less information, but that just gives more freedom to the imagination. It’s just different, neither better nor worse, easier or harder!
Tenth Question: What books have you read lately?  Lately I’ve read Command and Control by Eric Schlosser, a terrifying book about how carelessly America’s nuclear arsenal was guarded and misused. Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright, which is equally terrifying, an examination of Scientology. In the Shadow of the Sword, by Tom Holland, which is a history of the early days of Islam, and Close to the Bone, by Stuart Macbride who is a magnificent thriller writer!
Tenth Question: Who are your favourite authors?
P.G. Wodehouse, P.D. James, John Cowper Powys, John Keegan, Richard Holmes, C.J. Sansom, George Macdonald Fraser. And lots more! 
PG Wodehouse

Some of the other members of The Review team have asked me to ask these questions.

Simon Stirling: Is there a particular era that you wouldn’t want to write a story about?
I avoid the Roman era, not because I don’t like it, I do, but if you write historical novels then you really lose the taste for reading them! I spend all day writing them and don’t really want to spend the rest of my time reading them, but I make an exception for the Roman era, and by NOT knowing anything about it I don’t get annoyed with the authors for making mistakes (which I’m sure I make too!)
Stuart S Laing: Apart from the guerrilla fighter Teresa, there are not many really strong female characters in the book, they are either victims or bed partners. Do you ever wish you had written stronger female characters?
I disagree – I think I write very strong female characters. I guess we’ll just have to disagree on this one.
Stuart S Laing: do you still get the same pleasure out of writing as you did when you first started writing or is it now more of a job?
Oh, it’s a total pleasure! Much better than working for a living!
Stephanie Moore Hopkins: Is there a scene or storyline that you wish you could go back and change and why?
I’d probably rewrite the first third of The Winter King and get rid of the ‘scene-setting’ so the story would hurry along a bit faster.
Stephanie Moore Hopkins: How has writing impacted your life?
Oh wow. I suppose it’s changed it totally! First, I think I’m extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do it for a living, instead of having a ‘proper job’. It lets me live wherever I want, and we live in Cape Cod, which is fabulous and Charleston, which is beautiful. Above all it’s given me thirty plus years of total enjoyment!

To read a review of The Pagan Lord click here !

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  1. One of the most interviews I have read with Bernard C and I must remark that I, too, am a great fan of John Cowper Powys. The Glastonbury Romance is a book well worth reading and this interview has reminded me to dip into it again. I also enjoyed Weymouth Sands. As for Bernard Cornwell a great writer of historical adventure. Page turning stuff.

  2. I pad scrambled the word best above, one of the best interviews, I have read concerning BC and it is.

  3. Wow Paula that is a terrific interview and has given me a real sense of the man. Now I really MUST read his books... The interview has left me no choice! Well done Paula!

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    1. My comment went in twice for some deleted one.

  5. Having not read any of Bernard's books I really enjoyed this interview and am now inspired to find the first in this series and read it. Thanks Paula

  6. Thanks Paula! Love his books and it was fun to know whose books he enjoys.

  7. A great interview and an absolute landmark for the blog - thanks, Paula!

  8. What a coup to have him on the blog!

  9. Very impressive Paula, a good interview indeed!

  10. Excellent interview. In my opinion Bernard Cornwell is the best Historical writer currently alive. I have heard him speak in person twice now and he is great fun.

  11. What a terrific interview, Paula! Your questions were thoughtful and thought-provoking, and they drew some fascinating answers. This is the first time I've read anything about Bernard's early life. One thing, though. I've met him. I've heard him speak. I can NOT believe that he is anything like Obadiah Hakeswill!!!

    1. Haha, that made me chuckle I must admit. I really thought he might say Sharpe!

  12. Congratulations, Paula! Such a privilege! Being a fan myself, I immensly enjoyed reading your interview!

    P.s. My favourite Mr Cornwell's novel is Azincourt. I haven't read the Saxon series yet, which I'm planning to remedy as soon as possible :-)