Tag Archives: interview

Superbooks last all summer long

Those nice folk at SF Signal occasionally ask me to pitch in on their “Mind Meld” collective-interview thingies, and I’m always happy to take part, usually because they ask me questions that I haven’t thought to ask myself. The latest example: What books/stories do you feel are just as good now as they were when you first read them?

Unusually for me, I didn’t take the opportunity to deconstruct the question (though I could have done – are the stories in question just as good in the same way, or is it that they always seem to have something newly satisfying to offer on each return visit? There’s a deep-seated nostalgia in genre fiction – and in culture in general – that I flich from instinctively, and I can’t think of any book that I return to as “comfort food”, but that’s a personal preference rather than an edict). I also decided to skip briefly over one of my biggest lasting favourites because I’ve mentioned it so many times before in previous Mind Melds… so go find out what I (and a number of other smarter and more erudite folk) picked out.

Emergent pattern of interest: Ursula LeGuin makes a very good showing, though with a selection of different titles. Maybe quality does matter after all, eh? 🙂

Pulse: an interview with Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell is one of UK fandom’s most ubiquitous (not to mention relentlessly cheerful and charmingly modest) figures, and I’ve spent plenty of enjoyable beer-fueled hours chatting with him on a whole variety of subjects.

Not being much of a television watcher, however, I’ve largely missed out on much of his professional output as a writer… but here’s my opportunity to get in on the ground floor of his new project. Paul is lead writer for pilot-stage BBC techno-horror drama series Pulse; you can see the pilot here at the BBC’s website, or on actual real telly tomorrow night (9pm, BBC3).

And what better an excuse to drop the man a line and ask him some questions about writing in general and Pulse in particular, eh? None better. None better at all.

PGR: Imagine (for a disturbing and hallucinatory moment) that I’m a cigar-chomping Hollywood director – gimme your elevator pitch for Pulse. Stat!

PC: It’s a medical horror show, about conspiracy and dark experiments within the NHS.

PGR: OK, now the additional layer of challenge: how would you convince someone who doesn’t go much on supernatural or horror themes, or who doesn’t watch much genre TV (or maybe both) that they should pay attention to this series? What’s the USP?

PC: ‘Supernatural’ is the wrong word: our horror is technological in nature.  And if you like the gothic, if you like dramas about intense, disturbed relationships, I think you’ll find a lot to interest you in this.  The thing about horror that people forget is that it’s deeply about people and how they relate to each other.  I think that gets lost when a lot of modern horror movies are ironic thrill rides. We want you to love our characters, and to not want to see bad things happen to them.  And then bad things happen to them, and you’ll have to hope they get through it.  It’s about our female lead being challenged, and finding out how resourceful and hardy she is.

PGR: I believe this is your first series as lead writer, yes? What was the hardest thing to adjust to in that position? And by contrast, what’s the best bit?

PC: I’m not sure. It doesn’t feel like it’s all down to me, it’s still a team effort.  I really enjoy being part of this team, they feel like old school producers but with a modern sensibility.  I like the idea that I’m at the heart of putting together the plots for the rest of our season, and tying it all together at the end.  Working with other writers is going to be interesting too.

PGR: You’re a multi-format writer – television, comics, short stories, novels. Do you have a favourite mode, and if so, what is it that draws you back to it? What are the most enjoyable aspects of each, from your perspective as a creator?

PC: Prose is my favourite thing. A part of my brain actually finds writing it to be relaxing. It’s still work, but it sorts something out inside me. Comics and TV are both fun because of the different opportunities offered, in terms of telling stories in other people’s worlds, and because of the contributions of other people. Being a novelist must be lonely, but I hope to find that out by ending up just doing that in a few years.

PGR: There’s been a lot of discussion recently about TV series endings – more specifically, their tendency toward frustrating endings. How do you balance the creative constraints of the format with your preferences as a consumer of the same sort of material you produce? Do you find yourself thinking about what the audience will say about the shape of a plot while you’re writing it, or does that concern creep in at a later stage (if at all)?

PC: I’ve been frustrated with the reaction of a part of the audience towards the ending of Lost, which I loved. I think some people want a lecture with diagrams rather than drama. I’d like to hear how on earth they think some of the ‘answers’ they were after could ever be dramatised, let alone during a dramatic conclusion. ‘Jack, I love you, but… what were those polar bears doing here?’ (Especially when the answer to that one, and to a lot of these, is in the previous seasons.) You have to have an internal audience, but you can’t let them limit you. Indeed, you have to be willing to hurt them, because that’s the job of drama, to make them feel anxious, tense and, yes, often hurt.

PGR: With Pulse, one presumes you started with something of a blank slate, character-wise… but with your comics work and your writing for the Doctor Who franchise, you’ve had to take well-established characters and bring them to life, balancing a respect for the canonical (as policed by vocal and passionate fandoms) with the need to make them relevant to as wide an audience as possible. Can you tell us a little bit about how you developed Pulse in the early stages? For example, did you start from some character ideas, or did the characters emerge from the concept? Is it harder work, or is it a kind of liberation?

PC: I’m the third lead writer on Pulse, so you’d have to ask the very talented Ben Teasdale about a lot of that. I started from a script, and moved some way away from it. That process included a lot of character work, a lot of discussion about what sort of people we needed in the mix to give us potential conflicts and interests later in the series. Doing your own thing is always liberating, and I really feel like they’re mine now, but that’s a required feeling no matter what you’re writing. I feel Lex Luthor is mine right now, but I’m simply wrong about that!

PGR: That’s a point worth raising – the sense of ownership and, in some cases, entitlement that fans feel for characters. It’s probably as old a phenomenon as fandom itself, but the internet has made it easier for fans to state their minds in public. How do you feel that’s changing the attitudes and approaches of writers in various media? Do you think things were substantially different back in the “good old days”?

PC: I don’t think they were. Dickens and Conan Doyle found themselves under the same sort of pressure. Ownership is something an author strives to create between an audience and the characters. I just wish said audience were more conscious of the process sometimes, and didn’t feel so much that the characters had chosen to befriend them of their own volition.

PGR: As a fan yourself, do you ever find the writer part of you wrestling with the fan? I’m thinking particularly of Doctor Who here, which has a fandom that – from the outside looking in, at least – defends its darlings with the savagery of a mother wolf. If there was one writerly rule or necessity that you could explain to fandom, what would it be?

PC: That there’s real sexism, racism and homophobia in the media, and that hurting your favourite character and making you cry isn’t an example of it, but us doing our job properly. That’s the ‘not being conscious of the process’ bit I’m talking about above. There are people out there now actively campaigning for ‘drama’ that doesn’t hurt.

PGR: On the flipside of that, have there been any occasions where you felt the fans of a franchise you’ve worked on called you out with justification? Or, alternatively, any massive screw-ups made by other writers with a character or property that you’re a fan of yourself?

PC: Oh, loads. Back when I wrote Who novels I paid a lot of attention to reviews and adjusted what I was doing: it was pop music, those were the only audience. Nowadays, it’s much more complicated, you’re part of a whole group of lovely and talented people, whatever show or comic you’re working on, and you never want to say “we didn’t do as well as we could have” in public, because what gave me the right to speak for everyone else? (And no, I don’t have any particular thing in mind.)

I generally think that any fandom will, once we’ve got beyond the fact that the characters have got their brains in a vice, speak, when you listen to their collective average voice, and not the millions of individual voices all saying different things, only the truth. And that’s usually exactly the same truth the mainstream consumer will speak, only done with more awareness and concern about the text, and a bit more excited madness because of it.

PGR: Is that part of the appeal of writing novels and short stories, then – that chance for a sort of creative autonomy, to be king of your own sandbox and beholden to no one? Do you find yourself saving up ideas for your own prose work because you know you’ll be able to do it your way?

PC: I think that’s one of the appeals, although complete autonomy isn’t what you’re after, you always need someone to give you another perspective. It’s impossible to save up ideas like that; if an idea fits, you use it.

PGR: If you could work with any writer or writing team, dead or alive (or even imaginary), who would it be? What sort of project would you do?

PC: I’d like to have been at the Marvel Bullpen in the 1970s, when there was a huge mainstream audience and a lot of cutting edge work was being done. Not that there isn’t now, but there’s a flavour to the Bronze Age stuff that you don’t get anywhere else.

PGR: What do you see happening in the screenwriting world in a few decades time – for a start, will the internet kill off the traditional broadcast channels? Where will the money for good drama come from? Have you looked at any alternative funding models for your work before, or will you in the future?

PC: I think broadcast is indeed close to being over for the younger audience, though give them what they want and they still come flocking. But the TV audience is, on average, much older, so we’ll still have watercooler shows for a while yet. I think the iPad and its successors are about to change everything, and we’re about to see a lot of approaches as yet undreamed of arise from chaos.

PGR: Lastly, what do you hope will be your writerly legacy to the world – the thing you’re best remembered for?

PC: A novel, I hope.

Well, we’ll have to wait for Paul’s novels (though based on the short stories I’ve seen, they’ll be worth waiting for). But you don’t have to wait long for Pulse, as it’s going live at 9pm UK time on BBC3 tomorrow (or Thursday 3rd June 2010, for those of you who’ve come here from the future of the internet).

Visitors from the future may find that the trailer isn’t online at this link any more, but those of visiting in the present have no such excuse. So clickity-click, go watch it, like it on Facebook, all that stuff… and as Paul says, “please leave a comment, because it all helps towards us getting a series.”

Well, you heard the man. If you want quality television to get made, go support it.

The City & The City & The (un)Dead Author

China Mieville, on being asked whether TC&TC is an “interstitial” work:

I consider it a crime novel, above all. The question of whether or not it’s fantasy doesn’t have a stable answer; it’s to do with how it’s read, what people get out of it, and so on. Certainly I was very aware of genre, and of the fantastic, and there’s a certain kind of (I hope good-natured) teasing of readers about the whether-or-not-ness of a fantastic “explanation” for the setting. And other issues, I think, about the drive to world-creation, and the hankering for a certain kind of hermetic totality that you see in fantasy, and so on. Not I hope that that stuff is heavy-handed, but it’s there in my mind. I don’t mind whether other people think the book’s “splipstream,” or “interstitial,” or whatever. I think of it as within the fantastic tradition, but for me that’s always been a very broad church. Whether it’s “fantasy” in the narrower sense, I don’t much mind. Certainly I’m not abjuring the term—it would be ungrateful and ridiculous for me to distance myself from a set of reading and writing traditions, and a set of aesthetics and thematics that have furnished my mind since forever.

And on whether he has sympathies with allegorical readings:

Personally I make a big distinction between allegorical and metaphoric readings (though I’m not too bothered about terminology, once we’ve established what we’re talking about). To me, the point of allegorical readings is the search for what Fredric Jameson calls a “master code” to “solve” the story, to work out what it’s “about,” or, worse, what it’s “really about.” And that approach I have very little sympathy with. In this I’m a follower of Tolkien, who stressed his “cordial dislike” of allegory. I dislike it because I think it renders fiction pretty pointless, if a story really is written to “mean” something else—and I’m not suggesting there’s no place for polemical or satirical or whatever fiction, just that if it’s totally reducible in a very straight way, then why not just say that thing? Fiction is always more interesting to the extent that there’s an evasive surplus and/or a specificity. So it’s not saying there are no meanings, but that there are more than “just” those meanings. The problem with allegorical decoding as a method isn’t that it reads too much into a story, but that it reads too little into it. Allegories are always more interesting when they overspill their own levees. Metaphor, for me, is much more determinedly like that. Metaphor is always fractally fecund, and there’s always more and less to it. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that in no way do I say some of those readings aren’t valid (though I must say I have very little sympathy for the “East” versus “West” one, which is explicitly denied in the text more than once), but that I hope people don’t think the book is “solved” by that. I don’t think any book can be so solved.

Fascinating full interview by Paul Witcover, compiled for the TC&TC paperback edition backpages, available at The Inferior 4 + 1.

Yours truly interviewed at Bibliophile Stalker

Yes indeed; the tables are turned on me as Charles Tan of Bibliophile Stalker puts me to the question, primarily about stuff I do in the genre fiction world but veering off into other stuff as well. Reading it may make you understand why I tend towards reticence around new acquaintances; I’ve seen the looks on faces when I just open up and waffle at full bore. As such, replying to Charles’ questions was a lot of fun.

It also took me around three hours. What can I say? I type slowly.

Briefly donning the meta-hat of intellectual narcissism, it’s interesting to see that snap-shot of my mind, taken as it was right at the end of last year, before I’d made the decision to go freelance full time. So many things have changed in just four fast months. Time flies when you’re living the dream, AMIRITE?

Friday Photo Blogging: the meta-metaverse, and piercings

OK, so this opener isn’t strictly a photo, but it’s my blog, and I can break the rules any time I want to …

Cyberpunk Lit 101

Cyberpunk Lit class in the metaverse

That’s my alter-ego, Isambard Portsmouth (the scruffy bugger in the, er, cowboy hat), sitting in on a literature discussion class taking place in Second Life. The work being discussed was Neal Stephenson’s seminal Snow Crash … so we were stood in the metaverse talking about the text in which the concept of the metaverse was arguably first laid out. That appeals to my warped taste in philosophy; your mileage may vary.

It was an interesting discussion for one major reason; the kids on the course were US college age, so 18 or thereabouts. Which means that Snow Crash, or at least the bits that deal with technological change, doesn’t really shock them at all. The metaverse is just there, y’know? What’s the big fuss about?

Still, there was some interesting chat about burbclaves being a new way of couching sf’s traditional obsession with the (encounter with) / (fear of) the “other”, or the “alien”. And it’s interesting to see SL being used as a teaching platform, which I’m reliably informed is a real growth industry at the moment. More research required, methinks.

Self-mutilation for fun and fashion

The following is a special request from a reader who shall remain nameless. On finding out that I was booked in for a body piercing this week, they said “oh, well I hope you’re going to blog the evidence.” I wasn’t intending to, but for the cause of contemporary subcultural anthropology, how could I refuse?

However, because some folk read VCTB in their workplace, and some may simply be squeamish or uninterested, I will supply a link to follow rather than posting the pictures directly here.

Warning: the following link is possibly NSFW, and definitely not for trypanophobics – nor people who dislike the sight of the un-muscled torsos of 30-something blokes having pieces of metal stuck in them.

With the warning delivered, I can now present – a Flickr set of Paul Raven getting his nipple pierced.

We now return you to our regular programme.

Writing stuff: Alan Wilder interview, flash virginity lost

It’s been a slow week for writing jobs; nothing new to report. But I will point interested parties to the published version of my interview with Recoil’s Alan Wilder.

While no jobs have materialised this week, I have at least been out hunting for work. Why, only yesterday I applied for a writing position … albeit one doing interviews and similar for a, uh, “gentleman’s magazine” based in Second Life, but hey – if they’ll pay me, what the hell. It’s all portfolio.

And while not writing in the freelancing for money sense, I managed to complete and post “Downtime”, my first piece of Friday Flash Fiction, as per Gareth Powell’s new blogging meme. Whether it’s any good or not, I have no idea. I’m just pleased that I managed to finish and publish something I’m not utterly ashamed of. Go me!

Books and magazines seen this week

The use of the plural is a bit brash, really, as it’s only one of each. In the magazine intray, we have:

And a book I’ve long been looking forward to receiving:

Tobias Buckell – Ragamuffin (Tor Books, June 2007; ISBN-13: 9780765315076)

Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Tobias is a co-blogger at the recently resurrected Futurismic, but I’d have thoroughly enjoyed his first novel Crystal Rain even had I never heard of the guy before. I’m pretty confident that this sort-of-sequel is not going to disappoint. So, yet another gap to chisel into the reading schedule!


Well, thanks to a slow week (with two days out of action thanks to a cold), I find I’ve reported all but the most utterly insignificant events of my life in the past week in the material above – so, no miscellania. You must be gutted. 😉

Which means all that remains is for me to bid you all a good weekend (with better weather than the last one, hopefully) before I wander off to fetch The Friday Curry Of Justice.

So, have a good weekend! Hasta luego!