George R. R. Martin Interviews Bernard Cornwell

DeathWe're happy to share this interview between George R. R. Martin and Bernard Cornwell, whose new book, Death of Kings, goes on sale today. 

GRRM: It has long been my contention that the historical novel and the epic fantasy are sisters under the skin, that the two genres have much in common. My series owes a lot to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and the other great fantasists who came before me, but I've also read and enjoyed the work of historical novelists. Who were your own influences? Was historical fiction always your great passion? Did you ever read fantasy?

Bernard cornwellBC: You're right - fantasy and historical novels are twins - and I've never been fond of the label 'fantasy' which is too broad a brush and has a fey quality. It seems to me you write historical novels in an invented world which is grounded in historical reality (if the books are set in the future then 'fantasy' magically becomes sci-fi). So I've been influenced by all three: fantasy, sci-fi and historical novels, though the largest influence has to be C.S. Forester's Hornblower books.
GRRM: A familiar theme in a lot of epic fantasy is the conflict between good and evil. The villains are often Dark Lords of various ilks, with demonic henchmen and hordes of twisted, malformed underlings clad in black. The heroes are noble, brave, chaste, and very fair to look upon. Yes, Tolkien made something grand and glorious from that, but in the hands of lesser writers, well ... let's just say that sort of fantasy has lost its interest for me. It is the grey characters who interest me the most. Those are the sort I prefer to write about... and read about. It seems to me that you share that affinity.   What is it about flawed characters that makes them more interesting than conventional heroes?

BC: Maybe all our heroes are reflections of ourselves? I'm not claiming to be Richard Sharpe (God forbid), but I'm sure parts of my personality leaked into him (he's very grumpy in the morning). And perhaps flawed characters are more interesting because they are forced to make a choice . . . a conventionally good character will always do the moral, right thing. Boring. Sharpe often does the right thing, but usually for the wrong reasons, and that's much more interesting!

George rr martinGRRM: When Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings, it was intended as a sequel to The Hobbit.  "The tale grew in the telling," he said later, when LOTR had grown into the trilogy we know today. That's a line I have often had occasion to quote over the years, as my own Song of Ice and Fire swelled from the three books I had originally sold to the seven books (five published, two more to write) I'm now producing. Much of your own work has taken the form of multi-part series. Are your tales too 'growing in the telling,' or do you know how long your journeys will take before you set out? Did you know how many books Uhtred's story would require, when you first sat down to write about him? 

BC: No idea! I don't even know what will happen in the next chapter, let alone the next book, and have no idea how many books there might be in a series. E.L. Doctorow said something I like which is that writing a novel is a bit like driving down an unfamiliar country road at night and you can only see as far ahead as your somewhat feeble headlamps show. I write into the darkness. I guess the joy of reading a book is to find out what happens, and for me that's the joy of writing one too!

Leave a Comment

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this blog until approved.

Comments (30)

This is awesome. Two of my favorite authors! Thanks for making this interview happen.

Posted by: Mike in Seattle | Wednesday January 18, 2012 at 7:23 PM

This interview was a pleasure to read. As an avid reader of both authors, I always found their writing to be so complimentary of one another. Especially with GRRM and his style of Fantasy having such strong roots in reality. I hope to see a reciprocal interview in the near future!

Posted by: Scruggy | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 5:52 AM

This interview was a pleasure to read! I especially liked the discussion about the 'grey' characters...they too interest me the most :). Thanks for sharing this interview!

Posted by: The Lit Bitch | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 6:22 AM

Awesome my 2 absolute favorite authors! Can't wait for the new books.

Posted by: Bobby Winebrinner | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 12:50 PM

This is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened

Posted by: Rossome | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 2:49 PM

I am knee deep in the "Death of Kings". I've dreamed about doing a series on Uhtred...hope it happens!

Posted by: Ron Newcomb | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 5:07 PM

This was an awesome article. Neat to see that Martin has authors that he deeply admires even though he is a giant in the field as well.

Posted by: Dan Bracewell | Thursday January 19, 2012 at 5:33 PM

I really like this interview as you seemed to have a personal relationship, to an extent, with this author. I would love to read an interview by you with Diana Gabaldon. She's my favorite author, and you are my second. It would be so awesome! Um...thanks ahead of time for even thinking on my suggestion!

Posted by: Can you Interview Diana Gabaldon Next! | Friday January 20, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Great interview!!! I love the work from both authors!!! Wonderful books. I have been reading BC for years. I always feel as if I am part of the past. Now reading the Game of Thrones and I agree. I miss Ned Stark. Really enjoy both authors books! Keep getting into trouble because I can't put them down. Looking forward to more.

Posted by: Kim | Friday January 20, 2012 at 1:23 PM

Great interview. My two favorite authors of all time. (And Bernard's right about Ned!)

Posted by: Adam K | Friday January 20, 2012 at 6:53 PM

Two of my favorite Authors !!! Enjoyed reading this article and enjoy your books even more can't put them down. I think the whole family has finished the newest of what we call the Game of Thrones Series :-) I read Redcoat and the perspective blew me away. Keep it up fellas take your time and we will be waiting.

Posted by: Oakheart | Saturday January 21, 2012 at 7:15 AM

Wow! This is incredible! I got to read a conversation between my two favorite authors! I feel like I should be ashamed of myself for eavesdropping!

Posted by: Dean | Saturday January 21, 2012 at 7:23 AM

I love both of these great writers, cant wait to read the next game of thrones book and the next death of kings. Keep on writing gentlemen, i will allways buy your books

Posted by: Gabriele | Sunday January 22, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Holy crap. Such a fanboy dream come true. I discovered Cornwell through GRRM's recommendations on his site years ago and soon afterwards I devoured The Last Kingdom. GRRM has great taste.

Posted by: CJScribbler | Tuesday January 24, 2012 at 5:51 AM

My favorite authors in one interview, can it get any better? Thanks so much for this glimpse. So glad Bernard is writing just one more Thomas of Hookton tale!

Posted by: Ann | Thursday January 26, 2012 at 12:50 PM

I especially enjoyed Bernard's comments about writing grey characters. I've always greatly preferred conflicted protagonists and multi-faceted antagonists to Dudley Do-Right protagonists and Batman style, one-note antagonists.

He did this so well with Richard Sharpe and his main nemesis Obadiah Hakeswill, who were then masterfully brought to life by Sean Bean and Pete Postlethwaite. Pete, in particular, had this wonderful ability to be both menacing and vulnerable at the same time.

I do hope Bernard will write another Sharpe novel some time so

Posted by: Tracy Smith | Thursday January 26, 2012 at 1:31 PM

I've found this interview to be very interesting. I'm the most avid reader I know, and these are two of my favorite authors. what I love about them is how there novels connect with history ; which is on my checklist when looking for a new series to read. So thanks for the informative interview.

Posted by: Micah Bonewell | Thursday January 26, 2012 at 2:37 PM

I have long been a reader of the great Mr Cornwell, having the full collection of Richard Sharpes adventures, which have all been read multiple times. I was enthralled by my introduction to 'A Song of ice and fire' just before my son wrote a preview article in his magazine of the tv series. He has since gifted me the whole collection, I'm currently in a world that could only truly exist in a book. Both writers have an amazing talent of drawing you into that world. At times feeling exhausted, like i have fought the battles myself. Please keep up the amazing work.

Posted by: Kev Roberts | Thursday January 26, 2012 at 3:11 PM

Imagining the voices...

Posted by: Mateus | Thursday January 26, 2012 at 5:58 PM

I love both of these authors novells and it's very interesting to see them talking to each other.

And I'm even more pleased to see that Mr. Cornwell intends to continue on Uthred, as this is my favourite series from him.

Posted by: gerhard | Friday January 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM

Great to know that there's more Uthred coming as well as Hookton. I have almost read every book written by BC and have enjoyed them all. Have just got into Song of Ice and Fire and am into book 4. I hope GRRM can up the pace of writing a little as I hear it might be a long wait for book 6.

Posted by: Calvin | Friday January 27, 2012 at 1:58 AM

A good interview, though I must admit I am very disappointed in the last question and Mr Cornwell's reply. I am an avid fan of his books, but I have felt the last few (Azincourt, The Fort, the entire Uhtred saga) have fallen well below the standard that was published before, almost to the extent that he is writing for the paycheck.

The Uhtred series especially is now beginning to bore me, Uhtred appears to be single-handedly killing off the Danish warlords; I know that he has similarites to Derval from the Warlord Chronicles, but in my opinion Derval has more character than Uhtred will ever have. Uhtred even comes across as something of a Mary Sue character, especially as Mr Cornwell has stated many times that his ancestors owned Uhtred's lost castle referenced in the novels.

As for the Hookton books... how many more books about archers is he going to release?

Sorry if this seems a rant, but I do like Bernard Cornwell and immensely enjoyed the Sharpe series, the Warlord Chronicles, the Starbuck Chronicles, but his latest offerings are nowhere near the same standard.

Posted by: James | Friday January 27, 2012 at 2:18 AM

I love that Bernard thought Ned Stark should have lived, he must have read a song of fire and ice as regular read not a critic/writer.

Posted by: paul | Friday January 27, 2012 at 8:04 AM

Loved the interview, 2 of my favourite authors. Just need Conn Iggulden and ill be in literary heaven!

As for Uhtred become televised that would be amazing, they were the first books i read of Bernards and i was hooked. Glad to hear that there are more coming!

Posted by: david lugton | Friday January 27, 2012 at 3:43 PM

I've lost my taste for BC. Sorry, but tired of his anti-Christian nature. He could have been different from nearly every other Brit and moved off of that same pattern so many times, opening up so many new possibilities with plots and characters. But no, the same predictable nature remains throughout all his works. I still love the Hookton series and the Warlord Chronicles moved me in such a profound way. Saxon chronicles start off decent but Uhtred starts to grate on me after some time as he quickly becomes an uninteresting brute. He doesn't hold a candle to Derfel's story. But I'm not motivated these days to take up another title by him.

Posted by: Josef | Saturday January 28, 2012 at 10:47 AM

Lists + Reviews

Best Books Literature + Fiction Nonfiction Kids + Young Adult Mystery, Thriller + Suspense Science Fiction + Fantasy Comics + Graphic Novels Romance Eating + Drinking


Interviews Guest Essays Celebrity Picks

News + Features

News Features Awards


Omnivoracious, The Amazon Book Review

Feeds Facebook Twitter YouTube