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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!

GRRM: I have met thousands of my readers face to face, not only on book tours, but at SF and fantasy conventions, where there tends to be considerably more interaction between writers and readers than is customary in other genres. I used to answer all my fan mail, in the days when readers still mailed letters care of my publishers. (It was easy; there wasn't much). Email has increased the amount of letters I receive a thousand-fold, well beyond my capacity to keep up, but I still try to read all the mail that comes in, even when I cannot answer it. I don't do Facebook or twitter, but I do blog (on Live Journal), and my email address can be found easily enough. But there are perils to being so accessible, as I have discovered in recent years. The vast majority of my fans are amazing people, perceptive, intelligent, supportive ... but there is a small but vocal minority who can be vexing. How have you related to your own readers over the years? Do you feel a writer owes anything to his readers, beyond the work itself? Do fans send you suggestions about how they want your series to end? Send you artwork, gifts? Name children and pets after your characters? Write "fan fiction" using your characters? Do you ever find yourself being influenced by the reactions of your readers to a book, or a character?

BC: I've found my fans to be terrific. There's a miniscule handful who want to nitpick over details (and yes, of course there are mistakes) and once, on my website, I begged one such reader to please find another author to read. But the vast majority are fun to meet and it's vitally important to listen to them. I did a book tour once and three people separately told me it was time Sharpe had some high-class totty! I hadn't realised he'd been consorting with rough trade for so many books, so I responded by giving him Lady Grace in Sharpe's Trafalgar and she remains my favorite heroine. She'd never have existed without the fans!

GRRM: Both of us have had the privilege of seeing our characters brought to life on television. Sean Bean was Richard Sharpe long before he was Ned Stark. (And truth be told, he was Ned Stark in no small measure because David Benioff, Dan Weiss, and I had all seen how masterfully he played Sharpe). How did you feel about the BBC series? To what extent were you involved with it? Will we ever see any of your other characters on screen? If so, would you want to write the screenplays yourself? What do you think makes for a good adaptation? And will we ever see Sean Bean as Sharpe again?

BC: I thought the Sharpe TV series was great! Of course they changed the books, they had no choice. You and I can wheel on 100,000 men and it costs us nothing, but every extra is a drain on a TV budget, but they dealt very well with that constraint and Sean, of course, was a marvelous Sharpe and a great Ned Stark (who should have lived, damn you). So far as I know there aren't any plans for another series. There's talk of making Agincourt into a film (I'm not holding my breath) and a TV series about Uhtred (which would be nice, but again I'm still breathing). I want nothing to do with any such production, other than being a cheerleader. I worked in television for eleven year and learned enough to know I know nothing about producing TV drama, so I'm happy to leave it to the experts. And I doubt I could write a script - I've never tried and would rather write a novel.

GRRM: Last question. What's next for Bernard Cornwell? You've done the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, the Hundred Years War, King Arthur, the Saxons and Danes. Will you be returning to any of those eras, revisiting any of your great series characters? Or are there other eras of history that you mean to explore?

BC: There's one period I'm desperate to write about (forgive me if I don't say which because I don't want someone else muscling in on it first!). But next is another novel about Thomas of Hookton in the Hundred Years War, then it's back to Uhtred and the Saxons.

More: visit George R. R. Martin's author page on; visit Bernard Cornwell's author page.


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I loved r.r martins books up till a dance with dragons came out. I was so let down with that book. waited on it for years and it sucked. thanks bro guess the movie will be better eh?

Of course he isn't! ;)

But is Jon Snow really dead?

Love the series, but pushing 70 so finish it - please - before I'm in the home and can't remember the Imp's name - my favorite. And killing off Jon Snow. Ouch.



How does this conversation not involve Glen Cook, best battles ever

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Imagining the voices...

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.

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.

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

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!

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.

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

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!

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.

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

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.

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!

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.

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

This is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened

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

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!

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!

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

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