Interview with D.M Cornish

This month I thought I would do something different and try and interview an author. D.M Cornish is the author of the Monster Blood Tattoo series.  I’ve talked about his Half-Continent world in previous blogs, and I always try to bring attention to him because, not only is he Australian, but his books are amazingly deep and creative. It’s the kind of book that I read and went, ‘Nope, can’t compete with that,’ and unplugged my keyboard forever. His art is unreal and he really shouldn’t be allowed to draw that good and write that well either. So here it is, my interview with D.M Cornish.

1. Many of us (unpublished authors) have a certain idea of what it is like to see their book in a book store. Does being published live up to the hype of excitement and popularity?

I am not sure if it is a product of being a freelance illustrator for so long before becoming a writer, but seeing my books on the shelf does not feel like anything, odd mostly – a nice odd definitely, but kind of matter of fact, “there is my book”. There are definitely moments when I gush within in delight at holding a tome of mine, but they are removed things, gone through the hands of editors, publishers, printers, sellers, detached from me somehow. Mayhap this is something very Australian in me, so playing down of big things as we do so habitually and thoughtlessly in this country. Also, I am painfully aware of the errors (real and/or perceived) in them to feel completely chuffed without some pang of regret? dismay? ego?

2. Do you ever give yourself restrictions when writing fantasy?  Are there boundaries?  Or is that the point of Fantasy? 

The conjuring of the Half-Continent is ALL about restrictions actually; well, rules, boundaries, go and no-go zones. I work hard to be very clear what things are (and are not), to make rules to stick to, to keep consistent throughout else I betray the real-seemingness of the whole other-world effect. My first boundary is a string desire to make sure any bizarre ideas actually seem, within their context, to be plausible and internally consistent. Consequently I am actually a keen student of history, all kinds of history, with especial interest to how people behave and what is possible in the gamut of the human condition and response. For, though we might be writing “fantasy” we are still exploring what it is to be human, and if our characters do not behave in a recognisably human way, well, the reader will know – they are around people all the time and can tell if a character is not being true – and if our characters are not believable then neither will our setting be, however much we lavish it with detail. That is another real and troubling and most necessary constraint.

I might go so far to suggest that if you write “fantasy” because you think it allows you to not have to worry about all that fiddly, “reality” stuff, then perhaps you have come to the wrong shop. For I think that to do “fantasy” full credit and serve your reader, it must be realer that real, more consistent, that boundaries and fiddly stuff are what fantasy writing should be – but alas rarely ever in these modern “genre” times – all about. For if you are going to write about a pretend setting then surely you will want people to believe that setting could work, might just be around the next corner, beating away just beyond sight yet near as true as our own crude plane.

For why are we writing: simply to indulge ourselves (a worthy exercise, but do not necessarily expect to get yourself published) or to change people’s lives for the better? A hobby for the sake of self-edification is a noble thing but, I think, if you want to step out into the public space with your words surely you would be wanting and seeking to improve some other’s life, to furnish another person’s mind with wonders that stay with them.

Well… that’s what drives me anyways…

3. When do you write? Do you have a set time of day? Or do you write when the feeling strikes?

I feel very slack about this but, unlike so many authors I know, I write when the feeling strikes – though it usually “strikes” within business hours…

4. Getting a book completed is a challenge unto itself. Writers block plays a big part in stopping books from being completed. Do you have any suggestions for keeping the momentum and finishing a book?

There is alas no magic bullet for this, no cure-all, none that I have found at least. The only way to finish a book is to finish a book, to take yourself seriously in the right way, take on the pain of the struggle and push to the end. Certainly I recommend some period of hiatus, of taking a breath, of popping your head up and having a look about (maybe a bit of hard physical labour …  :/  ), emptiness of soul or a tired mind is a real issue and needs to be tended to honestly and seriously else risking breaking (or at least spraining) yourself in the place that writing comes from. But, once rests are had and mind/soul are cleared, there is no cure for not writing except writing…. Damnit…

5. For those unfamiliar to the Half-Continent world, what can you tell them to lure them into a book shop to pick up your book?

As yet I do not know how to do such a thing very well – I tend to need the length of a whole novel to tell you about the Half-Continent….Hmmm, it is Georgian/Hanoverian culture mashed with the Restoration mashed with bio-punk mashed with alchemy and Frankstein-like science matched with monsters, weird surgeries and monster-hunters where the oceans are caustic and many coloured and people and monsters are locked in a long struggle for supremacy. How’s that?

 6. Finally, how much planning goes into your stories? Do you write down an outline, or just write and see what comes out?

Ohh, a vexed question – well, for me at least. Monster-Blood Tattoo/the Foundling’s Tale was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants affair, where I set the protagonist down the and just saw what happened. Not my preferred way I think but a product of the unusual way I came to being a writer at all. For this new book (new characters, new situation, but same setting ie: still in the Half-Continent) I am planning it up to the eyeballs, characters lists, dot point plot summary, maps, charts and diagrams all in some part done before the writing. Is this fear, all just milling about on the verge afraid to go into the great wilderness that is the writing of a novel? You bet it is! Is it also very helpful and fire to my imagination and raising my excitement to tell the tale even as it gives me a strong sense of the way ahead? Oh, most certainly yes! I am really enjoying having the time and space to think all manner of things through, to research as thoroughly as I know how both real history and my own notebooks (all 36 of them) to make to the best of my ability the setting and the characters as real-seeming as possible.

Thanks again, DM Cornish!

Thank you too, good writerly questions – hope I wasn’t too “know-it-all”.

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Thanks for reading

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm  Comments (3)  

The Impending Death of Bookstores

With the recent announcement that several Borders bookstores both in Australia (along with Border’s owner Angus and Robertson) and the USA  are being closed, I felt a pang of guilt. I too am guilty of buying books online, which seems to be the scapegoat of the shut downs.

Buying online for me is not just a money issue, it’s all about convenience. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than spending a day trolling through bookstores, inhaling the smell of paper and enjoying the atmosphere of a gathering of booklovers. And usually on these excursions I am known to come away with at least one book or a few titles to buy next time I have spare cash, but as a person with two jobs who is also studying, I don’t often get the chance to have a leisurely day/hour in a bookstore.

I’m also impatient. If there is a book I want and I can’t find it in store when I do get a chance to go shopping, I’m not going to wait to get it ordered in if I can order it online and have it at my door within days.

One thing though I can happily say is I’m not an eBook reader. I can’t stand eBooks. They have no character for me, no soul. I much prefer a dog-eared copy of a paperback with the cover half falling off from being over read than a lump of cold plastic. Now eBooks are what in my opinion is really killing the industry. I very much agree with Mitchell’s blog on eBooks here. I could continue the spiel about them but I’ll skip that. The phenomenon that is eBooks, although great profit-wise as the outlay for them is only labour, means no need for shops and staff, and it means that one day we may be reduced to buying books online as paper books will soon be in the minority.

So what can we, as book lovers, do to help? It’s simple. Before you order a book online, see if your local bookstore has it. When you visit bookstores and see something you want, buy it there not online just to save a dollar or two. Choose paper books over eBooks or get both (seriously you can’t say you have a library of books when it all fits in your handbag) and most of all READ!


~Sabrina R G Raven (with help from Minerva the guinea pig)


Published in: on March 13, 2011 at 12:49 am  Comments (8)