Interview: Paul Cornell for Witches of Lychford

NOTE: This interview was originally published back in September. I’ve bumped it up the schedule here to sit next to the review of Witches of Lychford.

The Year of the Novella is officially in full swing. The form has been home to some of the best writing in genre for a while now, with both Kate Laity and Si Spurrier doing great work with it. More recently, under the editorial control of Lee Harris, Tor have stepped into the field with a raft of new titles.

The first, The Sorceror of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson came out last week. It’s an astonishingly realized piece of heroic fantasy that touches on mythic archetypes, romance and the subversion of expectation with an extraordinary lightness of touch. A review, and interview, will be forthcoming.
Paul CornellThe second release, out today, is Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell. The book couldn’t be more different than it’s line mate and both demonstrate just what an extraordinary lineup this is. Witches is an utterly British story of the collision between the urban and the rural which walks the fine line between comedy and horror that so many of the best stories of this type exist on. Again, a review is forthcoming. But before that I talked to Paul about the challenges of working to novella length, the inspirations behind the story and why supernatural fiction is definitely on the rise again.

How does writing to novella length differ from writing longer form fiction?

It’s interesting.  You set off into as if you’re writing a novel, with subplots and theme in mind, and then you keep it all very contained, very concise.  I like it a lot.

Did anything surprise you about the process?

How like a *book* it is.  Some of my favourite classic novels are this length, like Heart of Darkness and The Good Soldier.

Tell us a little about Witches of Lychford.

It’s about three women who come together in their little Cotswolds town to fight the powers of supernatural evil in the form of a chain of superstores.  It’s about modern Britain, lost friendship, the pressures on people in country communities.  There’s a lot of character comedy, but there’s real horror too.

Is Lychford based on anywhere in particular?

The book is dedicated to the good people of Fairford in Gloucestershire, but Lychford is a sort of amalgamation of that and several other Cotswolds towns.  It’s a microcosm of a certain sort of current Britishness.

There seems to be a growing renaissance in British supernatural fiction, with your Shadow Police novels, Warren Ellis’ Injection and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series in particular. What attracts you to the field, and why do you think it’s growing in popularity?

I think contemporary fantasy (it’s hard to call something set in the Cotswolds ‘urban’) lets one talk about the real world, with the big thumping metaphor of magic too.  Britain right now is very chaotic, the potential for change, good and bad, everywhere.  I think novelists are trying hard to keep up.

Aside from Witches of Lychford, what are you working on at the moment?

We’re two issues into This Damned Band, my Dark Horse Comics miniseries (with artist Tony Parker) about this biggest rock band of the 1970s, who like to say they worship the devil, only to find, to their surprise and horror, that they’re actually worshiping the devil. It’s a horror comedy, told to camera like a mock documentary.  Tons of other stuff apart from that, but nothing I can mention.

Would you consider writing at novella length again?

Absolutely, and especially for  I love being part of that line.  It feels trailblazing.

One of the things that always fascinates me about horror is how well it and comedy go together. Did you find hitting that particular rhythm easy? And did you find yourself coming down more heavily on scares or comedy?

I think it’s because both are about the pacing of surprises, and a sense of expectation.  I think comedy wins in this one, just about.  I think.



Thanks, Paul. Witches of Lychford is out now and both it, and The Sorceror of the Wildeeps are well worth your time. Click on the titles to get them.

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