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A Few Words With D.M. Cornish by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
SFRevu: *Interview  ISBN/ITEM#: INTDMCornish
Date: 03 November 2010

Links: D.M. Cornish Website /

With the release of Factotum, D.M. Cornish's trilogy The Foundling's Tale (formerly Monster-Blood Tattoo) is now complete. Chronicling the adventures of young Rossamünd Bookchild, Cornish delivers a world (and hero) that are brilliantly realized and fully engaging.

SFRevu: Mr. Cornish sat down recently with SFRevu for this interview.

Well, let's dive in. It's no exaggeration to say the trilogy is a large, sophisticated work. If you met a potential reader at a signing or convention, how would you describe THE FOUNDLINGS TALE to him/her?

Cornish: I never have any idea about how to precisely put MBT in to a nutshell – still don't, sorry. It seems to defy cheap, easy, 20 second, inhuman we-are-all-moving-too-fast-to-engage-too-deeply-so-give-it-to-us-quick classification. Is that a cop out?

SFRevu: Not at all! Frankly, I agree with you.
The story you've written--about Rossamünd Bookchild and his path to self-knowledge, in a fascinating world full of exotic individuals, monstrous dangers and astounding settings--is a true epic. How did you set about writing this adventure?

Cornish: One word at a time, forming into one sentence at a time, gathering in to one paragraph at a time, slowly accreting into a chapter, into an entire novel. Writing feels like internal juggling, like there is a thousand balls in the air and I have to keep each one up or all will fall.

During the whole process I have been very aware of making sure my style of writing in some way fitted the setting, that the texts read in some part as if they may have well come from the Half-Continent themselves, that they were written by a denizen of that place – which in a way I suppose they are.

SFRevu: What sorts of stories influenced or inspired you, specifically in terms of TFT?

Cornish: Hmm, no surprises, the first to be named is Mr Tolkien's little set, LotR, in close combination with Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels: E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, H.P. Lovecraft's The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward (and everything else he has ever written), Frankenstein, anything by Kafka, Mr Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Steppenwolfe by Hesse, The Last of the Mohicans and Deerstalker by James Fennimore Cooper, King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (and everything else he has done), Poe, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Having C.S. Lewis's Narnia series read to me as a child, and also his book Out of the Silent Planet and the two other books that are a part of that series. Batman: The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Homer's Iliad, anything by Ms. Austen (except perhaps Mansfield Park – I like her when she is being less acid), all the wonderful monsters in Orion by Masamune Shirow, Nausicaä by Hayao Miyazaki, Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian (and the entire Aubrey/Maturin series – though only after a reviewer in the Washington Post mistook him as an influence on my writing when reviewing Foundling (TFT Book 1)).

Let's see, what else? Avenues & Runways by Aidan Coleman, Our Language by Simeon Potter, Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I could go on and on but I have to stop somewhere…

SFRevu: Wow! That's a great list! Having read those (and more), was there one moment when you knew you were going to be a writer and artist?

Cornish: Not really ONE moment, no. It has been something unfolding before me as I travel through life. That being said, I did, back in uni (university) days, set myself to become an illustrator, continuing that determination once uni was done by moving to Sydney where there was drawing/painting work to be had. But this whole author/illustrator thing has been a genuine and unexpected revelation.

SFRevu: Was there any one character who developed in ways you did not foresee or intend, when you started writing the story?

Cornish: Most certainly (and I reckon this will please some folks who have come to love her as much as I do) Europe, the Branden Rose, Duchess-in-waiting of Naimes. She starts a lot differently from how she ends and discovering her has been the funnest (and one of the hardest) parts of the entire journey.

SFRevu: Well, she's a great character. Okay, not to be indelicate, us in the States, there was a long pause between the second and third books. What happened?

Cornish: Actually there was no real pause from my end; it took two years(ish) to write Foundling, two years to write Lamplighter and a bit over two to pen Factotum.

The “delay” that might seem is actually due to my US publisher picking up Foundling after it was already published here in Oz, so that Lamplighter arrived for Aussie and Kiwi readers two years later, but for US readers much sooner. So the “delay” is just the US/Canada achieving parity with my process.

SFRevu: Ah, well, that's understandable, then. :) In FACTOTUM, Rossamünd’s journey of self-discovery is finally complete. Was there a parallel journey for you, as a writer, in creating this work?

Cornish: In some ways, yes. It was also an expression of things that have happened to me in the past: Foundling has its feet in my journey to Sydney in 1995; Lamplighter was in some sense fed by my time as a part-time/not really soldier in the army reserve; and had I not been to London in 2003, I think that Factotum would have been harder to write. There is more, but I don't want to reveal too much about myself, now do I…?

SFRevu: What's changed for you as a writer, now that you've published this trilogy? Is writing more or less difficult?

Cornish: Just as problematic as ever, so it seems. As Sean Williams said to me once, when you have completed a book you have only ever learnt how to write that book, never the next one. Each new story produces the same old struggles plus new pitfalls all of its own unique chemistry.

Having said that, I at least know I can finish a story, but still self-doubt hovers as I contemplate the next project(s).

SFRevu: What would be your biggest ambition, as either a writer or artist?

Cornish: To move, inspire, perplex people as my favourite writers/artists have moved, inspired, perplexed me, and (dare I dream) to shift in some small way, something in culture, in the way we think and see ourselves. You know, small things…

SFRevu: I think you've either achieved this goal or are well on your way. Did you read my review? :) You've certainly inspired me. Now, as for the future, will you return to the Half-Continent for further stories?

Cornish: Oh, Lord willing, I know I want to. Taking a bit of a sabbatical at the moment, but am looking forward to being inspired in the new year to begin anew. There are many possibilities roaming my soul: novels, short stories, "fact" books, art books, graphic novel, even a game has my immediate attention (board? role-play? computer? not sure…).

SFRevu: Sounds like lots of possibilities, which is fantastic. We'll look forward to good news as soon as you're able to share.
One point about the books: It is clear that you are a fellow who loves words. What can you tell us about the fantastic vocabulary you created?

Cornish: It/they (?) certainly did not start out as a deliberate intention to make up words for their own sake, rather, given a thesaurus at 12 or 14 or so, I was always dipping into it for the richness of the English language to furnish my several attempts at making a role-playing rule system (and the bits of writing I was unwittingly penning at the time).

It has only been as the Half-Continent has formed more and more solidly that the context and need for deliberate invention has increased. I love the way the language came together, its history, knowing at least a small sum of this has allowed me to stretch my inventiveness in all manner of ways and still arrive at (what I hope) a feasible – at times, maybe, real-seeming – new words. If ever one of my coinings makes it in to a dictionary, I know I will have conquered the world. :)

SFRevu: Every work has its joys and struggles. What was the most fun and least fun part of creating TFT?

Cornish: Most fun: Getting deep into the Half-Continent, discovering some of its citizens; meeting all manner of excellent folk who enjoy doing this with me when they enter the H-c too.

Least fun: The intensity of the pressure at times, to get the work done. I was very much squeezed by an external demand for “Story now!” and an inner demand for me to trust my process and take the time necessary to complete a good work, not just any old work.

SFRevu: Well, it's certainly "good work" in my view, and I'm betting many of our readers feel the same. Many thanks for D.M. Cornish for participating in our interview. You can find FACTOTUM on sale now!

Our Readers Respond

From: Angela
I am almost never without a book in my hand. I have read many but this trilogy has made it to the top of my list. Please continue. Mr. Cornish, you are among the great writers of all time. MORE PLEASE.
From: John Ambs:
    Love to read, but I'm picky. Busy father of three who tends to work 10-14-hr days. Really enjoyed these books. Just finished "Factotum" this weekend, and I'm sorry to see it end. I (like other fans evidently) want to hear more of Europe and Rossamund.

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