Creating Shadow Police: An Interview with Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell is probably most well-known in the fandom for his work on Doctor Who, particularly the creation of the Seventh Doctor’s companion, Bernice Summerfield. We sat down to talk about some of his original works, starting with his urban fantasy novel series, SHADOW POLICE.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What is it about police procedurals that attracted you to write the Shadow Police series?

PAUL CORNELL: I always enjoy it when a group of professionals in one field is blindsided by something completely outside their experience. It’s that feeling in Jaws of our hero being out of his depth. I also explore it in This Damned Band, where it’s a famous rock band who encounter the supernatural. I especially loved the idea of using real police methods and training against the ineffable.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: There is, so far, a book one and book two, can you share your plans for the future?

PAUL CORNELL: Book three is finished and will be out next June. I can’t as yet share the title. There’ll hopefully be five books in the series.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: The books have been described as The Sweeney, with ghosts – is that a fair description?

PAUL CORNELL: Ish, in that I like that grim copper humour, but The Sweeney also says 70s to me, and these are modern police officers. Also, there’s more to my London than ghosts. The city remembers the horrors that happened in it, real or fictional, and various people, groups and monstrosities make use of that.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: The books have been optioned for TV, how involved will you be, anything you can reveal?

PAUL CORNELL: I have a licence to meddle, but right now I’m stepping back and letting a talented showrunner with a good track record pitch it to various broadcasters. We’re about to start that process, so no news as yet.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Football is integral to the first book, are you a big football fan?

PAUL CORNELL: Not really, more of a cricket fan. I did learn a lot about West Ham lore for the first book, though. I’ve done interviews with their fanzines.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: You made the unusual decision to have a real person (Neil Gaiman) as a character in the series, how did this come about? Was it difficult to get right?

PAUL CORNELL: I had some specific reasons for including a real person (spoilers) and he was very keen on those reasons. I started watching his body language and speech patterns when we met, which must have been really weird for him. I had someone else in mind initially, but then talked to him about it, and was delighted by how into it he got. I still get outraged tweets from fans of his, as if I’d do that without his permission.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: How do you go about doing research, London is a massive place with a long and complex history, how do you go about bringing it alive & choose what will make it in the books?

PAUL CORNELL: I have a big reference collection about weird and supernatural London, and I know the place really well. It’s largely about choosing stuff nobody else has done, which is getting harder all the time.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: You had a novella published on the 9th of September. What can you tell us about that?

PAUL CORNELL: It’s called Witches of Lychford, it’s the second in Tor.com’s new ongoing novella line, and it’s about three diverse women in a modern Cotswolds town who have to band together to fight supernatural evil in the form of an arriving supermarket chain. Lots of comedy, but real horror too, and I hope it talks about the real world.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What are the challenges specific to the novella format?

PAUL CORNELL: It’s about being concise, but using the space given by this not being╩a short story. You need to bring the big idea for a novel, then do it crisply. A writer should really be better than that at describing the process.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: You work across many formats; do you have a favourite? Why not or why is it your favourite?

PAUL CORNELL: Prose is my favourite medium. You get to use all the dimensions, and everything else is about not having as much of something. I hope to end my career (not soon) being remembered as a novelist.

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