By Jay Fitzgerald
Friday, September 30, 2005 - Updated: 10:42 AM EST
Bernard Cornwell, the one-man book publishing machine out of Cape Cod, has landed a new contract that will turn his most famous historical fiction hero into a TV star – again.
The British Broadcasting Corp. and its BBC America cable channel next year will air new episodes based on Cornwell's best-selling "Sharpe" novels. The books, which some compare to the late Patrick O'Brian's popular Napoleonic sea-war novels, center on a hard-bitten English soldier, Richard Sharpe, as he fights his way across India and Europe with the Duke of Wellington in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Cornwell, whose combined 40 novels have sold 9 million copies worldwide, has lately burst onto the American publishing scene with two straight New York Times bestsellers, "Sharpe's Escape" and "The Last Kingdom," part of a separate historic-fiction series about Alfred the Great.
The second book in the Alfred series – "The Pale Horesman" – will be published early next year.
"He's just growing in popularity," said Patti Kelly, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, publisher of Cornwell's latest novels.
The BBC produced 14 episodes of the "Sharpe" series in the 1990s. But Cornwell has since written six more novels about his fictional hero. The earlier TV episodes are still so popular in syndication in Britain – and popular on DVDs – that the BBC wants more of "Sharpe."
British actor Sean Bean, who appeared in the earlier series, will star again in the two new episodes, set to air sometime next year on the BBC and in the United States on BBC America.
The earlier episodes were previously shown on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater" series.
Cornwell, 61, who was born in Britain and is now an American citizen living on the Cape, said he's excited and surprised that "Sharpe" will be brought to life again on television. "I never thought they'd do the first series, let alone a second," he said.