Cornwell's family feuds fuel his successful career
By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY
Best-selling historical novelist Bernard Cornwell traces the reason for his success back a long way.
Cornwell's The Pale Horseman focuses on an angry young Saxon warrior named Uhtred, who battles Danish invaders.
Now 62, he was the product of what he once described as "a one-night stand" between a Canadian airman and an English sergeant in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II.
As a boy, he fought bitterly sometimes physically with his adoptive parents, who were members of a British religious sect called the Peculiar People.
"Everything was forbidden fruit," Cornwell says. No TV, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no books except the Bible.
The author of the delightful The Secret History of the Pink Carnation returns with another tale of Napoleonic-era intrigue. Studded with clever literary and historical nuggets, this charming historical/ contemporary romance moves back and forth in time.
And, for Cornwell, no regrets.
If he had been raised by his biological parents, both of whom he met as an adult, he doubts that he would have become a writer. "I have a terrible suspicion I would be playing golf," he says.
Instead, out of his childhood rage, Cornwell has forged a global following with his energetic historical fiction.
His more than 40 novels often feature a rebellious warrior who is in conflict with himself and his society. They have sold more than 9 million copies worldwide.
His latest is The Pale Horseman (HarperCollins, $25.95), the second in his new Saxon series.
Continuing from The Last Kingdom (2004), Cornwell describes a pre-Norman England (circa A.D. 878). Most of England, which was divided into various kingdoms, was ruled by Danish invaders. (We think of them as Vikings.) Cornwell focuses on an angry young Saxon warrior named Uhtred, who battles the invaders.
The name Uhtred has special meaning for Cornwell. When spelled "Oughtred," it is the given name of his biological father, who can trace his ancestors to early medieval Northumbria in the north of England.
After his adoption, Cornwell was named Bernard Wiggins. He started using Cornwell, the name on his birth certificate, from his birth mother while writing his first novel. His motivation: On a bookstore shelf, C is higher than W.
Love and unemployment spurred Cornwell into fiction writing. When he was a BBC-TV producer, he fell in love with an American woman. He moved to New Jersey but was unable to find work, so he started writing about a tough, Napoleonic-era British soldier named Richard Sharpe.
The result put Cornwell on the map. The Richard Sharpe series, which was begun in 1980 and is still going, includes 20 novels in addition to several short-story collections and provides the basis for the BBC miniseries starring Sean Bean.
Cornwell admires P.D. James and Elmore Leonard, enjoys doing research and reads a lot of history books.
But, he says, "I'm not a historian."
He wants his books to give the flavor of the past, but he says the story and characters come first.
Though he has been a U.S. citizen for decades, his characters usually are English.
"I hear British voices in my head," he explains.
Go back in time
Bernard Cornwell's The Pale
Horseman is just one of several
historical novels out this month.
Leonardo's Swans: A Novel
By Karen Essex (Doubleday, 21.95)
Two very different sisters, two very different husbands and one of the greatest geniuses of all time, Leonardo da Vinci. In this sizzling historical novel set in 15th-century Italy, Essex combines art, political intrigue, family feuds and sex to create a page-turner that also probes the experience of being painted and whether it
can offer immortality.
Arthur & George
By Julian Barnes (Knopf, $24.95)
Short-listed for the ultra-prestigious 2005 Man Booker Prize, this acclaimed novel looks at Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator
of Sherlock Holmes, and his advocacy for a man falsely charged with mutilating farm animals in 1906.
Purity of Blood
By Arturo Prez-Reverte (Putnam, $23.95)
International best-selling author Prez-Reverte presents another mystery featuring Captain Alatriste. Set in 17th-century Spain during the Inquistion, the book grabs readers from the get-go with its moody evocation of a lost time.
The Masque of the Black Tulip
By Lauren Willig (Dutton, $24.95)
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BEAN EYEING SOAP OPERA ROLEHollywood star SEAN BEAN is considering trading in blockbuster movies for a bit-part in a British TV soap opera.
The actor is keen to follow in his LORD OF THE RINGS co-star SIR IAN McKELLEN's footsteps by appearing in long-running ITV1 show CORONATION STREET.
He says, "I do like Coronation Street. Sir Ian McKellen was on that, wasn't he? Maybe I could do that. (I could be) the milkman!"
And the producers of the soap opera would be delighted to sign up Bean: "That is fantastic! Sean is a good, solid northern actor and would be brilliant."
***please note the source - contact can relay accurate info but they have also been known to distort the facts to make things more 'interesting'....