a word from bernard cornwell

Bernard CornwellRichard Sharpe was born on a winter’s night in 1980. It was in London, in a basement flat in Courtnell Street, not far from Westbourne Grove. I had decided to marry an American and, for a myriad of reasons, it was going to be easier if I lived in America, but I could not get a work permit and so, airily, I decided to earn a living as a writer. Love makes us into idiots.

But at least I knew what I wanted to write. It was going to be a land-based version of C.S.Forester’s Hornblower books. I wasted hours trying to find my hero’s name. I wanted a name as dramatic as Horatio Hornblower, but I couldn’t think of one (Trumpetwhistler? Cornetpuffer?) so eventually I decided to give him a temporary name and, once I had found his real name, I would simply go back and change it. So I named him after Richard Sharp, the great rugby player, and of course the name stuck. I added an 'e’, that was all.

The book was finished in New Jersey. Now, eighteen years, innumerable battles and well over a million words later, he’s still going strong, and there are yet more books to write. I thought I had finished with Sharpe after Waterloo, but so many people wrote wanting more stories that he had to put on his green jacket and march again. Being a hero, of course, he has more lives than a basketful of cats, but maybe Sharpe’s greatest stroke of good fortune was meeting Sean Bean. He has also been outrageously lucky in his other friends who, collectively, are the Sharpe Appreciation Society. He would not think there was that much to appreciate (?bloody daft, really’), but on his behalf, I can thank you for being his friends and assure you that, so long as I have anything to do with him, he will not let you down.

And finally time for confession. Years and years ago I was a journalist in Belfast and I remember a night just before Christmas when a group of us were sitting in a city-centre pub getting drunk and maudlin, and discussing, as journalists are wont to do, how much easier life would be if only we were novelists. No more hard work, just story-telling, and somehow we invented the name of an author and a bet was laid. The bet was a bottle of Jameson Whiskey from everyone about the table to be given to whichever one of us first wrote the book with the author’s name. Years later I collected the winnings (long drunk) which is why, in second-hand shops, you might find the following:

A Crowning Mercy
The Fallen Angels
Coat of Arms

by Bernard Cornwell, writing as Susannah Kells.

See a full list of Bernard Cornwell's books to date

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