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'Four or five books to establish you'

17 January 2011

'I entertain. I spend my day putting doors into alleyways. In every single book, you'll find Sharpe trapped in a blind alley with no way out. His sword is broken, his gun is out of ammunition, and he's faced with 20 malevolent Frogs who want to kill him. At that point, when the game seems up, a doorway appears magically beside him and he steps through it to safety. Now, your readers won't accept that, so you have to go back 10 chapters and establish the door in the future alleyway without the reader noticing. This is always a huge amount of work...

I was lucky. Susan Watt (his editor) said: "It will take four or five books to establish you." HarperCollins sat out those first books and the fifth Sharpe took off. I really don't know if publishers would have the patience to do that in the current climate.'

Bernard Cornwall, author of The Fort and many other novels, in the Observer