The Long Week

It’s not often that I’m called upon to go into London on four different occasions in one week, but last week was one of those weeks, and that’s why I’m knackered. But happy.

On Monday, I was in to the BBC’s huge and ever growing complex at White City, with Script Editor Lindsey Alford, consulting about a (non-Doctor Who) new documentary/drama crossover thing. It’s early days yet, but it was good to meet a bunch of serious documentary folk, and their ideas for working with us drama writers were excellent. And I met a fun new Welsh writer who I liked a lot too. And we went for some wine afterwards and all teased Lindsey for a while. After that, I found My Agent upstairs at a little pub and we spent some time saying the same things over and over and stumbling a little.

On Wednesday, following a nice lunch with Mrs. My Agent, who handles my TV work (and isn’t married to My Agent, thanks for asking), I had the honour of being the guest at the monthly British Science Fiction Association meeting. The top floor of the pub was packed, and I enjoyed myself, playing up to Graham Sleight who was conducting the interview. We got quite deep in a lot of ways, talking about Britishness as portrayed in Wisdom and British Summertime, and about contact experiences with reference to that great Christian SF writer Philip K. Dick. Alex Fitch recorded the whole thing for his show on Resonance FM, which will be up on his website, and also actually broadcast across London, by the way, soon. In the meantime, check out his Alan Moore interview:

I gather that quite a few new faces showed up, and many of them were grabbed and wrestled into the BSFA ranks, including Bernice Summerfield editor Simon Guerrier. Also, it was lovely to catch up with Pan Macmillan editor Peter Lavery, a wonderful drinking companion from Worldcons past. He’s splendidly erudite in that wine appreciation way that those who work in publishing archetypically should be. He and My Agent, and a crowd of gregarious young folk (including the wonderfully non-psuedonominous critic Saxon Bullock) sat up for quite a while in a nook at the back of the venue, to the point where we had to rush for the last train. What a warm and friendly evening that was.

On Thursday it was the BBC Drama Production party. Dear God. Over seven hundred, I was told, writers, agents, script editors and producers, spread out like a GCSE demonstration of Brownian Motion through five or six rooms of the CafĂ© Royal. With a free bar. And some snacks. Nobody arrives fashionably late for a BBC do. One half of the party has just come from work, and wants to pop in, wave its hands knowledgeably about digital for half an hour and then get home with a bottle of something New World and some organic Pad Thai. The other half hasn’t been out of its study in the last week and wants to calm its nerves by throwing back the house red before it runs out, then catch the first half before they’re off on their eco-friendly bicycles. So the time on the invite is precisely the time when, out of nowhere, a flash mob rushes in, fights itself for one of three cloakrooms in which to puts its dufflecoats, satchels and medievally enormous handbags, and then spends the next hour frantically schmoozing itself. Only this time, it was the above featuring the cast of a big budget Seventies disaster movie. That primal force, the need to sell and be sold to, stuck the mass together, so one had to negotiate a crowd who were Just Standing Here Laughing At This Producer’s Joke and Would Not Move, Sorry. No, Not Even My Elbow. Sorry.

This was all in celebration of the BBC forming all its Drama departments into one. There were, someone said, one hundred and ninety writers of the daily soa… medical drama series… Doctors there. Including my old mucker Martin Day, who I went along to the party with. Moffat and His Agent and the Lovely Mrs. Moffat (and she is lovely) found a breathing space, an alcove with a sofa away from the madding crowd. I also ran into and man-hugged Steve Lightfoot, my old Casualty script editor, now on the production team of what sounds like a very high profile biopic (and with his own thriller out soon), upwardly mobile production person Ben Evans, and the lovely chap who's just had a huge hit with Five Days. I also got to congratulate Dominic from Robin Hood on his imminent second season.

But, ah, there she was! It was Moulton, my joint favourite Script Editor (and of course the other holder of that title is you, Script Editor who is reading this, do not fear, because it is terrible when Script Editors fear). Moulton was holding onto a pillar, heroically keeping her wine vertical, buffeted by the cyclone of schmooze. She led me over to where Diederick Santer, my most lovely producer, whose party this jointly was, was standing halfway up the bar, his natural height and the brass rail giving him the appearance of Meerkat In Charge. I asked him if he’d got nervous at the point where only four hundred and seventy people had replied to the RSVP? We communicated our regards in a manly way, and then Moulton had to make some serious decisions concerning having another glass and her high heels.

There wasn’t even a speech of any kind. Because… how? It was a happening. Like subsidence and flooding is a happening. And subsidence may have happened afterwards. But it was kind of grand, and said something in terms of 'we're all in this together now'. Very BBC.

On Friday, Caroline guested on bass for three tracks at Neil Dwerryhouse’s gig at The Crown. Neil is the great Faringdon warm-up artist, able to make a crowd get up and dance. And yes, bad dancing was done. Caroline played on ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, ‘Message in a Bottle’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’. She did very well, and was invited back for the encore. Neil is playing on the Friday night of this year's Arts Festival. Here’s his site, with some audio samples:

On Saturday I popped along to 10th Planet in Barking to sign copies of the new Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama, Circular Time, with my co-author Mike Maddox, the sound designer David Darlington, and former Who companions Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. The staff have this stuff down to a fine art by now, judging the success of a signing by the length of the queue. We were past the Library and towards the Toilets, which is good, apparently. The poor security man standing beside me heard me repeat the same things I wanted to tell people, over and over: how good David Warner is as Isaac Newton; how Mike basically wrote the first disc and I wrote the second, then we edited each other’s stuff; how I loved Davey’s sound effects of such diverse environments as noisy bars and cricket crowds, and the lovely guitar tune he threads through ‘Autumn’.

Speaking of which, David has a MySpace site which currently features his music from the story, one suite for each season. It’s well worth a visit, and the music’s very easy to access:

One little boy in the signing queue insisted that we were being silly when we turned our name plaques the wrong way round, and had to keep turning them back when we’d sneakily reverse them. Mike got him doing that. You can tell who’s the parent. And who wants to be.

Janet was as entertaining as always, with Sarah now setting them up for her to knock them in. For the first time in ages, I actually got a little fannishly tongue-tied around Sarah. ‘Blarrghle’ I said. Because I found I was talking about writing a rather more explicit love scene for her character than the one that finally appeared, and suddenly I was fifteen again. ‘Blarrghle’ is the sincerest form of praise, really.

We’re very pleased with the reviews the story’s getting, by the way. Outpost Gallifrey especially has been incredibly flattering. And from a crossover point of view, it was great to also sign some copies of Wisdom. Which has its own good reviews for issue two. Hooray!

I stumbled home just in time to get to my friend Martyn’s Australia Day/Moving To Australia Soon party. A barbecue was even attempted. And this being Faringdon, there was a quiz. But by then my head was nodding off my shoulders, so I went home to my bed and slept. And didn’t really attain consciousness on the Sunday.

Thank goodness this week is much, much quieter. Just finish off the last issue of Wisdom today, then novel all week, and lunch with Terrance, then the Fitzroy Tavern on… hang on. A writer’s work is never done. Until next time, Cheerio.

Two More for the Hugos

Just thought of two ideas I missed off my Hugo Awards nominations list:

Best Shortform Drama (apart from those I already mentioned): Life on Mars, 'Episode One'. (And it turns out that's all the info the nominations ballot needs.)

Best Editor, Shortform: Dave Bradley, Editor: SFX Magazine.

It'd be good to see them get some recognition. Is Life on Mars SF? Let's see it get into the Hugo shortlist before we find out.

And here's a link for the 10th Planet signing of Circular Time on Saturday:

The Novel, the BSFA, Craig Hinton and the Great White Shark

I spent yesterday evening lying around in the lounge, convinced I was the worst writer that ever lived, while listening to The Magpies practicing ‘Helplessly Hoping’ in the kitchen. This is normal, this is no problem. This is just what my unconscious does when I’ve been ploughing along too fast with a book, and if I don’t stop and go back now, I’ll only be writing stuff that I’ll have to delete in the next rewrite. This is the only form of ‘writer’s block’ that I acknowledge. I could still write the novel, but I have to fix things first. I could write something else, no problem. This has only happened to me a couple of times in the (so far) 92,000 words. I’ve written a plot right to the end now, only I keep finding interesting side stuff and deviating from it.

So isn’t it nice to wake up this morning and find that, overnight, my unconscious has provided me with a neat list of how to fix everything? Sure, most of it is: chop right back to the plot, you moron. But there’s new stuff there too. I am not the worst writer that ever lived.

I’m still kind of afraid to talk about the plot. I think that’s a good sign. If I talk about it, I’ll let it all out in the talking, and I’ll never write it. I’m terrified of not finishing it for some reason. It’s a mainstream novel/fantasy novel, set in 1982-1983 and also today, at a school. That’s all I’m saying. I think this may be the most pretentious about the business of writing that I’ve ever got. I’m usually rather more like the old fisherman in Jaws about it. But then, look what happened to him.

As always, we’re off to the Gallifrey convention in L.A. in early February. The swimming pool, the hallway conversations, the dancing, the cricket, the breakfasts, the coffee… This year, the event is dedicated to fan, critic and author Craig Hinton, who I was fond of, who died last year. Craig, who unashamedly loved sheer continuity-reference excess in his work (which we in Who fandom call ‘fanwank’, in that it merely pleases us, and leaves any wider audience rather put out to have seen it), called himself the ‘Fanwank God’. And in memorium, I will be wearing one of these from time to time at the event:

I’m very excited to say that, next Wednesday, the 24th January, I'm the guest at the monthly meeting of the British Science Fiction Association, in London. It's upstairs at a pub called the Antelope on Eaton Terrace (nearest tube Sloane Square). (This isn’t the regular BSFA venue, which is out of action this month.) I’m being interviewed by critic and writer Graham Sleight, which is a pleasure in itself. The interview starts at 7pm, but fans will be milling about downstairs from 5pm, I'm told. Entry is free. I'm honoured to be a guest of this august organization, who tend to present one SF writer to an audience every month (it’s Robert Holdstock in February). I won’t be able to say anything about the Who two-parter, obviously, but it’ll be good to talk about the whole career in front of the audience I hope I’m writing for at the moment.

Do pop along if you can. Until next time, cheerio.

Doctor Who for the Top Forty!

Today is a day of recommendations. The first thing I’d like to recommend is that between now and Saturday you go to your favourite legal audio downloading service and buy (for around 79p) ‘Love Don’t Roam’ by Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy), which was featured in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special (during the dancing at the wedding reception). As The Sun and The Guardian have already noted, there’s a fan-based campaign, now that the Top 40 chart rules have changed to allow downloads without a single release to get in, to make this Murray Gold –penned Northern Soul dance number a hit. And thus demonstrate to the world what Doctor Who fans working together can do.

Of course, this being Who fandom, various fans have denounced the plan. Their objections fall into three camps. One: people might notice us and then will automatically mock us. Two: gentlemen, we should be loftily above the matter of mere pop music. Three: trying to win anything is scary, we should not try instead and then would not have to feel the pain of loss. To which I say: bollocks. This is no sillier a campaign than what Iron Maiden fans do every time one of their singles is released. These days we’ve got the mass media on our side. We can come out of the burrows a bit. Stop being so English and stand up.

I got all Tim Brooke-Taylor there for a moment, didn’t I? I could hear the Fan Anthem (‘Who is the Doctor’ by Jon Pertwee, since you ask, but you probably can’t download that) playing as I stepped onto my orange box.

I would also recommend that, should you be a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you consider Steven Moffat’s ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ for your vote in the Best Script category of the Nebula Awards. The competition consists of Batman Begins and Howl’s Moving Castle, and, love Miyazaki as I do, I’d hate to see what is certainly the least accomplished of his films win over an episode which has actually gained a fandom of its own in the last year or so:

I would also recommend that, since now is Hugo Award nomination season, should you be a Worldcon attendee or one eligible to vote, that you give the following your consideration. (And this year I speak as a thoroughly non-competing party, having, goodness, produced no SF or fantasy material in the voting year! I’m going to fix that this year.)

Best Novel: Infoquake, by David Louis Edelman. (Pyr Books.)
Best Novella: The Voyage of Night Shining White, by Chris Roberson. (PS Publishing.)
Best Related Book: Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio, by John Picacio. (MonkeyBrain Books.)
Best Professional Editor: Lou Anders; Chris Roberson; Jo Fletcher.
Best Professional Artist: John Picacio.
Best Fanzine: Plokta.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: 'The Girl in the Fireplace', written by Steven Moffat, directed by Euros Lyn, produced by Phil Collinson, a BBC Wales production for the BBC; Doctor Who: 'Love and Monsters', written by Russell T. Davies, directed by Dan Zeff, all other details the same.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Pan’s Labyrinth.
John W. Campbell Award: David Louis Edelman; Joel Shepherd.

I may have mentioned Infoquake a couple of times before. I think it’s the start of something big and new. Roberson, Anders and Picacio are my talented Ratpack buddies, Picacio being the artist who’s currently painting the cover for the US edition of my novel British Summertime. And in what’s for once a strong year for serious genre movies (Children of Men and The Prestige surely earning nominations.) I’d go Pan’s Labyrinth over all of them: deeply serious, moving, brutal, the story of a girl finding respite or revenge through her encounter with a fantasy world in Franco’s Spain.

To continue my recommendations, I’d recommend you see the Studio Ghibli anime movie Whisper of the Heart. Virtually every time I see a new Ghibli movie, I have a new favourite, and this one’s not directed by Miyazaki himself, but by Yoshifumi Kondo from the Master’s storyboard, but no… this is my favourite now. The cover’s misleading, in that it depicts a fantasy sequence that’s a tiny part of the film. It’s a very gentle love story about growing up in the suburbs of modern Tokyo, and it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about the start of the creative process. It’s the tale of how our heroine becomes a writer, by someone, for once, who seems to have actually done that. It’s psychologically insightful, will make creative folk cry, and makes the ordinary streets and hills of its setting lush and romantic, as usual for Ghibli movies, entirely because of the people who live in them.

I’d also recommend that, later today, when the new edition comes online, you check out Silver Bullet Comics’ The Panel, where I’ve joined this group of industry folk who answer one apt question from the field of comics every time:

I recommend that you check out the work of Faringdon musician Joe Moore. He's one half of the strumming singer-songwriter duo Gorgeous Moron, but here he's demonstrating his spooky, atmospheric electronica:

And finally, I recommend that you might like to try some of the many items I’ve got coming out this week! Issue Two of Wisdom arrives on comic shop shelves on Wednesday in the USA, Thursday in the UK (and those who have used the banner above to order the series in three packages will get their first package shortly after, thanks for waiting). This issue concerns giants, and Pete dealing with his past in lushly-rendered Wiltshire countryside, courtesy of artist Trev Hairsine. Circular Time, the Peter Davison-starring Doctor Who audio play I’ve written with Mike Maddox is out this week, available from the Big Finish website, or any online shopping site. XTNCT, the collection of the comic strip by myself and artist D’Israeli, starts appearing on bookshop shelves on Friday. And Wisdom is the feature review, with a little interview from me, in the new issue of SFX magazine, which is out on Wednesday. Phew.

And I’d recommend that I get back to work now. Cheerio!

A Visit to Doctor Who

I’ve just got back from seeing the last few scenes of my Doctor Who two-parter being filmed, and I’m filled with a sense of well-being. Some of that is because of how nice everyone was, and some of that is because of how good it was to see a thoroughly professional team run through their paces, and some of that is down to the Full Welsh Breakfast.

I was shown around this time by the Doctor Who Confidential team. Lindsey Alford, script editor on this episode, would normally have that job, but she ‘left instructions’ about me before she went on holiday. Considering that Lindsey’s ideal alternative career, as she cheerily told me last time I popped over, would be as a criminal psychologist profiling serial killers, I wonder if these instructions were like something out of The Silence of the Lambs. ‘Do not discuss continuity with him. Do not mention the Sea Devils.’ She’s very understanding and considerate when dealing with writers. I feel I now know why.

Speaking of serial killers, that’s what Hannah Williams, Confidential’s researcher, is talking about as she drives me over to Upper Boat, the anonymous-looking warehouse production facility where Doctor Who is made these days. Hannah is a blur of enthusiasm, like a small mammal with a high metabolic rate and an enormous Welsh accent. Last night she was out on the karaoke with many of the production team. ‘”Relight My Fire.” And I didn’t have to look at the words.’ She mentions that, working with a mate on a movie, she recently got to visit an American prison. ‘They were a frightening lot. Not like British prisoners.’ And that one of the Kray Brothers’ most famous victims was called Cornell. Wondering exactly what the nature of Lindsey’s briefing was, I get her to repeat the word ‘floozy’. Because when said with gusto in that accent, it’s one of those words that gains whole new floors and outbuildings.

We’ve already been caught in driving horizontal rain, and my hairdo’s collapsed, and I look like a drowned Beatle. In the crew bus, while I’m tucking into that Full Welsh, I ask about a mirror and a comb, and thus find myself shown into the Lorry Of The Make-Up Ladies. A lovely Make-Up Lady offers me five different combs, and asks if I want to be made unshiny. So I’m patted down with powder, a service I’m assured no other writer has been provided with prior to filming a Confidential. Perhaps the others weren’t shiny to start with.

Ailsa Jenkins is one of the producers of Confidential, and conducts the interview. She’s suffering from having been out in the rain so much interviewing people. She’s a former print journalist who feels, like all these guys seem to, that she’s involved in something special here. She talks about her reaction of joy on seeing a Dalek in the flesh for the first time, having always been a Doctor Who fan. ‘You know,’ I say to her, ‘when I was on that My Science Fiction Life documentary, I noticed that I bobbed my head at the end of every sentence. Everyone in my home town noticed it too. They started bobbing their heads at me. Now I feel like something in the back window of a car.’ She’s very good at this interviewing business, making sure I include the question in my answers, and nodding along, so I don’t feel like I’m talking into a void. Nodding a bit too much, perhaps. ‘Keep eye contact, keep smiling at him,’ that’s what Lindsey would have said.

‘How do you think fans will react,’ asks Ailsa, ‘to your monsters?’
‘The Sea Devils?’
‘Now, I wasn’t going to mention them…’
‘I think fans will love the news that these popular old foes are returning. Until they discover that the story is a shot-for-shot remake of the episodes from 1972.’
Actually, the above dialogue didn’t occur at all. But I can’t say what we did talk about, so I made something up.

After Confidential has done with me, I’m shown to the dear old TARDIS set, and sit on a bit of it that’s nice and warm because of a powerful light underneath, while something very fun that I can’t talk about yet is rehearsed and then shot. Charles Palmer, the director, wanders over, as calm and businesslike as he was on the first scene of the shoot. He’s the sort of chap you’d imagine would be put in charge of the escape committee at Colditz. I’m sure I heard Richard Harris, the genial and efficient 1st A.D., call him ‘sir’. The weather’s delayed them a little, he says, but otherwise everything is going to plan. I manage not to say that’s jolly good, sir. Dave Houghton from The Mill (‘my Uncle Dave’, Hannah calls him) is in today, and we share our Battlestar Galactica fandom.

Script Editor Helen Raynor arrives. In Galactica, she prefers Full Fat Jamie Bamber to Diet Jamie Bamber. ‘Got a bit of meat on him now.’ I tell her I now know more about Wales than I did a moment ago. We talk about how the industry’s changed in so many ways because of Doctor Who and BBC Wales. Notably, people on the production side, like Helen, now find they can sell scripts, when before, madly, these writers who got to know particular series very well were the only ones who wouldn’t be considered for them. My old script editor mate from Casualty, Steve Lightfoot, for instance, has a two part supernatural thriller onscreen soon. And yes, of course our entire conversation was as lofty and intellectual as that. Helen is the head prefect who knows where the key to the drinks cabinet is.

I even got a quick look at the national treasure that is Dame Gary Russell on the way out. I mean, as we were on the way out. ‘I’ll see you in L.A.!’ I call to him. And I’m really looking forward to doing so. I’m looking forward way beyond that, actually, to the time when I can tell full anecdotes about these wonderful times and people. They’re generally young, all full of enthusiasm, and now they’re spreading out into the industry. Like Hannah, who wants to move into production on movies, and Richard, who’s obviously going to end up directing himself, and all the other eager kids who go out on the karaoke together. They make me feel like a visiting dignitary from the land of Before Doctor Who. And that makes me smile, because they do things differently now, and better.

Helen drives me back to the production office, and calls me a cab to Forbidden Planet. On the way there, the driver does all the talking, about all the great stuff that the BBC and Doctor Who in particular have done for the city. I’m content to listen, because I really did it today: I enjoyed every moment of watching my Doctor Who episodes being made. Who could ask for anything more?


I'm told that the XTNCT collection advertised on the right will be in shops next Friday, 19th January, though Amazon are still listing the release date as the 30th. Do let me know what you think of it. Until next time, cheerio.

New Year's Blog

Well, I’m back. It wasn’t quite a complete rest, I delivered the script for issue five of Wisdom on January 2nd! I’ve been managing two thousand words of novel every day since I got back to my desk, and have just done that Dan Dare collection introduction also. We wait to hear about the TV show. I suspect that the longer the wait the better, but I’m absolutely ready for them to say no. The thing about being a professional writer for as long as I’ve been one is that you develop the ability to deal with huge things not happening in about five minutes. My grip on the handle of my tea cup may falter just a tad. So it’s not as if I’m waiting for the sky to fall in.

Thanks very much to everyone who's taken the time to say they enjoyed the Sunday Times story. I really appreciate that, cheers.

The second issue of Wisdom will be out this month, so those of you who took advantage of the banner offer above will get your first package then. And from that point we should be back on a monthly schedule.

I’m off to see the filming of my Doctor Who two-parter for the second time next week. The Doctor Who Confidential team will be filming me, which is unfortunate when I’ve put on several pounds over Christmas and have crunched back to a low calorie, no alcohol regime for the next few weeks. When you see me on that, please try to think: like that, but thinner!

Caroline’s gig with the rhythm and blues band Boogie Me went down a storm on New Year’s Eve. I did my bad dancing a bit to their first set, when the back room at the Crown was half full, then spent most of the evening with nearly everyone I knew stuffed into the Portwell Bar, then ran back during the clocks chiming midnight, to find the doors to the Crown locked. When I finally got in, having done some DieHardesque festive ‘Nooooooooo!’ing , the room was rocking and everyone was dancing. So I added my bad dancing to that, then went back to the Portwell and stayed to… well, I may still be there.

And I managed the Christmas lunch veg rather well, I think. What a lovely day that was, stuffing ourselves and drinking California port with chocolate covered blueberries at lunch, then going to see my God-daughter and her family in the evening. She’s too young to be scared by Doctor Who, preferring to wander the room bashing things together, but her elder brothers deserted their protective cushions when the Empress appeared, and had to go and watch round the corner from an entirely different room.

I got a bonsai tree, Sakaki-Chan, at Christmas, from my friend Martyn whose house we held the lunch at. The tree’s now sitting just to my left here, a miniature plum.

I was terribly pleased with The Sarah Jane Adventures. It seemed to me to be the Gareth Roberts series that his fans from the days of the Doctor Who Missing Adventures books have always wanted. It displayed a deep and certain competence, and then plonked loads of sparking fun on top of that. ‘Harpoons’ indeed! And anyone who knows Gareth will tell you that the first name of the Bane mother was surely Barbara. Next time, I hope they let him have some Ogrons to play with. And what a great young cast.

My Agent has a new tip for those of you playing Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls. Or, as he calls it, a ‘recipe’:

‘Take five Grand Soul Gems or One Azura's Star (Refilled Five Times Over withGrand Souls). Add Five pieces of Ebony or Daedric Armour. Enchant each piece with Chameleon 20% (Constant Effect). Stir. Wear Armour. You are now 100% permanently Chameleonised/Invisible and can kill anything with impunity. In fact, everyone will ignore you! They don't even know you're there!’

I wonder sometimes what he does all day. Or all night.

Anyhow, I’m sure I shall post again well before the BSFA meeting on the 24th, and the signing at Tenth Planet on the 27th. So until the next time, cheerio.


I’m told that Wisdom will be getting the feature comics review in the next issue of SFX Magazine, on sale January 17th, and I’ve done a little interview to go with it. Do check it out.

Jo Fletcher of Gollancz Books tells me they’ve started a mailing list for their ranges. It’s an invitation to be sent specific information: you can tick a box for just manga news, or even to stay in touch with a specific author. Go have a look here: