A Life in Doctor Who magazines

It’s mid-afternoon on Saturday 13 October 1979. I’m seven years old and I’m in the living room of my grandparent’s house at 85 Kenilworth Road, Aston, Birmingham. Out the window I can hear the crowds at the Aston Villa ground roaring in appreciation of another goal. When I hear the unmistakeable final roar that signifies the end of the game, I will turn on the telly for the football results and Grandad and I will sit there as he fills in the pools coupon and finds, yet again, that he’s not won a penny. Once that ritual is complete it will be time for the exciting third episode of the current Doctor Who story, City of Death. Earlier that morning Grandad and I spent a happy hour recording an improvised radio play on audio tape. He played Long John Silver and I was Jim Hawkins. We battled pirates and brigands, survived the curse of The Black Spot, fought swashbuckling cutlass fights, and retired to the Admiral Benbow Inn for ale after our exertions. Grandad is now tending his homebrew, which bubbles and belches under the kitchen counter where he hides it from my Gran, who tolerates it but disapproves. Left to my own devices, I’ve taken the eiderdown from my bed upstairs – no duvets yet – laid it on the floor and put the sheepskin rug on top of it. I’m lying there on my tummy, reading.  The gas fire warms the soles of my feet. Next to me lies a pile of Doctor Who stuff. Patrick Troughton stares seriously over the top of his 900 year diary... read more

Doctor Who and The Massacre (of St Bartholomew(‘s Eve))

Occasionally I lose my tiny mind and I pick a lost Doctor Who story, grab up everything about it that I can and devote a week to deep diving into it. This week it was the third season historical The Massacre, produced under the aegis of script editor Donald Tosh (who Loose Cannon interviewed about the story) and producer John Wiles. I have read the shooting scripts, watched the Loose cannon reconstruction, listened to the narrated soundtrack, listened to Peter Purves’ reliably brilliant reading of the novel, read the Pixleyana entry in the Complete History, read James Cooray Smith’s excellent and illuminating Black Archive book on the serial, read Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke’s take on it in Running Through Corridors, moaned that there isn’t a Fact of Fiction feature on it yet, and rummaged through all the existing photographs. I’m not sure I have anything new to add, but these are the things that occurred to me, noted down as much for the benefit of my memory as your edification. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a précis. The script was substantially (totally?) rewritten by Donald Tosh because he felt John Lucarotti’s scripts were historically inaccurate – so all the historical inaccuracies in the script are Tosh’s own. In the process of rewriting, possibly due to time pressures, large parts of the storyline, particularly the Doctor’s role, become completely incoherent. In episode one I think it’s most clear what Lucarotti intended. When the Doctor is leaving Steven alone in the Inn, he is noticed by Roger, a Catholic. From what we can gather from the script, Roger... read more

The DCMS rebrand (and me)

Yesterday the Department for Culture, Media and Sport renamed itself the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I ran digital comms for the DCMS for about a year 2009/10 (honest, I did), a period which covered the last six months of the Labour government and the first six months of the coalition. During the first half of my time there, we redesigned & rewrote the website, but we couldn’t launch our shiny new digital efforts (long since replaced by the much better gov.uk) till after the election. As the extended purdah negotiations ended, and the new government was announced, we launched the new site and rebranded our Twitter account, which at that point had a few thousand followers. Despite my presence, I often had a hard time convincing some of my colleagues in the Press Office about the importance of digital communications. This scepticism was reflected upstairs after the election. Upon being shown the department’s new digital presence, one newly minted Tory minister, who will remain nameless, asked me, incredulous, why we even had a website, let alone social media accounts, and wanted to know why we needed to ‘communicate to the public’ at all – he thought digital communications was completely irrelevant to his job or his Dept. One of the few times in my life I’ve been genuinely left speechless. Anyway, as the new ministers were appointed that first day, I monitored Twitter and saw a rumour beginning to spread. According to sources, the Dept was going to take responsibility for the Olympics (true) and was going to rebrand as the DOCMS, requiring an expensive rebranding... read more

Return to the Afterblight

My first trilogy of novels, collected in School’s Out Forever, were set within the shared world of Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles. They’re pretty good, and you should totally pick up a copy (hint! hint!) Ahem, anyway… this August a new Afterblight omnibus is released containing three novellas: Fall Out by Simon Guerrier, which is a sequel to my trilogy, and picks up with the St Mark’s gang a few years after Children’s Crusade – we spoke about the book in this interview Children of the Cull by Cavan Scott, which is a sequel to the two books that kicked off the series, The Cull by Simon Spurrier and Kill of Cure by Rebecca Levene Flaming Arrows by Paul Kane, which is the fourth story in his Hooded Man series (which crossed over with my books a bit) Check out the cover, and pre-order it now, if you fancy checking in on a world I had a whale of a time playing... read more

A load of old cobblers

Twenty five years ago I visited a town in Poland called Starachowice. Since WW2 it had been a town that produced trucks – Star Trucks – and almost nothing else. When I visited, in the early 90s, the factory had closed and unemployment was through the roof. The town felt lost, abandoned, the populace shocked and confused. Even today, the town receives special economic privileges, still reeling from the loss of its industrial heart. It’s not just in planned economies that towns specialise, and ultimately pay the price. Northampton, which I visited this week, was a town of cobblers, and something about it put me in mind of Starachowice. How or why a town organically comes to specialise in a particular industry without Communist central control, I don’t know, but Northampton made shoes and boots, enjoying a boom that lasted from the Napoleonic Wars until demand died away between the world wars. And even though its main industry pretty much died away decades ago, there is a feeling about some parts of the town – not all, but definitely some – that it’s still a bit lost to itself, somehow not entirely sure what it’s for now, like an old soldier sat in the corner of the pub, ignored because nobody wants to hear his stories anymore. Echoes of Northampton’s past as a town of shoemakers abound in the tangle of streets where I’m staying this week, from the abandoned factories, like Waukerz Boot Factory- an oddly punk name in 19th century stonework… …to the house names… …to this tile, randomly stuck halfway up a wall – a small, oddly formal piece of... read more

TimeBomb Cover! TimeBomb Blurb! TimeBomb Date!

TimeBomb publishes 9 October 2014. Pre-order – paperback | ebook New York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground. Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s flung through time. On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, in search of a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future. Thrust into the centre of a war that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as... read more

The big NEW DEAL blog

So the secret’s finally out. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook you’ll know I recently finished and delivered a book. You’ll possibly have realised it’s a time-travel story, and if you’ve really been paying attention you’ll have guessed it’s called Timebomb. It’s the first of a three-book deal I signed with Hodder & Stoughton. In March! I’ve been keeping this secret for MONTHS! It’s been driving me nuts! It’s a good job I’m teetotal these days, otherwise I would certainly have gone out for a quiet drink one Friday and ended up telling THE ENTIRE WORLD! Yes, this is a four-exclamation-mark kind of day. So how did it happen? At the end of last year I worked three books into pitches – that is the first ten thousand words and a synopsis. One was an alternate history war-story for adults, one was a fantasy mash-up which would probably have ended up YA, and the third was a YA time-travel romp called Timebomb. I decided I was going to spend the year writing one of them, and picked the war story. I was chugging along nicely when Anne Perry dropped me an email. I’ve known Anne for a while. She and her husband run the Pornokitsch website. I call them the ‘The Pornos’. This does not amuse them nearly as much as it amuses me. They were generous enough to shortlist my last book, Children’s Crusade for the 2010 Kitschies. The winner was Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. I’m not bitter (but what on earth happened to her, eh?) The Pornos also co-edit amazing short story collections... read more

Coming soon…

So the first draft of the next book is done! It currently clocks in at 91,437 words, which makes it longer than any of my Afterblight books. But as it goes through my editing process, then my agent’s, then my editor’s, that number will change many times. It’s been the most difficult book that I’ve written, and has gone through the most revisions during the writing process – I wrote one chapter four times until I had it right, which is something I never did during the Abaddon years. Why so difficult? Well, unlike my School’s  Out trilogy, the first two of which were written to be stand-alones that could spawn a sequel if one was requested, the new book is very definitely the first of a series – hopefully satisfying in its own right, but not by any means wrapping everything up in a bow by the end. It’s the added complexity that has slowed me down, as I had to keep stopping to work out the timelines of various characters – there are many colour-coded flowcharts – but that’s what you get when you decide to make your book insanely timey-wimey. The title, publisher, release date and all that jazz will be announced soon, and then I start gearing up for the launch, the publicity etc. After a year where I’ve kept a relatively low profile, I’ll be all over the internet like a rash soon. It’s been  a very interesting year, and next year’s looking even better – I can’t wait to tell you about it 🙂 If you can’t wait either, I may be persuaded... read more