Category Archives: Interview

Interview With Andrew Cartmel

Hey! I interviewed writer Andrew Cartmel for Genre Reader.

Enjoy!

Andrew Cartmel will be well known to many of you as the script editor of Doctor Who during the McCoy years. Today he’s writing for the comic run of the Rivers of London novel series, as well as preparing to release a new novel series of his own. Andrew kindly let me throw questions at him. Despite being a huge McCoy era fan, I was very good and hardly even mentioned Who.

Ben Aaronovitchs very popular Rivers of London novels are also now a comic series, which you co-write. How long ago did the idea to branch the series out into comics first come on your radar? Was it Ben coming to you with the idea?

Ben came to me. He’d been toying with the idea of doing a Rivers spin off comic from a very early stage. Maybe even from the first novel. And quite early on he had a fragment of a comic script — the first page of what eventually became ‘Body Work’. So that was the seed of that story. We didn’t know anything else, but we knew what the first page was!

How do you approach your novels and scripts; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a guy?

I use to be the latter, but I learned the hard way to become the former. I think the results are vastly superior if you plan as much as possible in advance — and it is ultimately much less hard work. Of course, everybody has a different process. Quentin Tarantino says he just starts writing with no plan — and I love his scripts. Django Unchained was especially brilliant.

With your background as a Doctor Who script editor, the Rivers of London comics arent the first time youve stepped into an existing story world. This time though, youre actually writing alongside the original author of the series. Has this been an easy process, or was there a period of feeling out what would and wouldnt fly with Ben.

Not so much, because I’m so intimately acquainted with the novels, having read them all in draft form before they were published, and often discussing them with Ben — by which I mean he’ll run things past me and use me as a sounding board for ideas. So I was fairly well calibrated to the mindset of the books. The one area where Ben has tended to correct me is in Nightingale’s dialogue, but I think even there I’m gradually overcoming his resistance. (Imagine a sinister laugh at this point.)

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How many abandoned novels do you have gathering digital dust on your laptop?

Jesus — good question. Fully finished novels? Let’s see… I’ve had a little search around, both my brain and the computer and I can definitely think of four. There used to be a lot more, but there’s been a recent and welcome surge in my back catalogue being sold and going into print . For example, all three Vinyl Detective novels were written before we got the publishing deal from Titan. So I wouldn’t say these are abandoned novels. Just novels which have yet to sell…

Next year sees the release of The Vinyl Detective, how long has this book been in the works for? And where did the original idea spring from?

Just to clarify — the book is called Written in Dead Wax, and the character is called the Vinyl Detective. Of course, the words ‘Vinyl Detective’ feature on the cover in a much bigger typeface than the title. But it’s the same with James Bond novels, if you’ll allow a modest comparison. As for how long it’s been in the works… thanks to your previous question which sent me on a rampage down memory lane, I can verify that with some precision. The book was well underway in 2010. As for the original idea, it had two primary sources. Firstly I was discussing with Ben the success of his own books, and he urged me to write about what I loved. So I thought… a crime novel about record collecting. The second thing was simply the phrase ‘Written in dead wax,’ which was really evocative to me and began to suggest the book. It’s a phrase, incidentally, which will mean something to a lot of record collectors.

Whats the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another author? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things? SPILL!

I’m influenced, I suppose, by my favourite authors. These would be, in genre fiction,  the crime writers John D. MacDonald (creator of Travis McGee) and Thomas Harris (do I need to say he created Hannibal Lecter?). And in the world of ‘literary’ fiction, the marvellous Thomas McGuane. Of course, there are innumerable others, but those are the writers I most admire and keep going back to. There are other specific influences, though. For example, in the third Vinyl Detective novel Victory Disc, I had some set pieces which specifically called for intense, claustrophobic suspense. So I made it a deliberate project to read (and re-read) a lot of Cornell Woolrich, because he was the master of that.

The Vinyl Detective has the subtitle: Written in Dead Wax; do you see the series running as long as you have ideas, or do you have a set number of adventures in mind?

See my earlier answer. Written in Dead Wax is no more a subtitle than From Russia with Love was. But yes, I do see the series running as long as the ideas are fun. I’m already a substantial way into the fourth novel, have clear ideas for a couple more, and a long list of titles which are appropriate for the series and which excite and interest me in the same way Written in Dead Wax did. 

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Have you ever read a book that scared you?

Yes. But I’d point out that there’s an overlap between suspense and fear. I recently was intensely afraid while reading The Martian by Andy Weir — an absolutely magnificent novel. But the fear there was that something terrible would happen to our beloved hero (and of course it often did), not fear per se. For fear per se I remember when I was a kid reading Stephen King’s Salems Lot and finding it so intense and scary that I had to wander outside into the garden to where my dad was burning leaves — a comforting return to normality and the real world. I’d add, though, that I don’t think King ever got better than that book.

What was your favourite book as a kid? 

Hmm… depends on what you mean as a kid. As a teenager I was knocked out by John Fowles’s The Magus. When I was younger I adored The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Before that, The Marvellous Land of Oz by Frank L. Baum (a more interesting sequel to Wizard). Younger still, I used to love Bill Frog to the Rescue by Cam (Barbara Mary Campbell).

What are you reading/watching/hiding from right now?

Watching… I’m finally catching up on the last two series of Breaking Bad (no spoilers, please). I’m waiting to get hold of Series Five of Game of Thrones on Blu-ray (I’m old school; and I absolutely don’t hold with piracy — or watching Sky). But it’s not out until March, the bastards. So no spoilers until April. I really do think Game of Thrones may be the greatest television drama ever made. And I recently watched Darling and Nothing But the Best, two 1960s movies, because I was interested in their screenwriter Frederic Raphael. On the big screen, I’ve recently loved Sicario, written by Taylor Sheridan and Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin. Reading… In comics, I’ve just read the first two ‘chapters’ (i.e. 12 issues) of The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman. In books, I’m working my way through the Hugo Bishop novels, a gentleman-detective series written in the 1950s by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor). These I chose largely because (besides loving Hall’s Quiller novels), they’re old fashioned paperbacks which are small enough to fit in my pocket. They’re actually ‘pocket books.’ (That’s one thing I dislike about so-called trade paperbacks.) But besides being the right size, they’re also proving surprisingly good. Before Adam Hall it was Iris Murdoch. At home, where I keep the larger books, it’s a lot of non-fiction, often about jazz. When I travel (long plane and train journeys) I read the stack of New Scientist magazines which have built up since my last long plane or train journey.

After the classic run of Doctor Who finished, you were one of a number of writers who wrote Who novels for the Virgin New Adventures range; are there any of those titles that youre still particularly proud of?

The trouble with the really old stuff I wrote is that when I think about those books, all I see is the flaws. Hence I can’t go back to them and read them again. I feel disassociated from them. Luckily this stopped at a certain point, when I wrote my memoir about working on Doctor Who, entitled Script Doctor, of which I’m very proud. And also a Prisoner novel called Miss Freedom. I felt I got that right. So those were the turning points. From then on I’ve been able to enjoy my own stuff — and look at it without fear of finding fault. That doesn’t mean I have no pride in the War Trilogy (as I pretentiously call my New Adventures novels — Warhead, Warlock and War Child), because people keep coming up to me and telling me about stuff in them that I’d forgotten was there. I think, hey — that sounds interesting…

Name me a classicnovel that youve started, then not been able to get through.

Oh Christ. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Too much crime and not enough punishment, as I compelled one of my characters to say about it. And The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. But in the case of The Tin Drum I strongly suspect it was a dodgy translation. A better one might prove much more readable. Of course, that could be a factor with Crime and Punishment, too.

Script Doctoris extracts from your diary during your time as the script editor of Doctor Who during the Sylvester McCoy era, and rather a wonderful read it is too, especially for someone like me whose favourite two seasons of Who are 25 &26. There, uh, isnt really a question in there, is there? Well done, though. Good work and all that. Im a shameless suck-up.

Thank you so much. Can I fussily say it isn’t really diary extracts but a gorgeously fashioned memoir cunningly incorporating material from my diaries of the time, thus creating a rich tapestry which brings a lost era vividly to life? That’s what it says here, anyway…

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Whats the last great book you read?

The Martian by Andy Weir. Very emphatically. Thank you to the galactically groovy Lucy Kissick for turning me on to it.

Do you currently have any idea when the second Vinyl Detective novel might be released? Will it be a yearly schedule?

Yup, it will be May 2017 for the second one, entitled The Run Out Groove and May 2018 for the third, Victory Disc. Assuming the world doesn’t end, he added cheerfully.

Dyou listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasent white-noise babble? Or dyou DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.

Yes, music, absolutely and almost always. But whereas the nefarious Ben Aaronovitch will choose music specifically suited to the mood of the sequence that he’s writing, I can listen to anything providing I like it. So — a jaunty tune while fashioning a tragic death scene is not out of the question. I tend to prefer instrumental music to songs, though — often jazz or film scores; maybe even some classical (he lied, trying to sound cultured). Because sung words can interfere with the words I’m trying to conjure up in my head. Though if it’s a really good jazz singer, the words are almost abstract sounds — like an instrument being played — so they don’t interfere.

What does the long-term future hold for you? Apart from gradually succumbing to the dreadful passing of time. (Youre going to die.) But writing-career-wise, gimme the lowdown. (Seriously, youre future worm food)

What is this death you speak of? While we’re arguing the ontological toss… Well, I’m enjoying writing comics and it would be good to broaden out into that area. I’d like to write other comics titles besides Rivers of London. I’m doing some short Doctor Who strips for Doctor Who Adventures magazine (the editor there, Jason Quinn, is terrific) and indeed I’m talking to Titan about doing some ‘grown up’ Doctor Who for their comics line. And eventually it would be great to create my own comic title. In other areas, I’d like to do a bit more writing for television. I feel that is unfinished business. More than any of those things, though, I want to write some stage plays. Besides novels, I would say that is my primary ambition. On the novel front, I hope to go on crafting Vinyl Detective novels, and I have another series I’ve started (first novel written) and I’d like to see that set in motion as well. It’s also a crime series, so I’d like to do one book in each series every year — two novels a year the way Agatha Christie used to do. You might have heard of her.

THANKS, ANDREW!

Jenny Colgan Interview

Hey there, nerds! I interviewed author Jenny Colgan recently for the Genre Reader site, thought I’d share it here for you.

ENJOY:

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There are two versions of Jenny Colgan. There is ‘Jenny Colgan’, author of numerous popular romantic comedy novels, and then there’s ‘Jenny T Colgan’, who writes Doctor Who prose and audio stories, as well as the new sci-fi adventure, Resistance Is Futile; a novel that author Matt Haig has described as: ‘A riotous cocktail of action, maths geeks, and kissing.’

At least one of the two Jenny’s agreed to answer some of my questions.

‘Resistance is Futile’ is a little different to the sort of books you’re best known for, so what made you decide to tell this story? Has working on Doctor Who in prose and audio form given you the urge to branch out in this way?

JENNY: Not really; it was just an idea I really wanted to write. I grew up on films like Splash and Contact and Starman and really really wanted to do something along those lines, so I mentioned it to a couple of people and they said yes, which was awesome. Mostly when you pitch ideas people try to look interested and not check their phones then have you ejected from the building. 

I heard a whisper that one of the characters in Resistance may have been based a little on Mr Ben Whishaw… Do you often ‘cast’ your characters as you write them?

JENNY: Ha, yes it certainly is. He wasn’t anything like as famous then as he is now. Anyway yes I always cast in my head, loads of writers do. I’ve got an Owen Wilson in one series. If you go back far enough I’ve got a Justin Timberlake in the early noughties and, to my eternal shame, a Darius Danesh. 

How do you approach your novels; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a gal?

JENNY: I don’t have that thing they always do in films about writers- post its on the walls and stuff. The first few chapters are always about figuring out how it’s going to go. I keep a running planner at the bottom telling me what’s coming up, and I write the end usually at about the midpoint of the process so I know where I’m headed. 

You’ve written a Big Finish audio play starring the Tenth Doctor & Donna, how exciting is this for you on a scale from ‘Squee’ to ‘SQUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEE!!!1!’?

JENNY: Hahaha- incredibly exciting. Having to sit on it for ten months whilst they got their insane schedules co-ordinated to tape it was really hard. I literally jumped up and down with joy when I got the call. I didn’t think people actually do that, but I did. My colleague and chum James Goss found out on a train and he yelled out loud.

That was mixed in with horrible panic.  I felt like that Far Side cartoon with the guy who plays the cymbals. Fortunately Big Finish were great to work with and I had a brilliant script editor who stopped my characters pointing at everything. Also I just wanted to have Ten and Donna chatting and having a laugh in the TARDIS so they had to keep telling me to make them actually do stuff. Anyway, I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. 

I’ve actually just heard the very first little excerpt it’s here- LISTEN . I was on the DLR and for the first and only time in my life became one of those awful people who play things on their phones without headphones. 

What’s the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another author? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things? SPILL!

JENNY: Oh well I have loads of very obvious influences- Douglas Adams was a big one; Peanuts; James Heriot is a big influence on me, that essential goodness and simplicity he has I’m always striving for. And Jilly Cooper of course, she’s in every romcom writer of my generation, and Ben Elton/ Richard Curtis. I was such a Young Ones fan. And I read so much Isaac Asimov he must be in there somewhere. 

What’s the last great book you read?

JENNY: A Little Life. I know it’s critic-dividing. It’s not flawless, but I loved it despite its faults. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. 

Do you have plans to publish more books of the ‘Resistance is Futile’ ilk under the Jenny T. Colgan name?

JENNY: Yup, Sex Lives of the Superheroes is out in March. You can probably guess what it’s about 🙂 I’m just editing it now. And I have a ton of Who coming up, which has the ’T’ of course.  

How long was it between deciding to take writing seriously and your first novel being published?

JENNY: I have never taken writing seriously. 

Have you ever read a book that scared you?

JENNY: God yes of course. I’m terrible with scary books, I get frightened very easily. The first Thomas Harris scared the wick out of me. Oh, and I Am Legend. Terrifying. And if I could go back in time, I’d tell myself not to read The Road

How many abandoned novels do you have gathering digital dust on your laptop?

JENNY: Not many, I can normally recycle ideas into other things. One or two. A kid’s book that I would really like five minutes to get finished. But generally I never start on something without getting pitches approved and talking everything over. So I have a little book full of failed Who ideas (why yes it is a replica of River Song’s diary, thanks for asking), but I never launch in to stuff till we get a greenlight. 

What are you reading/watching/hiding from right now?

JENNY: I am reading the new Alex Marwood, which is actually pretty scary; the new Coroman Strike novel- you forget amongst all the crazy hype what a tremendously fun writer Jo Rowling actually is- and I am going to read the Marlon James I think. 

The last ever Peep Show inspired me to go back and watch them all from the beginning. I love them for the soap as much as the humour. And looking forward to this week’s Who, of course. It’s Sarah Dollard’s episode, and she’s tremendous.*

Name me a ‘classic’ novel that you’ve started, then not been able to get through.

JENNY: I have generally found classics are called classics for a reason; usually, they’re great. As Andy Miller says in his wonderful book The Year of Reading Dangerously: if you can’t handle Middlemarch, that’s not Middlemarch’s fault.  I read Anna Karenina last year and it was brilliant. Oh, no, I know: Victor Hugo completely defeats me.  

What was your favourite book as a kid? (No, you can’t include ‘The Joy of Sex’ that you found in your parents’ bedroom when you were nine and giggled over.)

JENNY: I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory about a billion times and now I’m reading it aloud for the third time to my youngest. It’s peerless. Also a big big Narnia fan- I’m so disappointed my boys didn’t enjoy them. I started reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader to my eldest and the first fifty pages are about slavery and public school and I couldn’t get him interested at all. He’s all about the Hunger Games, and anything jacketed vaguely like the Hunger Games. I loved What Katy Did and Ann of Green Gables too. 

D’you listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasent white-noise babble? Or d’you DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.

JENNY: I like white noise- cafes, airports. My favourite place to write is the train. I really really miss the TGV since we moved from France to the UK. I had my own seat and everything. When I’m starting a new novel I generally make an excuse to go on a long train trip somewhere. 

What does the future hold for you? Apart from gradually succumbing to the dreadful passing of time. (You’re going to die.) But immediate-writing-career-wise, gimme the lowdown. (Seriously, you’re future worm food)

JENNY: Hahah. Coming up, lots of Who stuff. I can’t remember what I can and can’t talk about so let’s just stay on the safe side and say, seriously, loads, it’s very exciting.

 I have a lovely book about a librarian coming out in February called The Little Book of Happy Ever After and Sex Lives of the Superheroes shortly after that, and I’m about to start on next year’s Christmas book, then I’m writing a novella about Syrian refugees. So. Busy. Just how I like it. 

Thanks a lot, Jenny!

You can find Jenny here: jennycolgan.com

And on Twitter here: Tweet

*This interview was given the week Face The Raven was broadcast.

And that’s that!