STARBURST Magazine caught up with Peter Anghelides whose first novel Kursaal was published in 1998; he has just had his twelfth audio adventure Mirror released by Big Finish in their Blake’s 7 series. Peter talked about the range of projects he has been involved in.
STARBURST: Starting back in the 1990s, your first novel was pitched when you heard that the BBC was re-launching the Doctor Who novels and was accepted. What had you done before that? Had you always written but never been published?
Peter Anghelides: I was involved with fan publications in my teens, and put out a Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 fanzine called “Frontier Worlds.” Through that, I made a lot of friends, including people like Craig Hinton, Paul Cornell, Justin Richards, Gary Russell and Andy Lane. They all subsequently wrote novels for Virgin Publishing. Indeed, as far as Virgin was concerned, Paul pretty much established the credentials and credibility of writers who came from a background in fandom. I suppose Virgin was an appropriate name for such a group of talented but previously-unpublished authors.
As it happened, in the early ’90s, I also worked in the same office as Justin and Craig. I was very admiring of how they had got their Doctor Who novels published by Virgin. Probably quite jealous, too. When Andy and Justin edited a couple of the Decalog short story anthologies, they asked me to pitch ideas. I wrote “Moving On” for them, and then a non-Who story called “C9H13NO3 .”
Kursaal was pitched before you knew that the Eighth Doctor would have a companion called Sam Jones. How hard was it to adapt your pitch and were you happy with the end product?
My original proposal was written for the Eighth Doctor, and used the same approach as the TV Movie in that the Doctor arrived alone and left alone. I knew BBC Books planned to continue Virgin’s approach, which was to publish two novels per month – one Eighth Doctor and one Past Doctor. And I was pitching to them before any of the BBC novels had been announced.
I hoped to write for the Eighth Doctor, though I’d have been happy to have done one of their Past Doctor series instead. To maximise my chance of getting commissioned, I explained that my story would also suit any “Doctor-plus-single-companion” combination. Mind you, if they’d said “the Doctor’s going to be travelling with three companions and a talking cabbage,” I’d have replied instantly, “You know, I think that would also work brilliantly for my story, and here’s how...”
Anyway, I told them that I could place the story in periods of the TV series when the Doctor was not accompanied by two or more fellow travellers. I didn’t suggest any feeble excuse that one or more “missing” companion had been unfortunately locked in the TARDIS throughout. So I suggested: First Doctor plus Dodo; Second Doctor plus Jamie; Third Doctor plus Jo or Sarah; Fourth Doctor plus Sarah, Leela, Romana or Adric; Fifth Doctor plus Nyssa or Peri; Sixth Doctor plus Peri or Mel; Seventh Doctor plus Mel or Ace; Eighth Doctor plus any new BBC Books’ companion. As well as trying to offer lots of options, I suppose I was showing off a bit to people at BBC Books who I suspected may not have known a lot about Doctor Who. (Little did I know that one of them was Steve Cole. Whatever happened to him, eh?)
I’d therefore already considered how I could adapt my outline to accommodate a completely new companion, and it wasn’t too much of a chore to incorporate Sam Jones. I quite like writing things where I’m asked to incorporate specific things, anyway. It’s a writing challenge.
In your blog, The Red Lines Page …
Yes, there are others. Possibly not suitable to mention in a family magazine!
…you have your original query pitch and then various other items such as scene by scene breakdowns, all of which is of interest to any author. Do you put these posts up for posterity, as a monument to your own production process or to help others? Do they reflect the way you still write today?
“Web logs” started to become popular in the late ’90s, and I don’t recall there being a lot of them when I started writing. This was the decade before Facebook and Twitter. (Gasps of horror and disbelief from your younger readers. Some of whom probably think Facebook is already a bit old hat.)
Nevertheless, those days weren’t all writing by candlelight on a wax tablet. We had newsgroups in which people like Paul Cornell and Jon Blum and Kate Orman and Steven Moffat would discuss writing. Some people even had their own websites, lovingly hand crafted in HTML. Gary Russell had an interesting site that contained helpful advice and information.
I’d found all that free stuff useful for my writing. And I’m vain enough that I like talking about myself and what I do. So I thought, why not try “paying it forward” and publish stuff about my own experience of writing? If it’s helpful, that’s OK. And if it’s not, well, I enjoyed writing it anyway. Sometimes you write stuff just because it’s fun, and not because you get paid for it. (Who do I invoice for this by the way?)
Anyway, I set up a web site where I published all my original proposals for novels and audios and short stories, plus information about the writing process, and summaries of all the reviews I’d read of my stuff – good, bad, or indifferent, it didn’t matter. One or two reviewers emailed to say they were a bit cross about having rude parts of their reviews quoted, which just made me laugh.
When my web host changed, I decided it was easier to start again on a new blog and move stuff across when I had time. I picked WordPress as the least painful popular free platform. I’ve started to republish some of the website stuff again at anghelides.org. Though I am a lazy blogger, and I don’t do it as much as I used to. Never mind, there are plenty of bright young things doing new and interesting stuff instead of me.
You’ve written a number of books and several short stories for Doctor Who and other ranges, amongst which is Torchwood. How did that come about?
It turns out that “paying it forward” wasn’t just a help to other people, it was a help to me, too! BBC Books needed to find me when they were launching the Torchwood novels to accompany the new TV series, and they found my contact details (like you did!) on my website. I think I have Gary Russell to thank, too, because he was working on the TV series and had suggested a number of plausible candidates to BBC Books for the new novels.
That whole experience was brilliant. I’ve had the great good fortune that people have asked me to do a number of “firsts” in my writing… the first Eighth Doctor audio book for BBC Audio, the first Tenth Doctor audio story read by David Tennant, the first full-cast Blake’s 7 audio...
It’s a privilege, and also very flattering, to be entrusted with such things. How fantastic was that, then – to be writing the first Torchwood novel, and working with Andy Lane and Dan Abnett before Torchwood had even aired on TV? We were writing them as they were making that first series. The novel has been released as an audio book, skilfully adapted by Joe Lidster and read by John Barrowman. And translated into German by Susanne Döpke. There’s even a Hungarian version.
You’ve also written several audio scripts, not just Doctor Who and Torchwood but also Sarah-Jane and Blake’s 7. How do you find writing for audio compared to novels and short stories?
Audio scripts are a lot shorter, for one thing, so it’s possible to draft them faster, then iterate more frequently and extensively if necessary. With a novel or short story you have an editor providing input, whereas audio continues to be a varied collaborative effort all the way through the process – producer, script editor, director, the performances in the studio, and finally the edit with the sound effects and score. Novel writing is painting pictures in words for your readers, whereas audio scripts are providing the guidance for a performance. And while characters do talk to each other at times in a novel, an audio script is principally dialogue.
Now those are wild generalisations, of course. You can incorporate interior dialogue and narration into an audio, and you can have conventional dialogue sequences in a novel – especially one that is inspired by a TV series. But the common element of both is having a compelling story, interesting characters, and staying true to the spirit of the franchise without slavishly copying it.
In 2013 Big Finish released Warship which was the first full cast adventure for the original Blake’s 7 cast. If that weren’t enough of a challenge it also plugged a massive gap in the show’s canon. Did you approach this differently from other stories and was this part of the show’s history you always wanted to tackle?
I’ve loved Blake’s 7 since it was first broadcast – round about the same time that I was also a huge, huge fan of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. I watched Blake’s 7 from the opening episode, and celebrated it in that fanzine I mentioned earlier.
When Big Finish asked me to write Warship, I suppose I was a bit conflicted at first. On the one hand, like any contemporary fan, I always wanted to know what happened at the end of the second series that meant Blake and Jenna were no longer in the third. On the other hand, some of the magic of any series lies within those gaps that fans like to fill for themselves with personal theories they don’t want contradicted. And on the third, Andromedan hand, how could I possibly resist the opportunity to write the first full-cast audio for the actors I’d loved in the original series?
Even so, despite my geekish continuity credentials as a longstanding fan, I researched the gap by re-watching the entire series. I did a load of research to remind myself and confirm my thoughts. Plus, it was a great excuse to watch those original stories again. I sheepishly confess that I watched several sequences where I could spout the dialogue in sync with the actors. In the end, I devised an exciting story in the style of the TV series that fits the continuity. Most listeners seemed to agree. Except for those whose pet theories I contradicted, obviously.
(Yes, I know we didn’t see any Blake’s 7 Andromedans with three hands. And they weren’t named as Andromedans, either.)
Of all the ranges you’ve written for so far do you have a favourite and how do you as a writer view their differences?
That’s like asking a parent which child they love best! (If my sons are reading this, then obviously I love you best. Yes, you. Don’t tell your brother.)
I have honestly loved writing all of them – whether Doctor Who audios for Big Finish, or Torchwood novels for the BBC, or Sarah Jane Adventures for AudioGo, or original fiction for Virgin. I seize opportunities I’m offered by people who I enjoy working with, to write about characters I love, for people who enjoy those TV series as much as I do.
Without breaking any confidences can you let us know what you’re working on at the moment or at least give us some clues?
It’s bad luck to discuss stuff that hasn’t actually been commissioned, and it’s bad manners to mention anything that has been commissioned but not announced.
I once made the mistake of telling people that I was writing a Big Finish script for the first series of Tom Baker Doctor Who audios – the opening one (another first!) set on Nerva Station. They kindly invited me to pitch. I did several detailed drafts and revisions, including a four-part version and a two-part alternative. But in the end they weren’t happy enough to commission it.
I’d already pitched things for some of the earlier attempts by BBC Audio and Big Finish to bring Tom Baker stories to audio. This time I really thought it was going to happen, and I felt utterly wretched to miss out. Well, “miss out” is probably a bit misleading – nothing is ever a done deal until the contract is signed, and the recording is complete. That’s why Big Finish – quite rightly – doesn’t tend to announce anything until the studio work is complete. I’ve had other things turned down, of course – that’s not unusual for writers, and you need to be resilient. But I’ve never felt as devastated as on that occasion.
So I’m not going to tempt fate, or upset anyone, by saying or hinting anything. Sorry!
Is there a show you’d like to write for but haven’t?
Each new incarnation of the Doctor is like a new show, and so I would relish the chance to write something for the Twelfth Doctor. I’d quite fancy writing a novel about a pre-Jack Torchwood. I enjoyed Firefly and a lot of Fringe, so those would have been fun.
I persevered with the recent revamped version of The Tomorrow People, and thought that had potential before they humanely destroyed it after one series. I liked some of its set-up, but kept thinking that I could write better dialogue. Which is a very different motivation to, say, writing for Blake’s 7, where we all aspire to write dialogue as characteristic and compelling as original TV writers Terry Nation and Chris Boucher. I feel I’ve got it right if I sit in the recording studio chuckling as Michael Keating (Vila) is performing my dialogue. Yes, I’m afraid I do that.
Beyond writing you have a day-job: how do you juggle your time and do you keep the two worlds separate?
Writing is a hobby I get paid for – and one should always make time for the things one loves. But I can’t compromise my day job, because I really enjoy that, too. In the past, I’ve made time in a variety of ways. It may involve booking holiday from work. Sometimes it’s writing during early mornings and/or evenings or weekends. Other occasions I’ve been able to write when on a plane to a business meeting, or in the hotel.
I treat every writing commission with the seriousness of my regular job, of course – because publishers, distributors, directors and so on all rely on a professional text being delivered on time and to specification. Hmm… that perhaps makes it sound rather dry and dull. Whereas, of course, it is a fabulous and privileged opportunity to add to the franchises that inspired me to write in the first place.
And, finally, if you had the chance to travel on the Liberator or work at Torchwood which would you choose and why?
Both have a pretty high mortality rate, don’t they? I think I’d take a risk on Torchwood, because the adventure tends to come to Cardiff and I could still pop home occasionally on Bank Holidays to see friends and family. Because Weevils obviously like a long weekend as much as anyone.
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