My Week In Writing (23/07/17)

deborah_watling_tardis_b__wDeeply saddened this week to hear of the deaths of Trevor Baxter and Deborah Watling, respectively Professor George Litefoot and Victoria Waterfield in Doctor Who. Both brilliant actors and beloved characters.

Deborah Watling played Victoria, companion to the Second Doctor, from 1967 to 1968.  All but a handful of her episodes are, very sadly, missing from the BBC archives. It’s a great pity, because in her surviving episodes Debbie is always a delight. She sparkled in every scene she was in.

Her most famous moment, a quiet scene from Tomb of the Cybermen in which the Doctor comforts her following the recent death of her father, is poingnant viewing and thoroughly recommended.

Trevor Baxter was only in one classic who serial, 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but his character went on to a second life thanks to Big Finish and their Jago and Litefoot series. I’ve listened to the first few seasons and I could swear he and his co-star Christopher Benjamin hadn’t aged a day. He was always a soft-spoken, comforting presence in his stories and I look forward to listening to the rest, bittersweet as it might be.

Other than that sad news, I’ve had a pretty normal week. I’m still waiting to hear back about my hard drive (latest news is, they were having trouble sourcing replacement parts due to some dodgy behaviour on the part of the company it was originally purchased from), so a lot of my projects are still in limbo – plus this morning I remember another story that’ll be completely gone if I don’t get my data back. (Technically three stories, but I have hard copies of two.)

I’ve skipped ahead in novel-editing, so I’ve spent this week writing some new material, namely some samples of in-universe books to use as chapter epitaphs and a new prologue consisting of a heavily edited extract from a prequel short story.

Otherwise, I’ve been working on my new project, now sitting at just under 13,000 words (minus the stuff trapped on my dead drive).

I’m still reading A Song of Stone by Iain Banks, which I’m not loving, but reserving judgement on until I’m finished.

I listened to Big Finish’s two newest Short Trips, How to Win Planets and Influence People and Flashpoint.

How to Win Planets and Influence People is the latest in a line of stories featuring Rufus Hound as Classic Who villain the Meddling Monk. I have, hm, ambivalent feelings about it. The story itself, taking the form of a lecture delivered on the subject of invading the earth, is a delight, but I’m not sold on Rufus Hound’s Monk.

The Monk was only in two TV serials and in the first one he wasn’t actually a villain. An antagonist, but a largely benevolent one – he’s essentially a well-intentioned thrill-seeker. At one point in his introductory story, he takes in and cares for an injured medieval peasant and even laments not having better medical facilities.

In his second and last appearance, he was out for revenge on the Doctor, but more of an annoyance than an actual villain.

Rufus Hound is essentially playing the Master, but slightly less evil and a bit funnier. He’s a lot of fun to listen to, but he’s not really the Monk as I’d imagine him.

Flashpoint is read by Sheridan Smith as Eighth Doctor Adventures companion Lucy Miller. No complaints on this one – it’s more or less half an hour of solid action and I had a great time.

I also listened to The Eleven, the first episode of Doom Coalition, Big Finish’s most recent Eight Doctor boxset series. I’m reserving full judgement for now, but I’ve heard good things and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

And I went to see Beyond Caravaggio at the Scottish National Gallery. Not 100% my thing – the Caravaggios themselves were all stunning, but the Caravaggioesque paintings I found less thrilling and (after a while) a bit samey. But interesting nonetheless, and I got some lovely postcards.

Next week… more job applications.

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The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 2: Part One

ccsBig Finish’s Companion Chronicles range was my gateaway drug into Doctor Who on audio – I started with 2009’s The Glorious Revolution and basically never looked back. It’s still my favourite BF range (and the one I’d most like to write for).

The monthly Companion Chronicles came to an end in June 2014, but the series has continued in the form of annual boxsets. I’m not sure how I feel about this change, to be honest – aside from anything else, so far it seems they’re only going to be making Firsst and Second Doctor era chronicles, which is a bit disappointing.

I also find the boxset approach a little samey – it makes it harder to appreciate each story as a work in and of itself.

That said, I really did enjoy last month’s First Doctor boxset. It’s a really surprising mix of stories – not only are Susan, Ian and Barbara (William Hartnell’s most iconic companions) entirely absent, a full two of the four stories are devoted to Polly Wright and Ben Jackson.

I’m more of a Second Doctor fan and Ben and Polly are more Second Doctor companions, so I was really excited to see them getting so much ‘screentime’ – they’re two of my favourite companions and sadly all bar one of their serials is wholly or partially missing from the BBC archives, so they don’t get the love they deserve.

Big Finish has done a lot to revive both characters, but as Frazer Hines – Patrick Troughton era companion Jamie Mccrimmon – generally plays the Doctor in Second Doctor releases, it’s rare to see them get an outing without Jamie and vanishingly rare to see them together with the First Doctor.

Anyway, that little fan-squee aside, here’s what I thought of the stories:

Fields of Terror by John Pritchard, starring Maureen O’Brien as Vicki:

One of my favourite things about Big Finish is the way it’s inherited Doctor Who’s educational bent. Their historical stories more often than not delve into lesser-known periods of history, and Fields of Terror takes the Doctor and friends to the War in the Vendée, one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in the French Revolution.

The story stands as a kind of spiritual sequel to the 1960s story The Reign of Terror, the events of which the Doctor refers to directly in episode one. However, I’m not sure it’s as successful as its predecessor: a big part of what makes The Reign of Terror successful is the way it challenges the Doctor’s character.

It’s stated early on that the Reign of Terror it’s the Doctor’s favourite historical period and he’s excited to be able to see it for himself. He and his friends are promptly mistaken for counter-revolutionaries and very nearly sent to the guillotine. In my opinion, it’s an important step in the First Doctor’s character arc, part of an ongoing realisation that he can’t be a mere observer in history.

Fields of Terror, while it’s a very exciting story, doesn’t have that character-driven backbone – which is a pity, because Big Finish have dealt really well with similar themes in the past.

That aside, it’s one of the creepiest Doctor Who stories I’ve experienced in a while. The events take place in a single night, moving from bloody battlefields to the claustrophobic setting of a manor house as the Doctor, Vicki and Steven are held captive by a group of French soldiers who are being pursued by something sinister.

There’s some great atmosphere and the tension doesn’t let up until the very end. I was a bit disappointed by the ultimate conclusion – I do think that not having a conventional monster was the right move here, but it still struck me as a little weak. Otherwise, though, good, scary stuff.

Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett, starring Peter Purves as Steven:

This one was absolutely the highlight of the boxset. Across the Darkened City is one of those stories that throws you in right at the deep end: Steven, separated from the Doctor and Vicki, held captive by a group of Daleks. He and his fellow prisoners attempt to escape but it goes horribly wrong, and soon Steven finds himself stranded on an especially nasty planet, with his only hope of salvation a critically wounded Dalek.

As with Fields of Terror this one does not let up until the end and Steven’s fear and exhaustion are palpable as he goes to increasingly desperate lengths to save himself and his unlikely companion.

Across the Darkened City is the newest iteration in a line of stories that ask the question: could a Dalek ever become good? The Dalek in this story is revealed early on to be a mutant, and it certainly acts strangely, allying itself with Steven and seemingly at times genuinely touched by his attempts to protect it.

Steven goes from protecting the Dalek for his own sake – it can operate the transmat that’s his only hope of getting back to the Doctor – but he can’t help but bond with it through their shared adversity. Once he starts thinking of the Dalek as an ally, he wants to protect it – it’s human nature.

Like the audience, Steven knows enough about the Daleks to know how unlikely it is, but he wants to believe it could be on his side. Listening to the story, you want to believe the Dalek could be on the cusp of real change.

As a result, when the Dalek inevitably turns on him it’s gut-wrenching. The story as a whole is, in some respects, a sobering reflection on the dangers of anthropomorphism: Steven’s mistake is projecting human feelings onto a creature that is fundamentally alien. It’s inevitable that the Dalek will want him dead, just as it’s inevitable that he’ll come to want to keep it alive. Both of them act in accordance with their natures.

The final post-credits twist ties these themes into the Second Doctor serial Evil of the Daleks, with a reveal that’s both shocking and, looking back, somehow blindingly obvious.

Well, this post went on longer than expected, so I’m going to split it in half! See you next week for The Bonfires of Vanities and Plague of Dreams.

 

 

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My Week in Writing (16/07/17)

20170706_115132I had four job interviews this week. I’ve not been up to much else. I’ve been rejected for all four of them already, so it wasn’t… the most productive week I’ve ever had. Two more coming up next week. Here’s hoping.

Still no update on the hard drive situation – if I haven’t heard by the end of tomorrow I’m going to have to get in touch and find out what’s happening.

Otherwise: I wrote a new short story, about zombies. I’m not sure about it, thematically speaking, so I should probably get some feedback pretty soon.

Still plugging away at my other projects – I only have two chapters left on my read-through of Summer and I’ve declared part one of ‘Annique’ as finished as it can be, considering that I’m missing a chunk towards the beginning.

So, since my life hasn’t been that interesting: that Doctor Who announcement!

I’m amused by how absurdly British the whole affair was – all of the articles about it just said the announcement would be made ‘after the Wimbledon finale’ because of course the whole country knows what that means. In truth, I didn’t even know it was Wimbledon season. I was told to expect it some time after six o’clock and… missed it.

But I’ve seen it now! And so far I’m deeply relieved (Kris Marshall seemed like a dead cert for a while, and I did not want that) and tentatively excited.

Jodie Whittaker wouldn’t have been my choice but I’m really, really pleased that they’ve cast a woman and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’ll bring to the role. I’m not 100% sure I trust Chris Chibnall to handle the gender change well but so far things seem hopeful.

So, here’s what I’d like to see:

  1. A Thirteenth Doctor who’s non-gender conforming. I recognise that this would be tricky to handle without making it seem like the Doctor has to be butch because their previous selves were all male, but it’s just what feels right to me for the character. Plus I was always vaguely uncomfortable with quite how feminine Missy was.
  2. A female companion. I really hope they don’t feel that they have to have male companions now the Doctor is a woman – if they want a male lead, bring back the 1960s model and give the Doctor a male and a female companion.
  3. Some kind of well-written, sensitive acknowledgement that certain things are going to be more difficult for the Doctor now that they’re gendered as a woman by the people around them.
  4. Some kind of well-written, sensitive discussion of Gallifreyan gender fluidity.
  5. Otherwise, for this to be handled exactly like any other regeneration. Big Finish did this beautifully in a recent release – it can absolutely be done.
  6. Absolutely no sexualisation of the new Doctor, and please no male love interest. If the Doctor had unambiguously been shown to be attracted to men in the past that would be okay, but given that so far all of their actual, canonical romantic interactions have been with woman, now is a really bad time to pair them up with a man. The implications would be kind of uncomfy.

So, those are my thoughts. As I said: tentatively excited. Very aware that if they mess this up it might never happen again. But mostly excited.

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My Week In Writing (10/07/17)

20170706_112145Things are getting uncomfortably busy around here. Last week I was busy almost every day with temp agency registrations and volunteering, and this week I have four job interviews, with another one offered – it’s on the same day as one of the others so I’m trying to reschedule.

I had an interview this afternoon and it went reasonably well. Tomorrow I’m off to register with yet another agency.

It’s just as well really that I haven’t been able to work properly on Summer, because I wouldn’t have had the time. As it is I’m going over it chapter by chapter, trying to decide what the theme of each chapter is. The end goal is to right an epitaph of sorts for each – it should be really cool, if I can make it work.

My other writing projects are also in an uneasy limbo. I finished a short story I was writing – only it’s presently missing a chunk from the middle, so finished might be a strong word. Fingers crossed I won’t have to write it all again. I’ve started a new short story – it’s nice to have the entirity of an ongoing project again!

My new long-form project (novel? Maybe?) is working-titled Annique and is likewise missing several thousand words early on. I think I’d be coming up on the 10k mark now, otherwise. It’s proving more violent than I anticipated. I didn’t intend for one of my leads to be a serial killer but she keeps on murdering people…

Otherwise, I’ve been reading A Song of Stone by Iain Banks and working my way through the First Doctor Companion Chronicles boxset. I’m planning a full review for Wednesday’s update – the last story seems to be going somewhere very exciting, dying to listen to part two.

My new 2-in-1 is a vast improvement on my netbook, even if it took me a while to get Windows 10 set up in a way that’s usable – I’m still trying to figure out if I can disable Cortana while it’s in tablet mode. It’s an unpleasant operating system, to be quite honest, but it’s nice having a computer to work on that runs properly.

Anyway, as I said I’m off to at least three more job interviews next week. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

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On Losing Words

The first time I lost a story, it was a physical loss. I wrote out pages and pages longhand, and then, somehow or another, ever got around to typing out more than the first paragraph. Months or even years later I opened the file and found that it wasn’t there, had never been there. I hope the original’s still out there somewhere, buried in my parent’s house, but I doubt it. I was about thirteen.

Around the same time, I remember sitting down to write a story and trying several times to get the opening passage right. I’d ball up my failed attempts and toss them towards the bin, because that seemed like the writerly thing to do, but later I got them back and smoothed them out. They weren’t something I could bring myself to just throw away. They were important.

These days when I lose writing it’s usually lest tangible than that – computer crashes or the dreaded harddrive failure, or just plain forgetting to save. All of these instances remain burned into my memory. There’s a passage of my novel that, every time I get to it, even ten redrafts later, always makes me remember the lost version, eaten when Word crashed on an old, old laptop. Writing on a computer is a double-edged sword.

You go through stages of grief – searching through autosave (denial), desperately Googling recovery solutions (bargaining), tears, regret, finally acceptance. You re-write.

I despise re-writing lost words. Occasionally (as with the novel passage above) I comee away feeling like the new version is an improvement, but more often than not I’m certain I’ve forgotten something important. Something of the original is lost forever.

My harddrive failed four days ago and I’m stuck in limbo, waiting for a missive from the recovery specialists. I can’t move on and get stuck into re-writing till they get back to me. I’m preparing myself for the worst, but I can’t shake the feeling that of course it’ll work out and I’ll get those files back. If the worst happens, it’s going to be crushing.

To take stock of what I’ve lost: three short stories I wrote last summer, of which I now have only the opening passages. Two short stories I wrote last week. Two WIPs. The most recent round of edits on my novel.

I made detailed notes on the projects I started last week as soon as I could bring myself to, so re-writing those shouldn’t be too bad. The oldest stories I remember much less clearly, and in one instance, if I don’t get it back, I have a nasty feeling it’ll be gone forever.

I’m dreading doing those novel edits again the most. They were complicated edits, involving an unpleasant degree of arithmetic and fiddling with my time line. I’m reading it a chapter or so a day, noting down when I get to a passage I’ll need to re-restructure.

Whatever happens, I’m determined not to let my new projects die. Harddrive failure is an absurd way to lose an idea.

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My Week In Writing (03/07/17)

20170630_202109Well, to lead with the bad news: my harddrive suffered a mechanical failure yesterday. It happened too quickly for me to be able to back up, so I lost a not insignificant amount of writing. I’ve sent it off for data retrieval so, keep your fingers crossed for me.

Fortunately though, most of the writing I’ve done since my last full back up was novel drafts, which I backed up on completion, so all things considered the damage is minimal!

In better news, I found out this week that my story 3.8 Missions is going to be featured in Shoreline of Infinity’s special anthology of Scottish science fiction for the Edinburgh Book Festival, which I’m very excited about. I’m going to be rubbing shoulders with some book festival authors, as well as Shoreline reprints. I feel very honoured!

This week, I’ve been taken a break from long form fiction, so I wrote two new short stories… both of which may now be gone for good. Fortunately, the two slightly longest stories I started I have at least some of and I’ve written as detailed notes as I could manage on what I’ve lost, so re-writing should be relatively easy…

I went to Hear Hare Here at the Golden Hare Bookshop, where I heard some really great poetry and picked up a very tiny book containing an essay by Phillip Pullman, an excerpt from his upcoming Daemon Voices.

I listened to the first two stories of Big Finish’s newest volume of Companion Chronicles The First Doctor: Volume Two. Fields of Terror, starring Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, is a historical, a kind of sequel to the William Hartnell serial The Reign of Terror. It’s one of the creepiest Doctor Who stories I’ve encountered in a while, delving as it does into a dark portion of French history.

Across the Darkened City, starring Peter Purves as Steven Taylor, is a Dalek story co-starring the incomporable Nicholas Briggs. In my opinion, the Daleks are at their best when their numbers are low, and this is a story that really gets that; Steven is stranded on a strange and deadly world, his only companion, and only chance of survival, an injured Dalek.

Along the way, he grapples with a question that has occupied at least three Doctor Who stories: could a Dalek ever become good? However, unlike its predecessors Across the Darkened City comes to a bleak and unsettling conclusion that’s both shocking and inevitable, with a delicious final twist that I did not see coming.

(If you listen to this boxset, be aware that Across the Darkened City is best listened to after familiarsing yourself with the Patrick Troughton serial Evil of the Daleks).

Next week, I’m planning to listen to the next half of the boxset, plus I’m going to be starting some volunteering work. And I’ve ordered a 2-in-1 tablet to replace the somewhat creaky backup laptop I’m currently reliant on, so that should be an improvement!

 

 

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Collecting Stories

TeyaI’ve been working on my Ever Present Novel on and off for over a decade now – hence the name. It’s on hold, I suppose, until I’m confident that I’m good enough to write it.

Part of what makes it so tricky is that the fantasy world where it’s set is just so big, so expansive, that it’s difficult to get in all the necessary information, to convey exactly where it is my characters live, how it fits into the wider multiverse, and what it all means.

It’s a pretty mammoth project, as I’m sure you can imagine – and so, naturally, it’s produced a lot of side stories over the years. I started writing short stories set in the same world around about 2006, and a couple of years ago I decided I might as well try and put together a formal collection.

The collection’s been slow going, seeing as it tends to take a backseat to whatever my main project is, but I have an idea in my head of its general shape. I realised pretty early on that a short story collection is just a more effective way of showing off the breadth of this world I’ve created.

Stories so far include:

  • A story about a teenage runaway who can talk to plants who moves in with a pyrokinetic street performer and experiments with magical ‘drugs’.
  • A story about a group of young aliens living in another dimension coming of age and grappling with the consequences of their world being settled by humans.
  • A story about a teenage genius whose planet is destroyed in an interdimensional war.
  • A story about a young woman from our world (or oneSnake thing very like it) who abandons her life to live in another universe, and gets her fortune told.
  • A story about a young and very talented Wizard deciding whether or not to stay part of his conservative and isolated community.

Those are the ones I’ve written or am currently writing – I have another whole folder full of old stories that need a substantial re-working.

I don’t know if it’ll ever go anywhere, but it’s an enjoyable enough project to be getting on with while I figure out where I’m going next with novel-writing.

In the mean time, here’s one of the better, um, artistic works associated with the collection!

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