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Unmade

Hello to everyone who signed up since the last newsletter.  If you'd like to take a look at previous newsletters, the archive of all editions is here.  

I've finally got to the edition of this newsletter that I've promising for so long!  Further down, you'll find the story of my unmade Doctor Who TV scripts.  Yes, I have been using it as a lure to call you all toward this newsletter.  Next week I get to see how many of you stay afterwards!  

It's been a very good week.  I finished up the thriller novel, to my agent's satisfaction, and she's now shopping it around to potential buyers.  I'm excited in a 'there is nothing more I can do to help!' way.  Low Chicago came out (see below).  I got good notes back from my manager about the spec pilot script for US television, and have started the second draft.  The comics pitch is just awaiting compilation, and I've got an important phone call next Tuesday concerning the reason for this newsletter's existence, the Kickstarter plan that will allow me to complete a project that's very important to me. 

Now, please don't think this newsletter is suddenly going to become an infomercial.  All the regular content will continue (I've just worked out how long the 'looking back at my old Who projects' section is due to run for, and it's staggering).  It's just that one big section will be given over to trying to interest you in getting behind this particular project, and about spreading the word.  

But before we do anything else, it's time for this week's news. (And yes, the first item uses some material from last week, but don't worry, you're not trapped in Groundhog Day, it's just that lots of new folk joined between then and now, and there's only so many ways to say the same thing.) 

Low Chicago is out now!
The new Wild Cards anthology, Low Chicago, edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass, is out now.  I've got a story in there, 'A Bit of a Dinosaur'.  This 'mosaic novel' (a bunch of stories by different authors that all add up to one narrative, like a season of a TV show), sees various of the super heroes of the Wild Cards universe flung from a high stakes poker game into the timestream, to land at random at different points in history.  It's a good introduction to who everyone is, hence a good place for new readers to start.  My story features my character (every author in the collective owns the characters they created), Abigail Baker, sometimes known as The Understudy, a young actor who picks up other peoples' superpowers randomly, like wi-fi.  This time, she's sent back to prehistoric times, where she encounters some so-far unrevealed Wild Cards backstory, which I'm delighted to have been given the chance to play with.  To new readers, it should just be fun, but those who've been reading along may boggle a bit at the implications.  Abigail, as always, would much prefer not to be going through any of it.  Barnes and Noble have named Low Chicago as one of their Best SFF Books of JuneHere's George talking about the book.  I think it's a gorgeous group effort.  Do check it out.  

To celebrate the release, Tor.com have put up this fun quiz: Are you an Ace or a Joker?  It lets you, dear reader, work out what your fate would be in the world of Wild Cards.  Let's just say that when I did it, things didn't work out so well for me.

Here's the official blurb for the book: 

‘The stakes where already high enough at Giovanni Galante’s poker table that night in Chicago.  Poker.  Dealer’s choice.  Seven players.  A million-dollar cash buy-in.  But after a superpowered mishap, the most high profile criminals in the city are scattered throughout the past and their schemes across time threaten the stability of the world in the latest Wild Cards adventure.  Perfect for current fans and new readers alike, Low Chicago is an all-new time travel adventure, featuring a fresh cast of characters from the Wild Cards universe.  Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling authors George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass, Low Chicago features the writing talents of Saladin Ahmed (author of the bestselling comic Black Bolt), Paul Cornell (screenwriter, Doctor Who), Marko Kloos (author of the bestselling Frontlines series), John Jos. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in MotionThe Stars Change), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Award finalist Christopher Rowe, and Melinda M. Snodgrass (screenwriter, Star Trek). “Martin has assembled an impressive array of writers.  Progressing through the decades, Wild Cards keeps its momentum.”―Locus.’

 
Cover by Michael Komarck.
Hammer House of Podcast does Dracula!
Out now (and on the 13th of every month) is the latest edition (#6) of Hammer House of Podcast, in which Lizbeth Myles and I, journeying through every Hammer horror movie, this time with special guest Marcus Hearn (Hammer’s official historian) talk about Dracula (1958)!  (Or Horror of Dracula, if you're in the USA.)  As I reveal, Dracula is really like a cat with a cardboard box.  There's lots of Peter Cushing love, as always.  And we discover yet another word I can't pronounce.  If you'd like to sign up as a Patron, for any sum of money, you get an entire extra podcast every month, on the 27th, with us watching all the Amicus portmanteau movies, and taking Patron requests!  
(That's a date stamp on her shoulder.)
Me and Katy Manning on a Sofa
The pre-show video that the Yogscast made for Twitch's ongoing classic Doctor Who marathon, with myself, Katy Manning and Billy Garratt-John telling Matt Toffolo's boss about the Third Doctor, now has a permanent home.  Watch me duck Katy's hand gestures and open my mouth a lot.  

While the streaming event remains a thing of joy and beauty, recent happenings in the chat have made it a notch less idyllic, as various commenters attempt to shout down anyone pointing out the racist elements of classic Who.  Martin Belam has an excellent piece about this here.  As he says: "But when I say 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' is racist, I’m not saying that you are a racist for watching it.  Or that you are racist for saying that it is a great example of a gothic horror Doctor Who story.  I’m not saying the cast and crew went out of their way to intentionally create something offensive.  But it is full of racist tropes, and arguing that they aren’t there, or that we shouldn’t acknowledge that, isn’t the way forward for fandom."  

I couldn't have put it better myself.  And while we're on the subject of social justice in Doctor Who fandom, here's another excellent piece, this one by the Time Ladies, on gender equity in the show.  Both pieces cover much the same ground: that classic Doctor Who fandom clearly wants to be as liberal as the show is, but that fandom doesn't quite realise how far it still has to travel to achieve that.  
The women of current Doctor Who
Whooverville X
I've been announced as a guest at Whooverville X, the Doctor Who convention in Derby on 1st September.  It's a long time since I've done a UK Who convention, but I really like organiser Steve Hatcher, and I thought that I ought to give more people a chance to get Twice Upon a Time signed, and I was a bit intrigued.  Great to be on the same bill with people like Michelle Ryan and David Warner.  Do pop along if you can.  They also have a Facebook event page.  

And I'm one of twenty(!) Guests of Honour for CONvergence's twentieth anniversary celebration next month!  (This is my favourite non-Gallifrey convention in the world, and, I think, the best.)  You can see my schedule here.  (It's so packed, I can only assume every panel has a GoH.)
It's called that because the group organising it are the Derby Whoovers. 
Comic Con Meet Up?
I'm mulling over whether or not to hold a meet-up for followers of this newsletter at San Diego Comic Con.  If anyone would be interested in having a get-together, drop me a line at webcornell@gmail.com  I don't know how much the newsletter readers and the Comic Con audience cross over, but even if it's just ten people, it might be fun.  Let me know!
My Week
Well, this time round you've heard about my work week above, but it's also been a great week for my son Tom, a five year old autistic boy.  (He says, filling in the new readers.)  We we rather dreading, last Friday, taking him along to the ophthalmologist, because we knew there were going to be eye drops that stung a bit before she tested his vision.  But he was great!  He said 'I do not like it' when the first one went in, but accepted the second one, then hung around and played for half an hour, his pupils getting bigger and bigger ('can you stop the eyes?' he asked, having a little spaced out experience), then went back in and had lights shined in his eyes, even holding up the lenses, and playing along with a really wonderful doctor, for whom this was obviously not her first autistic rodeo.  (I am now imagining an autistic rodeo.  'No, I stayed on for 8.12459 seconds.'  Very gentle applause from the crowd.)  He was even happy to be taken back to school afterwards.  Him surprising me positively like that makes me happy for the whole day.  

He also participated this week, with help from his wonderful teaching assistant, Charlie, in his school sports day.  He abandoned the sack in the sack race, ran off diagonally across another race during the hold a quoit run, and really did not qualify for the teamwork award when, during the relay egg and spoon, he ran off with the spoon.  But at least he had a go, had fun, and got to feel that he was part of the school.  And the other pupils were lovely to him as always.  (I've noticed that two friends of his, in particular, Callum and James, will put their own hands over their ears when he does it, and warn him about noisy buses approaching on the walk to school.)  
'Make sure to give the next person the spoon, okay?'
I've been reading a very good book about Tom's situation.  It's Autism: How to Raise a Happy Autistic Child by Jessie Hewitson.  It includes a lot of interview material with adult autistic people, and has let me into Tom's viewpoint more than anything else has.  I now take interference on radio channels, wet hair, and too many people singing at once with the same seriousness my little boy does.  

Tom very much enjoys his special needs gymnastic sessions on a Wednesday evening, and BEAM, the organisation that runs them, have set up an interesting sponsorship option: they have an Amazon wish list, for items of immediate use, from cones to gym equipment to coffee provision.  If you've enjoyed hearing about Tom, and feel you'd like to help, this is how.  And thanks so much if you do.  
If you're in my situation, I really can't recommend it highly enough.
My Who History #2A: 'An Incident Concerning the Continual Bombardment of the Phobos Colony'. 
This is a series where, gig by gig, I talk about my professional encounters with Doctor Who.  And this week I have a confession to make.  I forgot about one!

Since I also used the wrong heading on one of these series entries a couple of newsletters ago, I feel I should now indicate what the proper order for these pieces should be:

#1: 'Stairway to Heaven'.
#2: 'Teenage Kicks'.
#3: 'An Incident Concerning the Continual Bombardment of the Phobos Colony'.
#4: 'The Chameleon Factor'.
#5: 'Seaside Rendezvous'.
#6: Timewyrm Revelation.

Nobody else cared about that, did they?  Well, Tom got his genes from somewhere.  I'm indebted to the TARDIS Date Core for reminding me this existed.  'An Incident Concerning the Continual Bombardment of the Phobos Colony' was the second short story (in the 'Brief Encounters' slot) I sold to John Freeman at Doctor Who Magazine, and appeared five issues after 'Teenage Kicks', in #168, December 1990 (it's never been collected).  It's a tiny thing about Davros despising the emotions of the human drones he's surgically altered, and I haven't been able to find it to re-read, but I remember it now as rather in your face and intense.  

It's also the subject of a formative and nasty memory.  Around that time, I went along to a one day Doctor Who convention, themed around the Daleks.  A couple of Who actors were guests there, and part of the schedule was that they'd perform this story of mine.  Now, I think I'd have been pretty excited about this.  I'd only just had my first play on BBC2, and apart from a couple of things at college, that was the only time I'd heard actors speaking my dialogue.  

The actors took the piss.  They read the story in funny voices, and got laughs from the crowd.  And there I am, standing there in the wings, hunched up in my big black coat, learning the lessons.  One: I wasn't going to let anyone use my work outside of a professional context without having my hands very much on the steering wheel.  That's why, to this day, if you want me to take part in a comedy sketch at a convention, I'll want to see the script before hand, I'll rewrite my lines, and if it's no good I won't do it.  Two: I'm bloody careful around actor guests.  Three, and this is the most important: if the story had had a deliberate joke near the start of it, if it had indicated that it had a sense of humour about itself, they wouldn't have been able to do that.  They'd have hit that line, made that joke, that laugh would have been mine, and they might then have taken the rest of the story seriously.  

I'm not going to name them.  There's no point blaming them.  Maybe most actors seeing a story cold like that, and looking to entertain by any means necessary, would have done the same.  Also, I have a terrible feeling that as soon as I name them, a Who fan audience will find immediate reasons to excuse them, for services previously rendered.  

It was, as a learning experience, excellent.  It also gave me the willpower to leave a convention early.  Next month we continue with something equally obscure.  To the point where I'll have to do research.  But coming up next is the opposite to these features, where I finally talk about the stuff that didn't get made.  
Artist unknown, but it looks like Phil Bevan's style. 
My Unmade Doctor Who
So, for many years I didn't talk at all about having had other opportunities, after 'The Family of Blood', to work on televised Doctor Who.  But the truth is, I did have, and the willingness of other writers, like Jamie Mathieson, to now start talking about their unmade episodes has made me think I should do the same.  I'm pretty certain no harm can be caused by it now, not to my own ego (because I don't feel I've failed in what I've done since), but, more importantly, not to others.  

I want to offer some context first, and make a request.  I can imagine the tweets that might be generated by this piece, from people who enjoy my work, along the lines of 'to think we could have had- ' and, even worse, 'instead of -!'  I would be very hurt to see anything like that, because it rather denies my identity as a professional (that is to say, I knew the risks), and I'm only writing this piece because I feel I can do it without hurting any of my fellow writers, or the showrunners involved.  After this piece, you'll have in your head a vision of some Who stories made with the perfect performances, lines and special effects that only your imagination can provide.  What wasn't made will always win over what was actually made in contests like this, and that's extremely unfair, because what wasn't made doesn't have to get on the playing field with harsh reality.  I wasn't ill-treated, picked on or unfairly squeezed out.  I had my shot, a few of them in fact, and it didn't work out.  That's entirely my own fault.  Please don't moan on my behalf. 

When Steven Moffat took over as showrunner of Doctor Who, he immediately indicated to me that he'd like me to submit a script.  (Russell, at his enormous, and self-funded, leaving party had kindly told me that he'd have had me back also.)  We'd always talked casually about an adaptation of my New Adventure novel Love and War, but, if we did that again at this point, the chat swiftly moved on to me adapting instead my Doctor Who short story 'The Hopes and Fears of All the Years' (the link takes you to the complete story), which had been published by The Daily Telegraph for Christmas 2007.  In that story, a little boy is visited by the Tenth Doctor every Christmas, because the Doctor knows he will, during one Christmas, save the boy's life.  It charts the life story of the boy, then the man, through regular visits on the same day.  

Of course, it couldn't be set at Christmas, because I wasn't going to get the Christmas special, so we chose the boy's birthday.  I set about working on a script for Matt Smith's first season.  After many different titles, it settled into being known as 'Fear Itself'.  It was always going to be about the Doctor witnessing a person's whole life through visiting them on the same day, their birthday, every year, in order to protect them from something.  The nature of that threat, though, kept changing.  I never found one that truly satisfied everyone.  And that, along with the cost of depicting the changing life circumstances of the boy (this was a script that included two World Wars, each for one scene), was what I think finally sank it.  Here are a few pages from draft six, the last I have in my files, which, I think, give a feeling of what it was about.
I'm startled, now I see those again, that I called the boy Tom.  The script got as far as meetings about casting, with some big names being discussed for the part of the older Tom.  I remember that I'd been told to sideline Amy Pond, who at this point in the season was recovering from something inside the TARDIS, allowing the Doctor to spend a day or so of his time appearing at every birthday in Tom's life, and letting whoever would be cast as Amy have a week off.  (I think that whole storyline may have been set aside, or might have something to do with what became the episode 'Amy's Choice'.)  

But then, suddenly, everything cooled, and I got a phone call telling me my story had been shelved for this season, and would instead be part of Matt Smith's second year.  In the run up to that production year, I waited to hear, started to fear the worst, and went on a miserable holiday where I kept falling off boats into Scottish lochs.  I cut short the holiday because I was getting too tense, and finally got a call telling me the production office had decided not to move forward with the script.  (Here's where I have to again say this is all fair enough.  If I'd wanted to get it made, I should have worked harder, made it better.  The production office aren't responsible for me falling off boats.)

During that summer, I heard (and you're never going to know how I heard) that one element of the story was going to show up in televised Doctor Who, in Matt Smith's first Christmas special, 'A Christmas Carol'.  It ends up being quite a minor part of the show, but it's definitely there.  The Doctor visits a small boy every Christmas.  The production office had paid for my script, indeed they'd been quite generous, so it's entirely ethical that a story can be used for spare parts like this.  Indeed, I was quite fortunate on this occasion to have been paid.  How many times has televised Who, after all, consciously or unconsciously, stripped the New Adventures for plot details?  Still, I was quite angry at the time.  (Prospective writers reading this: this is the kind of thing that's going to happen to you.  If it doesn't appeal, other careers are available.) 

I still like 'Fear Itself'.  It's the one complete Who story idea I've had that I feel I haven't been able to fully tell.  But I don't feel I could pitch it as a novel or something, not right now.  I think it's the one I'll leave until I'm old and want to tie everything up with a bow.  

At the time, I felt that I'd had my chance to be a Who television writer, long term, and I'd blown it.  (I still feel that a little, but it doesn't trouble me nearly so much.)  But then, a few years later, I got to have another go.  

Caroline was driving, and I was in the passenger seat, when I got an email from my then TV agent, saying that a Doctor Who script editor wanted to get in touch.  This turned out to be the wonderful Derek Ritchie.  He and fellow incoming Script Editor Richard Cookson had been tasked with finding writers for Peter Capaldi's first season, and he'd decided to reach out to me.  He was going to be accompanying a friend to Fantasycon, and maybe we could meet up?  

Needless to say, I spent Fantasycon both enjoying Derek's company and making sure he had the best possible time.  He wasn't there in his official capacity, just helping out an author friend who had a book out.  I liked him a lot.  He invited me along to a pitch session, to which I was to bring a page or so of one paragraph ideas.  

I went along to a meeting with Steven and several other execs, to which I pitched, I think, three things.  There was something about 1920s aviators meeting creatures who lived in the clouds.  One idea was about a community of vampires living peacefully in London, and involved Clara getting turned into one.  (I'd been very impressed with Jenna Coleman in the previous season.)  Steven in these meetings is something to behold, taking onboard what's offered and immediately replying with your idea turned inside-out, having had three better plot beats bolted on.  I was told to develop the vampire thing further, but with the Doctor as the vampire, in a sort of inverse 'Human Nature', going with the idea that this was to be a Doctor who couldn't quite be trusted.  Also, we persisted with, yet again, the idea of adapting Love and War as a two-parter.  Steven mentioned, however, that I'd have to stay clear of things bursting out of graves, because, I think, he already knew how that first Capaldi season was going to end.  

Needless to say, none of the plots were selected to be made into episodes, but I now felt a hell of a lot better about Doctor Who, that I'd now given it a proper shot.  And everyone was very kind about the ideas.  A while later, I was asked to try a few more plots, and came up with one, 'Pride and Prejudice and Daleks', set in the Land of Fiction, that I was told was rather close to a script being planned by another writer, so they paid me for my ideas in case they wanted to use them.  (See how much better things had become?  I feel free to mention this one now because I'm pretty sure that other writer's script isn't now going to be made.)

And that's the whole story.  It feels good to be reminded that it ended for me on an upbeat, and it feels good to have it all in the open.  Steven and I have never talked about any of the above, because as far as either of us are concerned, there's nothing to talk about.  We both did our jobs.  I'm glad I was able to repay Derek's kindness a couple of years later, when, at Gallifrey One, I got him a long sit-down with Terrance Dicks. 

Along the way, I did meet an Executive Producer, Caro Skinner, who I liked a lot, and who I was going to work with on another Doctor Who project that didn't end up being made, an entire series, in fact, that got very close to production.  But that's a story for the next time I want to lure new readers to my newsletter!  
Introducing... Mike Crook!
This is the seventh of my regular series spotlighting unpublished creators.  I still need to hear from more of those, especially creators of colour and of an LGBTQ+ nature.  If you're doing creative work, but have never been paid for it by anyone else (that is to say, you may have sold your work directly to consumers, but nobody else has commissioned you), drop me a line at webcornell@gmail.com Go on, give it a shot!  

Today the spotlight is on Mike (or M.S.) Crook, a self-published SFF novelist and short story writer.  Here's what he has to say:

"I'm an almost-40, mid-life crisis denying, digital marketer by day.  In my spare time I'm a geocacher and father of two (not in priority order - honest).  It probably goes without saying that I’m a big Doctor Who fan.  I discovered the show just in time being only 10 in 1989, and the New Adventures novels helped me through the wilderness years.

Oh, and yes, I’m also an aspiring writer who has a few writing projects on the go.  Don’t we all?!  Working in technology, the thought that technological progress is almost always fleeting and often destructive to history, plays on my mind.  My first of three planned novels, Phoebe Fortune and the Pre-destination Paradox, extrapolates that thought in a very literal sense.  It’s about a future technology that, in greedy and neglectful hands, could lead to the very tearing up of the past…  'Phoebe’s an inventor.  Well, not yet.  Her invention changed the world.  Well, not yet.  For centuries people have been disappearing and it has something to do with Phoebe’s actions.  Well, not yet.'

You can find me on Twitter (I tweet regularly mostly about writing and Geocaching - often combining the two) and Facebook (where I need to try a bit harder).

I’ve provided a free download of a short story ('Ghost Plane Over Tuffington') that I originally wrote with the intention of including it in my first novel but I edited it out (along with 34,000 other words) for reasons of tone and narrative flow.  I’ve now spent time rewriting the story to make it standalone.  I hope you like it."

Thank you, Mike.  I hope this is another step along the way for you.  
Mike Crook.
To Be Continued
Phew, that's a weight off my mind!  Wish me luck with all the big projects that are hanging in the air right now, and I hope you'll be back next time for more of the same.  (No, come back!)  

Thanks for joining me, and I hope I'll see you next Friday.  
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