Chalk is a Locus Awards Finalist!

Hello to everyone who signed up since the last newsletter.  In this edition, I start my series charting my professional Doctor Who gigs.  I'm interested in talking about how they came about, and what my world was like at the time.  We begin, below, in 1989!

If you'd like to take a look at previous newsletters, the archive of all editions is here.  

But hey, I'm excited by my big news this week: my novel Chalk is a finalist in the Locus Awards!  It's in the YA category, which isn't how the book was marketed, but I think it's apt.  It's the audience a novel about school bullying should reach out to.  I think it's my best work, and it's definitely my most personal, and I'm delighted that it's been recognised.

The Locus Awards are voted for by the general SF-reading public online, though subscribers to Locus Magazine get two votes each.  It's one of those awards where the result is already known to the organisers, the Finalists being, in effect, the top ten after the votes have been counted.  (You can see all the categories and finalists here.)  The category I'm in contains friends and heavy hitters like Philip Pullman, Frances Hardinge, Nnedi Okorafor and Garth Nix, so I very much doubt I've won.  The results are revealed at the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle on June 22nd-24th.  I've been to one of those, and it's the most laid-back awards ceremony in the world, with Connie Willis running a game show, and everyone dressed in Hawaiian shirts.  Good luck to everyone nominated, and, above all, if you voted for me, thanks very much! 
Wild Cards News
My AMA at Reddit last Saturday went really well.  Lots of great questions (you can read the whole thing here), a bunch of my fellow Wild Cards writers showed up, and so many people mentioned how much they liked Shadow Police or Saucer State, which made me feel ridiculously pleased with myself.  And I got to underline the point of the exercise, which was to promote the forthcoming Wild Cards anthologies I have stories in: Low Chicago and Knaves Over Queens.  

(If you're new to Wild Cards, the super hero prose series edited by George R.R. Martin, there's a great primer at the official website. I'm a proud member of the Collective that contributes to this shared world.)

If you're in the USA, you can buy, for a limited time, an ebook bundle of the Wild Cards books Fort Freak (in which I have a story), High Stakes and Lowball for a special low price.  They're a great jumping in point.  As are the forthcoming anthologies.  

And there's a new Wild Cards story up at, free to read, 'The Flight of Morpho Girl' by Caroline Spector and Bradley Denton.  
Artwork by John Picacio. 
Audible Narrators Interviewed
Here's a lovely thing.  You know I have an SF story, 'A Conclusion' in one of the new Audible audio short story anthology, Jali?  (The book and its two companion volumes, Bard and Skald are free to all Audible subscribers, and to those who sign up for a 30 day trial, but so far only in the UK, alas.)  Well, here's a video of some of the narrators being interviewed.  Included is Damian Lynch, who can be seen reading 'A Conclusion', and also, Who fans, Annette Badland!  These audiobook originals are such a great idea, and, if you're an Audible subscriber, literally a gift.  Do check them out.  
Fairford Festival of Fiction

If you're anywhere near the Cotswolds on June 2nd, you might want to pop along to the 2nd Fairford Festival of Fiction, where Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who, Sherlock) headlines a bill that also includes Matthew Graham (Life on Mars, Doctor Who), crime writer Sarah Hilary, poet Chrissy Williams and Children's Author Ross Montgomery.  It's £8 for the whole day, I'm organising it, and we have about 50 tickets left.  You can buy online with Eventbrite here.  (And there should be Daleks in the parade around the town, plus the wider Fairford Festival with beer tents, bands, stalls, etc, going on at the same time.  It's a great day out.)  

It's quite a lovely logo, isn't it?  
My Week

The cricket practice we were going to take our five year old son Tom to last Friday evening was rained off (just resolving that very tiny cliffhanger for those of you who were here last week).  Tom did that day, however, take part in a sponsored bouncy castle bounce, and was recorded as having completed... 158 jumps in two minutes.  That's faster than a jump a second.  We looked at the certificate, boggled, and asked his teacher, who told us he was literally vibrating.  We may have found a sport for him.  

Tuesday was big day for the little guy.  He had his first dental appointment.  (With a specialist paediatric dentist.)  She did little more this time than get him to wear a mask, handle a mirror and look into Daddy's mouth.  She was very good at calming him, had a nurse Tom loved on sight, and got him enthused for going back next week for a more detailed examination.  Tom was very well behaved.  We're told that, with his condition (Tom being on the autistic spectrum) dentistry is going to be hugely about prevention, but that he looks to be fine right now.  (We've always known that explaining forthcoming dental work to him would be very tough, so we've limited the sugar to treats.)  That same day we had his Team Around the Child (TAC) meeting at school, where his teachers talked with us about the various approaches we're taking to gently push him into new situations despite his autism.  They were happy and enthused about his progress.

Unfortunately, as is the way with these things, the next day was Tom's worst school day ever.  He got sent to the Headmistress, even.  The most he could tell us about what went wrong (Tom talks about himself in the third person) was: 'And then Tom went into the playground.  But he didn't walk.  There was rain dropped on his head.  He was scared.  The thunder roared and the lightning flashed.  So he ran.  He sat on chair.  He was naughty.'  There wasn't a storm, so the best we can come up with as to why he spent the afternoon screaming, lashing out, and... butting his own head against the wall (I find it hard to even write that) was that he heard a sudden noise he thought was thunder.   

So he lost his Cbeebies and Thomas the Tank Engine video-watching privileges, and we had some serious conversations about making better choices.  But that evening he went along to the special needs gymnastics group we've signed him up with, and for the first time he looked forward to it, and participated hugely, with no problems.  He also had a great school day yesterday.  This is the rollercoaster of having a child on the spectrum.  (I should emphasise for new readers that Tom is normally happy and charming.  That's what made that day so shocking.  I should also emphasise that yes, I often overshare this hugely, but it's confined to this section of the newsletter.)

My work life this week has been very satisfying.  I've been writing, and am now half way through, a draft spec script for a TV show pilot, on a historical subject.  It's been immensely gratifying to get back into the business of scripting, and to feel my way through a first episode, drawing on lots of research.  Yesterday I cut six pages, but they needed to be cut.  In the early hours this morning I woke up, went to my office, and wrote down a list of new scenes that still made sense when I wrote them up this morning.  Times like this are what a writer lives for.  It'll be great to end up with something I can shop around, and show off to writers' rooms and the like.  (And yes, I am still waiting to hear about the thriller novel.) 

Today, on Caroline's day off, we're going to see Avengers: Infinity War at a daytime showing.  That's another thing I love about being a freelancer.  

My Who History. #1: 'Stairway to Heaven'. 
This is the start of a series where, gig by gig, I talk about my professional encounters with Doctor Who.  We have to start quite a long time ago. 

In the 1980s, I was a prolific Doctor Who fan fiction writer, with stories published in fanzines like Cygnus Alpha, Queen Bat, Paradise Lost, etc.  In 1984, I entered a story contest run by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's fiction fanzine, Cosmic Masque.  The story was called 'Weekend Man', it was about the Fifth Doctor (I think) encountering an alien that seemed to be building a stairway for no good reason during its very short lifespan.  The story won the contest.  So I got a prize (I can't remember what) and got to go to lunch with Cosmic Masque editor Ian McLaughlin, a quiet, smartly-dressed man who was encouraging and kind.  (Maybe that was the prize.)  
Cosmic Masque #9, September 1984.  (Thanks to Paul Scoones.)
If I were to describe who I was at the time, I'd say 'Doctor Who monster'.  I was an incredibly selfish, spiteful, very insecure, emotionally abusive kid.  If anyone from back then tells you I was a bastard, they're right.  And not in any kind of romantic, tortured artist way.  (I suspect when that stereotype is brought up, it's always an excuse.)  I note that because I think me being like that actually got in the way of the work.  It was thanks to some very kind commissioners who saw through all that that I got anywhere at all.  And I'm going to talk a lot about one of those people in this piece.  

I put a lot of creative energy into Who fandom (I still do).  I wanted to do something different with fan fiction.  Most of it at that time was about fixing continuity errors, closing 'gaps' in the narrative, and it was almost all in service to the televised show.  (I'm talking about the very male fandom in the UK at the time.  I suspect the US was entirely different.)  It took a lot of cultural change in that microcosm before people started writing proper stories, creating in directions away from the series.  (I'm sure there are corners where that had always happened.)  Nobody shipped anybody.  (Can you imagine?)  I wanted to change all that.  I was trying to write complete adventures, and character pieces.  (I'm talking as if I had the language then to describe what I was doing, which I hadn't.)  So my entry to the Cosmic Masque contest felt to me at the time like an indie band having a go at Eurovision.  (Before Eurovision was cool, or whatever it is now.)  Yeah, I was that arrogant.  Winning it felt like only a slight vindication.  I didn't even buy Cosmic Masque on a regular basis. 

In terms of comics writing, I'd been bothering Fleetway with war comics scripts, and got as far as having a meeting with them at one point, but no further. I wish I could remember which editor I met.  I'd also written for advice to the editor of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, Richard Starkings, including sample scripts of mine, and received in return an amazing ten page handwritten letter, which I kept at hand for decades, full of excellent tips.  

Fast forward five years, to 1989, and I'm a regular at the monthly meetings of Who fans at the Fitzroy Tavern in London.  I haven't changed much.  A year before, new Doctor Who Magazine editor John Freeman had, unlike his predecessors (if you don't count Jeremy Bentham), started turning up at the Fitzroy meetings.  That move was one of the tiny pebbles that contributed to the avalanche of what would eventually become the new series of Doctor Who.  (We'll get there in a few years!)  John recruited not just from the reference-guide-writing wing of fandom, but from the creative branches too.  That was his revolution.  I got to know him through his girlfriend, I think, very deliberately.  I was continually on at him about writing for DWM.  He eventually commissioned me for a couple of features, largely on the basis that I already had my first professional credit, for a piece in Starburst about The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I particularly kept asking him about the DWM comic strip.  Because I was an enormous fan of what would become Vertigo, DC's more mature comics, including Swamp Thing and Hellblazer, and I wanted to be a part of that world.  Now, the DWM comic strip was written, in those days, by professionals like Dan Abnett, Simon Furman and Grant Morrison.  You didn't hand it over to the little fan fiction kid.  Except that John did.  Very carefully.  He asked me if I'd got any one issue plots.  I thought the twist ending of that old story of mine, 'Weekend Man' would do well as a one-off.  He actually viewed me winning the contest as a credential!  That didn't make me stop and take stock of my attitude at the time, but it should have.  He shepherded me through the process of scripting.  In short, John did that brilliant editor thing of moving me on in my craft.  He very much deserves his co-writer credit on the finished strip.  He basically walked me through it.  

Here's a page of the finished comic, drawn by Gerry Dolan.  
Gerry Dolan was a (somewhat unsung) great of British comics art, who John paid tribute to a couple of years back in a post on his excellent UK comics news and history website Down the Tubes.  Being an idiot, at the time, I was merely satisfied with Dolan's art.  Now I can see he was really good, particularly with design and acting.  I was looking past him a bit, because I already had my eye on an artist who'd started drawing the strip just before I arrived.  (More about him next time.)  I felt I'd proved myself, and I desperately wanted to be involved in the big plans John was devising for the DWM comic.  He was, at that point, the only showrunner of Doctor Who in any medium.  So at his side was where I wanted to be.  

I asked John for his own memories of that time.  Here's what he had to say:
"Although I’d been editing the feature side of Doctor Who Magazine for a while, I only started editing the strip with #156, although I’d had some input into some of the strip’s that preceded 'Stairway to Heaven'.  I wanted to both continue the format of the Who strip Richard Starkings had established, with a variety of writers and artists, but I also wanted to introduce more new voices, of which Paul was one.  I’m so glad my instincts about Paul’s talent, having read some of his work in various zines, and had several informal story discussions over a pint or two in the lead up to commissioning him, turned out to be correct.

I was also lucky to have been introduced to artist Gerry Dolan by Paul Neary.  He was keen to have a try at drawing a Doctor Who story.  As an artist who’d worked with Jeff Hawke creator Syd Jordan, I felt he had a good eye for the kind of strip I was after during my tenure, and he definitely delivered on that front.  It’s a shame that other than some sample Who newspaper strips, he didn’t draw any more, and he’s a much missed talent.

The combination of Paul’s words and Gerry’s art made 'Stairway to Heaven' a memorable debut in DWM for both, I think.  My thanks to them both!"
Well, that's ridiculously flattering.  

'Stairway to Heaven' is available as part of Panini's collected Doctor Who Magazine strips, in the volume entitled Nemesis of the Daleks.  
'Stairway to Heaven' is, of course, a terrible title.  It just plonks the song in front of you and takes you away from the comic strip.  But in this case it's so precisely accurate a description of what happens in the story that it would have been hard not to call it that.  I can't have an opinion about the story itself any more.  It's functional.  I like that either me or John were already using silent panels to let the art tell the story.  I don't cover the page in dialogue.  I probably did before John re-wrote it.  

John is still a freelance comics editor, indeed, still a Doctor Who comics editor.  He's written a story in Titan's 2018 Free Comic Book Day Doctor Who comic!  We'll be meeting him a lot in this series of articles.  

If I were to give pointers to new writers based on my experiences of that time, I'd say one of the lessons is grab your opportunities when you can, because each credit builds on the previous one, and you never know where that tree of chances is going to take you.  I think the most important thing is that, when John gave me editorial notes, and finally rewrote me, I didn't argue (well, I probably did, honestly, because I was an idiot), I paid attention and learned and did better next time.  I managed to be nice enough, just for a moment, to let my career begin.  The horrible kid let himself be vulnerable, thanks to John, and let himself grow.  My credential with the contest win that I'd so looked down on actually helped.  The Fitzroy Tavern was a market place, but only within certain parameters.  I took care to be John's friend first.  And I genuinely was, and still am.  The credits John (and Richard Starkings) helped me gain led, in the end, to everything else.  I owe him a lot.  And so, incidentally, does Doctor Who, of which, at the time, he was the only guardian.  That would change very soon.  But that's another story.  
Introducing... Elisabeth Flaum!
This is the second of my regular series spotlighting unpublished creators.  I still need to hear from more of you, 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 Go on, give it a shot!  

Today the spotlight is on Elisabeth Flaum...
Here's what she has to say:

"I am a (Doctor Who-inspired) writer of short science fiction and fantasy.  My stories feature ordinary people who find themselves in impossible situations, and find in themselves the courage, compassion, and strength to deal with it - much like the Doctor's companions.  

I have not been professionally published, though I do have a story making the rounds now, about a dragon that lives on top of Notre Dame Cathedral.  My self-published works - two of which are available at my local library, thanks to a local writers program - are on Smashwords.  I also blog."  (And she tells me she also has a blog specifically about Doctor Who.)  

She adds that the photo above was taken at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.  "Of course."  And that "you can add that by day I'm a mild-mannered general ledger accountant in Portland, Oregon, USA."  

Elisabeth sounds like she's in much the same position I was when I started out.  I hope this little feature encourages you to check out her work, and that she has a great career ahead of her.  

If you're a creative person, but haven't been professionally paid, you don't need to be at the same stage Elisabeth is at to get featured here.  I'm happy to spotlight self-published authors, film-makers with their short films, painters with walls full of canvases, comic artists online... anyone.  As long as you've got something to link to, that you lot out there can take a look at.  Please, if you're hesitating, jump in!

To Be Continued
Hope you enjoyed that.  That's pretty much the usual mix for these newsletters.  In a couple of weeks time, I'll be sharing here a piece about the two or three occasions on which I had Doctor Who scripts commissioned for television which didn't go on to be made.  It took some serious consideration on my part to decide to go ahead and do this, but people have been asking, I've seen other writers do the same, and I don't think any harm can be done now.  Time to reveal all!  (No, come back!)  

Thanks for joining me, and I hope I'll see you next Friday.  
Copyright © 2018 Paul Cornell, All rights reserved.

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