Hi Simon. I’m glad you agreed to this interview.
Hello! You’re very welcome.
Now, for all the aspiring writers out there, what do you think is the best advice to give to someone starting out in the writing business?
Write. Stop finding excuses or reading how-to-write books or asking people’s advice. Just write something. Maybe try something short to start with, but – most importantly – finish it.
Then make what you’ve written better. Send it to people – people’s whose judgement of films and books your respect, even if you don’t always agree with them. Read tips and advice in books or online. They’ll be much more help when you’ve got something already written to apply them to. Better than that, you’ll be more likely to know when they’re wrong.
When you think it’s as good as it can be, send it to people who might give you money for it. And while you’re waiting for them not to, write something else.
There’s no great secret to writing – or any way round the awful truth: you have to do the writing. You send what you’ve written to people. More often than not, they won’t want it. So write more and write better until they do.
As for tips and advice, James Moran (yes, from Doctor Who) blogged a great whole huge world of things about writing scripts: http://www.jamesmoran.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/free-writing-seminar-blog-post-in-box.html
Ben Aaronovitch (yes, from Doctor Who) blogged some much shorter but no less splendid things on writing novels: http://www.the-folly.com/2011/05/writing-a-novel-and-getting-published/
These are better, more successful and less bald writers than me. You should listen to their wise counsel.
You’ve written for Doctor Who in audio, book, and in comic strip form. Which do you think is the hardest to write for?
Hmm… Books, but only because they’re longer so there’s more actual writing to do. I think whatever medium you’re writing in is tricky because you’re constantly trying to make it as good as it can be.
Would you if asked, write for the television series of Doctor Who?
Ha! That would be lovely, but I can’t imagine it happening any time soon. I think you’re assuming that there’s a sort of system of promotion, where you go from writing Doctor Who books and comics to writing for the TV show. It really doesn’t work like that. A few of the writers on the TV show have written books and comics before, but far more importantly they’ve also written big, popular, award-winning TV and films. And I haven’t.
Recently, you and your brother Thomas have been producing films together. Revealing Diary has been critically acclaimed as has Cleaning Up. Do you think that you will do more projects with your brother?
Yes, our two short films seem to have gone down well. You can watch Revealing Diary for free at https://vimeo.com/41316559 and a clip from Cleaning Up at https://vimeo.com/35254670. We’re hoping they lead to more things, and we’re working on new projects at the moment. I’ve written a first episode of a TV version of Cleaning Up, plus all sorts of other bits and pieces. But I shall be slightly killed if I say any more about them just now.
What is your brother like as a director?
Annoying. He is extremely talented, organised, cool-headed and good fun to work with, so the cast and crew all love him. And I stand in the background like his fatter, clumsier Ganger, trying not to break things.
You have written Primeval and Being Human tie in novels as well as Doctor Who books, if asked would you write tie in books for them again?
Yes, I’d love to. Those were all fun jobs.
Do you prefer to write for audio as opposed to writing for the book format?
I like the variety. It’s nice to jump from writing an audio to writing kids’ comics, then go on to write a book, then work on a documentary, and then go back to audio.
Was it difficult working with your brother as director, because he is related to you, or was it easier because you are brothers?
It’s been weirdly easy. We started working together by accident. Tom asked if there was any work going on the Doctor Who DVD documentaries, and I said I’d introduce him to Dan Hall, who is in charge of those. Dan thought we were pitching together and gave us a smallish project to work on to see what we could do – the HG Wells documentary on The Ark. Tom and I quickly agreed that he’d be the boss, and I’d work for hire as a freelancer – which is what I’m used to. And that worked so well we soon started setting up our own projects, such as the short films.
Was it easy getting actors involved in your film projects? Did you go via the audition process or simply ask actors if they were interested, who you thought suited certain parts?
If I was advising someone else on producing a short film, I’d recommend making sure there were good, interesting roles that would let a ‘name’ actor do something they don’t normally get to. That won’t guarantee anything, but it really helps.
I wrote Cleaning Up without anyone specific in mind, but when Tom and I were setting up an interview with Louise Jameson for a Doctor Who DVD, she was obviously perfect for the part of Mrs Pellman. We took her for a drink to tell her about the film, hoping she’d tell us what she thought of our draft script. And, amazingly, she said she’d love to be in it. So the film was suddenly a real proposition.
Louise helped us get Mark Gatiss, who Joseph Lidster (our script editor) suggested, and Tom asked Tracy-Ann Oberman after we worked with her on a short film for James Moran. We auditioned three actors for the part of James, and the rest of the cast was made up of us calling round mates and begging favours. I’ve worked with some really good actors through Big Finish, and so exploited that shamelessly.
Revealing Diary was different because we didn’t write the script until the day we shot it. I’ve explained why and how we went about it in a great long blog post about the film, at http://0tralala.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/revealing-diary-short-film-by-guerrier.html. But basically, we asked actor friends to be there on the day and then worked out what we’d make them do.
Recently you have been working freelance with Doctor Who Adventures. Is it enjoyable to work on such a magazine?
I’ve been working there on and off since September 2010, though I’d written some comic strips for them before that, too. It’s a brilliant place to work – the team is so fun and creative, and we lark about finding new ways to be silly and exciting about Doctor Who. My favourite game is smuggling obscure, old Doctor Who references into the mag – things like putting “Koquillion” in a wordsearch. Plus we eat lots of sweets. It’s also a hugely popular, big-selling magazine, so I’m thrilled how many kids read and laugh at our silliness. Older fans can sometimes be a bit serious and cross about Doctor Who, so it’s good to be so openly joyful about it.
What attracted you to doing AAAGH!, in DWA?
AAAGH!, for those who don’t know, is a one-page silly comic strip in which a small boy and a batty old lady robot find jobs for Doctor Who monsters. It was devised by the amazing Paul Lang, with help from Malcolm Mackenzie and me, and illustrated by Brian Williamson. It’s now been running every week for nearly a year and a half. You can read all the ones I’ve written online at http://0tralala.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/aaagh
I love writing AAAGH! It’s a challenge to pack in as many stupid jokes and Doctor Who references as possible into so small a space, but also there’s quite a competition between Paul and me to come up with ever more silly and outlandish plots.
You have done quite a few excellent Companion Chronicles since the range started, is it because you enjoy doing them or because you prefer them over the main range audio stories?
Thank you. Again, the Companion Chronicles is a really good format for telling emotional stories, where you can really get into the heads of the companions and offer new perspectives on them, their Doctor and their time in the TARDIS. It means you’re telling a new story, but changing how we might see or understand the old episodes, which – when it works – is really rewarding. It’s also a chance to give some very good actors a chance to ‘lead’ rather than be the sidekick, and all the ones I’ve written for have really shone as a result. So I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve made. But it wasn’t my choice to write Companion Chronicles over the main range. You’d need to ask my masters how they decide who writes what.
Did you always want to be a writer or did it come about more recently?
Yes, I always wanted to be a writer – and I’ve always written. There’s a whole box of terrible stories in even worse handwriting up in a cupboard somewhere in my house. But until I was about 15, being a writer didn’t seem any more real than being an astronaut or a pop-star until I read an interview with Paul Cornell in a 1991 edition of Doctor Who Magazine, where he explained what you needed to do to submit a book for the New Adventures Doctor Who books. That was the first time it ever occurred to me that you could actually be a writer as a job, and from then on that’s what I wanted to do. It took me years and years to be able to do it, though.
You have written for the Bernice Summerfield series, how does it compare to Doctor Who?
I think Benny’s still got the feel of the New Adventures books that I loved in the 1990s – a more adult version of Doctor Who, telling stories that wouldn’t fit on a TV screen or in a TV budget. But then there’s quite a lot of those books in the series since its been back on TV anyway – most obviously when they adapted Human Nature. So I don’t know… I think the chief difference between the ranges now is that Benny is set in the same, shared future, built up story-by-story, and she rarely visits the past. Otherwise, it’s got all the wit, excitement and madness of Doctor Who, and the same kind of feel and morality. I don’t think that’s all that surprising, given that Benny was invented to be a companion for the Doctor.
You have edited several volumes of short stories, is editing easier than writing?
I found it harder, mainly because I had to resist the urge to rewrite other people’s stuff and instead offer them notes so that they could rewrite it themselves. I’m very proud of the books I edited, and the two series of Benny’s adventures that I produced. But I realised that that isn’t really what I want to do. I’m much happier writing my own stuff than working on other people’s.
What have you got planned for the future?
I’ve got quite a lot of things with Big Finish that will be announced soon. I should be writing the third series of my mini-series Graceless right this minute. That will probably be out in early 2013. Tom and I are working on some other short film and full feature ideas, and I intend to finish a first draft of an original science-fiction novel by the end of the year.
Thank you for talking to us Simon, it has been a pleasure.