Ooh, it’s been almost a month since my last blog. Well, I’ve been busy, writing things, script-editing things, moving house, plus occasionally looking after the little chap. And messing about on twitter. I may have even read a couple of books. It’s been ‘all go’.
Anyway. I have two things out now! A book and an audio. Audio first.
It’s Exodus, the second instalment in the 4-part Survivors box set released by Big Finish. The series is probably best described as a companion piece to the original 1975 BBC TV series. It’s not a remake, or a continuation, it’s what-was-happening-to-some-other-characters-over-the-hill. But with characters from the BBC TV series turning up as well. So it’s an expansion of that series, but entirely accessible to anyone who has never seen that series. The premise is simple. A superbug wipes out a huge percentage of the human race in a matter of days; what happens to the people who are left?
Exodus is set in the immediate aftermath of the plague. It’s one of the things that bugs me with other post-apocalyptic stories that they tend to skip this bit; usually by having a viewpoint character get rendered unconscious only to wake up ’28 Days Later’ or whenever (The Day of the Triffids does it, The Walking Dead does it, even The Last Train did it, yes, I went there, I mentioned The Last Train). When it’s the immediate aftermath which, in many ways, is the most dramatic moment. It’s when civilisation is falling apart and when the survivors are first coming to terms with what has happened, when they’re still in a state of shock, or denial. It’s when the world from ‘before’ the plague is still present all around them, so you have that jarring, eerie discomfiture.
That’s what excited me about this story. And that it’s near the beginning of the series, so you don’t know who will live and who will die, where the characters are still be established. Writing it was a real step outside my comfort zone, partly because the subject matter is so uncomfortable, so unrelentingly grim and serious, but also because the way the story was told; often in writing you write several steps removed from reality, in a world where nobody goes to the toilet, nobody forgets what they went into the kitchen for, and where everybody is on top form, but with Survivors that wouldn’t work. The whole point of the premise is to be as realistic as possible, to tell the story in as naturalistic, straightforwardand honest a way as possible. Without the writer intruding by drawing attention to themselves, to let the characters tell the story. Because Survivors is such a powerful, gut-grabbing idea, it doesn’t need narrative tricks to maintain interest.
It’s turned out incredibly well. The director, sound designer and cast have taken what I wrote and amplified it, made it even more emotionally affecting, more shocking, more tense. Which is lovely, because it makes me look good. I’m particularly pleased with Louise Jameson’s performance as Jackie Burchall, a character I created specifically for her. She does a stunning job (as expected). But the whole cast are very strong, everything gels, and so far the series seems to have gone down exceptionally well. People are saying it’s one of the best things Big Finish have ever done. Wow.
So please, rush and out buy it, it’s available from here. I think there’s going to be a second series.
The book out now is an odd little thing. Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks. It’s a humour book designed for fans of both Doctor Who and Shakespeare. Well, it hasn’t been done before! It’s written by James Goss, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, Matthew Sweet and me, with additional material by William Shakespeare.
I found the process of writing it fun but arduous; I made a rod for my own back by deciding that my ‘pastiches’ of Shakespeare would be written in iambic pentameter blank verse (except for low-status characters in verse, and a few rhyming couplets). Which meant that I was not just checking the number of syllables but the stresses of every word; whenever in doubt, checking it against a searchable online index of Shakespeare to see where he had placed the same word in blank verse in order to see where the stresses went, and to check that the word was one in his vocabulary. So a meticulous, time-consuming task, but a rewarding one. I’m not claiming my attempts at blank verse are prefect (they wouldn’t sound authentically Shakespearean if they were, he knew better than to be beholden to rules) but I gave it a damn good go.
So please, rush out and buy it, if only to find all the bits I got wrong. My bits are some missing scenes from Macbeth, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-style, which recasts it as a Troughton historical; Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending in the style of a Steven Moffat season finale (everyone lives!); A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Sontarans on Vortis; and Shakespeare’s rough notes for The Tempest. All beautifully illustrated by Mike Collins.
You can read the first 30-odd pages at the Random House website. As another taster, here’s part of the new Romeo and Juliet:
Act V, Scene III – Capulet tomb in the Verona churchyard
Romeo has discovered Juliet lying on an altar in the tomb He reaches for the vial of poison. Doctor, Amy, Rory appear from behind the altar.
Romeo, stop! Don’t drink the poison’d brew!
For if thou dost thou shalt regret the deed
As long as thou shalt live; which won’t be long
But that is not the point. The point is this;
Thy Juliet is not dead yet; she lives!
I see no breath, her cheeks are pale, her lips
Are cold as stone. My love is dead, so taunt
Me not; I am resolv’d to die. But wait.
Who are you that dares violate the tomb
Of Capulet? And what is this blue box
That is not of this place?
We will explain
That later on.
Just put that vial down.
You heard the Doctor’s words. Your Juliet
Just counterfeits death’s signs. She slumbers deep
But will soon wake to find you here. And would
You wish she found you dead at her bed-side?
As consequence of feigned death? What would
She do in such a state of discontent?
I dare not think.
She would do something rash
Like take your dagger and do herself in.
And would not that be a grave tragedy?
A tragedy forg’d of a grave misdeed,
Within a grave itself is grave indeed.