Interview with John Peel


What do you see as the role of the MA/NA?

I see them as primarily the chance to play...! For me, it's the opportunity to tell a DW story. I've been a fan of the show from virtually the beginning (I caught the ending of The Firemaker, and was hooked), so the opportunity to write stories based on the show has always been a tremendous draw for me.

As far as their role, I think it's their purpose to (a) keep DW alive until a new series is made and (b) to entertain the readers. For me, the second is primary. It's also the chance to do things that the TV show can't do, either for reasons of budget (I can have a lot better special effects, for example!), or other reasons. Legacy Of The Daleks can bring back the Roger Delgado Master, for example, which is obviously impossible in terms of television.

What audience do you write for when you write a NA/MA? Is it a different audience to those of your other hooks? I understand you've written for the Star Trek and Quantum Leap ranges ... any others?

Lots! (Mostly young adult and juvenile series, though.) Obviously, when you write a DW novel, it's aimed specifically at DW fans. As a result, you can put in in-jokes, continuity and so forth to tie the book more firmly into DW mythos. When you write for Star Trek, obviously, you're writing for an audience than wants to read about that show, so you tailor the book to them.

Other than that, I simply write for a general audience. I guess I assume they're in their late teens early twenties, and write for that target group. When I write the tie-ins for Nickelodeon shows, for example, I aim them at a younger audience. That only means that I use simpler structure and vocabulary. My plotting level doesn't change.

Could you give us an insight into your writing process?

I always work up a draft outline for a story first. This can vary from four to ten pages, depending on the complexity of the plot, and whether it's my first novel for an editor. In that case, you have to assure them you know what you're doing, so it tends to be longer. Once the outline is approved, I start work on the novel. Naturally, portions of the outline change as I write, I find sometimes that something I thought would work doesn't. For example, my outline to Timewyrm: Genesys had Ishtar as a robotic spider. As I started to write the hook, I realized that with "wyrm" in the title, a snake form was more logical.

I start writing about 8.30 in the morning, and I write from 5 to 15 pages a day. However, when I'm getting close to the end of a novel, that tends to rise to 20 or even 30 pages a day as it's more exciting, and I don't want to stop. None of the time is spent staring at a blank screen, because I'm working from my notes and know what I'm roughly going to be writing. I usually finish about 1pm. The rest of the day is spent relaxing physically (my hands get tired from typing), but thinking of the plot and dialogue for the next day's work.

When I evolve my initial plot, I tend to do it about four or five key "scenes" that I picture in my mind, and then link together with the threads of the plot. It's hard for me to describe, because I'm not entirely certain how I do it myself I tend to start by thinking about the general subject I'd like to do, and then start complicating it.

For example, Evolution arose because I wanted to write a Fourth Doctor/Sarah Jane story (my own favorite combination of cast for the show). I then thought about Sherlock Holmes because I have a friend who's a big Sherlockian, and I thought it would be fun to write a story to amuse him. However, using Sherlock was a little too obvious, so I thought it would be fun to use his creator, Conan Doyle, instead. That led to the image of Tom Baker in the deerstalker, and the fact he'd been in Hound Of The Baskervilles. These all started to come together in a plot.

Do you listen to music?

Mostly classical, and a lot of Irish folk music. I use them in the evenings to relax after writing.

What do you think of your own books?

Well, obviously I like them! I wouldn't have written them otherwise. I think they work from the point of view of evoking the feel of their particular eras of the show. Other than that, it's hard for me to judge. I reread them occassionally, and still enjoy them as stories. If someone else had written them, I'd like them just as much.

You're writing one of the first eighth Doctor stories and unlike other NA/MA the character of the eighth Doctor is largely unwritten. How do you see the character? Do you see writing for him as a daunting task?

I see him as a kind of combination of Troughton and Tom Baker - capable, but worried. I'm not sure how the other writers see him, of course. Working out his character is something I'll obviously have to do with our editor, to maintain a continuity. Also, Jon Blum is organizing a "newsgroup" of writers, sharing information, which will undoubtedly be very helpful.

Daunting? Not really. I'm a writer, and it's my job to create. It's fun, really.

War of the Daleks isn't a new idea: it was posited as a Virgin NA a couple of years ago...

The idea for the book was originally to tie up the JNT era Dalek stories. I had originally planned it, in fact as a four-part TV proposal. Then the show was placed in hiatus hell, so l altered it to a novel outline. What I wanted to do was to finish the Davros/Dalek war thread that had been running a little too long, and then enable future stories to simply find their own ground, without being forced into following the rather involved plot that was running.

Another reason for the story was to bring back Skaro. I feel that its destruction in Remembrance - was a bad move, as did Terry Nation. When I sought his permission for War, he asked me to try and rectify the destruction, which I think I've done very sneakily.

You've caused a lot of controversy on the internet with this un-destruction...

When I first went onto rec.arts.drwho, I did say I was going to "do a number" on Remembrance! This was meant as a humorous comment mainly. I have a pretty dreadful sense of humor, I suppose! I was trying to intrigue people with the idea that the ending of Remembrance isn't the whole story, and that the Daleks have something rather nasty up their metallic sleeves for the Doctor. In retrospect, I could have phrased things better, of course.

The controversy seems to me to boil down to the fact that some people feel that by saying "No, Skaro wasn't blown up" I'm somehow ruining Ben Aaronovitch's story. I think this is rather an extreme view, which seems to imply that without Skaro's destruction, Ben's story has somehow become a piece of junk. Ben's story stands on its own meets, and nothing I write in War will alter this. All I am doing is saying in effect: "Ah. but there's something about the Daleks' long-range plans that Ben didn't know..." That seems to me to be the essence of many a good story.

Do you have access to much of what fandom has to say about you and your books? Does it influence you?

Only if they tell me. I get fan mail, for example, and feedback from fans I know personally. The Internet, now, adds further feedback. Does it influence me? Some of it. If it's logical, polite and to the point, I pay careful attention to what's said - especially if it's negative. My aim in writing any book is always to tell the best possible story. I want to make my next book even better than the last, and if someone has a valid point about anything I may have done wrong, I incorporate it. As an example, in one hook I had a female character rub her chin while thinking. A friend pointed out that this was a very male thing to do, and that a woman is more likely to play with a lock of her hair instead. So the next thinking female I had played with a lock of her hair.

You've written a couple of factual books on fictional histories of elements of the TV series, and continuity abounds in your NA/MA. How important is continuity to you?

Continuity is obviously important when you're dealing with a show like DW. I try to maintain it to the best of my ability. However, I do sometimes make mistakes - Ace recalling Paradise Towers in Genesys, for example!

Do you discuss continuity with other authors?

I don't discuss my books with anyone other than my editor for the most part. I might mention a sequence to friends. In the case of War, however, I made an exception. Because what I'll be doing is so controversial to some fans (bringing back Skaro), I went on the internet and asked for opinions and feedback. I read some of the other books in the series, and watch videos when either called for as research or simply for fun. I do enjoy DW for its own sake!

You've written several Dalek novelizations, and now two full novels are planned. What's it like writing for the Daleks?

I love it. The first full DW story I ever saw was The Daleks, so I've always had a special affection for the little monsters. Being able to novelise their adventures was wonderful. Being able to write original Dalek stories has potentially even more fun.

How does it feel to be creating new Dalek stories for the nineties?

As I said, I'm anticipating a lot of fun. Plus, it does give me the chance to do a few new things with the Daleks. I started that in my novelization of The Chase, where I had them interfacing with the Mechon computers. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue giving them new and nastier things to do.

Could you tell us a little about War of the Daleks?

It takes place shortly after Remembrance. A salvage ship in space is scouring the wreckages of destroyed ships after a space battle, and comes across a mysterious piece of flotsam they can't open. One of the crew signals another ship to come and get the "merchandise," and the Doctor stumbles into the scene. He's then forced to face off against - of all people - the Thals, who are after the flotsam. And then the Daleks show up, dragging the whole sorry mess back to Skaro... which worries the Doctor considerably, since he knows it shouldn't exist...

The MA line of the BBC books seems a little tentative. Is Legacy of the Daleks definitely going ahead?

Neither book is definite, since no contracts have yet been signed. BBC Books has made an offer for both stories, which Terry's agent, Roger Hancock, is handling. Assuming the contracts can be worked out, the books will proceed. It was in the contract stage that the books failed the first time, as Virgin had wanted to commission them both initially.

Could you tell us a little about Legacy of the Daleks?

Legacy is set about twenty years after Dalek Invasion Earth. Susan and David Campbell are having marital problems; Britain has become a feudal society again, with warring Lords attempting to expand their domains. And the Master has arrived on Earth after a Dalek weapon hidden in the wreckage of one of their cities. My outline originally had the seventh Doctor involved (updated now to the Eighth), but I then suggested making it a Third Doctor story, as Legacy involves the Roger Delgado Master integrally to the plot.

Have you read many of the NA/MA?

I've read the first thirty NA so far, and none of the MA. It's mostly a matter of time to read. My favourites? I adored Exodus, by Terrance. I read it in a single sitting, unable to put it down. I thought Andrew Hunt's Witch Mark was a wonderful effort, especially as a first novel. It's a shame he hasn't done more. Lucifer Rising, Iceberg, Blood Heat, First Frontier and Blood Harvest were all thoroughly enjoyable. I think the book that most surprised me, though, was Legacy, by Gary Russell. Gary had written reviews of my stories that were pretty critical, so I was all set to tear Legacy apart! Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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