On June 20th, I got the comments back from Justin Richards, consulting editor and prolific author in his own right.
The note he sent was about 1700 words, and made about thirty separate points, about twenty of which were minor and easily-corrected with a little bit of clarification. For example, I’d done a sequence with three people talking and it wasn’t always clear who was replying to whom. Those little ones just take a minute or two to sort out, on the whole.
Justin’s very good on plot logic stuff, and there were a couple of things he needed to be sure I’d thought through. Generally, there were bits that were a little confusing, and needlessly so. There were also a couple of places where I’d moved a scene around and not noticed that a character now knew something they’d only find out about later. As ever, there were a number of Hartnellesque pronoun problems (I managed to write ‘They could do so much they couldn’t’ at one point).
A good example of the bigger things that needed fixing – in the first draft, the locals called the Fortress ‘the Folly’, while the Doctor called it ‘the Fortress’. Gradually, some of the locals started using the Doctor’s name for it. It meant I ended up with people exchanging dialogue like ‘We should go to the Folly’ / ‘Yes, you’re right, we’ll head off to the Fortress in the morning’. Now, that wasn’t the end of the world or anything, I’m sure people would have figured it out, but why not just have everyone call it ‘the Fortress’ from the beginning? As you can tell from the cover, it’s a perfectly sensible thing to call something that looks like that.
As I’ve noted before, Justin wanted the opening trimmed back a little. This was the only time in the whole process he invoked ‘the younger readers’, saying they’d want to get to the story faster. I lost about two or three pages, purely of descriptions of the Doctor walking through the city. On the initial read throughs, people had made that same point – Mark Jones and Lars Pearson both suggested cutting it down, Mark Clapham wondered about it, but said he liked it the way it was.
Other than that, it was fairly straightforward. The Doctor mentions an encounter with an alien that I’d made up for the book. Justin was worried that people would think they were missing a reference to a telly episode or one of the other books. At the same time, I was meant to be avoiding continuity references, so I couldn’t just change it to refer to the Daleks or whatever. I cut the Gordian Knot with a slightly meta line from the Doctor explaining that this wasn’t something a reader should take as a continuity reference.
Conversely, there was a continuity reference I’d put in the first draft I really wanted in there, if at all possible, it was smack in the middle of what The Eyeless is about, although I’d always known it might be a problem. Justin and I talked it through and … well, it’s on page 46 of the finished book. You’ll know it when you see it and you might even think ‘I can’t believe he got away with that’.
One thing I didn’t think would be a problem: I’d broken the book into two ‘parts’, and there’s a big cliffhanger at the end of part one. The book is a game of two halves, too – like most of the telly two-parters, there’s a definite shift in emphasis for part two. This was a bone of contention for a little while – it has page count and other design implications that I hadn’t realised. I did really want it broken up like that. Ideally, I’d like people to take a week off between part one and part two! It is, though, entirely artificial – going strictly on wordcount, the novels are more like four episodes of new Doctor Who (or six or seven parters in old money). In the end, Justin was able to grant my wish, and so if you’re the sort of fan who insists the first story is called 100,000BC (it is, of course), then The Eyeless is actually called The Eyes of a Child / Unless. Which you can shorten to The Eyeless, of course.
We played around with one of the very last scenes, one where the motives of the characters and what they were really thinking wasn’t clear. One of the characters was the Doctor, and – as ever – I wanted some ambiguity and mystery about his thought processes. Back in the days when Virgin published the books, it was an absolute no-no to have scenes that went too deep into what the Doctor was thinking. Here, though, what the Doctor was thinking and planning needed to be a little more explicit. It’s the end of the book and he has to be resolute and strong … but not psychopathic, which is how what originally happened could read in certain lights. This was a bit where the editor was doing what a director would do if it was for TV – just making sure the motivation and movement of one scene wasn’t cutting against the story.
That was, to be honest, the only tricky thing this time around, and it was tricky because – as I’ve said a number of times – the ending of the book was something that had to be very poised and carefully-judged. I always have a faint dread that an editor is going to want something completely removed or changed. Or, worse, that they’ll ask for something they think is minor but which will mean great big structural changes. If it’s in the synopsis, there’s always the ‘it’s in the synopsis’ defence, but as I’ve explained in earlier entries, very little of the book is actually in the synopsis. I had my new anxiety that, at some point, the fact it was a new series book would mean someone would be going through it and changing it. It still hadn’t happened.
Justin is always very clear about what he wants, and open to negotiation – it’s my name on the book, and I’d spent six months thinking about it and writing it. If I can make a case for something, Justin is always willing to listen. I had a list of things he wanted me to do. I’d had a month off from the book. I was now able to re-read it again with a bit of a fresh eye, and I spotted a couple of other things I could do and tricks I’d missed. With any project, it’s great to be able to put it in a drawer for a few weeks then come back to it with a bit of distance. It’s rarely a luxury I get, though.
The changes took a week, and I posted the second draft back to Justin on June 27th. He was happy enough with it to send it on to Cardiff for approval.