Friday, 26 December 2008

... but the moment has been prepared for.


Well, it's Boxing Day, and The Eyeless is officially out in the shops. As promised, my blogging ends here.

Thanks for reading, I hoped you enjoyed some insight into the making of the book. As I said in the various entries, there's no one way to write. I'm sure a lot of other writers reading my stuff about 'the process of writing' would have been baffled and bewildered because so little of it was like their own process. If you're an aspiring writer, good luck and the trick is to actually write stuff, not just to want to if only you had the time.

This blog's still here and it's not going anywhere ... please feel free to post reviews, comments, links to reviews about The Eyeless here and so on. I'll still be here to answer questions.

Thanks again, and a Merry Christmas to all you at home.

Lance Parkin

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Death Ray Interview

Great big long interview with me at Death Ray.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Approved and Proved

OK … so here’s a quick description of the various stages a Doctor Who book goes through once the manuscript has been delivered. This is an author’s eye view, of course. Which is a polite way of saying that, for an author, a lot of this is pretty much invisible – you hand your book to someone, a few weeks after that you get back a list of comments and you don’t do very much with your book in the mean time.

Once a book is written, it’s edited. That’s what Justin had done during June, and what I described last time – he went through the manuscript looking at it artistically, making sure the story worked, suggesting ways the narrative could be improved, letting me know if there were any wider issues. With Doctor Who, there’s the danger that you end up clashing with something that’s coming up in another book or on the telly. As you’ll have seen, I pretty much finished The Eyeless before the fourth season even started, and I had no special prior knowledge of it (less than most people reading this, probably, as I try to avoid spoilers).

The edited draft then went to Cardiff for approval. The book’s going out with a Doctor Who logo on it, the BBC have all sorts of taste and decency standards. Obviously this is a stage most books don’t have to go through. On 30th July, I got a rather anti-climatic note from Justin saying that the book had been approved by Cardiff, but that they’d asked for ‘a couple of changes’ and I’d see them at the proof stage. My paranoia gland started secreting whatever it is a paranoia gland secrets, but Justin assured me that there was nothing to worry about (his actual words were ‘we removed all that stuff about a powerful alien fortress and replaced it with a sinister hillbilly dance routine’).

It was now onto the next stage – Steve Tribe, Project Editor, got in touch on 8th August to let me know that he’d got the approved manuscript and would be dealing with it from now on. Different publishers do different things at this stage, but it boils down to copy editing and proofreading stages, with a proofreader also going through the manuscript checking for spelling/typing errors, punctuation and so on. BBC Books run these two stages at the same time, but the books have separate proofreaders and copy editors.

Steve’s job was to take the completed, edited and approved manuscript and end up with typeset page proofs – a PDF file of the book that looks just like the pages of the final book (and for good reason, because the printers will use that file). Then we all have a final read of the proofs to make sure we’re happy and we sign off on them and they go to the printers.

All publishers have a house style, and one job at this stage is to make sure the book conforms to that. These can involve a set of quite idiosyncratic rules, and it’s usually fairly mundane stuff about the use of dashes, the exact form that numbers and dates are expressed (‘26 December 2008’, not ‘December 26th 2008’, that kind of thing), the use of American spelling (Virgin had some quite bizarre rules about that, ones that probably made sense to someone). Consistency in place names (it’s World Trade Center and Pearl Harbor, for example – you could have a sentence that ran ‘the Japanese attacked the harbour at Pearl Harbor’) and titles (the rank isn’t capitalized, the individual is, so the Brigadier is a brigadier).

Then there’s all the grammar stuff that makes me glad I have a proofreader. Sometimes I’ve had fairly heated discussions about grammar. Proofreaders tend to want good grammar throughout a novel – which sounds like the sort of thing we should all want, but this has led to proofreaders in the past changing some of the dialogue I’ve written. Now … I want readers to be able to parse the sentences and stuff, but I think dialogue’s allowed to be a little rougher (‘a little more rough’?) than the narration. People don’t speak grammatically. And sometimes the change of grammar can alter the sense of the sentence. A proofreader would make Mick Jagger sing ‘I can get satisfaction’. Kate Orman has the best anecdote here – one of her proofreaders changed ‘the spaceship left the planet’s gravity well’ to ‘the spaceship left well the planet’s gravity’. The way it should work is that the proofreader highlights every grammatical ‘mistake’, the editor and author decide whether to implement the change.

With The Eyeless there were no arguments.

The changes Cardiff wanted were very few and far between and almost all were incredibly minor. The thing that linked most of them was that they didn’t want to pin down things the TV series hadn’t pinned down – how the sonic screwdriver recharges, what the TARDIS defences can and can’t do, how long the Doctor’s been travelling the universe. There were notes on how they don’t like referring to the person the Doctor travels with as an ‘assistant’ these days, and that there are some other words they’re wary about. They took out a joke about shoe sizes, possibly because they didn’t see it was a joke (which is as good a reason as any for taking out a joke, of course).

In addition to those, I got a list of notes back from Steve on 4th September. Steve’s developed a good ear for the tenth Doctor, and noted about a dozen places where he didn’t think what I’d written sounded like something David Tennant would say. He’d altered one scene that was a flashback within a flashback within a flashback and so was hideously confusing. But there was nothing changed for being too gruesome, there was nothing major or dealbreaking at all. As with every stage, I wasn’t presented with any of these things as a fait d’accompli, and we talked everything through and I persuaded Steve to change his mind about a few things, he persuaded me he was right about others.

To show how smooth this all was, we settled everything so quickly that Steve was able to go away and come back with typeset proofs on 9th September. As is the way of these things, we all noticed a few minor things that had somehow managed to elude us all up to this point, despite dozens of re-readings – an item that was described as ‘featureless’ on one page was ‘covered in symbols’ on the next, that kind of thing.

Editors have reasons for making suggestions and if a writer disagrees, his job is to work out why the editor thinks what they think. Both the writer and the editor should be able to back up their opinions, explain themselves. Often, an editor and writer agree about what a scene should be trying to do, but disagree about the way to land the scene on that spot. It is possible for writers and editors to lose track of the fact they want the same thing, or for some pretty basic miscommunication to mess things up, although that’s thankfully been an extraordinarily rare occurrence for me. I think the crucial thing to note here is that this stage of The Eyeless felt no different to the editing stage of any of my other books – it was a lot smoother than most, to be honest.

A lot of the online discussion about ‘mistakes’ or ‘inconsistencies’ or ‘wrong turns’ in either the books or the TV show just doesn’t recognise that the writers and editors have endlessly discussed things. As I said very early on in this blog, if a writer chooses to do something, he’s almost always making a conscious choice not to do plenty of other things, things he’s agonized about, talked through and so on for months, decisions that are influenced by often the weirdest things. The main influence for Doctor Who is, surely, time – my book’s out on December 26th 2008. It had to be finished in time for that to take place. It’s the same for television, only far moreso: actors have to be booked, sets built, costumes made and so on and so on.

So … 17th of September, that was it. The proofs had been corrected, the file went off to the printer. The Eyeless was done and out of my hands.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Spotted In The Wild

News from TBFKA Outpost Gallifrey that The Eyeless has started showing up in actual shops. Good hunting!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Edited ...

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.


Thursday, 11 December 2008

Pullman Interview

A Philip Pullman interview there. Lots of short answers, but the longish answer about democracy in texts is a good one, I think.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


May was a busy month.

I delivered the official first draft of The Eyeless to Justin on May 16th.

I say official first draft because … well, these things are hard to define. Back in the day, an author (or his or her secretary!) would type out a manuscript and it would be a very solid, defined thing. Now it’s a computer file, and I went back and forth changing as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

For the record, Justin was getting a fourth draft, I think:

By the end of December, I had just about everything done but the ending. I sent it around to people and waited for feedback from them – in part because I needed that feedback to help crystallize that ending for me.

By mid-March, I’d got a much better second half and an ending that worked but which I wasn’t completely happy with.

There was a much stronger draft by the end of April, thanks in large part to all the people who’d read it and commented. The ending was a lot better, but still not quite right.

By 'ending' I really mean the 'third act' - the whole last bit of the story, where all the cards are on the table, all the plans are in the open and reaching a critical point. Every Doctor Who story has one - in the olden days, it was the whole last episode. Now it's that last, frantic ten minutes or so. I say every Doctor Who story, but Mark of the Rani just sort of stops. So every Doctor Who story but one has one.

One of the things I wanted to avoid was what I’ll call the ‘The World Is Not Enough’ problem. There are two main baddies in that movie. They kill off the most interesting one first, then the last act is Bond beating the less interesting one. And, as it turns out, in an extremely dull way – literally they push a prop back and forth until the bad guy dies. I really have three sets of antagonists by the end, and spent a long time juggling the order in which – spoiler alert – the Doctor sorts them out.

I wrote one ending and it was literally, almost word for word, the ending of Watchmen. Which has a great ending, but one with the slight disadvantage - for my purposes - of not being something I wrote.

There was also a separate question of the actual last scene. I had four or five different versions of this, all basically the same scene, played differently. These were nothing like the end I'd described in the synopsis - that no longer fit the book. In Doctor Who there's always a problem with this last bit - you want the Doctor back in the TARDIS, ready for his next adventure. If you're not careful, you end up finishing with a pretty redundant bit - the Doctor and companion walking back to the ship saying, effectively, 'well, that was exciting, wasn't it?'.

Around May 10th, it came to me exactly what the very last scene needed to be. This, though I say it myself, had everything – a nice echo of some things Russell Davies wrote (no, it’s not someone shouting ‘Paul McGann doesn’t count!’), the Doctor doing something clever only the Doctor can do, a sense of the story coming full circle to an extent, and a real sense of closure. A real ‘eureka’ moment, and quite a relief.

As is the way with these things, once I knew what to write, writing it was pretty straightforward. It quickly expanded to become the whole last chapter - as I was already bumping against my wordcount, I then had to go back and did a bit of trimming to fit it in. This sounds blithe and untroubled, but I’d been trying to find this last scene since the end of December, getting increasingly worried. Writing endings is a little like doing a balance sheet, it all has to fit together and add up, while leaving nothing out. Some of my favourite authors are hopeless at endings, and I think it’s because they’re reluctant to leave the wonderful world and the characters they’ve created. I understand that, certainly.

It’s also because life never has neat endings. One of the best endings of anything, ever, is the end of Our Friends in the North. It feels like a culmination of the thirty year journey we’ve been on. Superbly written, and expertly performed by Christopher Eccleston, the guy who went on to play a famous doctor on the telly. (Indeed, nowadays, as it also stars Daniel Craig, Our Friends in the North feels like a story not even Paul Magrs dare write – the Doctor and James Bond growing up in the sixties as Geordie best friends). If you nitpick it, then the end only feels like things have changed, but it's incredibly cathartic and emotional. And now I've said all that, I can’t find it on YouTube, so just … y’know, buy it on DVD. It's worth it.

Endings are tricky, and I speak from experience.

Now … I know I run a risk with this blog. I’ve been on the internet since 1991, and I know that it’s an information-driven economy here. I’ve given people information about how The Eyeless was written. I am genuinely worried that I’m tainting the evidence, that the people who’ve read this know the second half took a while to write and this will affect how they read the book. It's very easy to let what you know about the author or the circumstances the book was written in colour your reading of the book.

Just look at how people let their ... well, often their prejudices, affect what they think of Russell Davies' work. It's all gay, it's all atheist, it's all Welsh, it's all just so ... tall. I know Russell Davies wears glasses, but does he really have to impose a bespectacled Doctor upon a family audience? I'm very, very suspicious of this way of seeing novels or movies or telly. We all wrote essays in school that said things like 'Shakespeare clearly thought that ... ' but ... well, we can't telepathically commune with the dead.

Obviously, by this logic I can't presume to tell you what Russell Davies thinks. Speaking as a poststructuralist, technically I can't even presume to tell you what Lance Parkin thinks. In the end, though, what I tell you here or what Russell Davies says in The Writer's Tale is ... well, not half as important as what we're telling you in the stories we've written.

I went through a process to write The Eyeless, I had to identify, define and solve problems. Part of my job was to make the final book seamless and untroubled and to make that process pretty much invisible. If you ever go 'that was a great bit of direction' or 'what a great special effect' ... it wasn't. Not in the normal course of things. Reading should be a bit like driving a car - if you can hear the engine rattling, something's gone wrong. We're all very savvy and postmodern and meta and well-informed now ... but the paradox of my job is that, at its root, what I'm trying to do is to distract you from the mechanics of what I'm doing and leave you with a purely aesthetic experience. And, surely, I get bonus paradox points for announcing that in a blog about writing the book.

These are the risks we take in the age of DVD commentaries and making of discs. I hope that the people who’ve read this far are the sort of people who appreciate a trick all the more if they know how it’s done. David Copperfield once said that the difference between a Vegas audience and the London audience was that in Vegas, they look at him when he started flying overhead, in London they look past him for the wires, but they end up clapping louder. I hope you're a London audience.

Anyway, I sent the book to Justin.

Within a day or so, Justin was able to send me the cover (which I’ve talked about before in this blog). At first, I got a PDF file emailed to me, but I soon got a nice glossy copy posted to me. I’ve always frame these, which means, by now, I’ve got enough book covers to fill up a fairly sizable wall.

The Eyeless was announced around the 25th, and I started this blog on the 27th. I spent six months knowing I was writing a tenth Doctor book without being able to shout about it!

The book wasn’t finished yet, though …

Thursday, 4 December 2008

TV Writing

Charlie Brooker, who's been mentioned here a fair few times, has interviewed a number of TV writers about their craft for his show Screenwipe and it's well worth a look.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Buy The Eyeless ... for less!

So ... here are the best deals for The Eyeless I've found.

According to the wonderful, saved-me-so-much-money site Find DVD both Amazon and Play have the book for a fiver.

For non-UKers, there's no excuse. The Book Depository delivers free worldwide within a week. When they get their stocks in, it'll be less than cover price, too (5.24 GBP, usually). That works out cheaper for someone in the US than it would do from their local Borders ... three months earlier, too. Delivered to your door. Go on, you know you want to.

There will be deals in supermarkets and three-for-two offers, too.

So ... are these the best deals out there? Let me know.

When it does come out, please feel free to review it - on your own blogs, on Amazon (that's particularly useful, because so many people will read that) or just by posting a comment here. I'd love it if people posted a link to any review here (positive or negative, I don't mind as long as it's not actively sweary or libellous).