Exclusive Interview: Jenny Colgan

July 3rd, 2012
Warning! This article and its comments may contain spoilers...

A new Doctor Who novel, Dark Horizons, is published this month! We recently caught up with its author, Jenny Colgan, to find out more about what her adventure has in store.

In the story, islanders living on a windswept Northern shore believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack – then the burning comes, consuming everything in its path. While the Doctor is just looking for a game on the Lewis chess set, he instead encounters people under attack from a power they can’t understand. Why do the burned still speak?

Read our exclusive Q&A with Jenny below. Huge thank you for answering our questions!

Q. When did you first realise that you wanted to become an author?
A. Well, I kind of always would have LIKED to have done it, but I wouldn’t necessarily have considered it any more likely than being a pop star or a ballerina or something. It doesn’t normally happen to comprehensive school girls from Ayrshire. So it was a total thrill when it actually did happen.

Q. What advice/tips would you give to any aspiring writers out there?
A. Okay, well, here it is, but no one ever likes it, okay? I’m warning you. It’s just got to get done. I knew so many people starting out who were so talented and never got published in the end because they simply couldn’t get the words on the page at the right time. If you want to write for a living, you need to know this: research isn’t writing; going to writing courses isn’t writing; playing with Scrivener isn’t writing, ‘planning’ isn’t writing, sticking stuff on index cards isn’t writing, messing about on the internet isn’t writing; even editing isn’t writing (you do that when you’re finished all the writing). If you find yourself doing anything to avoid the actually typing of the words, then maybe it’s not for you. Sorry, I know, it sounds SO awful, doesn’t it? All I can say is, I’ve been making a living at this for a decade and a half; people ask me all the time, and that’s the only wholly honest answer I can give, because I’m not trying to hawk you vanity publishing or writing courses.

Q. You are best known for your romantic comedies. What was it like taking the leap to the sci-fi genre for this Doctor Who novel?
A. Well, this will sound weird, but actually not much. All I ever try to do is write a cool story in a cool way. You’re more likely to face death in this one, but the principles – to keep the story moving, to keep the pages turning by themselves – is exactly the same.

Q. Were you a fan of Doctor Who when you were growing up?
A. Oh, not at all, I just thought why not have a shot… oh, I’m only joking! Of course, I’ve always been passionate. The first ones I really remember properly are the brilliant final Tom Baker years with the second Romana and City of Death and Warriors Gate, so I came on board at a good time. Then a second cousin visited from Canada and she was a mad fan too and we both made each other worse. When I was ten I entered a W.H. Smiths competition to ‘Meet Doctor Who’ and I won! I got to meet Peter Davison on set at Television Centre in London, who was charming and told me not to look inside the TARDIS as I’d only be disappointed. I also had short hair back then and he called me ’son’ – they didn’t really have girl Whovians in those days I don’t think. I read somewhere subsequently that David Tennant entered the same competition and lost. Heh heh heh. Although I think he kind of recovered.

Q. So what can fans expect from Dark Horizons?
A. Vikings, longships, enormous conflagrations, chess, famine, a kidnapped princess and a dead TARDIS at the bottom of the ocean. Will that do for starters?

Q. How did you writing your very own tie-in novel for the series come about?
A. My friend Naomi Alderman had done one which I liked, and it had never occurred to me before. Then I got in touch with BBC Books and proposed some ideas and they thought about it and made me promise not to make the Doctor do any kissing and then we were on. That’s missing out the part about me begging repeatedly by the way.

Q. Dark Horizons features the historic Lewis Chessmen set. What made you choose to include them in your novel?
A. I love the Lewis Chessmen, I think they’re stunning; even though the set is nearly a thousand years old, the faces are so recognisably human and quirky and interesting. And also, there’s loads of theories about who and what they were for, but nobody really knows for sure. Which seemed like a cool mystery the Doctor might enjoy. We already know he likes chess and Scotland.

Q. What would you say are the most exciting and challenging parts of writing a Doctor Who novel?
A. It was all exciting. The first time you even type the words ‘The Doctor left the TARDIS’ or whatever, you’re already so far into your childhood dreams it’s just incredible. I nearly exploded when they sent me the cover. As for challenging, the big one is the passing of time. On TV a lot of the adventures are wrapped up in the space of forty five minutes, but in the book you have a much broader canvas to work on, but it takes place over several days, or, as in Dark Horizons, even weeks.

Q. Dark Horizons is a brand new adventure for Matt Smith’s Doctor. Did you enjoy being able to convey his various characteristics and traits on page?
A. Well, I hope I’ve caught him. I love Matt, he’s so patently alien before he even opens his mouth. Also I was interested in how he moves: Christopher Eccleston had this real solidity about him. If he fixed something it stays fixed; he was quite scary. David Tennant was this amazing fizzy ball of charisma, he never stopped for a second, unless he was totally furious. Matt is actually very graceful I think. I know he used to play sport and it shows. Chris really couldn’t dance, but I bet Matt can (I am basing this on no evidence at all, by the way).

Q. Have you got any other Doctor Who projects lined up for the future?
A. I shall return to begging mode and keep my fingers very tightly crossed!

Dark Horizons is released on 5th July. Pre-order it now! Our review will be up tomorrow.

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