I never wanted to be a Doctor Who writer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve written stories, but those first attempts were short, often unfinished and never for anyone but me to read. And they never featured The Doctor.
But I was without doubt a Doctor Who fan and always enjoyed new Doctor Who stories, which was one of the main reasons I ended up buying a hefty chunk of Cosmic Masque issues when I joined the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. The infrequently published magazine was DWAS’ fiction arm, publishing stories by their members – people whose names meant nothing to me at the time, but included Paul Cornell, Keith Topping, Steve Lyons, Andrew “Andy” Lane, Jim Mortimore, and Tat Wood.
Once I realised that somebody would publish short stories featuring the Doctor, my entire output changed. I occasionally wrote other things, but most of my ideas became Doctor Who fan-fiction and most of the stories got sent to DWAS when they were finished. Something changed – the only thing that has ever really changed about why I write: suddenly, without ever thinking about it, I started to write with the idea that somebody else, somewhere would eventually read it. The stories that didn’t end up published were never complete, even though they were finished.
The inspirations for the early stories were always continuity issues. My first story ever published – Grief – revisited a story from the sixties and grafted on the things we had learned since about the Doctor. The next – Celestial Intervention – tried to explain away Colin Baker having played two distinct roles in the show. These were extensions of the articles that I used to write for DWAS’ sister magazine Celestial Toyroom, and were just attempts to argue my idea of how Doctor Who worked.
But somewhere, something shifted. Red Paint an honest-to-goodness stab at evoking a mood, inspired by the Neneh Cherry song of the same name. They were still fannish little things and not very good, but they were trying to be stories.
The shift in my ambition came about because of Jon V Way, the editor of Cosmic Masque when I first started writing for it. Not so much from anything he said about the stories he accepted, but when he rejected a story he would always give a brief explanation of why. He knocked back a handful of stories for not really being stories – for example, a Cyberman story that would have lost nothing if it had just been the words “Cybermen don’t act logically on TV”. That just made me try all the harder.
What Happened Next?
Once the stories were published, there was always a chance that someone would mention them in the next month’s letters page. This proved to be the other great spur towards writing better stories: audience feedback is addictive, and everybody who writes anything is desperate for somebody to tell them it’s good. I only ever received a couple of off-hand mentions, but they were enough.
I can’t honestly say I’d jump at the chance to write for DWAS again, but it was an important step in making me the writer I am today. It gave me a safe space to start showing my work to other people, and cope with feedback and rejection from an editor. But it also started my tunnel-vision focus on writing for Doctor Who, which has meant I haven’t devoted enough time to writing other things.