In 2001, I was waiting to hear whether the BBC were going to accept the amended proposal for Heritage. Most writers this close to getting their first novel published might think about contacting agents or publishers, to try and build some kind of momentum to sell the book after that. I decided to make a concerted effort to get some more fan fiction published.
To be fair to myself, at this point in my life my only real ambition was to write Doctor Who. I’d pretty much decided to leave playwriting behind me, and had been focusing almost exclusively on my own fan fiction series Back From the Dead. I couldn’t try to get another BBC book until they’d agreed to publish the first, and I had no idea who to contact at Big Finish. So that left the fanzines: after my stories in the charity anthologies of 2000, and being visible online, two editors got in touch and asked if I had any stories they could use. I wrote them one each, both on similar themes: Sepia went to the editor of the now defunct Circus; Staring into the Abyss went to Matt Grady for the Doctor Who Information Network’s Myth Makers fanzine.
Over the next ten years, I developed something of a relationship with DWIN: I’d first heard of them because someone I can only assume was Michael J Doran handed me a copy of their publication Enlightenment at the Gallifrey convention. That particular issue had Michael’s review of Heritage in it, but also made mention of their fiction sister magazine Myth Makers. I ended up writing four stories for them over the next ten years: every time they ask, if I can, I always try to write them something. Their collections are always worth having, but more than that: I owe them.
The stories I wrote for DWIN all came from very different places. Two were deliberate attempts to emulate another writer’s style: Staring into the Abyss was dedicated to Ian McIntire because it borrowed the time-hopping style and central theme of his Perfect Timing story Schrödinger’s Botanist; Blossom was an attempt to capture the mood and tone of the BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. Recursion was an attempt to come up with an answer to the question posed by the editor as the central theme of the issue: what were the essential elements of a Doctor Who story? My answer was that “you can’t change history, not one line” was a central tenet of the show, but to be honest that was just an excuse to allow me to write the kind of time-hopping complexity I’m most fond of. The answer could have just as easily have been “Time can shift. Time can change. Time can be rewritten.”
The Man in the Suit was again partly inspired by the theme the editors had in mind: being asked for a story about weirdness and alternative dimensions, I thought of the quantum suicide / quantum machine gun thought experiment I had recently read about. To that, I added an image of scraping the TARDIS key across piano strings to evoke the TARDIS that came from a rejected pitch I made to Big Finish. The nightmare images in the alternate world came from a conversation with my father: just recently, he had been hospitalised and prescribed morphine, which gave him the most disturbing dreams of human-faced skunks and being watched constantly by a man with his skin turned inside who he knew to be Death. I borrowed the images without hesitation.
A few weeks later my father was hospitalised again, but this time he did not recover. My relationship with The Man in the Suit is complicated.
What Happened Next?
After that first DWIN story was published, Matt Grady moved on as editor of Myth Makers and was replaced by someone called Richard Salter. With two issues under his belt, Richard was tasked with coming up with an issue to celebrate Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary: he wanted to issue to include contributions from people who had written for the official book ranges as well as people who had written for DWIN before, and realised that I sat in both camps. He asked if I would contribute something, so I wrote him Recursion. When he came to edit his next collection, he asked again if I would contribute and that time I sent him Blossom. We both found the experience of working together so easy that when Richard had a proposal for a Short Trips anthology accepted by Big Finish, I was one of the writers he asked to pitch an idea.
But that wasn’t the only paid work that writing for DWIN earned me. The issue of Myth Makers that Blossom appeared in was read by a Doctor Who fan called Stuart Douglas. It was the main story that really made him a fan of my work, and made him think of me when he set up his own publishing house, Obverse Books:
If I had said no to that first request for a story from Myth Makers, I wouldn’t have gotten to know Richard Salter. I wouldn’t have gotten to know Stuart Douglas, and I wouldn’t have written for Obverse. If I hadn’t been writing for Obverse, I wouldn’t have written anything for two years and I wouldn’t have been given a lifeline to pull me back into writing when those two years were up. If I hadn’t had that, there is a good chance that I wouldn’t still be writing now.
Like I said: I owe DWIN.