Saturday, February 13, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Daniel Blythe

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Stefan Kiszko Image

"I wish it hadn't been away for so long. But it couldn't really have come back with more of a vengeance. When people knock the new series I just want to sit them down in a room and ask them what, in fact, they actually *want*?"

Best known for his Doctor Who work including Virgin New Adventures and BBC Books, Daniel has also written novels I Hate Christmas and This is the Day for Allison & Busby. The author kindly spoke to us about his career, inspirations and Autonomy...

Alwyn Ash: Hi Daniel, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Daniel Blythe: I was born in Maidstone in 1969 and went to Maidstone Grammar School and then to Oxford. Worked in a variety of jobs, mostly charity/ voluntary sector and in education, but always combining with writing.

These days I work on average 4 days a week on my writing and have a day or two a week where I'm out doing something else related to writing - a school visit, a workshop either freelance or with an arts organisation, etc. I also teach a regular Writing A Novel class. It's lovely to be asked to do all this extra stuff, and it's also really useful!

I'm married to Rachel, who is a teacher - we've been married for 11 years and have two children, Elinor, who is 9 and Sam, who will be 7 by the time people read this! Both big DW fans - they didn't really have a choice!

What are your earliest memories of Doctor Who?

Jon Pertwee turning into Tom Baker. I was aware right from the start that the Doctor could change his face. I was always too frightened to watch when I was a pre-schooler, but as soon as I started in Bottom Infants (as it was known then) everyone watched it - a birthday party I went to stopped for part 3 of Robot to be watched, in the dark!... And that sort of thing happens again now. My daughter's 8th birthday was on the day "The Doctor's Daughter" was shown. We had a living-room full of 8-year-olds all watching Doctor Who.

Have you ever visited a Doctor Who convention / event?

When I was much younger I went to a couple and enjoyed the panels and the videos but didn't really mingle much. I only started going to the famous Fitzroy Tavern because a couple of fellow New Adventures writers dragged me along - I've not been much since! Recently I went to NovelCon at the award-winning Lass O'Gowrie pub in Manchester, as a guest, and that was great fun - I just turned into one of those people who stands in the bar and chats to everyone. Really enjoyed that.

Who, or what, inspires you?

All sorts of things really. I imagine scenarios that might have happened if people had taken different routes in life. I'm inspired by everything I read and absorb aspects of writers' voices, I'm sure. I think after a decade and a half of being published I am still a beginner, still learning. I like to think I am not even halfway through my publishing career yet.

I was interviewing a young pop group for a potential new project the other day and we were all talking about this question of what drives people in the creative industries, when there are so many people out there ready to knock you and often so little reward at first. You have to have a real self-belief and want to do it no matter what.

Congratulations on Autonomy becoming a No1 bestseller! So what was the inspiration for your 2009 novel?

Justin Richards asked me if I fancied writing a book featuring the Nestenes. I said yes straight away because there is so much scope for playfulness as a writer - they aren't one-note villains, they exist in so many different manifestations and they have that wonderful dark Robert Holmes sense of the macabre.

It's a great privilege and great fun. I loved writing for the Doctor and trying to capture his character. It's great to be able to take ideas that older writers have come up with and develop them. I imagined how an entity which controls plastic might work in a 21st-century leisure and shopping complex - I especially enjoyed writing a really nasty scene where a pushy journalist is swallowed by her 'living plastic' boots and dress. That was inspired by the plastic chair scene from 'Terror' , of course.

How have you grown artistically/creatively since writing your first Doctor Who novel, The Dimension Riders, for Virgin Books in 1993?

I like to think I have learned a lot. I'm less visual as a writer and more character-driven. I like to think my writing is tighter and less showy. I wrote two of the 1990s New Adventures novels, 'The Dimension Riders' and "Infinite Requiem', featuring the 7th Doctor. I also wrote a short story for 'Decalog 2' featuring the Fifth Doctor and a short story for the Marvel DW yearbook featuring the Fourth Doctor. 'Autonomy' was exciting for me, as it was my first DW novel in 13 years and also my first for the tenth Doctor - and the first for which I was asked to write my own take on an old enemy.

But Doctor Who's just part of my writing. I've written three novels for adults, non-fiction on subjects as diverse as parenting and 80s pop, and various articles for magazines and so on. I've recently been paid to develop a scenario for an internet-based story which schoolchildren will contribute to and develop - another first for me! I'm always looking for new avenues and new ways to promote myself. I've had a website for four years now - - and I'm on Facebook. Not yet been lured on to Twitter, but maybe it's only a matter of time!...

Do you have a favourite Doctor(s)?

Tom Baker is the Doctor I grew up with, and so he'll always be my favourite, I think. I've had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. He'll always be the Doctor for me. His episodes are the ones I return to most often on DVD. But I'm really enjoying a lot of the 1980s stories again with the benefit of distance - especially Peter Davison's work.

What are your thoughts on the return of the series (2005-present)? Had it gained anything by its absence from television?

I wish it hadn't been away for so long. But it couldn't really have come back with more of a vengeance. When people knock the new series I just want to sit them down in a room and ask them what, in fact, they actually *want*? We've got a new series of 13 episodes a year, getting some of the highest ratings ever, with the best British writing and directing talent, schoolkids all over the country being Daleks in the playground again and carrying Cyberman rucksacks and Ood pencil-cases around... I mean, this is a golden age, isn't it? No episode is perfect, we know that, but there isn't a figurative "alternative" new Doctor Who waiting in the wings in case this one fails. This is what we have. Do people really want to go back to the 1990s when all we had to get excited about was books, audios and a webcast??

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy?

Spending time with my children and enjoying the lovely scenery - and pubs! - of the Peak District on my doorstep. I keep meaning to take up more exercise and get out and about and see it more. I'm interested in politics and have an unashamed love of pop music old and new. I write a politics blog at

Do you have any projects/books planned for 2010?

I have two books coming out this year. The first is "X Marks The Box", which is more or less out now - it's a book about politics and voting and will, I hope, get people engaged with politics again if they are disillusioned. The second is a nostalgia book for Pen and Sword, called "Gadgets, Games and Heroes" - that'll be out later in the year. I'm doing another for them called "Famous Robots", to be out in 2011.

I'm also working on a new novel, and I've got a children's novel with my agent, potentially the first in a series, and we are talking to various publishers about that. Several other non-fiction ideas in development too. Always something on the go!

Thanks to Daniel - Twitter
Daniel Blythe interview copyright © Alwyn Ash 2010