Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Simon Guerrier

"TV is a complex thing to write for – with technical nuts and bolts very different from prose or audio"

Author and script writer, Simon Guerrier is without doubt a sci-fi fan, having written novels for Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, and Primeval. His work with Big Finish has been extensive - he has contributed to their Doctor Who and Bernice Summerfield ranges, including other audio dramas such as UNIT (The Coup is available for FREE download), Graceless and Robin Hood. We Catch up with him...

Photograph: Lisa Bowerman

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

Simon Guerrier: Um. I am 33, six foot three (that's 1.92 metres, says the internet) and got married in a genuine Doctor Who location. (It's where the Seventh Doctor and Leela foil the Rani's evil plan.)

What was your first published work for Doctor Who, and how do you think it compares to your recent novel, The Slitheen Excursion?

My first published Doctor Who adventure was a short story. “The Switching” appeared in Short Trips – Zodiac in 2002 and saw the Master swapping brains with the third Doctor. I'm still desperately pleased with it – and grateful to my friend Jonathan Morris and editor Jacqueline Rayner who both worked so hard to make me look good.

I'm probably the last person able to judge how much my writing has come on since then. Both “The Switching” and “The Slitheen Excursion” are quite fun and lively, but then I've also written much darker, weirder stuff too. So, um, pass.

You're also linked with Big Finish. How does audio storytelling differ from the novel form?

There are technical things to be considered when you write in different media – the nuts and bolts stuff of how you lay down a story. Prose relies solely on the words themselves to conjure sights and tastes and smells. With audio, you can set a tone with the background sounds. The same scene will be completely different when set against explosions or soft music or a hurricane. Then there's how the actor delivers the words. I'm astounded by Caroline John in my recent Doctor Who audio “Shadow of the Past”. She took what I wrote and made it so affecting – a brilliant and moving performance, as much to do with her skills as anything I put down on paper.

Can you tell us a little more about your work for Big Finish?

Big Finish gave me my first break in writing fiction when they let me write “The Switching” in 2002. Since then, I've written all sorts for them – a load of short stories and audio plays for all manner of their ranges. I've edited and produced for them, played a few monsters and walk-ons, been taken to conventions in the UK and USA, and generally had a brilliant time of it. I've got six audio plays out with them this year alone. They are fine and handsome people who know I'm quick and cheap.

It has been a fantastic time for Doctor Who over the years, and the series has finally discovered a new lease of life with its return in 2005. What do you think it is about the series that has gained so much love and support from its myriad of fans?

At it's best, it's a funny, clever, exciting and terrifying show, continually rich and rewarding. What's not to love?

What were your first thoughts on new Doctor Matt Smith?

I knew he was going to be great because Lisa Bowerman said so. Lisa's got a brilliant eye and ear for casting – it's worked wonders on the Big Finish stories she's directed. She had seen Matt Smith and had taken his photograph, and she said he'd be a brilliant Doctor. And, as always, she was right.

Is there any possibility that you will be asked to write a Doctor Who script for the television medium?

Well, I suppose there's a remote possibility but I've never written for TV. As far as I can think of, in all new Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures, only one writer hadn't done TV before. Joseph Lidster well deserves to be the exception – he's utterly brilliant, the swine.

TV is a complex thing to write for – with technical nuts and bolts very different from prose or audio. So my previous writing for Doctor Who doesn't mean I'd write good Doctor Who for the telly. I expect I'd need lots of TV experience before anyone considered me. If nothing else, they've plenty of other much better qualified writers to consider first.

You've written for, amongst other things, Sapphire & Steel, Robin Hood, Primeval, Being Human and Bernice Summerfield. Do you have a wish list?

I can't think of a series I'm desperate to write for at the moment, though I've longed to write a James Bond film for about as long as I've longed to write Doctor Who. So my wish list is more about people I'd like to work with. And obviously to get some TV work.

Is there any advice that you can give to the new writer? I'm sure there are plenty of fans out there who would love to write for their favourite show. Maybe even something of their very own too!

Terrance Dicks has said before that there's no such thing as a 'Doctor Who writer'. Instead, there are writers who write all sorts of things, which sometimes includes Doctor Who. You'll save a lot of time and disappointment if you can understand that.

If you still want to be a writer, then write as much as possible, finish as much of it as possible, and read as much as possible. Read widely, challenge yourself, try stuff you'd never normally look at and like. Keep a notebook. Keep your old notebooks safe. Collect rejection letters like they are medals. Make sure you can pay your bills.

You don't have to be a writer. There are much easier hobbies and jobs. So make sure you enjoy writing and that the hard graft is worth it.

Who or what inspires you mostly?

My wife is a good source of inspiration as I'll be in trouble with her if I don't get paid. She also tells me good things to read or watch, and points out when I get stuff wrong in my stories. But writing is like an affliction or disease – I write because I *have to*.

And finally, do you have any work in the pipeline? Advertise away...

Plenty in the pipeline but not many I can speak of just yet. I've just delivered a new something to Big Finish which hasn't been announced yet, and I'm working on a short film that I hope will be shot over the summer. In the meantime, my Doctor Who audio “Shadow of the Past” is out this month, with “The Guardian of the Solar System” out in July and my mini-series “Graceless” in October. I have rewrites to do on one episode of that, so that'll probably be my next effort...

Update: 22 April 2010 - just received a follow-up email from Simon:

Oh! I am wrong! James Moran's first TV work was his script for Torchwood series 2 - though he'd written movies and things before that. And I think Clayton Hickman made his TV debut with the Sarah Jane / Comic Relief sketch. So ignore everything I said. I will be writing for TV tomorrow.

Thanks to Simon - Twitter
Simon Guerrier interview copyright © Alwyn Ash 2010