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Interview: Andy Lane

First Published:
Sonic Screwdriver #86

Publish Date:
September 1994

This was the first of a series of interviews I did with Who authors and other luminaries. Andy also kindly allowed us to print the mini-story he wrote for Virgin as a guide to the characters of the new companions he was introducing in Original Sin.

Andy Lane is the one of the busier New Adventure writers. He was author of Lucifer Rising (with Jim Mortimore) and then All-Consuming Fire. Original Sin will come out next June, and introduces the new companions Chris Cwej and Roslyn Forrester, as you read in Sonic Screwdriver 85. We contacted Andy for an interview, and started, well, at the start.

He was born in St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, on April 17, 1963 — ‘seven months before Doctor Who started, probably during a production meeting or something. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that I was born just as Terry Nation was thinking up the Daleks?

’In my early teens I had to make an uninformed choice between following the arts path or the science path (it’s difficult in British schools to keep your options open). I wanted to be a writer, and had since I was eight, but English Lit. classes seemed to consist of pulling poems apart into their constituent parts to find out how they worked. Well, I’d seen that approach to frogs in biology classes, and whilst it aided your understanding of the inner workings of a frog no end, it tended to have a detrimental effect on the frog. So I chose the science path. I took a degree in physics (meeting Craig Hinton and Justin Richards at University) and then joined the civil service, where I’m a Senior Scientific Officer, running contracts and analysing information. I study things for the Government from a scientific point of view — I’m supposed to be able to say whether something that has been proposed is feasible or not. Like perpetual motion. Or time travel.

’I’ve spent most of my life in London, apart from those three years in Coventry at Warwick University. My over-riding memory of that time (well, the printable one) is of sitting in a cosmology lecture with Craig Hinton and wondering why there was no mention of the White Guardian. I met my wife shortly after leaving Uni — she was another Who fan, and we bumped into each other at a party held by a mutual friend and fan. Love at first sight — literally.’

Having proceeded all the way through his life (my, that makes him sound old…), we jumped back to the beginning again: when did he first watch Doctor Who? ‘I don’t know how I got into Doctor Who. It’s always been there. My earliest real memory is of my parents bringing me a Troughton annual in hospital when I was having my tonsils out aged six (it’s the one with the cover showing the Cybermen bursting into the TARDIS), although I have scattered fragments of scenes stuck in my head — a unicorn, White robots, etc. It’s always been a part of my life. An important part. Sad man.’

I remembered to ask the standard questions: favourite Doctor? ‘Probably the Third, although the Second Doctor has been gaining a lot of ground in my affections recently.’ Companion? ‘Tricky, this. I would probably go for Jo Grant, ‘cos she’s cute, although when I was six I had a hampster called Jamie, which probably tells you something about me and my companion preferences back in 1969.’ And story? ‘It’s got to be a toss-up between Spearhead from Space, Frontier in Space, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and Resurrection of the Daleks. Hmm, two Robert Holmes and a Malcolm Hulke. What does this tell us?’ Good taste, if you ask me. Can you imagine, a British fan who likes Pertwee…

But how did he get into fandom? ‘I’d written a couple of fan fiction stories and sent them into the Doctor Who Appreciation Society fan fiction magazine — Cosmic Masque. At that time it was being edited by John Peel, and he rejected them for what I now see to be very good reasons. I joined a fan group in London back in about 1980, and we decided to publish our own fanzine. It was called E=MC3, and it gave me a perfect opportunity to get my stories published — by myself!

’People reacted well to them — including Gary Russell, who was editing the DWAS newsletter Celestial Toyroom at the time — so I started to send stories to other fanzines. Over the course of five years I wrote twenty or thirty short stories (including one with Justin Richards). Craig Hinton has a lot of them archived, and won’t let me destroy them unless I pay him large amounts of money. Whilst at University, Justin and I wrote a Victorian horror novel together based upon an unsold TV script that he’d written. Nobody wanted to buy the book either, but I knew that one day, someone would.

’I left University, joined the Civil Service and moonlighted as a journalist and book reviewer for various SF/horror magazines including Starburst, TV Zone, Fantasy Zone, Skeleton Crew and The Doctor Who Monthly. Through the book reviewing I became friends with various writers such as Mary Gentle and Colin Greenland, and through them and others I began to hear about magazines and books that were looking out for SF stories. I wrote a couple and sent them off — they were returned, rejected. I joined a group of people who all, like me, wanted to write SF, and we criticised each others’ stories once a month. It forced us all to become better, on the basis that it’s always easier to see mistakes in something that someone else has written.

’Finally I sold a story! Jim Mortimore and I decided that if Paul Cornell could sell a Doctor Who book then we could (by which I don’t mean that Paul’s stuff was bad, just that he came out of the fanzines that I’d been in, and people had said equally nice things about both of us). We sent in a proposal. Peter Darvill-Evans rejected it because it was too like standard TV Doctor Who. We sent in another proposal. Peter rejected it because it was far too weird — it was called Bodyshock, and started out when the Doctor and Ace woke up in the bodies of giant lobsters separated by millions of years on an alien planet. I can see what Peter meant about it being weird… Then Peter telephoned Jim and said, ‘Jim, that first proposal you wrote… I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d like to give it a go.’ Cue fame, success and happiness.’

I asked what it had been like to co-write his first New Adventure, Lucifer Rising, with Jim Mortimore — how do you co-write a 346-page novel without going mad? ‘I was fortunate in that I’d already written a novel with Justin, so I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. You have to find a way to do it and keep sane at the same time. The way Jim and I agreed was to thrash a detailed plot out over the course of some months, then write alternate chapters, sticking to the plot. The only problems we had were in chapter 5, when Jim wandered away from the plot, and chapter 10, when I wrote some sub-standard stuff. Both chapters got rewritten.

’There are strengths and weaknesses of writing with someone else. The main strength is that you’re constantly surprised by what your co-writer comes up with, and that keeps the book fresh. The main disadvantage is that if there’s anything you disagree with, or would have done differently, you have to swallow your pride and accept it. Ho hum. It was fun, and I’d do it again (but not in a hurry). It almost tore Jim and I apart as friends, and there are some things more important than Doctor Who.’

What is Jim Mortimore and some of the other New Adventure authors like? ‘Jim is big and bearded, and doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. He’s opinionated, and argumentative, and overbearing, and I really like the guy. The bastard’s so talented; he’s a musician (with gigs and records to his name), a damn good artist (witness the cover of Lucifer Rising, which got reproduced badly) and a writer of no mean ability. And all I can do is pastiche Conan Doyle.

’I have little contact with the other writers, except for the ones that I already knew (Gary, Jim, Craig, Justin and Paul) and the ones I meet at the monthly London Who pub gatherings (Dan Blythe and Gareth Roberts). And, of course, e-mailing with Kate (who I met briefly once). I haven’t met any that I haven’t liked. Virgin have selected a likeable bunch or guys and girls.’ When I asked about his favourite New Adventure, I got a bit of a surprise. ‘I’m not qualified to say, as I’ve read less than half of them. Of the ones I have read, the one I’d most like to reread is White Darkness, because it’s got a marvellous sense of time and place.’

I moved on to ask how Virgin, publishers of the New Adventures, treated the series. ‘I’m impressed with the amount of care and attention that Virgin lavish on the series. Yes they make mistakes, and yes they let things slip through that we wish they hadn’t, but that’s because they’re thoroughly overworked. Rebecca Levena and Andy Bodle, the people with whom I have most contact, are very knowledgable about continuity and the way the series should be going. They’re also talented editors, and I’m proud to count them as friends as well. And in case anybody is left with the impression that this New Adventures lark is sewn up by a small number of writers, I should point out that we all have to fight anew for every book, and Rebecca is proud that no proposal has gone through without having been changed.

’The conditions: we write, they pay us an advance before publication, followed by royalties after publication. It’s a good deal, as publishers go. We have copyright in the book and joint copyright over any characters.’ What input do the authors have on the covers? ‘Witness Lucifer Rising. Yes, we’re consulted quite extensively. With All-Consuming Fire and Original Sin I was asked to write a page or so on what I wanted on the cover, and I was consulted over choice of artist. Virgin are brilliant in the way they deal with writers.’

With a New Adventure each month (and from September a Missing Adventure to cope with each month as well), we’re always looking forward to the upcoming titles. I prodded at Andy to drop a line or two about Original Sin. ‘Original Sin was originally meant to be a Third Doctor Missing Adventure entitled Broken Heroes, but mutated along the way. The cover has been done by Tony Masero, who also did First Frontier and Warlock. It shows Cwej and Forrester holding the Doctor in the air, set against two alien landscapes. I’ve got to rewrite the book to Rebecca Levene’s instructions by the end of October. No problem — she’s been spot on in her criticisms of what I did wrong. No hints, except that the book involves the… but no. I don’t want to spoil it for you!’

I pointed out that everyone seems to have been getting sick of Ace over the past year. I asked Andy’s opinion. ‘Ace is a bitch to write for — literally and metaphorically. She isn’t a real character any more. What she’s been through is enough to drive any normal human being mad. We just have to do the best we can. I love writing for Bernice, but I suspect that my take on her is different from most other people’s. Paul Cornell and I have talked it through, and I think (I hope) he’s happier with my interpretation than he is with some of the others.’

Andy has also been published in a number of non-Who places. As well as the various magazine contributions mentioned beforehand, he has had tales penned in Interzone and a horror anthology by Dell called The Ultimate Witch. Several more tales have already been sold, and will see printing next year. He is working on a horror novel called Full Fathom Five.

Time for a different tack. What influences him, who does he admire? ‘Music-wise, it’s Philip Glass, Yes, Tangerine Dream, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Leonard Cohen. Writers: contemporary it’s Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Gallagher and Bill Bryson. Dead and gone, it’s Arthur Conan Doyle (of course!), Sax Rohmer, Geoffrey Household and John Buchan.

’And John D. MacDonald, the best private eye writer ever. His books are just so stylish it makes me want to give up writing altogether. For that reason, my hero would be his cynical knight errant beach bum in a fallen world, Travis McGee. And I also forgot Tim Powers, who writes the best fantasy books ever.’

What does he do for fun? ‘I drink.’

Finally, I asked what he saw — or predicted — coming his way in the future. ‘I’m talking to Virgin about a First Doctor Missing Adventure (they asked me, not the other way around). I won’t tell you the title, because it gives a bit of the plot away (it’s like titling a book The Cyber Wars and hoping that people don’t guess what it’s about), but it revolves around the fact that at the same time that Galileo was writing his treatise on the sun and the Earth, the Mayflower was landing. Typical Tim Powers coincidence of unrelated facts. In ten years time I’ll have four or five ‘serious’ SF and horror novels under my belt, and I’ll look back with affection on Doctor Who, having cleared a space for other writers to occupy.’ We shall see, I guess… Thank you, Andy Lane.

End of Interview

Here’s the list of the Doctor Who interviews available here:
Andy Lane
Craig ‘Craggles’ Hinton
Evan Hercules
Kate Orman
Trevor Martin & Christopher Benjamin
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index

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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Wed, 8 Jan 2003.