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Interview: Kate Orman

First Published:
Sonic Screwdriver #88

Publish Date:
January 1995

Hey, I have one of the rarest Australian Who items of merchandise — an unsigned copy of Hummer! Didn’t seem much point when I already had her distinctive signature on dozens of letters before then…

We last talked to Kate Orman back in Sonic Screwdriver #80 – since then, The Left-Handed Hummingbird has come out, she’s taken over running the Doctor Who Fan Club of Australia, and written her second New Adventure, Set Piece. So we thought it was time we caught up with her again…

The obvious place to start was with The Left-Handed Hummingbird, or Hummer as it has come to be known (as we all know, the only reason Kate gave it such a long title was to ensure it used two lines on the "Also Available" page in the New Adventures!). I asked her what the response to Hummer had been – this interviewer certainly enjoyed it! ‘Feedback comes in all sorts of ways – as I’ve said before, the best thing about writing for a fan audience is that you can be sure they’ll tell you what they think! I’ve had reams of e-mail, several letters passed on by Virgin or sent to the DWFCA address, and of course zine reviews and articles. I was knocked out by the very positive response to the book. In fact, it was far better than a first-time author deserves! Now I’ll have to wait and see whether Set Piece does as well. It’s a very different book, and was much tougher to write.’

The popular success of Hummer (it gained a rapid re-print) obviously helped with getting her second New Adventure, Set Piece, accepted. How much easier, I asked? ‘Once Hummer was published, I didn’t need to keep sending in sample chapters with every proposal — Rebecca knows I can write. I wasn’t exactly asked to submit a second novel, but it was made very clear that they’d be happy to see more from me. So it was up to me what I did next. I think some of the authors, including myself, are very keen in continuing to write for the series — and those are the names you keep seeing. (Alas, Paul Cornell has decided that Human Nature will be his last.)

’I’ve been learning a lot by re-writing the latest submission, Storm and Stress, over and over — I’m terrible at plotting, and Rebecca doesn’t let me get away with weak storylines.

’I gather there was a huge rush of fan submissions when the series was first announced, and that the rush has slowed down — probably because everyone in fandom has gotten at least one rejection slip by now! Writing an NA is within any fan’s reach if they’ve got talent, whereas writing scripts for the TV series was a distant dream…’

So the next question was: how did Set Piece come about? ‘While Hummer was something I’d had in mind for a long time — some Australian fans may remember the original short story in Jason Towers’ Pirate Planet [Ed: Yes, it’s in the only issue I don’t have!] — Set Piece was entirely new, except for the first two chapters.

’Those first chapters are something I’ve been trying to get onto paper since I was ten (I can remember hammering out the introduction to a novel on a golf ball typewriter). I kept tacking them onto various different submissions — they’re more or less self-contained. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you read the book, but they’re obviously drawn from some deep subconscious terror of mine. If The Most Toys or Frame of Mind or The Prisoner give you the creeps, you’re on the same wavelength as I am.

’The rest of the book began at a meeting of New Adventures authors waaaay back in September 1993. We were asked to think of ways in which Ace could depart the series, without violating the continuity of the Fenric novelisation. I came up with a way of doing it, and that formed the core of the story. That night I also said to Rebecca, "You must have had so many submission set in Ancient Egypt!" and she said, "No, we haven’t had any at all!".

’It’s a shame John Peel already did Mesopotamia — I was fascinated by it as a child. Oh well, I have to get out of the habit of visiting ancient civilisations anyway… Storm and Stress is set in Sydney in the year 2000.’

I’d heard that Set Piece had been much harder to write than Hummer, largely because Kate had tried to get everything into it, and ended up with little left for anything new. Kate elaborated. ‘Set Piece was the hardest thing to write I’ve ever done. It just seemed to take forever. There were several reasons. One was that I didn’t do my homework before starting — unlike Hummer, I hadn’t worked the plot out rigorously before starting.

’Another reason was Ben Aaronovitch’s very helpful suggestions (I brilliantly forgot to thank him in the book). I rang him up all a-tremble, only to discover I’d gotten him out of the shower! When I rang back, he told me all sorts of amazing things about the back story for the Doctor which was being developed during the Cartmel era (lots of it is in Time’s Crucible and Transit.) It was fascinating — I still have all the notes — but it necessitated a major re-plot of the last third of the novel! I think that threw me — I was confused for the rest of the book…’

Getting a New Adventure must throw an awful lot of attention on to you. Kate has done book signings as any other writer might at bookstores in Sydney, and when people know you’ve got a book in the works, you’d expect extra comment from those around her. I asked Kate how this had affected her. ‘I had far less input from my writer’s circle while writing Set Piece — our meetings have become very irregular indeed. Nonetheless, they (and several others) battled through a complete reading of the novel one weekend, which allowed me to ferret out all sorts of mistakes. Nathan Bottomley, who now edits the reviews section of Data Extract, was invaluable in providing French translations.

’I don’t think writing an NA makes you particularly famous… people do get a bit jealous if their NA is rejected and yours isn’t [Ed: Hopefully not the people you live with – ex-Burnt Toast creator David Carroll, to those not in the know], especially if they didn’t think yours was very good! I’ve met a lot of people I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t written the book, which has been fabulous.’

Kate’s first NA really stood out because of the research that had obviously been done on the historical backgrounds. Now, we see that Set Piece is to have a distinctly Egyptian flavour. Should we therefore conclude something about the author? ‘Too much — I’m a research junkie! I’m still working at Macquarie University Library, which has a very strong Egyptology Department — I was just buried in information, as I was with Hummer. France was much harder — for some reason it’s easier to find out the everyday details of life three thousand years ago than two hundred years ago. (Here’s a game for Star Trek fans. See if you can spot the French references to Family and Time’s Arrow which I managed to totally misspell.)’

As for Set Piece (out next month), Kate tells us Ace dies and gets married – in that order!

I moved on to ask Kate about the other New Adventures, and her opinions on them: has Benny tired on her at all, like Ace and the Doctor have in some circles? ‘Not at all — I think there’s so much that can be done with the character. If I had to choose the "perfect" companion, it’d be her.’ Her fave recent New and Missing Adventures? ‘Oh gosh, I’m so bad at remembering which book comes where… Strange England and the terrifying Falls the Shadow, definitely. Goth Opera turned me back into a Davison fan. I can’t wait for Warlock!’

To finish, I asked her how things had been going at Data Extract. ‘I’ll answer that when I crawl out from under this pile of letters! Producing DE is tons of work, and I’m lucky that there’s such a large group of people participating. I keep the subscriptions database up to date, write the news, do the layout, and fret.

’Our project for this year is to increase the membership — now we’ve got the hang of actually producing and mailing the issues, which is the bulk of the work. We’ve had lots and lots of feedback, especially on the re-subscription forms, which is tremendously helpful — it’s good to be able to gauge whether what you’re doing is working, what people do and don’t like, and so on. There’ll be more of that in the survey, too, which will be in the next issue.’

And before we go, her favourite colour? ‘Red.’

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.