Monday, 29 March 2010

Interview with Paul Magrs

In the run up to Hub's Doctor Who Special I will be posting a series of small interviews with those writers who have kindly contributed specially commissioned pieces for the Easter Special.

The fourth interview is with bestselling novelist and Doctor Who writer Paul Magrs.

Hi Paul. Your Brenda & Effie series is a curious beast in that it can’t really be pinned down to any single genre, but seems to have its fingers in many pies: crime, science fiction, horror, comedy – there’s even a touch of Sax Rohmer. Is this indicative of your nature as a reader?

I like to read across every genre and dip into all kinds of things. But I think I’d call the Brenda and Effie Series – ‘Comic Gothic Mystery’, which seems to cover all the bases. There’s some Cosy Mystery in there, some Urban Fantasy and some Paranormal Romance. It’s essentially a series about amateur sleuths in a seaside setting with lots of spooky overtones – and jokes.

It’s obvious from reading your blog that you still have a great passion for classic genre television. You recently mentioned Children of the Stones, and there is, of course, Doctor Who. Have any other shows stayed close to your heart as you move further away from childhood?

Many, many TV shows still exert a weird power over me. I watch and rewatch lots of vintage TV. The 1984 BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights is still one of my favourite things ever. I love shows which, when I was a kid, seemed very racey and grown-up – and maybe I glimpsed an episode or two, staying up late when I shouldn’t. I love going back and rewatching those: I, Claudius and The Rock Follies – programmes like that.

As a writer you are quite prolific: Brenda & Effie novels, YA novels, audio plays for Big Finish and the BBC, Tenth Doctor novels, Iris Wildthyme collections and you continue to lecture at the Manchester Metropolitan University (my old university!). You must be very disciplined. Talk me through a typical working day for you.

I like to write first thing in the morning, if I can, and I like to get a thousand words done with my first pot of coffee. Then I’ve got some time for business correspondence, letters, email, blogging – and all that essential day-to-day writer’s stuff. And then usually I have an afternoon project that I have to crack on with – and that’s often a project with a more imminent deadline than the morning project. And when I’m teaching my MA classes they’re always in the evening – till about 9pm – either at the uni or online, from my computer. After that it’s time for reading and some telly. Long days, some times. But I think I’m pretty disciplined. I prefer to think of it as having excellent focus – and knowing how to keep it all fun.

Yeah, it’s a lot of projects – but in the last year or two I’ve been writing for some of my favourite characters in the world…! Brenda, Effie, Iris Wildthyme and Panda, Doctors Three, Four and Five and Mrs Wibbsey, Jo Grant and Tegan and Turlough, and Huxley the Novelizor from Verbatim Six…

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I was writing from a very early age. When I was nine I was sending stories to Puffin and they were very encouraging, which was good of them. I remember embarking on a novel about our junior school class trip to an old house in Ireshopeburn in the Pennines. We went for a week in the February snow and it was just like being in a classic children’s adventure serial and, of course, I wrote a story about the snowy woods we walked in, and the haunted attic we slept in. That was probably one of the earliest things I wrote. Not counting the obvious stuff about the Daleks massacring the Mr Men, etc.

You wrote one of your Doctor Who novels, The Blue Angel, with your partner Jeremy Hoad. How was that? Was it a pleasurable experience, and do you have any plans to do it again in the future?

Collaborations are hard to get right. We did that one because, due to work, we were living in two different cities and it was nice to have a big daft project to work on together. Another big collaboration I did was the Doctor Who audio, The Wormery, which I wrote with Stephen Cole in 2002. Collaborating can be great fun – like a game of consequences.

Who or what has had the biggest creative influence on your writing?

That’s really hard to say. It changes all the time. Individual authors and books, of course – Anne Tyler, Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke, James Blish, Roald Dahl, Alan Bennett, Angela Carter, Susan Cooper, Christopher Isherwood, John Irving, Nina Bawden, JD Salinger.

And my Mam was the biggest influence because she always told me I’d be able to do what I most wanted to do in my life. She has always been a reader and encouraged that love of books in me, and it always felt like an obvious thing that I would become a novelist.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Think about your audience, all the time. Who are you picturing when you put this book together? Think about giving the reader a good time.

And: if you’re bored and cross writing the thing – then, chances are, they’re going to be bored and cross, reading it. Lighten up.

One of the mistakes people starting out – in fact, all writers – often make is that they equate serious with earnest. Important with pompous. Entertainment with superficiality. Overwrought unreadable nonsense with cleverness.

Just make it readable. And remember that style is something that doesn’t draw attention to itself.

You might even want to make people forget that reading is what they’re doing. You might want to make them think they’re inside the story itself, and it’s all kicking off around them.

Do you still have any writing ambitions that remain unfulfilled? A TV script, perhaps? A script editing post? Or your own TV series?

Yes, given my passions, I’d love to have some stuff on TV. It’s a shame that hasn’t worked out yet. My TV episodes – of whatever it was – would be brilliant. And worth waiting for.

You can catch up with Paul at his website & blog at

His latest Brenda & Effie novel Helle's Belles is available from Headline on April 1st in paperback.

Paul's YA novel Diary of a Doctor Who Addict is available now from Simon & Schuster.

The fifth and final interview will be with Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures scriptwriter Joseph Lidster.

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