Kate Orman Interview

In Conversation with Eddie

Kate Orman was one of the pioneers of new, original Doctor Who writing and a contemporary of Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts and Russell T Davies. She helped shape the series in a way still resonating on the TV version now, and is responsible at least in part for some of the most iconic stories of the series literary history and, of course, helped plot with Paul Cornell, the novel Human Nature. I beamed to Australia and back in one evening to initiate the Mind Probe… no… not the Mind Probe! Not again!!!

How did you get started in writing?

Fanfic! Takes a somewhat different set of skills than writing for dollars, but motivates you like woah, especially when there are lots of fanzines hungry for content, so you know that at least *someone* is going to read your stuff.

Did a love of Dr Who come before writing for it, or the other way round?

Like many Australians of my generation, I grew up on endless repeats of Doctor Who on the ABC. It was as much a regular part of life as, say, school.

How did you get commissioned to write The Left Handed Hummingbird?

I kept throwing manuscripts at Virgin until they gave in and published me! The fanfic practice helped, and so did the how-to-write books I read, which explained how publishing worked and encouraged me to establish a routine. One hour’s writing every night. Even in the middle of reading “Timewyrm: Revelation”!

I ask this of all the writers I speak to… how does it feel? That first commission?

Enormous. Gobsmacking. Like being told you’ve got a ticket to the moon.

It seemed that once a pool of writers was established you were encouraged to cross pollinate ideas etc. How were those early days with Virgin?

So much fun. We definitely were encouraged to swap ideas. Even where there were rivalries or disagreements, they served to fuel creativity.

Did each commission come easily enough or were they all hard?

I did come up with some incredible rubbish which Virgin sensibly declined, but for the most part, it wasn’t at all difficult to get the next book sorted out. Or do you mean the actual writing process? Only “So Vile A Sin” was really hard, I think. There was the odd bump in the road, as when I had a brilliant chat with Ben Aaronovitch and ended up re-plotting the entire last third of “Set Piece” – you can see me vamping for a chapter or two as I try to replot my course. “Room With No Doors” and “Walking to Babylon” were tough because I had to write them so quickly.

Since you co-plotted Human Nature with Paul, what did you think of the TV version?

Loved it! My gods, that “Last Temptation” sequence. The only things I missed were Aphasia’s balloon of death and the white poppies. Poor old Martha! I’d’ve made her a visiting royal, like Anand in the book.

What’re your views on the canon of the NAs/EDAs etc considering RT has been known to homage them?

There’s no such thing as “canon”! It’s thrilling when you can see how the novels have influenced the TV series, but it’d be a bit much to expect the showmakers to adhere to all those bajillions of words thousands of people read the books, millions watch the show. When the show contradicts the novels, it doesn’t invalidate them in any way, any more than when it contradicts itself.

Obviously So Vile A Sin not only had a traumatic birth but also follows on from some fella called RTD… did you have much contact with him? How difficult was such an epic novel to write?

“Damaged Goods” is an absolute killer. I’ll never get over that sequence with the cooking. If I remember rightly, RTD and I did exchange a few cordial emails around that time, but we were probably both working too hard to do much more than that! I had about two panicked months to finish “So Vile”, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I just spackled around the Ben bits. It’s amazing the book is as readable as it is.

Do you have a favourite novel of that time?

“The Also People”. “‘I just want you to know,’ said the Doctor, putting his cup down, ‘that there is absolutely no reason to be alarmed.'” Bwa!

Moving to the EDAs, your first novel here was with Jon… two questions, apart from the obvious new Doctor, was there a significant difference in writing these novels and how is it working with Jon?

Jon can remember stuff. He knows what happened in my novels when I’ve long either forgotten or got them all mixed up in my mind. He can keep track of the plot of an entire novel in his head, which I’ve never been able to do. It’s positively scary! Plus, he thinks so much about the words before he puts them on the page that he practically writes one draft, where I’m quite happy to bang out any old rubbish and then fix it.

Is it a different way to work in a couple or co-writing? Which do you prefer?

I’m such a hermit, and have so little brain function these days, that I prefer to work by myself. But of course, Jon and I discuss everything we’re doing and swap drafts, even if we’re not strictly co-writing. We do have a few inchoate collaborative projects.

We’ve combined our different styles of working to good effect at times – for example, since I can hammer out prose more quickly than Jon, he outlined scenes from “Fallen Gods” and handed them over to me for the actual writing.

Considering the amount of NA writers now carving a career on the TV show, would you ever do one?

It’s a delicious thought, but the fact is, I don’t have the skill or experience to write an episode for TV. Jon’s the one with the talent for scripts!

What do you think of the new series and choice of Doctors?

A source of ceaseless glee!!! And sometimes quite powerfully moving. Three absolutely remarkable actors in the role, and each one so different.

You’re quite vocal online and in fandom… what’s your opinion on fandom as a rule? It was given quite a negative press until recently, but I think that’s turning round now, don’t you?

I have such a love-hate relationship with fandom. I see so much brilliance coming out of it, all the creativity and community, but it’s soured for me when fans have stupid little playground wars with each other, or when they display an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Mind you, the Not-We slag fandom off for entirely different sins, which basically boil down to envy of the fact that we’re still having fun mucking about like kids when we’re supposed to be All Grown Up. Their loss.

Do you have a favourite Doctor to write for?

I don’t think I do, really – mind you, I’ve only written substantial amounts of stuff for the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth models.

What’s your opinion on the lack of solid, proper, NA-type novels now? Surely there’s a market for them?

If you stick “Doctor Who” on something, kids are going to read it, so you can understand why the BBC has to be jolly careful – especially when it comes to their flagship show. The last thing they need is any Daily Mail hoopla about the novels’ content. (Gods know I used to be horrified when libraries would shelve the NAs under Juvenile Fiction!) So I dunno if they could get away with a series of books aimed at adults. But of course the show is brilliantly aimed at adults *and* kids – and so can the books be.

What do you have coming up in the future?

Lots of original SF projects. Lots. Novels, short stories, etc. It’s a bit like starting over – I still have a ball writing Who-related stuff, but I want to make a name for myself with stuff that’s completely my own!

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