Monday, 16 August 2010

Tom Butler - Q & A

I promised more extras, of which this is the first! This is an interview with Tom Butler, author of story 6, Evil Within (which if you haven’t read already, you certainly should!). There will be more to come in the next new days, so watch this space!

Hello Tom. You've written Evil Within, which so far has been very well received. Did the overwhelmingly positive reaction surprise you?

I was very pleased at such a reaction. As I've said before on the thread, it was the first time I'd written a full prose story and, whilst I was confident in the tale, I wasn't sure what the reaction would be and if it would be up to the REALLY high standard of the rest of the series! But thankfully it was received very well.

What made you take the plunge and write prose? Did you ever feel out of your depth, being more comfortable with scripts?

My background is in screenplays, so I definitely felt out of my depth in terms of writing description and internal speech. However, I think things like story structure are transferable no matter what format you're writing in, so I was able to draw confidence from my abilities in that area. In the end, the decision was made because the opportunity to write was given to me, and I love writing. If I could I'd do it all day every day. So once it had been offered to me I was never going to turn it down! And of course, my love for the Doctor played a part.

Did finding the Doctor's voice come easily?

Yes! But it helped that I was writing the Ninth Doctor who, besides Peter Cushing when I was very young, was my first Doctor. So I found it easy to write him as I felt I understood how to mimic his speech patterns and characteristics. It also helps that he has a very identifiable accent, so I could always read the speech out loud and see if it sounded right!

You're writing for the Seventh Doctor for series 2. Being less familiar with his portrayal, how do you aim to ease yourself into capturing the different aspects of his character?

Research is the key for me. I'll watch as many of the original episodes as possible, listen to the audiobooks, and do a lot of online research. Once I've got an idea of the character I'll hold conversations in my head between him and other characters, trying to mimic him as closely as possible. I'll even speak as him out loud, when there's nobody else around mind you! It really helps me to get a grasp of the character. Once that's in place, I can write from the heart without worrying about if it's true to the character. There'll be some work to do in the redrafts, inevitably, but if I've done my research beforehand it'll only be little tweaks.

I think getting the speech patterns right is essential, and every time I write a line I have to read it through in my head to make sure it fits. I think certain lines work for all Doctors, as essentially they are the same person. Terrance Dicks was a big supporter of this argument, but to what extent would you agree?

To a certain extent it's true but it's eleven different actors with eleven different acting styles, so it's important to remember that. What they say can be the same, but the way they'll say it will always be different. And there are some lines I would only ever use with a particular Doctor. For instance, I would only ever have the Ninth Doctor say "Fantastic!" or the Tenth say "Allons-y!" as those words coming out of William Hartnell's mouth would seem very bizarre. But there'll always be an argument for doing it as they're technically the same person, or Gallifreyan rather!

You mentioned the high standards of the stories in the series prior to yours. What impressed you about any of them? Is there anything you will take away use in your own work, and how do you think they handled the Doctors that they used?

The quality of all of the stories has been very high, which I suppose shouldn't be surprising as everyone here loves the subject. I think the thing that stuck with me was that each story had its own voice and that was very strong. Each story was very different to the last and I think it's that variety that has made the series so popular. Also, each Doctor was clearly identifiable; even if you didn't know which Doctor you were reading when you started, a few lines of dialogue in and you did.

Is there any Doctor that you think would be especially tricky to write for? People often cite the Second is difficult, since the character relies a lot on the physicality of Patrick Troughton.

I would agree with that, although the same could be said about the Eleventh Doctor and Matt Smith. I think the Eighth Doctor is quite tricky purely because he barely had any time to develop on screen. Usually there's a post-regeneration period of mania that peters out towards the end of that Doctor's first episode. With Eight, all we saw was that manic period. The audiobooks certainly go some way in developing his voice, but his physical traits are more difficult to write.

I think you're right about the Eleventh Doctor. He has a lot of Troughton-esque physical qualities that aren't always easy to write.
Is there anyone or anything that particularly inspires you when it comes to writing in general?

I live in a very creative house so I'm constantly inspired by what my housemates are doing, whether it's through written word, cartoons or music. If I ever find myself lacking inspiration I'll chat to one of them and usually it'll help. Having a network of like-minded creative friends is very important, I think. Other than that, I enjoy reading interviews with writers. There are a few blogs I read religiously also, industry types like James Moran, Danny Stack and Lucy Vee. Advice from successful writers is worth more than gold bullion!

Ok, a few quick questions to finish. Favourite Doctor and why? Favourite companion and why?

I love the way McCoy snaps at everybody, and his eccentricity. He plays the spoons! But I've been extremely impressed by Matt Smith's first series as well. My favourite companion is a difficult choice, but it has to be Martha. I love her passion and her balls! And at times she was so quietly sad it was beautiful. There's something very relatable about unrequited love. But Ace has a special place in my heart also!

Top 5 Doctor Who stories? Why do you like them?

Blimey! In no particular order then:

The Big Bang - Extremely fun episode that was actually about time travel!

42 - Great little thriller with some fantastic Martha moments.

Remembrance of the Daleks - The first McCoy/Ace story I saw, and I love seeing a Dalek explode! Mindwarp - Two words: Brian. Blessed.

Blink - It had to be didn't it? It must be in most people's top 5, but it really is a superb episode, brilliantly written and acted.

Favourite author/s? Favourite book/s?

I will admit, I've never read a Doctor Who book! Although I'm tempted by the exploits of Frobisher... My favourite books are The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (also one of my favourite authors) and The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Both very different, both beautiful in their own ways.

What do like you about Doctor Who? What keeps you hooked?

It's a fascinating character, simple as that. You could follow him anywhere and be hooked by his exploits. It's the mix of flashy action and fantastic acting that I enjoy, and that starts with the writing. As long as the show is so superbly written, I'll keep watching.

And lastly, what is your top writing tip?

Don't complain about not being able to write, just write! No matter what it is: your job, writers' block, a really funny YouTube video – don't spend time complaining about not writing when you could be writing. Write anything, even if it's a just a little scene that you'll never use. Just write. The moment you stop you'll find it ten times harder to start again. It's the best advice I was given, and I should listen to it more! Other than that, pay attention to structure. It's so very important and a lack of structure can ruin a story, not matter how good the content is.

Tom Butler, thank you very much.

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