Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Attic Inside Out Inside Out - Time Unincorporated 3 (ed Graeme Burk

Something slightly different here. I think it'd be ever so slightly pointless to review a work I'd contributed to; naturally I'm going to tell you it's seven shades of wonderful and recommend you but a copy at the first available opportunity (even though I can declare makes no financial difference to me as to how many copies it sells). I'd tell you that if I wasn't in it given Instead I thought I'd discuss the piece I wrote for it, The Attic Inside Out about The Sarah Jane Adventures; a 'Making Of' feature for the never-likely-to- exist DVD of my life.

There's no real unconventional story as to how it all came about. I've known the editors of the book for the better part of a decade, although I tended to see either of them at most once a year at the Gallifrey convention in Los Angeles. And I'd been writing for fanzine for a long while though I hadn't done anything more than dabble until I started writing for Shooty Dog Thing.

It pretty much started for me at the beginning of 2010. Graeme asked me to write an article for the fanzine he'd been editing for ten years, Enlightenment. He needed a thousand word article about the Beginnings box set, which had won the DWIN best DVD poll, inside three days before the issue went to press. So a quick rewatch of the special features as many episodes as I could fit in later I sent the article over. Graeme returned it with some excellent notes and I rewrote and resubmitted it as quickly as possible. Ten years as an editor meant that Graeme's very perceptive about what works, what doesn't and what was needed to make sure it fitted the brief he'd given me that I'd omitted. It was a brief but throughly enjoyable experience and, as Graeme was departing the fanzine, I thought no more of it.

And then six weeks later I got another message from Graeme. He was putting together Time Unincorporated 3, a collection of fanzine writings on the new series and as the numeral on the end might suggest, the third in the series. He asked if I'd be interested in writing about the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures - everybody else writing in the spin-off section had chosen to write about Torchwood and though there were articles about the Who spin-offs in general, there was nothing specific about The Sarah Jane Adventures in there. Since I happen to enjoy The Sarah Jane Advenutures far more than I do Torchwood, this wasn't a problem.

So given I had a free hand, what exactly should I write about? I had a look around to see what critical writing was out there to check I wasn't stepping on anyone's toes. There are a lot of excellent reviews, both of individual stories and seasons, but very little general critical writing on aspects of the show. But then given that this is a children's show why should there necessarily be? With the lack of general writing on the show and fact that this would be the sole SJA focused essay in the volume I thought I'd try as much of an overview of the show as 2,500 words would allow. Not a basic introduction - I was writing for a fan audience who knew what this show was. Instead I thought I'd try and explain why I thought it was so remarkable that the series was even being made and why it was worth investing 25 minutes each week to follow it. I'll tap dance past the next piece as it's the dull research stuff, which essentially involved watching a lot of Sarah Jane episodes (and when I say Sarah Jane episodes I include Sarah Jane episodes of Doctor Who in that). I say dull, dull in terms of process of sitting watching episodes with a pen and notebook in hand, not in terms of the episodes themselves. Not to put any prospective writers off but in terms of research you can't really bypass that. Years of Doctor Who and Sarah Jane watching had given me a head start but it didn't give me a free pass.

And then I sat down, and tried to fit everything I'd loved about the show into 2,500 words and make it coherent. And after the usual hammer and tongs of writing, after several drafts and finding the opening hook and closing line I wanted it was ready to deliver. And so began the editing process, where the editors asked for nips, tucks and additions and very generously allowed me to exceed the original word count. Dangerous thing to let a writer do, so I was conscious of the need to make every extra word worth it. And after a couple of weeks Graeme and Robert declared themselves happy with it. Mad Norwegian announced that it would be available in the summer of 2011 and I thought no more of it until Gallifrey next year when I got to spend quality time with Graeme, Robert and a lot of fellow contributors to the book. Oh, and rather excitingly got to sit on the book launch panel. It's damn good for the ego to sit on a panel with a lot of very talented writers with plenty to say.

But there was one last pre-publication twist. On 19th April, unexpectedly, Lis Sladen died. It was the second death in a few months of a fan favourite and someone who gave plenty to fandom as well as the show. It was the kind of moment that you remember vividly, watching the news suddenly breaking across Twitter, then Facebook, then the BBC News... it even made the BB's main news broadcast at ten o'clock. Unthinkable even five years earlier, before Russell T Davies revived the character with characteristic verve and flair and made everyone fall in love with her all over again. If you want your heart broken, you can see how deeply a new generation of fans fell in love with her. I'm heading downhill to 40 and even I had a tear in my eye reading all that, even more so because my three year old son was insisting on watching School Reunion a lot. There's a whole new bittersweet beauty to watching that story now, particularly in the Doctor's speeches about everything having an end. Thematically, and just as a damn great story, it's a perfect celebration of her and the Doctor.

And I was glad I'd had the chance to pay a small tribute to her, however small. Thanks Lis.

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