Elisabeth Sladen, 1948-2011

I very nearly got to work with Elisabeth Sladen, back in 2006. After a chance meeting with producer John Ainsworth at a Big Finish party we agreed to discuss story ideas for the second series of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures. We got quite far with that, too, taking the series potentially into some serious literary territory. Lis Sladen was very much up for it, but alas it all fell through and the second series was postponed for some time (it did lead me to write for the Space 1889 audio series, however). It’s a great sadness to me that I never got around to creating real words for Sarah Jane, since I’ve been a big fan of the character from childhood.

And now she’s gone. Not Sarah Jane Smith, the character will continue forever, ensuring that we will never forget the great woman who created her. But yesterday, April 19th 2011, Elisabeth Sladen died after a battle with cancer, at only sixty-three years of age. She is survived by her actor husband, Brain Miller (who appeared opposite Sladen in the 2009 series of The Sarah Jane Adventures) and her daughter, Sadie (who starred alongside her mother in the first series of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures). Last night rumour of her death swept across Facebook, and I had to text a friend, Gary Russell (script editor on The Sarah Jane Adventures) to discover the truth of the rumours. Considering I never knew the woman, although I had seen her at a few conventions over the years, news of her death hit me quite hard – no doubt a result of resurging memories of my own father’s failed battle with cancer a few months ago. My journey home felt like a long one, as a deep sense of sadness and loss overcame me.

With the exception of Donna Noble, played by the ever-amazing Catherine Tate, Sarah Jane has always been my favourite companion of the Doctor. I’ve seen and heard every story she’s appeared in, and have always been amazed by how little she has changed over the years. The character grew, especially in recent years, but Elisabeth Sladen herself just never seemed to age. She looked as stunning last year in series four of The Sarah Jane Adventures as she did in 1973 when she first encountered the Doctor. There is no doubt that the world of Doctor Who, both in fiction and in reality, is so much poorer for the loss of both an outstanding character and an amazing actress.

I never knew her, but through Sarah Jane it feels like I did. And I know I will miss her. Greatly.

Rest in peace, Elisabeth Sladen, 1st Feb 1948 – 19th April 2011. As the Doctor said; ‘Goodbye, my Sarah Jane.’

Advertisements

The Indie Chart with J. T. Wilson

This will be the first guest spot in a while, so who better than fellow Hirst scribe and good friend, J.T. Wilson… I’ll allow him to introduce himself.

The Indie Chart

Hello, I’m JT Wilson, and in 2010 I had the novel ‘Cemetery Drive’ published by Hirst Publishing. It’s been twelve months since I proudly announced my first foray into published writing and in that time I’ve been on a journey where there’s been a lot of laughs, a lot of tears, a lot learned, and a lot of clichés written in the pre-ambles to pieces. So what have I learnt from my life on an indie publishing house? Here’s some of it. Please don’t take this as any sort of guidance or advice: I never said I was a role model.

1. Being published doesn’t immediately mean a one-way ticket to stardom

I held lofty dreams as I wrote ‘Cemetery Drive’ that I would march into my workplace one day with a huge advance contract and announce “So long, suckers! You’ll see me holding the Pulitzer!”or something. When the publishing deal was agreed, I dusted off my speech and wondered if my employers would even get the Pulitzer reference. Perhaps not. Of course, things don’t pan out like that. I realised that I would have to sell somewhere in the region of 10,000 copies to be able to indulge in writing as a career. At last count, I’d estimate sales to be about 150. Still, I’m not alone here: Robert Rankin was still working as an artist and carpenter when the Brentford Trilogy was published; Franz Kafka never did quit his job; and a friend of mine had a book published through Publish America only to receive a royalty cheque for $1.86.

2. Everyone is a writer

When I was publishing stories on LiveJournal and quietly hacking away at ‘Cemetery Drive’, the only other author I knew was the prodigiously talented Die Booth, whose artwork adorns the cover of my book. Suddenly, however, I announced the publication of ‘Cemetery Drive’ and everyone’s an author. Here’s a family member who has always wanted to write a novel (by the way: if you want to write a novel, just, y’know, do it). Here’s a work colleague who’s writing romantic comedy on the quiet. Here’s a professional wrestler who’s already had a cookery book published (I swear I am not making this up). Here’s a guy you wouldn’t think could string two sentences together who writes poetry. It’s bizarre how many fellow authors show up. And that’s before you get to the amount of authors who are with your publisher and doing amazing work.

3. People who have no interest in your book are apparently fascinated at the prospect of a sequel

It’s all very well being a writer and shutting yourself up in an ivory tower where you can write books about being a writer who shuts themselves up in a dark tower, but unless you’re Stephen King, this shit won’t wash and you have to engage with the public in the hope of hoodwinking them into buying a copy of your book. Book signings mostly involve talking bollocks with other authors under the guise of selling, then going to get pie-eyed with the authors/publisher/whoever to toast a successful day’s work, but there are parts of talking to the public too, of course: engaging with your audience and all that. Bear in mind, of course, that unless you’re Dan Brown or JK Rowling, the public in general won’t have a clue about the content of your book so be prepared to explain the plot many, many times over the course of the day. Other people will always be able to summarise your plot better than you will: feel free to steal their summaries for your own use.

The most interesting thing I’ve found from the signings I’ve done, though, is that people will always ask “is there a sequel in the pipeline?” or similar. This is shortly before wandering off, not buying your first one. As nobody who asks this question at signings has ever bought my book, I have no idea what the correct answer is to this question. In my case, the true answer is “I’m writing another book, but it’s not a sequel to this book” but the correct answer could easily be “No, I’m retiring from writing after this” or “Yes, this is the first in a 487-part series.”

4. Nobody will ever appreciate your art as much as you do

The funds for the publication of ‘Cemetery Drive’ were generated by people pre-ordering the novel, which is a massive risk for a debut novel, of course: people are buying the book on the expectation it’ll be good because they think you’re witty or incisive or smart or hot, one of those things anyway. And when they actually read it and like it, and can prove this by quoting segments or lines or plot parts, that’s a shock, although a shock that’s good for your ego.

But as much as people will love parts of your book, people won’t love or even understand all of it and your favourite character or segment might get totally passed over in reviews, brutally edited out of the audio version, and generally unloved. It’s the same as being in a band- you might enjoy playing a four-minute bass solo, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will.

A related point, although perhaps not enough to note separately, is that no matter how long you agonise over whether someone will notice the blatant reference to their characteristics or even their name, you’ll get away with it about 99% of the time. But then, I once played a song called ‘Sarah’ at a gig where the Sarah who the song was about was present, and she never raised it, so draw your own conclusions.

5. A bizarre combination of ego and shyness can occur in some situations

I used to go into Waterstones and look at where my book would conceivably be (next to Jeanette Winterson I’d hoped) on the shelves. Now it’s actually in Waterstones I can’t go in and look. I want to know what people think of my book and have reviews on the website and all that but I’m too shy to pry too much. People have pretty much only said nice things about it and that’s good and all but surely someone didn’t like it? Like who? And why? And yet I can’t bear to ask.

6. Anything is more exciting than work

Whenever I’m asked “what made you decide to write the book?” I don’t know how to answer the question and look away, mumbling awkwardly about compulsion. There isn’t a conscious decision to write. I wrote ‘Cemetery Drive’ because I felt that I had to, and that I had to before the idea withered and died. When I then expanded the story outside of the novel with additional parts, it took an entire week and I was convinced that I’d gone completely insane but I did it because once I’d thought of it, I had to do it. The second and third novels, which are in semi-complete stages, are being written because I feel that I have to write them. Of course, with no deal to write a second book and no clamouring demand for it, this necessity to write exists only within me. Still I am compelled because I am compelled to write.

But on the other hand, writing can be massively frustrating and tedious as soon as it feels like work. Whenever I had some free time, I’d work on the book, but if I didn’t feel inspired, I’d just end up reading Wikipedia. Tonight, I was supposed to be editing 20,000 words out of ‘Cemetery Drive’ for the audio version and yet here I am writing this. The comedian Dave Gorman, out of ideas for his novel, learnt about Googlewhacking and wasted his publisher’s advance on meeting Googlewhacks rather than ever writing one word of his novel. If writing seems hard, it won’t get done.

 

In the second of this series, which will be published no later than 2016, I’d expect, I’ll be reporting back on my life on the bestsellers’ list, having a £12million film script and fretting over which yacht to buy. Stay tuned, reader.

‘Cemetery Drive’ can be purchased directly from the publisher, or from any good book stockist. An eBook version is in the pipeline (really? Joe asks.Yes, says Andy, I know things you don’t. :p).

The best of Anne Rice and Stephen Donaldson

Well, well… the sales of ‘Seeker’ are still driving forward, with it doing quite well during its first two and a half weeks of publication. No word on the sales of the print version as yet, but I do know that the eBook is at number #7 on the fantasy chart at OmniLit.com. The book is now listed at almost every e-retailer, and is available to order in almost all high street booksellers.

Now let me share with you this marvelous review from author Anne Brooke, in which she says; “In my younger days, I lapped up with great joy both the vampire novels of Anne Rice and the vast and fascinating fantasy novels of Stephen Donaldson and, to my mind, there’s been nothing to beat either of them since. I’m pleased to say now that I’ve been at last proved wrong in that assumption. Andy Frankham-Allen’s ‘Garden Saga’ fantasy series, of which Seeker is the first, takes the best of both those authors and combines it into a slow-burn, deep and surprisingly rich novel of one man, Willem (or Will) who, like Donaldson’s magnificent leper hero, Thomas Covenant, isn’t at all what he thinks he is. Frankly, I was gripped from the first page and couldn’t put the darn thing down.” To read the full review, why not pop over to Vulpes Libris?

In other news, Space 1889 & Beyond is gearing up, with the first four of six stories now commissioned. Story one, “Hearts of Stone” is being written by yours truly, and story two, “Vandals on Venus” is being written by award winning fantasy author, K. G. McAbee. The authors of stories three and four will be announced as soon as the contracts are signed and sealed. In the meantime, why not whet your appetite by popping over to Frank Chadwick’s new 1889 blog, in which he rounds up all news pertaining to the rapidly expanding Space 1889 universe…