Saturday, 4 June 2011

Jacqueline Rayner Interview

Jac Rayner is an extremely prolific Doctor Who author who has penned some extremely popular novels and audios as well as overseeing the range of merchandise for a period whilst the show was off the air. Her work is well known for providing great laughs and plenty to think about but also some windingly emotional scenes.

As script editor for the Companion Chronicles, are there any you’ve worked on where you’ve thought, “I wish I’d written that!”? What do you feel is the secret of their success?

That’s not how I tend to think of things – it’s great when a play is a stunning example of its author’s work and I enjoy it for that rather than wishing I’d been behind it. Of course I wish I wrote as well as certain authors, but jealousy isn’t very productive so I try not to go in for it. I’m taking you far too literally, aren’t I? Sorry! There’s stuff I absolutely love, but I’m wary of saying it because I don’t want to seem to not love other plays! Recently, Peri and the Piscon Paradox by Nev Fountain and The Cold Equations by Simon Guerrier have been big favourites, though. The secret of their success – hmm. The opportunity to revisit popular companions, some darn good writing and being able to go deeper into characters than is sometimes possible in the wholly dramatised releases perhaps?

The Doctor in The Marian Conspiracy has a notably gentler edge to him than on television. Did you feel a responsibility to soften the Sixth Doctor’s character to appeal to a wider audience?

It wasn’t my decision; Colin Baker was keen to do something a bit more audience-friendly, and producer Gary Russell agreed, so I was handed the task. Not that I had a problem with it. I adored the Sixth Doctor on telly (which isn’t to say I didn’t have problems with some of the stories) and I loved the opportunity to try to get some more people to like him too. But for those who like the ‘new’ Sixth Doctor, all the credit has to go to Colin Baker. He plays those tender moments so beautifully.

How did you find writing Evelyn’s debut story? How much input did you have into her creation and are you happy with the reception she received at the time?

Again, all the notes came from Gary. I had a ‘shopping list’ of characteristics she should have, which you may spot if you listen to The Marian Conspiracy – I’ve shoehorned them in rather hideously at times - some of which were dropped and some of which were developed further by other writers. I’d met Maggie Stables before and so was able to keep her voice in mind while writing. And yes, I was thrilled that she was well received. A victory for companions who weren’t young and fit – now I am neither young nor fit I especially appreciate that development!

Does writing a script have as many challenges as a novel? How does a full cast audio compare to writing a Companion Chronicle? Are the plotting and thought processes similar or different and why?

Um. Er. Eek! I’m not good at questions about how I do things. I just, well, do them. I used to prefer scripts, now I *think* I prefer prose, so in many ways a Companion Chronicle is ideal for me with mainly prose and a tiny bit of dramatisation. But I approach all the various media in similar ways, I think. Come up with an idea, write it, and then find halfway through that I haven’t got nearly enough plot. That almost *always* happens... Then find a way of tying in something to something else and feel remarkably clever about it, until I realise that as the author I have the power to just change things anyway, so it’s not really clever at all.

Writers by their nature are never truly happy with their work, but which of your own stories are you most proud of? Are there still aspects of it that you’d like to change?

At last, an easy question! The story I’m most proud of is Doctor Who and the Pirates, by several million miles. Yes, it’s not perfect, and yes, I’d change things, but I was so thrilled at how it came together. It’s also very “me”. Possibly more so than I am now myself. That sounds nonsensical I know! But now I’m a parent, I don’t think I could have written Jem’s death, yet going into emotional territory is something that is part of my writing. That and silliness. A know that a lot of people find the silly/serious conjunctions jarring or just plain bad. But that’s part of my writing too, at least when it works. I tend to think that if people hate Pirates they’d hate me in real life as well, but if they like it then there is a reasonable chance we’d get along. I may be wrong about that, though, I don’t send out friendship questionnaire forms.

Which of your novels are you most proud of and why?

Oh, I’m dissatisfied with all of them. I like bits of them, but that’s all, and I’m also very bad at judging what other people might like. Things I think are terrible sometimes get great reactions, whereas bits I’m quite pleased with are met with stony silence or disdain. I think I’ll say Wolfsbane, because although it has masses of flaws, I adored writing for Sarah and Harry – Harry especially.

Anji, Benny, Sarah, Evelyn, Charley...you’ve written successfully for a number of female companions. Do you have a favourite?

Out of those ones? Um. No! I feel the biggest connections to Benny and Evelyn, but I like them all. My favourite female companions of all time are Vicki, Donna and Sarah Jane.

You seem to enjoy writing a mix of comedy and tragedy – would that be a fair comment? Does every story need elements of both, if only in some small aspect, to be successful?

Ooh, hang on, I think I anticipated this one up there somewhere when talking about Pirates. Yes, I think that would be a very fair comment about me, although going on to your next point whether or not my stories can be considered successful very much depends on who you’re talking to. But on properly successful authors – well, Terry Pratchett is extremely funny but deals with some pretty serious themes within his books. I’m struggling more with the reverse – I read a fair amount of depressing stuff when I was younger and now all I can think of is how bleak bleak bleak it all was, no laughs spring to mind. But if we’re just talking about Doctor Who then I think that’s a reasonable point. The amazing Turn Left is bleak and beautiful – but there are still some funny moments, character moments, that underline its humanity. Love and Monsters is very funny – yet also enormously tragic. I’m not comparing my writing to either of those, I don’t come close – but I think they illustrate your point well.

Are there any Doctor/Companion teams that you’d still like to write for? What still attracts you to Doctor Who after so many years writing, editing and watching it? Has there ever been a point when you’ve thought, “Enough is enough!”?

There aren’t any I’m desperate to write for, no. Having written Vicki/Steven and Sarah/Harry I’m satisfied. Turlough might be fun, though, especially nasty Turlough. I adore Donna desperately, but don’t think I’m up to writing her, otherwise she’d be on the list. What still attracts me to Who? I’m not sure. Writing Who is a bit like a comfort blanket because you know it so well, but I don’t particularly want to write it just for the sake of doing so. Having said that, I haven’t yet reached the Tegan ‘It’s stopped being fun, Doctor,’ point, and until I do, I hope I can at least dip in and out of Who writing as long as commissioners are happy for me to do so. I’d miss it.

Since you fulfilled the original mission statement of the Time Team, can you say why you decided not to continue with it? Was it a solo or group decision? Looking back over the entire Time Team experience what would you say were the five stories that surprised you the most?

There were a list of reasons for not continuing, but mainly because it would have felt too awkward. Reviewing stories by friends, ones I’d seen being filmed, ones I knew the script editors for – it was getting complicated. Especially as things occasionally got lost in translation between viewing and page. So I made the decision not to carry on – and it was a hard decision, as I loved being part of the thing and being with the other three – and the others considered their own positions too. In the end, editor Tom made the sensible decision to wipe the slate clean and start afresh with four new people.

What’s coming up next? Another Companion Chronicle? A main range audio?

I have a Benny play coming up – that’s already been recorded. A Companion Chronicle has been discussed and I hope that will happen – Companion Chronicles are where my heart is at the moment, audio wise! Couple of Who books too, I think one is out this year and one next.

What can we expect from Jacqueline Rayner in the future?

Goodness knows! While I have my children at home (I have four-year-old twin boys), I’ve been fairly cautious in the work I’ve taken on – but this year they start school. Will exciting things happen then? Well, it would be nice, but I don’t want to count my chickens just yet. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, though!
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