They keep stealing my ideas

For a while, a certain breed of writer/Doctor Who geek was near-certain to have a pitch or two (or three) for the Doctor Who: New Adventures line of spin-off novels, by Virgin Publishing. In the 90s these kept the Who mythos alive and, surprise surprise, they were actually very good – inventive, quirky, and boundary-pushing in ways you can only be when your parent TV show has been dead for years and it never played by its own rules either. These were followed by another line of spin-offs by the BBC, which weren’t as good, but were sometimes just as wild and woolly and neat. It’s not just fans who think there was quality in there -a significant number of people who worked on the hugely successful Who TV revival earlier wrote for Virgin or the BBC.

Guilty as charged, m’lud. (Nor was I alone, as a certain award-winning Wellington-based theatrical personage might admit after a few drinks.)

I had, in truth, only three worthwhile ideas for Doctor Who novels.

Only one of them actually got submitted. This was given a bemused but encouraging rejection, as recorded on this blog here. The letter said “the idea of the support group set up for victims of the Doctor’s actions is a little too controversial to use as the basis of a novel.” Roll on the series revival, and the episode Love and Monsters, about a support group set up for victims of the Doctor’s actions. Well okay, not victims of the Doctor, more like fanboys of, but the core idea has a lot of similarities. An UNCANNY number of similarities. Like they STOLE MY IDEA.

This past weekend’s episode of Doctor Who was called The Lodger. I haven’t seen it yet because it hasn’t screened in New Zealand yet and there’s no possible way I could acquire it otherwise. It was about the Doctor going to live in a flat with ordinary people, while trying to make sense of a mystery unfolding around them. Here is the trailer for it:

This is UNCANNILY like one of my other two really good ideas:

An uninhabited bedroom, one of four in a cramped flat in Pilham Street, right on the outskirts of London. An ad goes up at the local video store. Only one person answers it. All three flatmates are there when he shows up to take a look at the place. He’s odder and older than any of them, with a clownish manner and a rolling Scottish brogue. A loon for sure, but probably harmless, and most importantly he has money. So he moves in. He becomes that old guy that some flats seemed to have, only he’s in this flat, not some other one. He doesn’t ever tell them his name, says he doesn’t have one, only a title. The Doctor.

He sure doesn’t seem to sleep very much. Up all night. Once Paul went to the kitchen for water at 3am and the Doctor was in there frying up a scale model of an aircraft carrier, flipping it over with a fish slice and playing the spoons with his spare hand. Paul had drunk his water and gone back to bed.

And then there are those times when the whole flat is asleep except the Doctor, who is in the living room. And he’s talking to someone with a sad, sad voice. She says she’s from the future. She says she might kill herself. She sounds like she means it.

I think it’s clear that they STOLE THIS IDEA too, which is even more sinister because I never even sent this one anywhere.

I have only one good idea for a Doctor Who story left. No, I’m not telling you what it is, are you insane? IT WILL BE STOLEN. They are very good at theft! And no I wouldn’t put it past them. Just look at what Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel did to steal GI Joe 2, and how they keep the secret that there are 25 slightly-different Megan Foxes! TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION.


Also, Matt Smith is a great Doctor.

[edit: Megan Fox link fixed. Clicky, it’s worth it.]

ICONS for oil spill relief

More news related to ICONS, the new RPG for which I have a minor co-author credit: all sales from the forthcoming EPUB and MOBI-format editions are going to relief efforts around the Gulf oil spill. So if you like those formats, consider making that purchase (when it becomes available).

Adamant Entertainment and Steve Kenson will be devoting 100% of the proceeds of the 2010 sales of a special EPUB and MOBI-format release of ICONS: Superpowered Roleplaying to relief efforts surrounding the Gulf oil spill.

On April 20th, 2010, an explosion on the BP operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed eleven crew members, sparking the greatest environmental disaster in United States history. Current estimates put the amount of oil being discharged from the broken well at above 1,050,000 US gallons per day, with no end in sight, devastating wildlife and fishing communities along the Gulf coast, potentially moving into the Florida Keys and up the Eastern seaboard of the United States by later this summer.

“My grandfather was a clammer, and worked on the water nearly his entire life,” says Gareth-Michael Skarka, Director of Adamant Entertainment, “and my brother has worked as a fishing captain — I wanted to do something for those whose livelihood depends on the sea, as well as contributing to ongoing conservancy and clean-up efforts. It seemed to me that a game encouraging players to become a hero represented the perfect outlet for this.”

“New Orleans is a place very dear to me,” adds Steve Kenson, designer of ICONS, “and I’ve wanted to be able to do something for this tragedy.”

ICONS is the newest superheroic roleplaying game designed by Steve Kenson, published by Adamant Entertainment– now available in PDF and shipping to game stores world-wide in the next two weeks. The game is currently also being readied for release in the EPUB format for sale on Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble and Sony via and for the Kindle-ready MOBI format for release via Amazon., and should be available this month across those sales sites, and for download via DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

From June through December 2010, all proceeds from the sales of the EPUB and MOBI versions of the game will be donated to the Gulf oil spill funds of Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, and The Greater New Orleans Fund, who are providing critical services to Gulf fishermen and communities directly impacted by the disaster.

Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, works to restore and protect the world’s oceans. For more information, please visit

For more information on the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Gulf Oil Spill Fund, please visit their website.

The “Be A Hero” editions of ICONS will be released in June. Watch for further announcements of their availability on Adamant Entertainment’s website, or via Twitter at AdamantEnt.

ICONS pdf available

The electronic version of ICONS is now available! Currently half-price! US$15, down from US$30.

The print version is shipping mid-month if you want to order it through your friendly neighbourhood game store or direct from the publishers.

Very pleased to see it hit!

The character generation process is almost a game in itself. In our playtest group (Dale, Jenni, James P and Norman) we ended up with some inspiring and weird characters. James rolled up a character with almost the same powers as Jenni’s character Salamandress, just a bit more useless. James turned this sows ear into a super-strong purse by deciding his character was in fact a huge fan of Salamandress and had built a metal suit that copied her powers, poorly. Thus was born Robo-Zard! Poor, terrifying Robo-Zard. (Other characters also extremely cool. huzzah!)

Suburban Gothic

Cal posted the other day about getting into the Hutt groove. It’s been playing on my mind, too, as I settle back into the neighbourhood of my yoof. I can feel old channels reopening, old patterns reigniting. Leafy streets and low garden walls and drawn curtains and the line of the hills. Older marrieds, high schoolers. Empty streets after dark. The feeling that everything is one step back from view.

Suburbs work out community differently, spacing everyone out, reducing the social importance of physical proximity. Freedom to grow each plot of land in a different way; people do. Lots of worlds unhindered.

We don’t stop at the skin. We’re networked, social, contextual. Our environment is part of who and what we are. Suburbs shape a particular imagination. Curious, respectful, measured, gothic. Vast tracts of surface calm, punctuated by moments of upheaval which quickly sink from view. Intrusions from unstable worlds. The suburbs encourage an imaginative structure where causality is concealed, even impenetrable. Where the observer cannot uncover the web of connections that would make sense of an event. I’m reading ‘The Big Sleep’ right now, and Chandler’s detective stories are chronicles of the big city. There, the fundamental principle is that of overlap, of constant surface tension, the precise opposite of the suburban reality.

The first novel I wrote, “in move”, was set in the world I knew best: the Hutt Valley, mid-90s, teenage boys. (Brian maintains it should be titled “Hutt Boys”.) It’s intensely autobiographical in the sense that it captures the emotional truth I felt growing up here. Looking back on it now, after over a decade away from here, I can see more clearly how it also captures the place. The logic of that novel is essentially suburban. The four central characters are all sealed in their own impenetrable, unstable worlds, and the story is about what happens when they are forced to cross boundaries and negotiate new alignments. The story wouldn’t work in a different environment.

It’s good to be back. I know how this works, I know how my creative energy plays out in this space, I know how the hills look in the morning. I’m excited to see what we can reach.


People who pre-ordered ICONS: Superpowered Roleplaying received their electronic copy yesterday. (Hard copy coming soon.) That’s my name on the cover, because some sections of the book are by me, but they’re pretty small-fry. The major action is by ace supers RPG designer Steve Kenson, who pulled the system together and did a bang-up job of it.

ICONS is a quick’n’easy role-playing game for four-colour superhero action. It’s geared for broad strokes stuff – Nazi Gorillas in Antarctica, Mt Rushmore coming to life as a four-headed goliath, that sort of thing. I have a lot of affection for it, and not just because my name’s on the cover.

The real selling point, and it surprises me to say it, is that you randomly generate your superhero – there are a bunch of charts to roll on that tell you what super powers you end up with, and then it’s up to you to make sense of all of them. This works really well with the big, bold style of ICONS, where you are free to come up with characters somewhat wackier than the usual – there’s a reason the exemplar hero is Saguaro the Man-Cactus. A big part of the fun people will have is sitting down in a group and coming up with some heroes together.

(This is also funny because random generation was always a problem in previous games to use this approach, like Villains & Vigilantes and Golden Heroes. Those games didn’t encourage this wild-and-woolly aesthetic, which I think is the difference. Credit also to Dan Houser, the illustrator, for showing exactly how a Man-Cactus is a cool character, and by that example how your weirdo hero will also make sense in play.)

Anyway, ICONS does a great job at supporting one of the best kinds of role-playing game fun: sitting around with your friends being wildly creative and making each other crack up. It’s good stuff, and I’m delighted to have my name on it.

ICONS at the Cubicle 7 store

Also, announced in the bundle, some PDF-only adventures, including one by me and one by occasional-commenter-here Theron:

Day One

So, following the writery thoughts inspired by yesterday’s blog post, and a chat with Billy on Monday, I sat down yesterday with my handsome moleskine and proceeded to scribble out a bunch of useful stuff on what might be the next long-form writing project. I have a bunch of notes about it already scattered here and there – I wrote what will probably be the opening line when I was last in Edinburgh in late 2008 – but this brought them together and developed them in a very pleasing way.

The idea is one that has been kicking around in my head for a decade, and it will not leave me alone. I think it’s a good, sound idea, but all it’s been this whole time is an idea – not a story. It’s one I’ve played with in several media, the only version that ever made it to other people was a role-playing game using the idea in 2005 (Lucy, Gregor, Paul and Cat took part). This version will be massively different from that one, not least because of the different demands of the form.

As with every single long-form creative project I’ve done, I’m trying a different process here. I’m working hard on development of the idea before actually setting pen to paper to write anything. Character notes, scene ideas, lines of dialogue, potential connections. Not exactly outlining, more accumulating a dense cloud of potential around the core idea and the narrative starting point. It seems like it’s working for this project, so far, the notebook pages seem to carry useful content and there’s a definite increase in value looking at what I have now compared to where I was a month ago. It still feels open and free to potential, which seems important. It might be a happy medium situation, loose enough to breathe and explore, planned enough to go somewhere reliable.

I guess that deep down I’m terrified of creating another Ron the Body. I love RtB, I think it’s a good novel and that the right publisher could make money from it. But it took years of my life to get where it is, and I can see it with enough impartiality to know that the publishers who have turned it down have done so for good reason. I still hope to find that right publisher who’ll be able to get behind it, but I don’t begrudge anyone for not taking it on. (Side note – at the Hicksville launch, I bailed up VUP publisher Fergus Barrowman and introduced myself with “You rejected my novel”. He winced, but I told him I’d really appreciated his thoughtful, insightful and ultimately encouraging letter, which I guess did enough to convince him I wasn’t about to stab him. We talked for a few minutes about RtB, and it was a very worthwhile chat.)

I don’t want another RtB. I want to make something that I am creatively passionate about which is also clearly publishable. And I want it finished and submitted swiftly! This note-taking and development process feels like exactly the right way to head in this direction. My writing efforts have been tilted in other directions the last few months, but I’m itching to get back into my own fiction, and this is likely to be the project that gets the green light. We’ll see how it goes I guess.

The Writer’s Tale

I recently read the inelegantly named Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook. Davies (RTD) is the man behind the recent revival of Doctor Who, taking it from embarrassing forgotten history to pop-cultural behemoth. Cook is the young Doctor Who Magazine journo who sparks up an email correspondence about RTD’s writing process. The book collects this correspondence.

It’s a mighty tome, nearly 700 pages, and it’s fascinating reading. I raced through it. There’s a lot that’s great about it, as RTD writes expressively about his creative process, how his ideas come together, and where the final product comes from.

Although the book claims to be about the writing process, and that’s what I’ll talk about below, most of its length is about the production of the Doctor Who television show and all the challenges and problems involved. The writing focus fades away after the first hundred-fifty pages, never to return; the writing process becomes a scaffold to talk about what it’s like making Doctor Who in the UK in the late 00s. While I think the writing bits are great and useful for any writer, the rest of the book is really of interest only to people curious about TV production or about Doctor Who. It’s sold a lot of copies, so there’s clearly plenty of people in that category, but the writing sadly becomes less important as the book proceeds.

RTD’s time on the show has not been universally praised. His stories have been criticized for being over-stuffed, poorly structured and too reliant on deus ex machina endings. In this book you can see all of those flaws and limitations at work. For example, the sense that RTD doesn’t do endings well is clearly because he writes in sequence and usually doesn’t have a definite climax in mind.

You even get RTD’s defence of some of these flaws. Memorably, acknowledging criticisms that his scripts don’t develop plots effectively but just throw in incident and then race on to the next thing, he says (p679):

What I’m saying is, I can see how annoying that looks. I can see how maddening it must be, for some people. Especially if you’re imposing really classical script structures, and templates, and expectations on that episode, even unconsciously. I must look like a vandal, or a kid, or an amateur. No wonder some people hate what I write. Of course, I’m going to win this argument. (Did you guess?) Because the simple fact is: all those things were planned. All of them were my choice. They’re not lazy, clumsy or desperate. They’re chosen. I can see more traditional ways of telling those stories, but I’m not interested. I think the stuff that you gain from writing in this way – the shock, the whirlwind, the freedom, the exhilaration – is worth the world. I’ve got this sort of tumbling, freewheeling stule that somersaults along, with everything happening now – not later, not before, but now now now. I’ve made a Doctor Who that exists in the present tense.

However, most of these problems are not really dealt with and Cook isn’t interested in going on the attack about them. This is a shame in lots of ways. I would love to see Davies defend himself over the decision at the very end of his final episodes to marry off the two black characters in his ensemble, apparently for no other reason than they’re both black. But this isn’t even mentioned in the correspondence.

I think the book also does a good job showing Davies’ strengths as a writer – his sure-footed dialogue and ability to write to the constraints of TV production, his ability to edit and strengthen the work of other writers, and most of all his gift for great moments. Time and again you see how his ideas begin with one or two key scenes that he is confident will make great telly, and then he develops a script around them. And they are truly great moments. The revival episode of Doctor Who, “Rose”, finished with such a moment that had clearly been in Davies’ head for a long time. I wrote about it five years ago: “The last shot of the episode – that last one second – it just about made me cry.” This bit:

The Writer’s Tale has a website. Download RTD’s scripts!

Pecha Kucha Diamond Necklace

Monday night at Downstage Theatre in Welly: my dear friend Eric is part of the Pecha Kucha lineup, talking about the show wot I wrote, Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

A Pecha Kucha night is an event format in which presenters show a slideshow of 20 images, each of which is shown for 20 seconds. Pecha Kucha Wgtn details here. Door sales only, $9 cash – Downstage Theatre, doors open: 6.30pm, start 7.30pm.

Be great to see people there. I won’t be online again until Tuesday I think, so don’t bother emailing to co-ordinate – just show up if you’re keen.

(Move went well. House chaos steadily improving to livable. Yay.)
(Hope the 48 hr film fest was fun for all my friends who took part this year!)