How did you become a novelist?
Sheer dogged persistence and determination. It's like throwing a lot of darts at a dartboard, except in this case it was Doctor Who novel submissions at Virgin Publishing, then BBC Books. Eventually, editor Steve Cole finally relented and gave me a slot in the short story collection, More Short Trips, and I think when he handed over the reins to Justin Richards he also passed on two or three of my novel proposals, one of which - Drift - impressed Justin sufficiently to offer me the commission. So I guess in a sense I got lucky, but while luck's involved, it's more a case of seeking out or generating as many opportunities as you can for yourself. Writing, of course, plus the willingness to peddle your wares. And if it's an uphill struggle, peddle faster.
What was your inspiration for Evil UnLtd?
With the greatest of respect for Star Trek fans, I'm afraid to say it was Star Trek: The Next Generation that triggered the initial light bulb in my head. I found it all just way too bland - a bit beige, as someone described it. Basically, I went from that to thinking how much better it would be if the crew boldly going and discovering new civilisations etc weren't so bound up by rules about being nice to everyone. Within seconds of that thought, my imagination presented me with a vivid cast of characters and that was pretty much it. Of course, there's Doctor Who, Star Wars, Hitch-Hikers and a host of other influences that helped slow-bake the recipe over the years leading up to that point, but that's how Evil was born.
What was the trickiest element to achieve?
Without doubt the trickiest part is in the promotion, just getting the word out there that Evil UnLtd exists. It's a huge hurdle. But as far as the storytelling side goes, I tend to find that writing one book generates ideas for the next and so on. So plots are generally easy, especially when you know your characters inside out - they tend to take over and drive the thing forward, even if it's on a collision course with something you hadn't planned for. The big challenge is to be funny - that's the gauntlet you slap yourself with every time you sit down to write. But I operate a simple rule - don't try to be funny. If it starts feeling like work, leave it alone and work on something else for a while. It means the Evil books have to develop at their own rate, but (so far at least) between breaks what tends to happen is you end up on a roll for good stretches at a time. So the characters and story provide the momentum and - you hope - the laughs just arise naturally along the way.
Of everything you've done what have you been most pleased with?
Hmm. There are a couple of unpublished works that would compete healthily for that spot, but I'll let you know about those when they've won over a commissioning editor. In terms of published works the honour would probably go to Drift. It's not my most accomplished novel, but it has a special place in my heart as my first, and there were people who read that - who weren't into Doctor Who at all - who enjoyed it as 'more than just a Doctor Who novel' and there were a couple of readers from New Hampshire who commended my depiction of their state in winter, despite my never having been there. So that was a powerful combination that did wonders for my writerly self-doubts.
Since I haven't read your Eighth Doctor novel yet (so no spoilers!) can I ask if there's one story you're surprised the television series hasn't tackled and how you'd write it?
Ah, Emotional Chemistry, yes, that's all about - no, don't worry, I won't spoil it. As for other Doctor Who stories, there are a number of ideas I'm holding onto on the off-chance I ever get to write for the series again (in book form at least!) but I don't know if I'm surprised the show hasn't done them as they're a bit off-beat. As a throwaway example, look at Dreamtime - I'm sure there's a (better) modern Who adventure centring around Aboriginal mythology. On the other hand, Uluru in space is no stranger than traveling on the back of a giant space whale really, which has been done. I guess, as a Russophile, I'd be tempted to go with the Russian revolution, something about the Romanoffs, Anastasia perhaps. Or the Master impersonating Lenin on that sealed train returning to his mother country with some plan to change history. That or a Doctor Who/Muppets crossover. The licensing would be prohibitive, but it'd be fun and a good tonic after the doom and gloom of a Russian adventure.
Who’s your favourite novelist?
Elmore Leonard, I'd say. It's not that he wrote my favourite novel - that would be Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. He doesn't even write science fiction, which ought to qualify as my favourite genre. But he's the most consistent and prolific author whose works keep drawing me back for more. The plots won't necessarily blow you away, but he has a gift for snappy dialogue and equally snappy prose, and, above all, character. I love the way his characters drive the narrative and that's probably as influential on me as anything else.
What stops you from feeling listless?
That's a particularly good question, because the 'great British summer' has been in danger of inducing a bad case of listlessness lately. This afternoon, for instance, drying off after a particularly damp, grey day, I stuck a Doctor Who DVD in the player and sat back to enjoy some comfort telly. Sometimes I need something a bit more active and engaging, and for that either a video game (usually something with an involving storyline) or a spot of lively music will often snap me out of it. I also live in this great place a stone's throw from the beach so a walk along the seafront is great, but then I rarely feel listless on a sunny day. Although I'm currently having trouble remembering back that far.
Simon A. Forward's Evil UnLtd is out now for Amazon Kindle.