Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sometimes, you've just got to laugh

Yesterday I got my first ever royalty cheque from Big Finish Productions. BFP specialises in recording and publishing audio dramas, a bit like radio plays but sold on CD instead of being broadcast. For eight years its held the license to create new Doctor Who audio dramas featuring the classic series characters [but not new Doctors Eccleston or Tennant, although David Tennant featured in numerous Big Finish productions before being cast as the Doctor on TV]. Big Finish has also published audio dramas based on cult TV series like Sapphire & Steel, Dark Shadows and The Tomorrow People, as well as characters from the British comic 2000 AD.

I started writing for Big Finish about five years ago, when it acquired the 2000 AD audio drama licence. Having edited Judge Dredd in comic form for a decade and authored several Dredd novels, I was an obvious candidate but at the time had no experience of writing audio or radio drama. Nicholas Briggs and especially John Ainsworth took me under their wings, teaching me the craft of writing for this intimate yet wildly imaginative medium. My early efforts were not brilliant - I think my first Dredd audio holds some sort of record for having the most scenes [nearly 90] ever in a sixty-minute story - but I got better with time and experience.

Fast forward to 2007 and I've written a dozen audio dramas for Big Finish [there's a long list of them running down the right hand side of this blog]. These include five Dredds, a Sapphire & Steel, the controversial Doctor Who Unbound entry Full Fathom Five, and five Sarah Jane Smith audios. I'm one of the few writers to have scripted so many Big Finish productions without ever writing for the main Doctor Who range, but that's my own fault. I was supposed to be writing a Fifth Doctor and Nyssa story with Daleks at the end of 2005, but got bogged with my MA Screenwriting course and never submitted an outline. Eventually another writer was given the slot instead. Such is life: grab your opportunities when they come, or risk losing out.

Most of the Big Finish series on which I've worked have not been big sellers. The 2000 AD line was discontinued a couple of years back, and Sapphire & Steel is nowhere near as popular as it deserves to be - producer Nigel Fairs has achieved wonders transferring such a visual TV series to audio. Sarah Jane Smith is a Doctor Who spin-off and thus is a niche within a niche, never a guarantee for huge sales. But the Doctor Who Unbound audios did create a lot of interest when they were launched in 2003, not long before the BBC confirmed it was reviving Doctor Who on TV.

Last weekend I heard that sales of Doctor Who Unbound had surpassed the point where Big Finish starts paying royalties for every copy sold. That meant I was in danger of getting royalties for Full Fathom Five, something that had never even occurred to me. Yesterday my first royalty cheque turned up. I'd been told in advance not to expect too much, but few authurs turn their nose up at royalties. They turn up so long after you did the original work, it's like somebody is sending you free money. So I opened the envelope and laughed out loud. It was a genuinely funny moment, and put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. How much did I get?


I'll try not to spend it all at once.


PJ Holden said...

I got a $4 cheque from Fantagraphics once (for an 80page graphic novel). The exchange rate wasn't as bad then as now, but even so the bank charges were £5 for converting the cheque so it was never worth cashing.

Katherine said...

Ah yes but from little acorns.... congratulations though for all your efforts and though the royalties cheque you received wasn't more than a cup of coffee at least it might be the beginnings of something else for the future. Personally I love all things Big Finish and especially the Doctor Who Unbound adventures. I take my hat off to you that you can write for them at all, as a budding writer I am no way in your league but you give hope to those of us that still only have the dream of doing something like that. :)

Dom Carver said...

Hey, it's worth a pint and a packet of dry roasted, don't knock it ;-)