Friday, November 23, 2007
My novels #5: Amorality Tale
DOCTOR WHO: Amorality Tale (BBC Books, 2002)
'Those people that die must die. It's history, it's already hapene and there's nothing we can do to prevent it, Sarah.'
East Eng gangster Tommy Ramsey emerges from prison in 1952, determined to retake control of his territory on the streets of Shoreditch. But new arrivals threaten his grip on all illegal activity in the area.
An evangelical minister at St Luke's Church is persuading people to seek redemption for their sins. A new gang is claiming the streets. And a watchmender called Doctor John Smith is leading a revolt against the Ramsey Mob's protection racket.
But when Tommy strikes back against his enemies, a far more terrifying threat is revealed. Within hours the city's air begins turning into nerve gas and thousans are killed by the choking fumes. London is dying...
This adventure features the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith.
In 2001 it's been six years since I last wrote a novel. For most of the intervening period I was editor of iconic British science fiction comic 2000 AD, a job that doesn't leave much spare time for freelance work. But in the summer of 2000 I quit to go freelance as a writer, journalist and editor. A year later I was ready to take another crack at novel writing. Amorality Tale was the first fruit of that effort.
The story was inspired by a fact I'd once read in a newspaper article. Between 4000 and 12,000 Londoners died in the space of a few days during December 1952, due to a smog so thick it chocked them to death. Imagine that happening today, the outcry there would be. This tragedy helped pave the way for environmental legislation that cleaned up the air over London. It's thought smoke from household and industrial coal fires combined with a heavy, persistent fog to poison the air. But what if they'd been another cause, something more alien?
That was the seed for my story. Next I needed a structure, so I sought inspiration elsewhere, away from the continuity-heavy world of Doctor Who. Having written Who Killed Kennedy, a novel suffused with fanwank, I wanted to create a completely standalone book without references to other Who stories. Instead I borrowed a few ideas from the great British movie The Long Good Friday, substituting a malevolent alien race as my terrorist threat. No reviewer's ever noticed the parallels.
I chose the 3rd Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith as my TARDIS team because I don't think anybody had used that combination in a novel before. Besides, I grew up watching the 3rd Doctor in New Zealand [where his adventures ran about four years after they were screened on the BBC], and Sarah Jane had long been my favourite Who companiion [probably still is]. Then I did plenty of research into the period to get the little details right about East End life in the 1950s.
I honestly can't remember the writing process for this novel, but I suspect that's been blotted out by having written more than a dozen other novels since. The book got decent reviews, including a lovely write-up by Vanessa Bishop [no relation] in Doctor Who Magazine, but some online critics griped about a lack of originality in my aliens. That's probably fair comment. Nevertheless, I was happy with Amorality Tale and fancied having a crack at writing for the 8th Doctor. Little did I know that way disaster lurked.