Day 3 of my Doctor Who Literary Week: Doctor Who & the heart of Science Fiction

It’s day 3 of my Doctor Who Literary Week . Today Ebony McKenna guest blogs with a piece about how the Doctor Who series manages to capture …

The Heart of Science Fiction

by Ebony McKenna

Science fiction is fabulously geared towards solving problems. And there never seems to be a lack of them: climate change, water shortages, wars, pestilence, alien invasion, megalomaniacs bent on world domination (ooops, I think I’m talking about myself there).

It seems an emotionless genre: Here’s a problem, let’s fix it, let’s move on. Emotions on the other hand can’t be fixed – they need soothing, examining, nurturing. It would seem to be the very opposite of problem solving. But when you combine problem solving with emotions – as they do so well in Doctor Who – you get magic.

I’d been a fan for so long – except when Bonnie Langford came along and everything took a dive into pantomime and screaming

When Doctor Who came back to our screens after such a long break, I was filled with anguish. Would it be any good? Would it be only for the fanboys and leave the rest of us scratching our heads? Would it be too populist and ignore decades of canon?

Instead, it appealed to loads of people and kept the fan base happy, an incredible double act. They achieved this because they poured their hearts into the show and made it about emotions and problems.

Watching the first episode with Christopher Eccleston, my heart soared with joy. It was like catching up with an old friend. An old friend who’d fallen hard times a while back, but was now doing really well. I’d been a fan for so long, except when Bonnie Langford came along and everything took a dive into pantomime and screaming. (Or maybe that’s all I remember of it. I’m too scared to go back and watch in case it’s even worse than I recall.)

What cemented the new Doctor Who in my heart was the two-parter written by Steven Moffatt: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. A war orphan wearing a gas mask walks up to people asking, “Are you my mummy?” It was so horrible and creepy I’ve come over in goosebumps thinking about it. 

The problem solving plot involved medical nanogenes using a boy in a gasmask as a template for humans. The nanos needed a proper template or they’d turn the entire population into gasmask-wearing zombies. (This would seriously cramp Captain Jack’s style!) 

The resolution required the very best of emotions – unconditional love. The Doctor says, “There isn’t a little boy born who wouldn’t tear the world apart to save his mummy. And this little boy can.” Young Nancy confesses her terrible secret that Jamie is in fact her son and not her little brother. Nancy embraces her son with all the love she has in her. Love saves the world! 

It set the tone for future episodes involving emotional turmoil and problems of an epic scale, but also with a heart that beat true and steady. Not every episode combines both – but the ones that work brilliantly manage to get the very best of both worlds. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Ebony admits to a spooky Doctor Who connection – her initials have appeared on a Doctor Who book cover!

The cover for Doctor Who: Cold Fusion

The cover for Cold Fusion - can you spot Ebony's initials?


Don’t believe me? There’s a detailed explanation by Jon Preddle at ‘Doctor’s Dilemma’. (Scroll down to the discussion about Alister Pearson’s cover art.)

Ebony also talks about this weird fact on her blog.

Ebony McKenna is the author of Ondine, published with Egmont Press. Click here to visit Ebony’s website.




The Australian & New Zealand cover of Ondine

The cover for Ebony's novel, Ondine (Aust/NZ vers)


Industry trends: An overview of children’s book publishing in the US

This morning, my iGoogle alerts uncovered a worthwhile read — the results of a US-industry insider’s survey of publishers and editors at the recent NJ (New Jersey?) SCBWI Conference.

I wanted to talk about some of the points raised and add my two-cents worth.

You’ve probably already realised that the YA category is hot. And there’re a lot of adults reading YA fiction. Yesterday, I was chatting to an avid, book-buying, non-writing, adult friend. He said that half of his large ‘to-read’ pile was YA fiction. My friend’s perspective was that YA books are easy to read.  I’m biased (after all, I write for YAs), but I’m wondering, are there any other features of YA fiction that appeal to adults?

The market forecast for YA books, particularly dystopian stories, are good.

The publishers surveyed said their biggest problem with ‘middle grade’ (aged 8-12) stories was that they can’t find writers who write in a suitable voice. I must admit I find it tricky writing for this age group. On the one hand, it needs to be ‘motherly’ (or ‘fatherly’), and on the other, it needs to have a sense of fun. Authors such as Philippa Pearce (Tom’s Midnight Garden) conveyed the ‘motherly’ well, and Roald Dahl was the master of naughty fun.

Picture books were described as ‘soft’ in the market. However publishers were positive about author/illustrators who can develop characters that can be ‘branded’. That is, using the character in other stories or in other mediums. I try to keep an eye on kids’ TV animation to see what book characters have emerged onscreen. And it’s also interesting to see how the characters and stories have changed — for better or worse — as a result.

Personally, I loved the Horrible Histories animated series. And the Mr Men show is a heap of fun. I haven’t caught Pearlie the Park Fairy on TV yet — I do wish TV stations would replay this sort of show at a respectable time for adults.

The children’s section of my local ABC Shop is filled with ‘branded’ stuffed toy TV characters. When confronted with such a formidable array of cuteness, all I can do is flee. Cute on such a large scale … now there’s a dystopian YA plot.

Click here to link to Kathy Temean’s blog post about the ‘State of Children’s Book Publishing Industry’.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the survey results do or don’t apply to the Australian industry.

Tomorrow, in line with this week’s Doctor Who theme, I’ll be posting Ebony McKenna’s article ‘The Heart of Science Fiction’.

Day two of my Doctor Who Literary Week – featuring m a miller’s Memories of Doctor Who

It’s day two of my Doctor Who Literary Week and science fiction author m a miller guest blogs with a short story inspired by the Doctor Who series.

If you’re Doctor Who’s companion, your memories may not be all that pleasant …

Memories of Doctor Who

by m a miller

The corridor’s ceiling had evenly spaced light fittings down the middle. Each created a puddle of brightness on the shiny tiled floor, in stark contrast to the shadows looming on the walls behind. As I walked its length, I tried, in vain, to keep my footsteps soft, quiet. But time was running out.  I’d been trapped in the building for what seemed like hours.  I needed to move fast, to get away.

Earlier, I’d found the Tardis quite by accident. Thinking I’d finally found an exit, I rounded a corner, and there it was in all its police box blue glory. There was no sign of life but I banged on the door anyway, hoping the Doctor was in.  Nothing. I knew why he was here – to protect us from Them.  I wondered where he was.

Did he need my help? Should I wait? No, I couldn’t stand still – I’d be a target if They came. So I kept moving.

It was 1982, that much I knew for sure, but which Doctor was with the Tardis?  Had he changed again, regenerated into a person I would not recognise? Would he remember me as I remembered him – a hero who kept saving my world? A hero with a soft spot for the human race?

I moved through room after room, hoping I was headed the right way, wishing for someone to guide me, but They had been before me. Now all the humans I encountered were frozen in time. Some looked shocked, others afraid but all had the same stillness I’d come to expect.

I needed to get out. I wanted to run but every time I panicked I blundered in the wrong direction. Or worse, I found myself back where I’d first encountered Them.  Round and round, it was taking far too long.

Finally I saw it.  A door that would take me out and to freedom. But I was torn, would the Doctor be okay?  Should I stay and help him? Could I help him?

Then I saw them. At first I thought it was just one. Then I realised there were three. Three! I didn’t stand a chance. Three Daleks ready to exterminate and they were between me and the way out.

It took me a moment to realise that they weren’t moving. There was no sign of life. Had they been frozen as well?  I moved forward, carefully, placing each foot down slowly, quietly. Reaching out I touched the metal shell and held my breath as I waited for the dreaded word – exterminate. Nothing. I rapped my knuckles along its side.  No reaction. Then I looked it straight in its eye piece.  It was as frozen as every other living creature around me.

I slipped round it, made sure the other two were just as still and headed for the door.

As I swung it open, what faced me filled me with such horror that I stopped dead in my tracks. For there was Doctor Who. He appeared to have been walking up the stairs but now he stood frozen.  They had got him too!

I stumbled back into the room. The Daleks appeared closer than I remembered. I tried to get past but I was clumsy, I knocked into one and then tripped. As I fell I saw a shadow behind me.  It was too late, They were about to get me…

“Are you right there, miss?”

A hand grabbed my arm and I was hauled upright.

“We’re about to close.” The guard pointed to the large sign across the room. “The exit is this way.”

When I reached the door I turned and looked back. Madame Tussauds’ Doctor Who Exhibition was full of all the scary enemies that I’d come to love and loath. It had been a great day, trapped inside. I smiled as I exited.


You’re invited …

alto books proudly invites you and friends

to the launch of Martha-Ann Miller’s new fantasy novel

Mis’ka: The rite of ascension

Tjanabi Resturant, Shop 3a, The Atrium, Federation Square in Melbourne

from 6.30 pm, Tuesday 15 June 2010

Finger food provided, full bar service available

No RSVP required


Cover for Mis'ka

Cover for Mis'ka: The rite of ascension

Click here to visit m a miller’s website to find out more about Mis’ka: The rite of ascension.

Whoo Hoo! It’s Doctor Who Literary Week & here’s a guest post from George Ivanoff

This week I’m hosting my very own Doctor Who Literary Week.

I’ve invited several Australian YA authors to contribute guest posts about how the Doctor Who series influenced them as writers. And to kick-off, here’s George Ivanoff writing about …

My little fan-boy moment

I’ve had over 40 books published as well as lots of short stories and articles. My latest novel, Gamers’ Quest, is currently in bookstores. These days, writing is actually my career. 

What publication have I been most excited by? A short story called ‘Machine Time’. It appeared in Short Trips: Defining Patterns, a Doctor Who anthology edited by Ian Farrington and published in 2008. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for over 30 years, so the publication of this story was a fan-boy’s dream come true. And to top things off, the story got the thumbs up from Doctor Who Magazine:

… a compelling and creepy story of a universe threatened by voracious machines…

 But how did it happen?

Well, opportunity came knocking in the form of a friend of mine who had been writing regularly for the Short Trips anthologies that Big Finish Productions in the UK was licensed to publish. He sent his editor an email recommending me as a writer. I was invited to submit a story proposal for an upcoming anthology. I was so excited, I submitted three proposals … all of which were rejected. Opportunity went flying out the window. End of story …

The cover for Doctor Who: Short Trips

The cover for Doctor Who, Short Trips: Defining Patterns


But I don’t give up that easily. When Big Finish announced a short story competition, the winner to be published in the next anthology, I decided to submit an entry. Then I read the rules … the competition was only open to amateur, unpublished writers. Did I let that stop me? No! I wrote a story anyway, and emailed it off with a cover letter asking them to treat it as an unsolicited professional submission rather than a competition entry.

Success! Editor Ian Farrington emailed to say that he liked the story … but that they couldn’t use it, as they only needed one story on the competition’s theme … but he asked if I’d like to write a new story. Would I? You bet! So I got a brief asking me to write a 2,000-ish word story dealing with destiny or chance. The story had to be complete in its own right, but had to also give the impression of being part of something larger. The result was ‘Machine Time’. I’m very proud of it! It’s my little fan-boy moment.

Unfortunately it’s my only fan-boy moment, as shortly after, Big Finish ceased publication of its Short Trips anthologies. But I have my eagle-eyes trolling the Internet for any other Doctor Who opportunities that may come along in the future. You never know … I may one day get a second fan-boy moment!

Cover for Gamers' Quest

The cover for Gamers' Quest


George’s Bio

George Ivanoff is a Melbourne based author, stay-at-home-dad and nerdy Doctor Who fan. Two of his books (Life, Death and Detention and Real Si-Fi) have been on the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge booklist since its inception in 2005.

George’s latest book, a science fiction adventure for young teens called Gamers’ Quest, includes a small Doctor Who reference within its pages. George hopes to pepper more of his writings with Doctor Who references in the future.

Click here to check out George’s website.

And click here to check out the official Gamers’ Quest website.

Here’s Short Trips: Defining Patterns on amazon.

And here’s the online catalogue for Big Finish Productions’ current book list.

Did you know … the EJ Brady Competition accepts YA fiction?

I don’t normally bother with short story competitions (I’ve always had better luck getting work published than winning anything). However I notice that the EJ Brady Short Story Comp allows work ‘in any genre in adult or young adult literature‘.

Is this a chance for the likes of me?

The question is, can I write the sort of story that will impress the judges enough to win the $1500 first prize?

Personally, I’d prefer an all-expenses paid holiday in Mallacoota, possibly the most beautiful spot in Victoria, and the home of the EJ Brady competition.

Click here for more info on the competition.

Click here to ‘visit’ Mallacoota.

And if you’ve any tips on how to write competition-winning short stories, I’ve love to hear them!

Head hopping, dialogue tag adverbs & ‘said’ bookisms: Technical errors that turn off publishers

Today I’m posting a guest blog from YA historical fiction author, Richard Blackburn. Richard shares his remedies for mistakes that novice writers often make.

Following is what Richard has to say about:

  • dialogue-tag adverbs
  • ‘said’ bookisms
  • head hopping
  • third-person filtering

There are a few common mistakes that writers make without ever knowing they are wrong. I know. I used to do all of them until my editor at Lachesis (a Canadian publisher) refused to allow them in my book. This was a shock because I was already published in Australia! 

I realized that my previous submissions to major publishers could have been rejected because of these mistakes. Since then I’ve passed on this information to scores of writers. I hope they help readers of this blog.

1. Dialogue-tag adverbs

An adverb is a word that, among other things, qualifies or describes a verb. “I ran fast” is an example. Ran is the verb, fast is the adverb. 

A dialogue-tag is a verb that links a piece of dialogue to the rest of the writing.

In the following example, shouted is the verb, and angrily is the dialogue-tag adverb: 

“You absolute idiots,” Andrew shouted angrily. 

The reason the word angrily is not good is because it tells you a fact, rather than showing you. A better way to write the sentence is:

‘Andrew stormed into the room and looked around angrily.

“You absolute idiots,” he shouted.’

2. ‘Said’ Bookisms

In the 1930s there was a book published called The Said Book. This gave writers a huge number of verbs to use instead of the word said. These days publishers prefer writers to keep it simple and use said.

A major mistake is to use verbs that don’t have anything to do with uttering sounds.

‘ “Oh my darling,” she sighed.’

You cannot sigh words. It’s the same with roar, squeak, growl and hiss.

A hint: 

I try to give my main characters and character groups a distinctive sound. So the Lords and Ladies in the year 1347 might say:

“I do believe he will be apprehended and they shall hang him.”

My main character, the modern-day, time-travelling Jenny, and people in the middle classes would say:

“If they catch him, I’m pretty sure they’ll hang him.”

And the peasants would say:

“If they get ‘im, it’s ‘anged e’ll be fer sure.”

In this way I can have a long section of dialogue, say between Jenny and Blind Bob, the peasant, and I’ll only have to use “Jenny said” and “Bob said” for the first two sentences then it’s obvious who is speaking and I don’t have to use a dialogue tag at all.

A note from Cathryn

If you’re interested in reading further about ‘said’ bookisms, try Uncle Orson’s Writing Class (by Orson Scott Card). 

3. Third Person Head Hopping

When you write in the limited third person, it is important that you keep everything in that person’s POV and not switch around.

Say I’m writing in Jenny’s point of view. I can say what Jenny does and says, and also what she thinks and feels. I can say what anyone else does and says but not what they think or feel.

‘Jenny suddenly saw the enemy horsemen in the valley in front of her. She caught her breath sharply. She felt sick. She was horrified.’

That’s alright but in following example doesn’t work:

‘Jenny suddenly saw the enemy horsemen in the valley in front of her. She caught her breath sharply. She felt sick. She looked at John. He was horrified as well.’

Here I’m hopping from Jenny’s head into John’s. I could say that he looked horrified, that he was obviously horrified, or have him say that he is horrified. 

But I can’t say what he feels, because I am writing from Jenny’s perspective.

4. Filtering

When writing in the third person, there is another mistake that is easy to make. Look at the following sentence:

‘Jenny lay patiently on the floor of the hut, peering at the silent village before her. After what seemed like an eternity she saw a slight movement from among the dark trees to her right.’

I should not have included she saw. This is called filtering. It is unnecessary and removes immediacy between the POV and the action.

Another comment from Cathryn:

Orson Scott Card’s book, Characters and Viewpoint, has a visual description of the different types of third-person perspective (pp. 163-169 in the 1988 edn, Writers’ Digest Books).

Have you made these mistakes in your writing? Are there other craft errors that your writing group members have alerted you to? I’m curious to know.

I know I was taught to put ‘interesting’ adverbs in my stories when I was at secondary  school.

Here’s some info about Richard Blackburn and his books:

Richard is Zeus Publication’s bestselling author. He has written a historical fiction trilogy: The GatekeeperRudigor’s Revenge (both listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge) and The RegimentRichard lives in Queensland and travels extensively to do book signings.

Click here to visit Richard’s website.

Richard Blackburn’s tips for successful book signings

I recently chatted to author Richard Blackburn about book signings. The conventional wisdom is, unless you’re a bestselling author, don’t do them.

Contrary to this, Richard does well with signings. He sent me this piece with his suggestions.

Here’s what Richard has to say about book signings.

I usually have six signings per month. Having written a trilogy this is very important. People coming back to buy the second and third book is the best proof that my books are being enjoyed.

The reason I was moved to write on this subject is that I’ve seen authors sitting at tables with piles of their books in front of them … and nobody to talk to. They look like losers. They look self conscious. They don’t look worth a second glance unless out of pity.

I give a big smile and say, ‘this is my first book’.

I sell an average of 20 books each signing and I believe there are a number of reasons for this.

When’s the best time for a book signing?

I usually sign on Thursdays (for the late night shopping) or Saturdays. Managers of the stores I visit confirm that these are the best days. Otherwise I sign during school holidays or just before Mothers’ Day and important occasions like that. I ask the manager about possible problems.

I once made a mistake of being at Mt Ommaney store on the Saturday of the Amberly Airforce Base’s annual show. The shopping mall was deserted.

What’s the best way to promote the signing?

I email the newspapers in the area of the signing a couple of weeks in advance. People who have bought the first book will make a special trip to buy a signed copy of the second one.

How to set up

I like to arrive at the store early, so I have time to set up. My genre is Historical Fiction so I have a suitable cloth for the table – rich blue velvet. On this I place my chain-mail vest and Norman helmet.

My books’ covers are distinctive so I have a couple of big plastic posters of the cover art, one to face each way the shoppers are walking. So people will see me well in advance and have a good idea of my books’ genre. That means people not interested will just walk past. I’m happy with that. I like to have a high strike rate when people stop to talk to me. That means they are almost converted!

How to engage customers

I always stand up. I look at the passing shoppers in the eye and smile. I say ‘Good Day’ and watch for signs of interest. Some people walk straight up and ask what the book is about. I have a well-rehearsed, 1.45 minute spiel to tantalize them. Others barely glance – I still smile. Some show a bit of interest. I give a big smile and tell them ‘this is my first book’. This usually brings them over. If people don’t come to hear about the book, there’s little chance they’ll buy it.

 I like to have a high strike rate when people stop to talk to me.

Another ploy is best used when parents have collected students from school and are shopping on the way home. Youngsters look longingly at the helmet and I invite them to try it on. While they are marveling at the weight of the head gear and the amount of work in the chain mail, I explain to the parent what my book is about.I’ve had so many sales to kids who badger their parents for a copy.

If they don’t have enough money for the purchase, I hand over a business card so the student can ask the school librarian to get the trilogy into the school library.

If other writers come over…

I also take my copies of The Australian Writers’ MarketPlace and A Decent Proposal (by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth). Most signings I’m approached by a writer who wants to ask questions. These two books give them lots of ideas, such as where to find out about publishers and how to write a proposal when approaching them.

A final note

I really like helping people because I made a lot of mistakes at first and wish someone had helped me out. I don’t think of other writers as competition. We are all striving to get Australian writing respected world wide.

Cover for Richard Blackburn's 'The Regiment'

Cover for Richard's novel, 'The Regiment'


Richard is Zeus Publication’s bestselling author. He has written a historical fiction trilogy: The GatekeeperRudigor’s Revenge (both listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge) and The Regiment. Richard lives in Queensland and travels extensively to do book signings.

Click here to visit Richard’s website.

If you’re in the area, Richard will be giving a talk as part of Caboolture Library’s ‘Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea’ fundraiser. For a gold-coin donation you can help yourself to a platter of home-made sweets and treats and hear from Richard Blackburn. Richard will speak about the ups, downs and interesting facts about writing historical fiction.
Caboolture Library Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea for Cancer Council Queensland will be held on Thursday May 27 from 10am–11am. 
To book or for more information, phone (07) 5433 2000.