Interview with James Moran
By DJ Forrest
If I remember rightly in school, we used to play the game of consequences, although I can’t quite remember the order of the game, but it was who, what and where and final outcome as far as I can make out which after reading the book is pretty much how this story is put together. But for five writers, together in a room, or called upon to write for the book, how did it all come together, who decided who would write which part of the story, what was the process?
James: We were all invited to take part, but had a pretty free reign to tell any story we wanted - but we had to make sure that each one could follow on from the previous one in some way, like the old game. This meant we all had to do brief outlines for the stories first, and share them with each other, so we could make them fit. For example, I was going to start mine with a mission going wrong and destroying a shopping centre - but the editor Steve suggested putting that in the previous story, which would fit into how it was going to end anyway. That was, the revenge plot in mine comes straight from the end of the previous one. Joe had more of a brief, as he had to tie up the Nina Rogers story - Steve had been getting other TW authors her into various books, just in the background, as a fun serial arc Easter Egg, with the intention of doing a story featuring her at some point. So I had to briefly mention her as well, and then Joe wrapped it all up beautifully. We thought the fans would pick up on Nina before the big reveal, but I don't think anybody did. It was only a few months after I'd written my final draft of Children of Earth episode 3, in October 2008, and the other episodes were all done, so we had to make sure it didn't contradict anything that would be in the show. None of the writers were in a room together for this book, unlike CoE! So there were lots of emails flying around.
Every part of the book, every story was brilliant, but what I loved mostly about your story was Ianto. Although there’s never really been much of a story for Ianto in any book I’ve read before, (in my opinion) I found his role in Virus entertaining and it was good to see him take the lead (not that he really had much choice, but..). Up until that point I hadn’t been a fan of Ianto’s, I admire the actor who plays him but I was meaning more to do with the role Ianto played, yes he covered his role like Albert in Batman who made sure everything was running smoothly upstairs and down, and Ianto always seemed to be the smart dressed butler. This story brought him into the fore and I thank you for that. I have a deeper respect for Ianto now. Was this your decision in giving a broader role for Ianto?
James: As I'd just finished writing for Children of Earth, I knew that I wouldn't get a chance to do a standalone episode for series 3 (which was originally going to be a standard series with stories of the week and an arc) - and I'd been really hoping to do a Ianto or a Toshiko story. I really wanted to do both, to focus on them by themselves, and explore their characters. But I didn't get the chance. And as I knew that Ianto wouldn't be making it out of CoE alive, this book might be my last chance to really let him out to play. So I went with him. I was really sad that I couldn't do a Toshiko story, but then two years later in 2010 I got to write a Toshiko story for Torchwood Magazine. And it was the final ever issue, too, so I was just in time...
In the first story written by David Llewellyn entitled The Baby Farmers it started the story back in the 1800’s and to the person experimenting on the alien babies, might I be right in assuming that the alien who darted Jack and Gwen was the direct descendant of the aliens in the children’s home on board the HMS Hades? I know Charles Gaskell blew up the home destroying the babies but as we know only too well it’s unlikely they all died, or perhaps some had escaped the ship!!!
James: It wasn't meant to be, but I don't know, maybe Steve and David wanted to make it link up after I'd already written mine. I reckon that's up to the reader!
Writing stories in this kind of format, that builds on a theme already planned, did this prepare you for the episodes of Children of Earth that you were involved with?
James: See the first two answers - it was actually written just after CoE, so I was already used to this sort of thing. It's always fun to have set conditions and parameters, it's like trying to solve a puzzle as well as tell a story.
I was trying to think when I was reading Virus that a lot of what you write has this kind of horror feel about it, then I casually wandered onto your website, as you do, ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Spork’ and down the list of credits – you do indeed love your horror.
You’ve been involved with Torchwood quite a few times in its history, with ‘Sleeper’ which was an interesting story, a horror again in a way that Beth had no idea of her true identity but towards the end discovered how to control it and help Torchwood save the day. What is it that gets you to the point of writing something like Virus or Sleeper, how long does it take for an idea to percolate?
James: I tend to go for the most extreme ideas possible, they're the ones that get me excited to write and afraid for the characters. It all starts with an idea, wouldn't it be cool/terrible if XYZ happened, what if a particular character had to do this terrible thing, etc. I then brainstorm it for a few days, and sometimes leave it for longer to percolate in the back of my mind. I think of all the possible things that might happen, based on that idea, even if they don't fit together, just random things, and then start sticking bits of them together.
Does music help when you’re writing, and if so, what do you tend to listen to and does it alter for different parts of the story? I seem to alternate between Muse, Deacon Blue and random soundtracks at the moment (Gladiator, POTC, Lord of the Rings) depending if I’m writing chase, fighting or lighter scenes.
James: I need music when writing, most of the time. I make custom playlists for each new project, stuff that would be on the soundtrack, in the correct order. It could be a mix of soundtrack scores, thrash metal, bubble gum pop, classical, 60s, anything that fits and gets me in the right mood for that particular story. And if I'm writing a chase or fast scene, I'll temporarily switch over to really fast music.
Because you’re normally writing scripts for episodes, is it much harder writing prose?
James: So much harder. For me, anyway. I started out writing short stories, and assumed it'd be easy to go back and do more, but I'm used to the script format now, and find it very difficult. Nobody sees your writing in a movie, because they're just seeing and hearing what happens, but in prose, it's all on display. It's no longer just about the story, but also how you tell it. It has to be perfect, and get the story across clearly without being dull.
How is Tower Block being received in America?
James: It's not out there yet! It'll be released in the US later this year, as well as Cockneys Vs Zombies. There will be a small cinema release, and then DVD/VOD/brain-hypercube-implant.
Wandering off track a little from Torchwood, when you write something such as Tower Block, and it’s your own story, are you ever at that stage where you know who you want to play the various characters, do you write with that actor in mind, or do you write it and hope the casting director will know exactly who you need for the parts?
James: I usually pick actors just so I can hear different voices, that helps me when writing - but they're usually not even the right actors for the roles, it's just a vocal thing. I've only ever written specifically for an actor, Alan Ford in CvsZ, and we were determined to get him, so luckily he was available and liked the script. Usually the casting people will find the perfect people that you never even thought of, which is why they have that job! I've been very lucky so far, to have got such fantastic actors.
Are you involved in any other projects at the moment that you can tell us about? (First Issue is planned around 1 June but then I announced that if we had 100 followers and LIKES on Twitter and Facebook that I would launch it in May. We have nearly reached that target. Going to be writing like a demon now!) Anything that you can link the fans to, honestly any plugs you wish to do, we can announce it on the bottom of this interview.
James: Still editing my short film, Crazy For You, which should be ready by the time this comes out, and will be touring film festivals. I'm also working on several more film and TV projects, still early days, but fingers crossed.
An ongoing thing is my anthology comic, which I do with Mike Garley, and lots of really cool comic creators. It's 4 stories a month for £2, no region lock, and you can buy it direct from us. I've got a vampire story in it, they're proper, nasty vampires that kill people and do evil, terrible things. It's pretty much a long, tense game of cat and mouse, with lots of blood. The comic has also got superheroes, robots, and a drunken alien fish thing. You can catch up with all the previous issues, the first one is a bumper issue so give it a try and see if you like it. I'm really proud of what we're doing, we own it, we're in charge, and it's creator owned, which means the people who make each story get the profits, and keep all the rights. The first link is our site where you can buy the comic, we're also on Twitter, Blogger, Facebook and Google+:
We can only survive if people spread the word, so if you like the comic, please let your friends know!