Interview with Justin Richards
Hi Justin, I loved the book The Deviant Strain, as you know. So full of detail about the submarines, the sea and that Russian feel about it, that you could almost imagine yourself being there in the cold, dealing with the locals in their tavern, and the night watch around the subs, and that general feeling of cold clinging to you. Though what surprised me the most was the back of the book, page 253, ‘About the Author’, ‘Justin lives in Warwick, with a lovely view of the famous castle and almost as far from the sea – and any submarines – as you can get in Britain.’
So where did the idea come from to write a book that featured submarines so heavily? Had you ever been inside a sub?
JUSTIN: I have actually – I went round a US nuclear submarine a few years ago. Quite a few years ago actually. The thing that struck me most was how small and claustrophobic it was. Mind you, I went straight from looking round an aircraft carrier, so the contrast was quite marked! But I definitely drew on that memory and experience for the book.
The story features the 9th Doctor, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness. In this book Jack was quite dark, moody, had a lot of emotion that we see an awful lot in later episodes of Jack’s life was this deliberate on your part, to bring out more of Jack’s character in the book?
JUSTIN: In those first TV episodes, Jack is actually quite a shallow character. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, or that the writing isn’t good – but emotionally, he isn’t very intense. I guess that’s sort of the point, that just as the Doctor is humanised by his relationship with Rose, so Jack becomes more caring and less selfish through his relationship with them both. It’s an interesting contrast – the Ninth Doctor is in many ways too self-less, while Jack is only concerned about his own interests until the end of The Doctor Dances where he redeems himself and that sort of ‘earns’ him his rescue by the Doctor and Rose.
But in a novel, you need to go that bit deeper anyway. I was keen to make The Deviant Strain very much Jack’s book and I wanted to provide him with someone who makes him care, almost despite himself – that’s partly why Valeria is aged. She’s not physically attractive, not anymore, so that isn’t what draws Jack to her and makes him care… Before he met the Doctor and Rose, maybe it would have been that sort of superficial attraction that was important to him, but he’s grown beyond that now, and can see deeper into people.
There is so much detail in the story, that it must have taken you some time to put it together. Do you note up as you go, or do you often write and write and then see where the story takes you?
JUSTIN: It was written very quickly, in fact. The first batch of novels that came out in April 2005 were so successful that someone higher up than me at BBC Books decided we’d publish another three in the September. It didn’t occur to them that these novels hadn’t been written yet – it wasn’t someone who’d ever worked on fiction before! So I had to scrabble round for writers who could do a good job very fast. For a horrible week it looked like I might actually have to write all three. But luckily – for him as well as me – Gareth Roberts had some time and was very keen. And then I persuaded Steve Lyons to drop what he was doing for a few weeks. But it really was a few weeks – about three I think!
To answer your question, I always write from a fairly detailed outline. In this case that was especially useful as it means I can keep track of how badly I’m doing in terms of the schedule! But it also means all the hard work plotting things out is sorted before I start – and that gives you a confidence that the story has a shape and is actually going somewhere and can build to a decent ending.
I had a look up on Wikipedia and your list of credits is quite extensive I have to say. You definitely have a passion for writing, and especially with the Whoniverse. I notice from the list I have another of your books in my bookshelf. The Resurrection Casket, audio book and hardback, I’ve still to get Clockwise Man.
Is the Deviant Strain the only book you’ve written that features Jack Harkness?
JUSTIN: I wrote the short story at the back of the ‘Captain Jack Files’ book, which is reprinted in ‘The Doctor Who Stories’. It’s called ‘Best Friends’ and I am actually quite proud of it – it prefigures some of the things they did with Jack’s character in later Torchwood, and I think it’s got a good emotional core to it…
Aside from Jack, the Doctor and Rose were any of the characters in your story in The Deviant Strain based upon anybody real?
JUSTIN: Easy answer – no. I do sometimes take elements of people I know, or physical attributes, and add them into a character. But I can’t think of any examples in The Deviant Strain.
Have you always had a passion for writing, was it something you always wanted to be?
JUSTIN: Oh yes. I was always a writer, from as soon as I could actually write – scribbling away in spare school exercise books. Usually about Daleks, of course. I don’t think I ever really thought I’d be a Writer in the career sense – I don’t think I really appreciated that was possible. A journalist maybe, but not an actual writer writer. Not until much later.
If people wanted to find out more about you and your books, other than going to Wikipedia do you have a website where people can follow you?
JUSTIN: Take a look at: www.JustinRichardsWriter.com
Are you writing anything at the moment that we can look out for?
JUSTIN: I have a new novel for older children out on 1st July – ‘The Wolfstone Curse’ (published by Templar). That’s quite interesting and exciting as there’s a free app you can get that unlocks extra content as you read the book. Point your phone at particular pages, and you get video or text or graphics extras.
Then I have the first of an SF series called ‘The Never War’ out from Del Rey in November – which I’m just finishing now. Older, darker, but still very exciting (I hope). I’m having great fun with that, so look out for it!
Thank you again Justin for the interview