In Conversation with George Mann
By Tony J Fyler
George Mann is a highly prolific science fiction writer. Who-fans will know him best for Engines of War, the first – and so far only – War Doctor novel, as well as being the writer of the Eighth Doctor comic-books from Titan Comics, but he’s also published several series of books outside Who, which are well worth reading, including the Newbury and Hobbes adventures https://georgemann.wordpress.com/newbury-hobbes/ and the Ghost chronicles https://georgemann.wordpress.com/the-ghost/
Hi George, and thanks for talking to us.
You’ve written widely across the geekisphere – sci-fi, steampunk, detective – and you’ve written non-fiction encyclopaedia of science fiction. What is it about sci-fi that particularly speaks to you?
George: I think it’s the scope of SF and Fantasy literature that appeals to me most – the idea that there are no real boundaries. This is a genre in which people’s imaginations go wild, and I think we allow ourselves to be at our most creative when we’re writing fantastical works. I certainly feel that way. That’s not to say they’re not relevant, mind – the very best SF/F speaks truths about the now, like all the best literature. It’s just that writers in this genre tend to come at it from a different angle. It’s freeing.
Who are the authors who really turned you on to these worlds when you were younger, the ones who blew your mind and put you in touch with the need to write these kinds of stories?
George: HG Wells, Terrance Dicks, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, John Christopher. Then later it was Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, along with Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, M. John Harrison. The list goes on and on.
Again, having such a broad palate in the genre, how does writing Who (in novel, audiobook and now comic-book form) compare to the writing of your own worlds where to a greater extent you have control of the backstory?
George: I guess you lose a little of that freedom, in that you’re working within the confines of someone else’s world and trying to capture the performance of the lead actors, but Doctor Who is different from many other licensed properties, in that the format is so wide open that you can pretty much tell any story you want. Neither is it the work of one person, or one creative team anymore. Like Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor has become part of the fictional fabric of Britain.
The key for me in writing a Doctor Who story is getting the tone right – that, and remaining true to the character of the Doctor. If you get those two things right, you can do pretty much anything else you want, and it’ll still feel like Doctor Who. It’s not much different to writing the fifth or sixth Newbury & Hobbes novel in that sense, really – you have a duty to be faithful to the characters and readers who’ve stuck with you to that point.
Honing that thought, how (if at all) is writing Who in comic-books a different challenge from writing it in novel and audiobook form? What are the particular challenges of each medium, and which if any most excites you going forward?
George: Writing prose and writing comic scripts are quite different disciplines, but really, they’re both about telling a story. That’s the heart of it. As long as you know what story you want to tell, what journey you want to send your characters on, you can work out the mechanics of the medium easily enough. Of course, it helps if you read widely in the given field, too. The key difference for me is about how you write the action. In a novel, you show every beat, every swing, every breath; in a comic the action is what happens between the panels, and you’re showing the results, the impact. That was a key learning for me.
You’re gradually racking up your Doctors. Are there any Who challenges – particular Doctors, villains or creatures – that you’re itching to put your own unique spin on?
George: I’d love to write for the Third Doctor and the Roger Delgado Master. That’s a bucket list thing for me. I’d also love to revisit the War Doctor, and to write more for both the Eighth and the Twelfth. Really, though, I’m aiming for the full set!
How did Engines of War come about? To most fans it seemed to come out of the blue (and excite the bejesus out of us!), and it stands pretty much alone at the moment, so it’d be interesting to get a picture of how you came to write it. Also, we now know there are War Doctor audios released and coming from Big Finish. We know you’re not down to write at least the first two, but if the call came, would you go back to the War Doctor?
George: I was incredibly honoured to be invited to write the War Doctor novel. BBC Books approached me about it, and to be honest, I was pretty much as shocked as you were. I nearly fell off my chair! After I’d picked myself up, of course, and spent a couple of days shaking with excitement and fear, I launched into planning and then writing the book. There was barely time to stop for breath!
I’m excited to see that BF is publishing a range of War Doctor audios. I’m afraid I’ve not been asked to contribute, but I would definitely jump at the chance if I could!
We assume this is a ridiculous question, but should the call come from Steven Moffat or Chris Chibnall, would you like to write an on-screen episode for the Capaldi incarnation? If so, what sort of episode/s would excite you to write?
George: Gosh, yes! That’s another bucket list item right there. I would LOVE to write a TV episode. I’m actually just starting to make my first tentative steps into TV screenwriting (not on Doctor Who, I hasten to add), and one day I’d love to contribute to the show.
As for what sort of story – I guess I’d want to bring back the ‘village under siege’ adventures that plagued the Third and Fourth Doctors, just like I did in issue #1 of the Eighth Doctor comic!
What does the future hold? More Newbury & Hobbes of course, but anything else about which you can remotely speak? More Ghost? What sort of new and exciting things are you hoping to go into?
George: There are so many stories I want to write, and I need to give myself time to do them justice. So yes, lots more Newbury & Hobbes, as well as more Ghost, but lots and lots of new stuff, too. There’s a new eerie crime series coming in 2017, more comics, more audios, and a children’s book that I’m very excited about.
Talking of Newbury & Hobbes, what was it that first made you think ‘There’s a story here,’ with them? How much of their world came quickly, and how much is unfolding to you as you go forward with them? When you look at the world you’ve built them, do you see a natural stopping point for them, or could they go on forever?
George: I originally wrote a one-page outline for Newbury & Hobbes in 2005 or 2006, I think. It started with the characters, and the world sort of sprung up around them. It’s developed a lot as I’ve continued to write, and in recent years I’ve been pushing a little, trying new things. There’s a Newbury & Hobbes comic series coming next year which is looking fantastic, and really starts to show us a bit more of what their world looks like. Then the next novel, which takes Newbury & Amelia out of London, all the way to St Petersburg, and we get to see that it’s a frozen fantasia, very different from what people might expect. The world of Newbury & Hobbes is growing, and I do think it can keep going for some time yet, if people continue to want to read about them. I’m certainly not running short on ideas for them!
George Mann, thank you.