Category Archives: Writing

Doctor Who: The Alternative War

Art by @VIIIJohannes

About a year ago, I connected with Alia E. Torrie (@TheWeegieDoctor) on Twitter and was was quite blown away by what I found on her YouTube channel: musical compositions, acting, narration, singing, you name it. There’s more about Alia on her Spotlight page. Among many other things, she has voiced characters in assorted Doctor Who fan audios released by TT Productions 23. That being the case, I thought it would be quite something to write a Doctor Who script for her. I had a couple of story suggestions but she countered with the concept of playing an alternative version of the Doctor during the Time War. Oh yes, I thought, I can work with that…. The result was Doctor Who: The Alternative War, release date August 17, 2022. Here’s the trailer, and I’ll provide an update when the full release is … released. And here it is.

I finished the first draft of the script near the end of November 2021 and, with Alia’s help, assembled the rest of the cast. Companion to Alia’s Doctor, the multi-talented Abi Louise (@AbiLouise230) plays a young Time Lord, Aliana, who’s destiny collides with the Doctor on Karn, shortly after her regeneration. Jack Reeves (@JackReevesDW), well known in the Doctor Who fan community, plays Mattlin, a human who is trying to rally his people to unite in the face of an imminent threat. Jack also plays one of the soldiers. The cast is rounded out by Zak Rosenfeld (@ZakR1998), who plays some of the soldiers, and Marcus Cotton (@SirJediSentinel), who plays another Time Lord. And I have a line! My acting debut! A blink-and-you’ll miss it line!

I love to hear Alia sing, and thought that it was time we all heard at least one incarnation of the Doctor break into song. I left a placeholder in the script and basically said, “The Doctor sings here.” Alia took the challenge to heart and composed and performed a beautiful, heartbreaking lament that you won’t be able to stop replaying.

The second and final version of the script was finished on December 1. The actors did the recording early in 2022. I found myself facing quite a learning curve as I needed to select takes from the actors and stitch them together. I’ve learned a lot about Audacity this year. Finally, the sound design was provided curtesy of the amazing Jaspreet Singh. I really think sound designers don’t get nearly enough credit, the way they magically place the actors performances in the world. I’d worked with Jaspreet previously on the fan audio, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day.

This script effectively marks my first full-cast audio play. Even my stories for Big Finish were in short story format, not script form. Writing it was a very enjoyable experience, and yes, it’s very different from writing prose, but I think it turned out pretty well. I hope all of you who listen agree. The best part of writing a script, of course, is hearing a cast of very talented actors bring your words to life, wringing emotions out of phrases that you hadn’t realized were buried in there.

In this story, the TV Doctor Who universe and this universe diverge at the moment when Paul McGann regenerates into Alia E. Torrie rather than John Hurt. Alia’s Doctor is very much a Doctor, though is wrestling with a newfound darkness which she is afraid might overtake her. After meeting Aliana, they begin their first mission, encountering unexpected obstacles along the way. As one does.

I can’t wait for you to hear The Alternative War, and if the band is willing to get back together in the future, I’d like to write a sequel.

Putting Yourself Out There

It can be scary, putting yourself out there. Sharing with the world something you created. Because when you do that, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. Open to criticism. To ridicule, even. No one likes to be embarrassed.

But if you’re of a creative bent, there’s little choice. Yes, you can create things just for yourself. Horde them like Scrooge McDuck, and open the vault once in a while to play with your darlings. That’s a lot safer. But not very satisfying.

We create is for ourselves, but we also create to communicate with others. That communication goes both ways. We communicate with the world via our art, be it writing, illustration, sculpture, acting, sound design, or what have you. And the world communicates with us in the form of criticism, praise (if you’re lucky), or indifference. To say nothing is to speak volumes.

For those of us who write, many began their journeys in one fandom or another. Yes, I’m talking about fan fiction. It’s an attractive place to start because the characters and setting are already established, leaving you free to focus on story. You might also find yourself cultivating a number of friends in the community who support you while you support them. But to make that first step, to post your first fanfic, that’s a hard thing to do. After all, not everyone online is supportive. In fact, there are plenty out there who seem to thrive on spreading misery. They are to be ignored. For what it’s worth, in my fan fiction experience, I never had haters, just supporters, and I count myself very fortunate .

As you grow as a writer, with practice and with the support of your writing community, you might find yourself branching out to original fiction. Or not. We write, after all, for the love of it. There are, at the time of writing, about 76 thousand Doctor Who fan fics posted on FanFiction.net. Several tens of thousands more are posted on archiveofourown.org. There are sites where you can post original fiction and interact with community members of similar interests. Examples include Wattpad and Inkitt. You can also go the self-publishing route if you’re so inclined. I happen to know at least one pretty good self-published book …

This is truly the golden age of creative output. With the tools we have readily available at home, we can easily create all manner of works and make them available to others. And you never know what will come of it. Anyone remember this tweet from Emily Cook?

After organizing this event, plus a number of others, as well as producing outstanding extra content from Doctor Who alumni, Ms. Cook is now a Big Finish producer. Jonathan Carley, who put himself out there as, among other things, an interpreter of the War Doctor, now has two Big Finish box sets in which he has starred. Jaspreet Singh, who has produced, edited, and sound designed a number of Doctor Who fan productions (including my personal favourite, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day), has been doing editing and sound design work for Big Finish. (He also does a pretty mean Third Doctor.)

Let’s be honest. Commercial success in the arts is hard to come by. So while it’s fine to hope for that, don’t make it the sole driver for your output. Create what you create for the love and fun of it, and if nothing else, you’ll be making the lives of those around you a little bit brighter, which is perhaps the greatest success of all.

The Tinselator

The Tinselator
by Selim Ulug

Copyright © 2021 Selim Ulug
All rights reserved

The characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or to other fictional characters, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

It was the steady beat that woke her.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Kaylee sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. With the night light on her bedside table, she could make out the clock on her wall. Five minutes after twelve. After midnight.
It couldn’t be. Could it? Was Santa Claus in the house?

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It didn’t sound like any Christmas music she’d heard. But Mommy said there were new Christmas songs every year, so … maybe?

Lifting the covers off, she swung her legs round, stood on the hardwood floor, and put on her slippers. The big toe of her left foot wriggled in the open air. Mommy said that maybe she’d get a new pair for Christmas.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

After grabbing Panda, Kaylee stuck her head out in the hallway and listened. There it was again.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It was coming from the living room, which was to her left. To her right was Mommy’s room. She should wake Mommy up. Yes, that would be the right thing to do. Except … Kaylee was curious. Very curious. She would tiptoe and be very quiet and just have a peek and then come back and wake up Mommy. If anything was wrong.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Peering around the corner, she noted that the living room was dimly illuminated by streetlamps through the thin curtains. There was the Christmas tree in the corner, sparse of limb and decoration, but Kaylee loved it. Beneath the tree were presents in wrapping paper or stuffed into bags and topped with colourful tissue paper. They’d been there for a few days. Santa just fills the stockings, Mommy had told her, and the empty stockings were lying on the floor against the outer wall. Kaylee’s friends had told her that Santa wasn’t real, and she believed them. But she hadn’t told Mommy yet.

Something moved from a dark shadow in the corner of the room. A man! A tall man. He was wearing a black leather jacket, dark pants, and boots. His hair kind of stood up on end and, even though it was dark, he was wearing sunglasses. And he had a really, really big gun.

“You’re not Santa,” Kaylee observed as she stepped into the living room.

The big man swung around and fixed his gaze upon her.

“Correct,” he said in a flat monotone.

“What are you doing here?”

“Your home has been targeted for tinselation,” he answered in the same monotone. He had an accent of some sort that Kaylee couldn’t place.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

“What’s that noise?”

“My gun needs to charge,” said the man as if that was an explanation.

There was silence for a moment while the man and child regarded each other.

“What is your name?” the man monotoned.

“Kaylee.”

After another period of silence during which the man cast his eyes about the room, he said, “You are poor, Kaylee.”

This was a sensitive topic. The kids at school teased Kaylee for all she didn’t have compared to them and their rich families.

“No, we’re not!” she said, her foot stomping the ground to emphasize the point.

“The curtains have been patched by hand seven times. The furniture is scratched and old, probably purchased second-hand. Your slippers barely fit, and one of them has a hole at the toe. This room is tidy, but judging by the amount of dust, your mother doesn’t have time for housework. Likely because she has more than one job. She does this to provide you with what she can. Conclusion, she loves you. You defended your mother by denying that you were poor. Conclusion, you love your mother as well.”

The anger Kaylee felt left her, leaving her teary-eyed. “Mommy does have two jobs. She works at Walmart and Loblaws for lots of hours every day. She tries really hard. And she’s good to me when she’s here. She helps with my homework, takes care of me when I’m sick. My mommy is the best mommy there is. Even if we’re poor.”

“Remember: if you are loved, you are rich by every metric that matters. If a child is not loved, even though their family is wealthy, they are the worst kind of poor.”

Her eyes wide, Kaylee said, “You’re very smart.”

“Of course. I am a tinselator”.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

This time the sound was followed by a soft chime.

“It is time,” said the man, hefting his gun and pointing it at the tree.

“You … you’re going to shoot the Christmas tree?” Kaylee’s voice quivered as she spoke.

With the ghost of a lopsided smile, the man said, “Trust me.”

Kaylee heard a whoosh, as from a strong breeze, and a ball of silver emerged from the gun. It rose to just above the top of the tree, then fell onto it, breaking into long silver strands that covered the tree from top to bottom. Tinsel!

The tinsel glowed, even in the dim light. Kaylee’s face glowed as well. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

The man turned and stepped toward the shadows from which he’d emerged. As he did, he spoke in a voice that echoed and faded. “I’ll be—” And then he was gone.

Kaylee was soon nestled back in bed with Panda, her eyes wide with wonder. Sleep seemed a long ways away. Still, she eventually found herself starting to doze. But another sound jolted her awake. It was coming from above. Were those … hooves on the rooftop?

Just Another Day

I was in the mood for some multi-Doctor silliness. This bit of fanfic is the result.

This is a work of fan fiction. No copyright infringement is intended.

From redmangoreviews.com/

“What?” said Ten through clenched teeth.

“Oh, this isn’t good,” said Eleven.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Twelve, taking in the twelve figures gathered with him on the grassy hilltop. “We’re all here. Same place, same time. Even Not The Doctor over there.”

The Warrior swiveled his head. “Are you referring to me?” he growled. Then, with a haunted look on his face, he added “It’s true. I’m the Doctor—“

“No more!” Nine through Twelve chorused together.

“Well I for one think it’s smashing that we’re all here,” said Thirteen, who had suddenly appeared. “I mean, dangerous and potentially universe-ending, but totally smashing.”

“Now see here, young lady, ” said One. “This matter is extremely serious. It’s no time for feminine frivolity.”

Doctors Two through Twelve whistled silently, shook their heads, and stepped back a couple of paces. After a moment of speechless silence, Thirteen said, “I … I don’t even know where to start with you. Okay, first off — young lady? Seriously? Next to me you’re a babe in arms. I’m thousands of years older than you, so a bit of respect? Or you might find yourself on Skaro without a TARDIS.”

“Skaro?” said One, gripping his lapels. Her words appeared to have had as little impact as rainwater on a duck. “What’s Skaro, then, hmm?”

“Spoilers,” said Eleven as he adjusted his bow tie.

“Look, enough of all that,” said Three. “We need to address the situation. Might I suggest we begin by attempting to reverse the —”

“No!” chorused Four through Thirteen.

Nonplussed, Three glanced at the other Doctors and shrugged his shoulders.

Two retrieved a recorder from his coat pocket and had just put it to his lips when Six snatched it away. “Don’t. Even. Think about it,” said Six.

As he observed Four playing with a yo-yo, Eight cast his eyes outward. The grassy hill upon which he and his other selves stood rose some 50 meters above the surrounding flatlands. And the horizon ….

Nine noticed the same thing. After making eye contact with Eight he said, “Oi! You lot. Care to guess how far it is to the horizon?”

“That must be about seven kilometers,” said Seven.

“Yes,” said Eight. “But have you noticed the gravity? The horizon suggests a small world and yet the gravity suggests a much larger one.”

“Perhaps this is simply a very dense small planet,” said Two.

“The little fellow may be right,” said One, “but I suspect that something else is happening here.”

Two’s eyes widened. “Oh dear,” he said. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

“What?” said Three. “Confound it man, just say it.”

“This may not be a planet at all,” said Two. “This might be a pocket universe. Look above us. There’s no sun, so where’s the illumination coming from?”

Eleven turned pale. “I’ve just had a thought.”

“Oh really?” said Twelve. “Well, don’t worry, it’ll die of loneliness in there.”

“Funny,” said Eleven, not smiling. Turning his back on Twelve and addressing the others, he added, “This might not be a pocket universe. This might be a simulation.”

Two’s shoulders slumped. “And here I was having a perfectly splendid nap.”

Five’s eyes widened. “Having a nap you say?” Puff. “Odd.” Puff. “I was napping as well.”

“Look,” said Six, “Why are you always so short of breath?” Shaking his head, he added, “As it happens, the last thing I recall is laying down for a nap.”

It was true of all of them, the Doctors confirmed.

“We really need to put our heads together for this one. Agreed?” Noting the nods from her other selves, Thirteen said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” mirrored the others.

With their thoughts connected, the collected minds of the Doctors reviewed the facts and analyzed countless paths of possibilities, dismissing some, examining others more closely until a thought intruded upon them that was not theirs.

“Oh good, you’re here.”

Releasing themselves from their mental connection, the Doctors gaped at the newcomer. It was a woman, her hair arranged in dreadlocks, dressed in a blue frock coat and waistcoat, kente shirt, with dark trousers and shoes.

Thirteen’s face fell. “Oh no,” she said. The new arrival gave her a wink.

“Do you know this young lady?” queried One. “Is she another one of us?”

“You can just call me … Ruth for now. Thank you all for coming. With your help, I’ll be able to escape this place. We all will.”

“Where are we?” said Ten.

“Who brought us here?” said Eleven.

“And why?” said Twelve.

“The purple man over there was right. We are within a simulated environment. It’s generated by a dying TARDIS trapped within the Vortex. Like a drowning swimmer, it was grabbing for a life buoy, anything to help it. It needed a Time Lord. At last, it detected me, but didn’t have enough energy reserves to transmat me here physically. Instead, it uploaded my consciousness while I slept. The TARDIS created this simulation for me to interact with it. I haven’t been able to help it by myself. Not enough psychic energy. So I suggested that it seek out another Time Lord that I’d met recently.“

At this, Ruth cast her eyes at Thirteen.

“So you are a Time Lord,” said Four.

“That’s not possible,” said Eleven.

“And yet here we all are,” said Ruth with a patient smile. “The thing is, I hadn’t counted on also uploading some of her other selves. So I’m sorry I dragged you away from your sleeping bodies, but when we’ve finished, all of this will seem like an odd dream.”

“Of course, if we fail, if the TARDIS dies while we’re still trapped in this simulation, then we die as well,” said Nine.

“That won’t happen,” said Thirteen. “We won’t let it.”

“The answer seems obvious to me,” said the Warrior. “Set a delayed self-destruct and send our consciousness back to our respective bodies.”

There was silence. “That’s cold,” said Twelve. “Even for you, that’s cold.”

“Is there an alternative?” said the Warrior. “I’d be happy to hear it.”

“We need facts,” said Seven. “How can we access the TARDIS systems?”

“We simply ask,” said Ruth. “Like this.” Looking up and spreading her arms, Ruth said, “TARDIS, please show us your control console.”

A familiar octagonal shape started to appear, but it was blurry, streaked with jagged black and white lines like a CRT display in need of adjustment.

“It can’t stabilize the simulation,” said Ten. “We need to help it. We need to focus all of our concentration on that console.”

The Doctors closed their eyes, faced furrowed with effort, until finally the simulated console solidified on the hilltop.

“Excellent,” said Ruth. “Well done. And now—”

But before she could finish, thirteen Doctors were in a scramble for the console. A shrill whistle from Twelve stopped them in their tracks. “Older and wiser heads, perhaps, eh?” said Twelve, casting a glance at Thirteen.

“Sure,” said Thirteen. “Thanks.” Thirteen and Ruth proceeded to examine the settings and readouts upon the console for several minutes. When they were done, they stopped, made eye contact, and nodded.

“What have you learned?” said One.

“It is possible to save this TARDIS,” said Thirteen. “It needs to regenerate, but can’t. The systems to trigger a regeneration have been damaged. However, with our combined psyches, we could bypass those systems. We just need to pre-program the instructions to first transmit our consciousness back to our bodies.”

“Perfect,” said Five. Puff. “An excellent solution.”

“Are we all agreed?” asked Thirteen. All the Doctors nodded. Glancing at Ruth, Thirteen said, “Good. Now let’s get to work.”

Ruth and Thirteen spent some time programming the TARDIS to return them to themselves just prior prior to regenerating. When it was done, Thirteen addressed the other Doctors.

“Okay, this is the crucial bit. We need to join again and use the console’s telepathic circuit to trigger a regeneration.” Thirteen placed her hands upon the circuit and said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” the others chorused. “Contact,” echoed Ruth.

Opening her eyes, Thirteen sat up. She wasn’t in the simulation any more. It must have worked! Well done us, she thought. She was back in her TARDIS, though the room didn’t look immediately familiar.

Wait a minute. What was this around her neck? A scarf? A very long scarf, in fact. Oh no.

Getting to her feet, the Doctor looked at her reflection in a nearby mirror. She saw a familiar face. Just not the right face. Long curly hair, bright eyes, tweed coat, and, um, she was male again. A female mind in a male body. Well, she wouldn’t be the first. Her eyes opening wide, she realized that meant that he was …. And Yaz was due for a bit of a shock.

Dropping into a chair, she rested her head in her hands and thought, Right. Just another day in the life of the Doctor.

Self-Publishing: Some Lessons Learned

If you’ve been reading my blog or following my Twitter posts, it won’t have escaped your attention that I’ve recently self-published a collection of short stories called Something Special. It’s available at Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.

One of the first things I learned along the way was the difference between anthology and collection. An anthology contains stories by multiple authors. A collection contains stories from one author. Something Special, then, was going to be a collection.

Lets start with some lessons learned from publishing the eBook version.

One of the first things that surprised me is that, even though you’re the author of the eBook, you need to purchase it like anyone else to get it into your Kindle library. If I’m mistaken, let me know, but I couldn’t find any other way to do it.

If you use Kindle Create to put together your eBook, then you must never, ever, compose text within that tool. Ever. Instead, write text in a word processor and then copy-and-paste it into KC. Why? KC does not have a spell checker. My published eBook ended up with a typo on the dedication page. I mean, of all places ….

I was concerned with making the text as perfect as possible before publishing. However, in the back of my mind I thought that, even if there was a mistake, I’d be able to upload a corrected manuscript and that my readers would receive an update. That’s not the way it works, unfortunately. Amazon seems to keep track of which version of the eBook you purchase, and even if you delete your local copy and re-download, you end up with the same version you started out with. My early readers, then, are stuck with the version that has the typo in the dedication as well as some other formatting glitches. As the author, I wanted the corrected version but couldn’t get it. I’d even permanently deleted and re-purchased the eBook, and still had the original version. I had to contact KDP support so that I could get the corrected version in my Kindle library.

And now some things to consider when publishing a paperback on Amazon.

In preparing the paperback, it would have been very helpful to be able to get a copy and review it before it went “live” and was available to everyone. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and being in Canada, I got my copy after some others in the US had already received it. And as it turns out, I wasn’t completely happy with my first go at it.

But let’s start with Microsoft Word. It’s best to use that tool since the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) site has detailed instructions on how to configure a Word document. I’ve had a lot of experience with Word, off and on over the years. As is the case with many of you, my relationship with it can best be described as love/hate. While preparing the paperback version of the manuscript, I would have sworn on some occasions that Word gremlins were busy making changes after I closed the document. Section breaks that were to begin on the next page became continuous breaks, headers that had been disconnected with the previous section’s header were suddenly connected. It was maddening. I had to make a lot of passes through the document to get it (mostly) right.

One of the things about the paperback version that was tricky was the gutter margin. This is the inside margin of the page that is bound to the spine. The first version of the paper had too wide a gutter margin. In the end, I’ve gone with half inch margins on the left and right plus a quarter of an inch extra for the gutter. This for a roughly 300 page book. I’m much happier with how that turned out. I did something a bit different for the front matter, eliminating the extra margin space altogether. For those few pages, the space lost to the binding was negligible and, with the change, the text that was meant to be centred actually look like it was centred.

Speaking of centring text, here’s something I learned about centring header text. They default style, Normal, includes a paragraph indent on the first line. Unfortunately, as I learned the hard way, Word centres your text in-between the start of the indent and the right margin, and not between the left and right margins. You have to manually remove the indent (or apply a different style, I suppose) for the text to be centred properly.

Although this post is basically a collection of “gotchas”, I don’t want to leave the impression that it was a negative experience. On the contrary, there is nothing more magical than holding a book you wrote in your hands.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’ll update if anything else comes to mind.

Excerpt from “Remember Me?

My collection of short stories, Something Special, was released last week. It includes tales of fantasy, horror and mystery, and it’s available at the Kindle store in ebook form. A paperback version is forthcoming.

The “Peek Inside” feature lets you read the first story, “Lizzy and Me”, and a good chunk of the next story, “Don’t Ever Change.” The cover is based on a scene from another story called “Remember Me?” What follows is the introduction and a brief excerpt from a few pages in. Hope you enjoy it.

#

The way in which Will meets Sam (the cat) is similar to something that happened to me. I was walking by the waterfront in Kingston and a cat came out of the darkness. It walked alongside of me, slowing when I slowed, picking up the pace when I did. Finally, I knelt down and said to the cat, “I can’t take you home with me.” Which I couldn’t. The cat’s eyes widened, and then it turned and disappeared into the darkness.

“Oh, this is good,” you said, sipping your dark roast. I’d chosen my favourite, an Americano, which was an indulgence, but it seemed like that kind of day.

As usual, the shop was bustling with patrons coming and going, and the tables were jammed with people talking or working on laptops. Throughout the space, the delicious smell of coffee mingled with the sweet odour of chocolate.

“You said you were looking for someone,” I reminded you.

“Right. Yes, I am. And you’re the link, but I’m not sure how.”

I was probably looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to say more. After taking a couple more sips of coffee, you did.

“Have you heard of the multiverse theory?”

I smiled. I was getting the sense that keeping you fixed on one topic at a time was going to be a challenge.

“Changing the subject?”

“Not really, no. Have you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great. So somewhere out there, there are other places, other realities, reflecting different choices, different events, and even different laws of physics.”

“Okay, sure.”

“And sometimes, there are cracks between the realities. And sometimes, people can fall into them.”

You seemed quite serious, so I went along. “So, people literally fall through the cracks. From one reality to another?”

“Exactly! Well done. The person I’m looking for has done just that. I’m here to help them get back to their own reality.”

“And you think I can help?” I said.

“I’m fairly sure, yes.”

“So what happened, exactly?” I said, deciding to suspend my disbelief for the moment. “How did you end up here?”

“I came upon a crack in reality. It was closing. And the way it was humming, I could tell that somebody had passed through. The only way that I’d be able to help bring them back was to follow them before the crack closed, so that’s what I did, and I barely made it. Half a minute later and it would have been too late.”

“So that’s why you said ‘that was close’ earlier.”

You nodded. “Sometimes, the crack, the doorway, whatever you want to call it, it takes me right to the person who crossed over. Other times, not so much, and some detective work is called for. I’ve done this enough times now that I’m turning into a regular Sexton Blake.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Ah. Never mind. Just me showing my age.”

We were both quiet for a time. “Well,” I said, resting my head on my hand, “I’m not sure what to say to all that.”

#

End of excerpt.

Introducing Something Special

My collection of short fiction, Something Special, is now available on the Kindle store. A print copy will be available in the near future. Once, that is, when I’ve worked out how to make that happen… The book includes 14 short stories and one flash fiction tale, in the fantasy, horror, and mystery genres. From the introduction to the book…

I wrote the oldest of these stories, “Where the Dragons Sleep,” in 2002, back when my plan was to focus on children’s stories. Plans change. Using the pseudonym selimpensfiction, I began to write fan fiction in 2011 and continued to do so through 2016. Along the way came “The Right Time” (2014) and “Protagonist Purgatory” (2015). Thank goodness for fan fiction, as it gave me the opportunity to grow as a writer in a friendly, encouraging environment. By the time I posted my last fan fiction story, I felt ready to take the next step in my writing journey.

In 2017, my Doctor Who story “Landbound” was selected by Big Finish Productions as the year’s Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip. It’s available for free if you care to give it a listen. Big Finish released my second Doctor Who story, “Battle Scars,” in 2019.

The stories in this collection are my original works. The fantasies are mostly of the urban variety, set in our world, except for “Protagonist Purgatory” and “Where the Dragons Sleep.” Of the horror stories, “Too Close” and “Under the Sand” are Lovecraftian; the others are not. Then there are the mystery yarns, or “weird mystery,” by which I mean mysteries that may or may not contain an element of fantasy, depending upon your interpretation. However, “A Question of Judgment” has nothing weird, with the possible exception of the detective.

A few stories are sequels to or are set in the same world as previous stories. Sometimes I’m just not ready to leave characters behind. The following stories are pairs: “Laura Wilcox” and “Truth to Power,” “Too Close” and “Under the Sand”, and “The Right Time” and “Protagonist Purgatory.”

The collection is not organized by genre, but if you prefer to focus on one genre at a time, you can make use of the list below.

Horror
Don’t Ever Change
Something Special
The Knife
Too Close
Under the Sand

Fantasy
Lizzy and Me
Remember Me?
Protagonist Purgatory
Laura Wilcox
Truth to Power
The Right Time
Where the Dragons Sleep

Weird Mystery
A Voice
A Question of Judgment
Unfinished Business: A White Rose Mystery

If you’re in the mood for something light-hearted, try “A Question of Judgment” and “Protagonist Purgatory.”

I hope you enjoy reading these stories. If you do, look me up on Twitter @selimpensfctn and let me know.

Doctor Who: The Eighth Day

Earlier in the lockdown, a few of us collaborated on a Doctor Who fanfic. We call it “Doctor Who: The Eighth Day” and it features the Eighth Doctor and Charley. If you’ve listened to Big Finish audios, the authors might be familiar: 

Joshua Winisko (@CBoogerjuice)

Selim Ulug (@SelimPensFctn)

Harry Draper (@bowtieanimation)

Ben Tedds (@BenTedds42)

Sophie Iles (@sophilestweets)

Max Curtis (@MaxCurtis)

Lizbeth Myles (@LMMyles)

It came about after Lily May Sherratt (@IreneWildthyme) brought together the authors of the Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips for a listen-along. The hashtag we used was #CelebratingPaulSpragg. To keep the momentum going, we came up with the idea of collaborating on a story on Twitter. We’d do it one tweet at a time, with no planning, no clue as to what was coming. We tagged the tweets (when we remembered) with #WhoFicTweets. If you’re not familiar with Twitter, one of the challenges was the 280 character limit. You had that many characters to move the story forward. 

The process became very organic, and additional writers were brought on board. Sophie, then Max and finally Liz. One writer for each day of the week. Josh had Monday, I had Tuesday, and so on. It was a blast. 

Illustration by Sophie Iles

About 2,000 words later, it was done. With the kind assistance of Kenny Smith (@FinishedZine), of Vortex magazine fame, we connected with Conrad Westmaas who would provide the audio narration. Conrad has performed on several of the Big Finish Eighth Doctor adventures, and what a performance he gave here! We were fortunate enough to have Jaspreet Singh (@TheJazNetwork) come on board to work on sound design and to set up the audio production for YouTube. 

If you managed to follow along on Twitter with us, well done! But whether you did or not, do check out the audio. We’re very pleased with it and I think you’re in for quite a treat. Just follow the link at the bottom of the post. We’re also providing a written version of the story. Again, you’ll find a link at the bottom. We hope you enjoy it. 

Aside from the group project, there are individual projects coming up which may interest you. Sophie has a Big Finish Short Tip, part of the prestigious Time Lord Victorious series, and the first to feature the Roger Delgado Master. It’s called Doctor Who – Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils. Liz has a Big Finish Seventh Doctor story, “Doctor Who: The Grey Man of the Mountain”. As for me, look out for a self-published collection of original short stories later this year. 

You’ll find a written version of Doctor Who: The Eighth Day here and an audio version here. The audio version will go live sometime on September 8, 2020. If you enjoy the audio, please consider giving what you can to https://www.mindout.org.uk.

In Defence of Fan Fiction

I’ve increasingly noticed that, when someone doesn’t like what’s been done with their favourite fandom, they might liken the offending episode to fan fiction. And not in a good way. In a dismissive way, in fact, as if fan fiction is something to be avoided at all costs if you are at all discerning of quality.

This is a very facile put-down, and reflects more on the commentator than on the body of fan fiction works. What does the put-down actually mean? What is it about fan fiction that they are referring to? If it’s a perceived bent towards fan service, well, it’s fan fiction, isn’t it? The ending of Game of Thrones angered a lot of people and was considered by some to be a bad idea. (Not unlike the creation of the Universe in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). This is because it was not what many fans were expecting or hoping for. Is there anything wrong with that? Are media creators required to take a poll and shape their stories accordingly? I really hope not. The thing is, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain when a story goes in an unexpected direction, and then dismiss another story as fan servicing. Fan fiction is all about making stories that fans would love to see. Things like romantic liaisons between characters, and weird and wonderful crossovers. Where else would you see Star Trek crossovers with Harry Potter, or Castle crossovers with Firefly?

Those who treat fan fiction dismissively might be referring to the perceived quality of stories and/or writing. They might say that 90% of fan fiction is junk. In this they would be right. But I refer you to Sturgeon’s Law. Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon famously said that 90% of everything is junk: TV shows, movies, books, you name it. I’ve read some remarkable fan fiction, stories that I wish could have been made into “canon”. And I’ve known some fan fiction writers (*cough*) who evolved into pretty good writers over time. For instance, a Doctor Who fan fiction writer I’ve corresponded with many times, Ichabod Ebenezer, has gone on to win a short story contest and has had a story commercially published in an anthology. His first novel is available on Amazon. Writing fan fiction gives you an opportunity to improve your craft while becoming part of a friendly community.

In fact, there’s a lot to love about fan fiction, so before you use the term in a disparaging way, dive into it a bit. There are thousands of stories available on fanfiction.net and AO3. You’ll find that at least 10% of what’s out there are real gems.

On the Release of Battle Scars

My second short story for Big Finish, Doctor Who – Short Trips: Battle Scars, has been released.

To be completely honest, I’m still high as a kite.

The whole thing started very shortly after Alfie Shaw took over as producer of the Short Trips range. I believe this was in April of 2018. In fact, I had just finished listening to an interview with him on the podcast when he contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in doing another story for Big Finish.

I didn’t have to think about this for very long.

He gave me a one or two sentence “brief”. The story would cover a famous gap in Doctor Who history, revealed in the first Ninth Doctor episode, “Rose”. Clive shows Rose a photo of the Daniels family of Southampton plus “friend”. The friend is obviously the Doctor. The family was meant to have sailed on the Titanic but didn’t. Alfie left the whys and wherefores, and basically the entirety of the story, up to me.

As usual, the first step was to write a one page synopsis and seek the approval of the BBC. This took a while, longer than it did for Landbound, but then this was during the transition between Steven Moffat’s team and Chris Chibnall’s. To my surprise, the BBC rejected the original title, which I won’t reveal. We had to come up with a new one. To be honest, I really liked the original title and my attempts to come up with an alternative were probably half-hearted. I had nothing. Finally, Alfie saved the day and suggested “Battle Scars” which fit perfectly.

At first I was going to make Arthur (the father) the Doctor’s main companion. Then I decided it would be more interesting to tell the story from Connie’s point of view. I love Connie. She reminds me of the precocious boy in the movie, Mr. Holmes, who basically rules the roost. In order to better explore the after-effects of war, Arthur is a veteran of the Second Boer War. Later in development, I made William Spence a veteran as well. Two life-long friends driven apart by the war.

Arthur is in the shipping industry to reinforce the theme of the Titanic lurking ominously just out of sight. And, I reasoned, Arthur’s contacts would have helped him score tickets to the Titanic, which must have been in high demand. The Doctor’s driving his fist through the hull of Arthur’s ship is meant to conjure in your mind what the iceberg did to the Titanic.

After three or four drafts, the story was done. Nicholas Briggs recorded the narration in November. From his comments on the podcast, I believe he recorded Harry Draper’s The Last Day at Work on the same day. And, as also mentioned on the podcast, he was just back from last year’s Chicago TARDIS and was still quite jet lagged. Mr. Briggs, it seems, has far more energy than do I.

On August 30th, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought I would check, just in case Battle Scars was available. And to my delight it was! I sat down to listen to it for the first time. Nicholas Briggs is an amazing actor. For a short story, Battle Scars has a lot of characters. He brought each one to life beautifully. I’m so lucky that he was able to narrate both of my Big Finish stories. The production focusses on the narration, providing thoughtful music in between scenes and sound effects that support the story. I loved it. It was everything I’d hoped for and more.

Once again, working with an editor was marvellous. Alfie was a great sounding board and he wisely warned me away from some wrong turns. With his guidance and helpful suggestions, the story ended up much stronger than it would have been.

You have to hand it to the Doctor Who fandom. There’s nothing like it. In any other genre, publishing a story might result in the odd tweet, a handful of reviews, and that would be it. But when Big Finish publishes your Doctor Who story, the Internet lights up with congratulations and thoughtful reviews. I couldn’t be more grateful for the support from the community.

And now, it’s time for me to start working through my queue of great Big Finish releases.