22 December, 2010

Long Ago in an English Winter

Paul Cornell has assembled an online collection of pieces of fan fiction featuring characters he had created. The stories are represented as a list of links on his latest blog entry The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Nine. Among the stories represented here is one that I wrote sixteen years ago.

Signifying Nothing revisits a moment from the 1989 Doctor Who television story Battlefield, framed as an encounter between the Doctor (in his seventh incarnation) and the Brigadier. The story qualifies for Paul Cornell's list because his creation, Bernice Summerfield, features in the story. This is a slight cheat as although Bernice is in the story, she is not at the heart of the piece.

The story appeared in print in TSV 38, published March 1994, but it was originally intended for Doctor Who Magazine. In the early 1990s DWM featured one-page short stories called 'Brief Encounters', in which typically some aspect from the series' past would be revisited. Signifying Nothing was written as my first and only attempt at submitting something for this series. Before I could submit it I learned that the magazine had a huge pile of 'Brief Encounters' stories awaiting publication. Somewhat dishearted by this revelation, I decided against mailing in my story.

Perhaps I made the wrong decision. If I had sent my story to DWM, and if it had been accepted for publication, who knows what might have eventuated? I would undoubtedly have been encouraged by this small success to write more short stories. It may have even given me the impetus I needed to finally do something about that long-talked-about Doctor Who New Adventures novel I had aspired to write, but ultimately never did.

Instead, the story ended up being published in TSV, my Doctor Who fanzine. The version that saw print was trimmed down from the original, losing some extraneous material about past companions socialising over drinks. I also excised the fact that it was a Christmas party, which accounts for why it is snowing outside the Brigadier's house. Had this detail been retained it would have been highly appropriate for the story's inclusion in Cornell's fiction collection, which is one of his Christmas-themed blog articles.

It is especially fitting to me that Paul Cornell should showcase this story, as his novel Timewyrm: Revelation had been hugely inspirational, opening my eyes to the potential of Doctor Who in prose fiction. I can see some of the influence of Cornell's fiction in my story with its emphasis on a character's internal emotional struggle, the wintry landscape and even the Shakespeare quotation.

Television story novelisations excepted, Signifying Nothing was my last piece of published fiction. I subsequently decided to focus exclusively on writing non-fiction for TSV and other publications, and that's where my writing career has taken me since.