Sci-Fi and Chick-Lit – to use two terms which both camps tend to dislike – have come together with Jenny Colgan’s novel Dark Horizons, featuring the 11th Doctor from the current TV incarnation portrayed by Matt Smith, published by BBC Books last week.
Colgan, who shot to fame 12 years ago with her first book Amanda’s Wedding, on the back of a well publicised £1 million deal brokered by uber-agent Ali Gunn, now has 13 novels to her name which have together shifted more than 2.5 million copies.
Her latest, Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams, is about a woman leaving her busy London life to take over her aunt’s country shop. A far cry, maybe, from Judoon platoons on the moon. But Prestwick-born Colgan, who now lives largely in France, has been a long-time Doctor Who fan, and even won a competition when she was 10 to meet the then Doctor Peter Davison.
“I won a national WH Smiths fan competition to come down to London and ‘meet Dr Who’,” she remembers. “ I had short Princess Diana hair at the time and was wearing shorts, sandals and a T-shirt. There just weren’t any female Dr Who fans really back in those days, or at least I never met any. Anyway, Davison was totally charming, suggested I did NOT look inside the BBC props department TARDIS or I’d be very disappointed, and called me ‘son’ the entire time.”
That 10-year-old would be doubtless agog at the news that, almost (but not quite) three decades on, she would be writing her own Doctor Who book. How did it come about?
She says, “Well, I had been a fan all my life, and then a friend of mine, Naomi Alderman, who’s a brilliant writer, revealed she was doing one and I smacked myself on the head for never thinking about that before. So I spoke to Ebury, who run BBC books, and basically begged and pleaded, and I pitched some different ideas.”
Were they worried that Colgan might give the Doctor a chick-lit makeover? She says, “Once I’d started they were great, never interfered to say ‘Now, Jennifer, you know the Doctor isn’t allowed to go shopping for handbags’ or anything like that.” She pauses. “He doesn’t go shopping for handbags, I should clarify. Not that there would be anything wrong with that if he wanted to.”
She’s written Dark Horizons under the name J.T. Colgan, presumably to separate her new strand of writing from… what is it, anyway? Does she mind the ‘chick-lit’ label? “Oh, I am so used to it I don’t even notice it any more,” she says. “I think I write a lot of romantic comedy, but other people can call it what they want.”
In Dark Horizons, the Doctor arrives on a windswept Scottish coastline in the far past, planning on having a quiet game of chess on the famous Lewis board, just as the villagers, fearing a Viking attack, find they’re coming up against a threat from somewhat farther away.
It seems very evocative of the “classic” Pertwee-Baker era of Doctor Who, and the attendant Target paperback novelisations of those episodes that every young Who fan lapped up between seasons.
She says, “I read ALL the Target books. My only problem was they took five seconds to finish. This is a bit longer and meatier, I hope. BBC2 went through a good period of repeating all the Dr Whos when I was a child, but otherwise you simply had to read the Target books, there was no other way of finding out what the Doctor’s other adventures had been.”
And are the worlds of SF and romantic fiction really so far apart? Colgan thinks not: “I think Russell T. Davies and New Who have already united the genres: Rose and David Tennant’s Doctor was a fabulous on-screen love story. And Stephen Moffat is continuing the tradition; there’s always been something in Doctor Who for everyone. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
Albert DePetrillo, Senior Editorial Director at BBC Books, said, “Our Doctor Who list is a place to showcase talented writers and bold ideas – and it was a sheer delight to discover that Jenny Colgan, whose commercial fiction is so well respected and loved, was a massive Doctor Who fan. And even better to discover she wanted to turn her hand to a Doctor Who novel.
“We were deeply impressed with the originality and enthusiasm she brought to the task of writing an 11th Doctor adventure. Dark Horizons is simply a terrific Doctor Who story – fast-paced, thrilling and often quite funny, it captures Matt Smith’s Doctor perfectly and introduces some very memorable new characters as well. It’s a testament to Jenny’s range as a writer of quality commercial fiction, and a book I’m proud to publish on the Doctor Who list.”
* Dark Horizons by J.T. Colgan published on 5 July 2012, in hardback, priced £12.99
* Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams was published 29March 2012 by Sphere.