Jonathan Blum was imported from America fifteen years ago by his wife Kate Orman. Together they made a name for themselves in the Doctor Who novels while the show was off the air, collecting multiple Aurealis and Ditmar nominations and a Best Novel award for Fallen Gods. He’s also written radio plays, short stories, short films, the odd novella, TV scripts, and an in-development webcast series. He’s currently taking a six-month-ish break from writing to record an album of songs he’s written over the years, and work far too many hours as a software engineer.
1) This question is inspired by something Grant Watson said recently. Back in the day, the Doctor Who novels (whether it be the New Adventures or the 8th Doctor books) were mostly written by fans whose first professional sale was the publication of their Doctor Who novel – you being a case in point. Now, with the New Series, BBC Wales is more inclined to commission established Doctor Who novel writers, or celebrities such as Moorcock and Baxter, to write the books. Do you feel then that BBC Wales is missing a trick not having a slush pile for the new and aspiring Who writer?
I can understand why they don’t have one, for sheer practical reasons — the slushpile was ludicrously huge even in the Virgin Books days, which is why BBC Books only tried it for a brief while themselves when they took over. And with Doctor Who infinitely more popular these days, the pile of manuscripts they’d get would be enough to kill a man! But I still think it would be a wonderful thing if they could do something like that, even just the once. They’ve done wonders with the Script To Screen competition for kids, but there’s so much grownup talent out there waiting to be discovered as well…
2) In 2003 you won an Aurealis award for your Doctor Who novella, Fallen Gods. What do you think it was about the novella that made it accessible to both Who and Non Who fans?
Well… first I think it’s that we tried to write it as a proper novel in its own right. The idea was,even if you’d never encountered Doctor Who before, you could read this book as historical SF or even fantasy — it’s set on Thera before the island was known as Atlantis, and this mysterious not-exactly-human traveller arrives, who takes a bit of a scientific eye to the gods and monsters in the area, but we see it through the eyes of local human characters who don’t know who he is. And the fact that we were doing the story in this mythology-influenced setting meant that we were very consciously thinking of the story in terms of archetypes and imagery and other proper-literary-worth-type thingummybobs.
Being a novella — or actually a very short novel, it’s technically over novella length — helped too… not being full-length meant we could actually think about every word of the prose, instead of racing to a deadline! And it kept it tightly focused, instead of sprawling. Most basically, I think I had a story I was actually passionate about — a lot of it came out of my reaction to 9/11, and my reaction to the way our world was reacting to 9/11, and this tension between our best and worst nature — and that kind of dramatic struggle fed straight into all the characters. I tend to find that if I’ve got characters who are really passionately motivated, in a huge way, it makes it easier to work out a story that really means something. In some of my other writing my characters tend to be a bit cramped and lowercase and real-life-sized in their feelings, when it’s the full-blooded stuff that really connects with people… I wish I could manage that more often!
3) Your creative interests like beyond just writing prose. You’ve written scripts, produced fan films and also dabbled with music. If you had all the free time in the word, is there a specific medium you’d focus on?
I think scriptwriting’s my true love — the filmmaking comes about mainly because if I don’t get these words to the screen, no one will! I’ve never had more fun then when I effectively made a no-budget feature film back at university. I’d love to do something like that again — I’ve got a webcast series I’m planning to start work on later this year, but I need to get a proper crew together — I don’t want to end up writing, directing, acting, and doing post-production as well!
4) What Australian works have you loved recently?
Like I said, I’ve been focused on scriptwriting and TV drama lately… so I’ve been astonished by the sudden flowering in Australian television. In the past year alone we’ve had fantasy cable drama for grownups in “Spirited”, “Danger 5” with Nazi dinosaurs and Hitler using a mecha from Atlantis to stomp Tokyo, and a sitcom about a gay-and-lesbian science-fiction fan club in “Outland”. None of them are perfect, but the thing is, you couldn’t imagine any of these shows even getting commissioned five years ago!
5) Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
…To be honest, I have very little idea about the scene as a whole lately! All I know is that I personally discovered new corners of it through Aussiecon — exciting new YA authors like Foz Meadows and Lara Morgan, and a great unpublished kids-fantasy novel by Vicki Kyriakakis which I’m hoping will get accepted soon. That’s a change I’m looking forward to!