An Interview with the Editor of Seasons of War

Recently I finished reviewing the stories in the Seasons of War charity anthology. The editor and sometime-contributor, Declan May, was kind enough to sit down and answer a few interview questions about the project, and I want to post them here. Curious about how a project like this develops, and what it accomplishes? Check it out! Thanks to everyone from Reddit who contributed questions a few weeks ago; I’ve incorporated them as well as I could.

I should say in advance that I recruited a few people over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit to contribute a few of these questions, so I can’t claim credit for all of them. However, having just finished the reviews of the anthology, I’ll start with a question of my own: What’s your personal favorite entry in the anthology, and why?

That is a very, very difficult question. Having lived with this project for so long, my favorites tend to change each time I read it. I have a soft spot for Jon Arnold’s excellent ‘Always Face The Curtain With A Bow’ and ‘The Postman’ by John Davies. But I must admit that my consistent favourite – the one I keep coming back to – is Lee Rawlings ‘The Eight Minute War’ because here we see the War Doctor trying to still be the Doctor and failing miserably and tragically. Yes, I think that’s my current favorite.

Clearly this project has been dear to you, so tell us a little about how it got started. What was the inspiration for this project, and for its charitable connection with Caudwell Children? (And also, for those of us not in the UK—and thus not familiar with it—what can you tell us about that charity?)

The inspiration for the project was the charity Caudwell Children. I was very strict and determined on that. Many anthologies are put together, then a charity is arbitrarily attached to it to avoid copyright issues. This anthology (and subsequent projects) was for the charity. There are a few reasons why. The main reason being that my son continues to benefit from the support given by Caudwell. He was 7 years old at the time (he’s now about to celebrate his 10th Birthday) and severely autistic. Caudwell offers on-the-ground, real support for children with disabilities, learning difficulties and all sorts of illnesses. Also, I wanted to bring attention to the fact that, for many families with a disabled child or a child with a condition such as autism, epilepsy, ADHD and so on, it can be very difficult. Financially, emotionally, in maintaining relationships, connecting with the rest of the world, getting the right support and keeping your head above water. Depression and isolation are big factors for carers… living with a child (or an adult) with a disability can be a very stressful and difficult thing, and Caudwell helps with all this. Providing material support, helping to build and encourage and help families in an extremely difficult situation. It can be a very violent thing, you know? The upheaval and change in your life and lifestyle when there’s a person who depends so much upon you, who is so vulnerable, who needs constant help and stimulation and support. So that’s why I chose Caudwell. They help. They are utterly fantastic. And they need our help – the help of the public at large – to enable them to finance this support. Caudwell Children have helped him, and us, a great deal. Caudwell Children’s objectives are to change the futures of all disabled children by providing access to the services, equipment, therapies and treatments they need; to increase awareness and understanding of the needs of disabled children across the UK; to enable disabled children to lead an active and independent life reaching their full potential; and to enable disabled children to lead ordinary lives. But they need money. And awareness. And the only way I could think of doing that – whilst thanking them – was to put together this anthology. A vanity project, or a chance for writers to showcase their work, was not, and is not, the objective.

How does a project like Seasons of War work with regard to legal and copyright issues? It’s been referred to as an “unoffical” project; how are projects such as this able to be published despite not being licensed by the BBC? I’ve been asked if there is any possibility of endorsement by the BBC, making the anthology official with regard to continuity.

This is where I have to be careful. First of all, I have an acquaintance with Steven Moffat who, after all, created the character of the War Doctor. I spoke with him. I spoke with people within BBC licensing – I think Mr. Moffat must have had a word with them too – and as long as it was for charity, not sold in any bookshops and, ultimately, there was a ‘tacit’ endorsement of the project, culminating in Steven Moffat’s mini-foreword at the beginning of the second edition. Nicholas Briggs also gave an introduction and we ultimately discovered we have unofficial license to produce War Doctor/Time War books, as long as it doesn’t stray into official territory (ie: novels about the eighth Doctor etc). As far as canonicity is concerned, Steven Moffat’s endorsement and his support, perhaps put Seasons Of War into the ‘canonical mix’. As for the BBC, well, I’ve been in touch with them throughout and, as long as it is all for charity and nobody earns a penny out of it and as long as we do not make any claims to it being ‘official’ or ‘canon’ or whatever, then we’re ok. I use the analogy of a charity fete where the local am-dram group puts on a stage production of… Midnight. Same with all the fan-fiction on the net. Like us, it’s absolutely free. Anyone can access it. The difference is we’re doing that, but making sure those who read it donate to the charity. But, all along the process I’ve made sure to check up and run things past certain people now and again.

How did you go about recruiting the (may I say excellent) group of authors who contributed to the project? What was it like working with them? I should say, artists as well, as art has played a large role in this project, especially in the final edition.

First of all, Paul Spragg. It was he (mere weeks before his shocking, sudden death) who, so kind and generous with his time, advised me how to contact so and so, as well as giving me ideas of the structure and how to phrase that to the authors. Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith were the first I contacted. They were very enthusiastic (seeing this as the only opportunity to write for the War Doctor – this was well before Big Finish’s War Doctor audios). Kate Orman, I just asked, emphasizing the autism aspect and asking whether she could incorporate that into her story. Lance Parkin, who I already knew, was more than ready. The same for John Peel. Matthew Sweet, who I already knew, had something which he’d like to include and Jim Mortimore really wanted the script of ‘Time Enough For War’ to be completed, illustrated, made into a comic strip (which the incredible Simon Brett spent months on completing – it’s absolutely stunning). Gary Russell had several stories and was very enthusiastic (in the final edition he has two stories) and Jenny Colgan had something too. They were all very kind and generous with their time. George Mann who wrote ‘Engines Of War’ wanted to include a ‘missing scene’, which I think is beautiful and heartbreaking, and they were all, each author, so kind, supportive and we had and have a good relationship. I’m frankly amazed that they took the time. As for the artists, they all said yes. Simon Brett was responsible for all that and he managed to get some great names: Carolyn Edwards, Paul Hanley, Paul Griffin….and for the final edition Barnaby Eaton Jones managed to get Raine Syraminzki. We were really very lucky . . .

More on the topic of the artwork: There’s a wide range of art in the book, and it’s all excellent. I’ve heard there were some alternate cover designs as well—anything you’d like to share?

(The alternate cover designs were numerous. Simon Brett as art editor came up with quite a lot, but below are included a few, including one unfinished piece by Alistair Pearson:

War Doctor alternate cover Alistair Pearson

Here’s another alternate cover, by Simon Brett and Declan May:

War Doctor alternate cover Simon Brett and Declan May

And this one by Will Brooks which thought excellent but both John Hurt’s agents and the BBC said we couldn’t use it:

War Doctor alternate cover Will Brooks

The cover we have is really down to Simon Brett: a compromise – no official imagery, the War Doctor taken from the Andy Robinson film, and, I believe much more simple:

Seasons of War cover

Front cover only

Seasons of War final cover

Full cover (prior to the replacement of the eyestalk telescope with the sonic screwdriver)

Were there any rejected stories submitted for the anthology? If so, I don’t want to name names and embarrass anyone, so I won’t ask for specifics; but in a general sense, what sort of things led to those rejections?

In total, I received something like 330-340 submissions. Pitches for the most part, but a few full stories as well. Quite a few were clearly already written with another Doctor, any Doctor, in mind. Submissions they may have had for other anthologies etc. They changed whichever Doctor it was to “the warrior” or “the Time Lord”. But you can always tell it was written with the seventh or eighth or fourth or ninth Doctor in mind. But there were lot of really good ideas. Really. There are a lot of really creative people out there. But we wanted to make sure that a great idea could be backed-up, followed on by good writing and fit into the almost novelistic approach we had with Seasons Of War. The arc, so to speak. It’s often the case that you’ve someone who has great ideas and concepts but who can’t really write prose. Sometimes it’s the other way round. We needed people who could do both. So there I was with a couple of other editors looking through the submissions. Far too many “the Doctor arrives on a strange planet and discovers a Dalek superweapon” or stories based around Romana or Drax or Leela and Andred, or just generic sort of stories where nothing much happens. No story…just people talking a vast screed of dialogue referencing ‘canon’ and Gallifrey references. Dull as dishwater to read. What I did want to avoid – and submission-wise, we did receive a lot of these – were stories set within the Doctors head, or in the Matrix or in some ‘dreamscape’. We received far too many of those. It’s very difficult to read or to hook in the reader, if all that is happening is the War Doctor walking through some fantasy dreamland, talking to wise old characters who are aspects of himself or something like that. We needed stories with a start, middle and end. Antagonists. Action. Story coming first. But any story where it was just the War Doctor by himself, wandering round his own head or the Matrix, talking to himself with nothing much happening… Not interested. But Christ, there were quite a lot of those. And we had to refuse any pitches that changed the lore or the history of the show too much. I can understand totally why people would want to write a story like that, the temptation is huge, but we didn’t feel it right or appropriate to do anything too drastic (like blow-up Karn or kill Romana) in the anthology. The other thing was people sending-in pitches and work and saying: “I am a brilliant writer and my Doctor Who fan-fic is highly praised at such and such a website” or “You should choose my story because everyone who has seen it thinks it’s the best thing they ever read.” or “My writing is better than Steven Moffat’s” and they’ll send a story that demonstrates painfully clearly that that is categorically not the case. A lot of that. And a lot of very angry people who, when you politely reject their pitch and say why, get quite abusive and there’s personal attacks and so on. If you want to get on in this business, you have to learn how to take rejection (on a daily basis!) and don’t be a rampant egoist, throwing your toys out of the pram if your story doesn’t get chosen. But, for the most part, people were lovely. And out of about 300 pitches we narrowed it down to about 35 and, the stories and writers chosen…well, they really are the best. Some absolutely remarkable work.

As for links to the current ongoing show, we have been very careful. For example, during the pitching process back in June and July, someone submitted a story set in that barn from ‘Day Of The Doctor’. Now, because of my job and because I know people involved with the show, I knew that that would be coming up in ‘Listen‘. So I said “We can’t use that” and they changed it to somewhere else. Same with the Doctor’s childhood and so forth. Some things were out of bounds. It was all in a ‘writers guide/bible’ thing I gave out to prospective authors. I’d say things like “no Rani, no past-Doctors, no sequels or prequels to TV episodes”. Seems to have worked out ok.

The final edition received an endorsement from Steven Moffat. Could you tell us about his contribution, and how it came about?

I sent him a copy of the book (he says he enjoyed it) and then I just asked him whether he’d like to write something, anything, as a foreword. He’s a very nice man and a big fan of the show and, after all, the War Doctor is his creation. So he very kindly wrote the ‘endorsement’. It was really that simple.

Seasons of War was intended to be the first in a series of Time War anthologies, but you have stated that the second volume (and possibly third…?) was cancelled upon news of the untimely death of Sir John Hurt. What could we have expected from those volumes, had they been published? Are any of those plans being incorporated into the upcoming novels?

The second and third anthologies were cancelled a) Because what we thought we had with Seasons Of War was unique; b) the death of John Hurt; and c) Big Finish were doing their War Doctor audios. Therefore I thought it would be better if we concentrated on novels and novellas to continue to explore the Time War.

John Hurt’s passing wasn’t the only tragedy during the production of the final edition. We were sad to hear of the death of Alan Jack, the co-author of ‘Guerre’, one of the earlier entries in the book. What can you tell us about Mr. Jack and his unfortunate passing?

I can’t talk specifically about Alan P. jacks passing because of his family and other reasons that may become apparent. He was (to me) a lovely man, and when he submitted a story set during WW1 I thought: here’s a chance to do something really different. So I took his draft and fashioned ‘Guerre’ from it, a chance to show the War Doctor doing something terrible. I wouldn’t normally attach my name as co-writer (I rewrote about 60% of the stories in the anthology) but in this case, basically, it’s a story of two halves and Alan was insistent I put my name on it. So I did.

It’s been said that bad news comes in threes; and accordingly, there’s a third untimely death associated with this project: that of Big Finish editor (and many other hats) Paul Spragg, in May 2014. I understand there was some contact with Paul, and perhaps some direction from him, in the early days of this project?

I’d been watching on DVD the series ‘The World At War’ and the scope of the thing – it’s 25 episodes or something – showed me that within a war – even within one individual battle like the Normandy landings or Stalingrad or the Anaheim – there are so, so many individual stories. And I mentioned this to Paul. Plus, the War Doctor is supposed to have been fighting in the Time War for 400 years or something, so that’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover – so many stories. So what we have in Seasons Of War, whilst being in no way official or anything like that, is just ‘some’ of the stories from the adventures of John Hurt during the ‘story arc’ of the Time War. And Paul Spragg was very interested in this idea. As mentioned above, at the beginning I was helped informally, conversationally, over chat and instant message, by someone who helped me out with email addresses, contact details, possible lines of enquiry and the like. This was Paul Spragg, who sadly died a week or two after those discussions. But we’ll come back to that. Basically, I just asked, or got other people to ask. And people are, really, just very nice and enthusiastic and willing to help, you know? Especially for a worthwhile charity. And that’s the important thing: the charity always comes first – before ego, before reputation, before storyline or pitch or whatever.

Little by little, we got some really fantastic names. But I can’t take credit for all that alone. It was Paul Spragg. Nicholas Briggs beautiful piece about him opens the book, and the anthology is, of course, dedicated to him.

Let’s talk about the future of Seasons of War. You have several novels in the works, featuring several authors. I’ve discussed this a bit in the course of my reviews, but what novels are in the works, and what can you tell us about them? In particular, I’ve been asked if the novel Gallifrey will involve Romana, Leela, K9, and Rassilon, all of whom are known to have been on Gallifrey at various points in the War. There’s also been an air of mystery about the novel Regenerations, as its title tells us next to nothing about what will be featured.

‘Gallifrey’ – written by Kara Dennison and Paul Driscoll, might involve some of those names in passing. But it’s truly a unique piece, about which I can say nothing. Except that it will be absolutely fascinating to fans of Gallifrey, and those interested in the effects of the Time War.

‘Horde Of Travesties And A History Of The Time War’ [written by Declan May ~TLA] is a novel, interrupted here and there with a history of the Time War. It is a sequel to the story of the same name in Seasons Of War, but much more than that. The only hint I can give is: the War Lords in ‘The War Games’ created these zones of combat. The Time Lords created the Death Zone. There’s a lot of correspondence between those two concepts. And Time Lords at War to War Lords isn’t a big jump. But the novel is so much more than that. Basically, what if the Time War was a simulation by the War Lords? The Horde Of Travesties are such a brutal, horrible concept that their origins and appearance will be, I hope, shocking.

‘The Corsair’ novel is being written by Simon Brett and Jon Arnold. I can say nothing [well, almost nothing–see the next question. ~TLA] about it because I’ve yet to read it (on this, I’ve stood back from my position as editor)

Regenerations’ will blow your mind. I can’t say much, but the effects of the Time War don’t just affect the 9th Doctor and the War Doctor. This is a big one . . .

Regarding the upcoming novel, Corsair, there’s been a surprising amount of enthusiasm for this character, who sprang from a few rather minor mentions in the incomplete classic serial Shada and the Series Six episode The Doctor’s Wife. Although other adventures of the Corsair have been subsequently mentioned, you’ve been the first (to my knowledge) to tackle the character “onscreen” as it were. How did you develop your conception of the character, and what would you like to see happen with him? Without too many spoilers, what can we expect from him in the novel, especially as we don’t know much about the outcome of the Battle of Infinite Regress? I’ve specifically been asked if we will see both male and female incarnations of the Corsair. Also, what about his TARDIS, the Battered Bride? It’s a unique take on the idea of a TARDIS—a unique model, which fell in love and eloped for thousands of years. Can we expect more of it, as well?

The Battered Bride – the Corsairs TARDIS and the Battle Of Infinite Regress are addressed. The Battered Bride in particular has an incredible backstory. Time and Space is a big place . . .

One criticism of materials relating to the Time War is that they don’t live up to the hype. The television series used names such as the Nightmare Child and the Could-Have-Been King as “set pieces” to build up mystery and suspense; but most stories, including both Seasons of War and the Big Finish War Doctor audio dramas, seem to avoid those “set pieces”. Tell us about the challenge of tackling those events, and of living up to expectations about the War in general. Also, is this something that we may see more of in the upcoming ‘War Crimes’ novel?

All the horrors of the Time War are addressed in these books. With a novel you have the space to really explore them. ‘War Crimes’ in particular describes some of them. And they aren’t Dalek creations . . .

Are there any plans for related stories outside the Time War? You’ve recently had pre-orders for a novella, ‘The Curator’, based on the character from The Day of the Doctor, as well as a second novella, ‘The Boy in the Barn’. Can we expect anything else along those lines?

‘The Curator’ is a short novella about a man who used to go by another name and now is the curator of the under gallery at the National Museum. He has a life. Many lives. And all goes well until his past intrudes. ‘The Boy In The Barn’ is similar. It’s written in such a way that, I believe, no other Doctor Who book has been.

Not exactly a question, but there is a great clamor for further releases of the anthology. Frequently I’m asked if it will be released again, and I’ve done some promoting for the recent ebook re-release. Is there any chance that it will be released again in conjunction with further releases in the series, so as to give new readers a chance to jump onboard?

As a hardback or paperback it will NEVER be released again. As for the ebook release, we MIGHT give it another go, Providing it benefits the charity. We’ll see . . .

As an editor, what do you recommend for anyone who wants to write for Doctor Who (in any capacity)?

Story first. Doctor later.

I have to ask: Who is “your Doctor”?

I hate to sound predictable, but it is John Hurt. Closely followed by Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith. I’ve a feeling though that Jodie Whittaker may be MY Doctor.

Is there anything else you’d like to say on any of these topics?

I want to say than you to you for all the work you’ve done in reviewing and spreading the word. Also a massive thank you to all those who pre-ordered the books and have been so supportive. There’s really been very little negative feedback.

On behalf of the fans, I’d like to say that we’re glad to see the War Doctor’s legacy live on (and for a great charitable cause, as well!). The War Doctor was an event in every sense—he arrived unexpectedly, changed the history of Doctor Who forever, and then was gone suddenly. Credit justifiably goes to Steven Moffat and the other writers involved with the character on television; but also to you, your group of writers, the crew over at Big Finish, and those responsible for the War Doctor’s comic appearances, for keeping things going even in the wake of the death of Mr. Hurt. Throughout this review series, it’s been a pleasure working with the various contributors, and everyone has been very enthusiastic about both the project and the reviews. Thank you again, and we’ll be back in December for ‘The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War’!

You can find Declan May and Seasons of War on Twitter, and Seasons of War on Facebook.  To learn more about Caudwell Children, or to donate, visit their website.  You can also donate via Seasons of War’s Facebook page.

3 thoughts on “An Interview with the Editor of Seasons of War

    1. I don’t have the precise details, but I have some general information. Not long after this post, the editor fell seriously ill, and ultimately had to withdraw from his work. The project was continued by some of the others involved, but on a reduced plan. Also, though I don’t know the specifics, there was some copyright issue that ultimately led to some of the print projects being pulled, though the ebooks were still released if I recall correctly. Some orders–mine included–weren’t fulfilled, and ultimately the Facebook page and other contact options were taken down. It’s unfortunate, but it seems to have turned into a real fiasco at the end. I’ve spoken with someone who did get his copy of what books were released, and he indicated they were good, but not quite as good as the original anthology.

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      1. Thank you for that update. I did have an email address for the editor but that was rejected. One appreciates that he has been seriously unwell and can only hope that he makes a full recovery. That said it would have been nice to have seen what was produced and, at the risk of sounding mercenary, I would have liked to know what happened to my money (like you I had orders unfulfilled).

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