A few months ago, fan magazine Whotopia, sat down with Target Trawl author Nick Mellish, and talked to him about the pending publication of his book. Thanks to Whotopia, they’ve allowed us to reprint Nick’s interview, here on the PTP blog. Enjoy.
Whotopia: How and when did you get interested in writing?
Nick Mellish: I genuinely cannot remember a time when I wasn’t into writing. Almost as soon as I started reading as a child, I was making up and writing my own stories. I think I saw books, enjoyed stories and thought, “Well, sure, but why do I have to just read other people’s work? Can’t I do my own as well?”
W: What is it about writing that appeals to you?
NM: I suppose deep down it’s that egotistical part of me that wants to be noticed! Or, more generously, the side of me that has loved and got so much pleasure out of other people’s work that he wants to try and replicate that feeling with other people. There’s something about a good story that makes people sit up and take notice, and the endless fascination with writing anything, be it fictional or reality, is trying to make it as flawless as you can. You never do, hence the quest to keep going and write more.
W: How did you get involved in writing for Whotopia and eventually the Target Trawl column?
NM: I was on Gallifrey Base at the time (or Gallifrey One as it was called back then) and I saw a request for material for a fanzine. I thought I’d give it a whirl and, nearly 8 months later than the deadline, I submitted a short piece looking at the reluctance of New Series fans to dip into the show’s past. After that, I pitched Target Trawl and here we are!
W: You’ve been a Whotopia contributor for over ten years. What’s kept you coming back for more?
NM: The honest answer is that the nature of the Target Trawl column has meant there was a really good excuse to keep going and reach the end goal. It keeps you submitting columns and reading the books. That said, I wouldn’t still be doing it if the editorial side hadn’t been so supportive, which is rarer to find that you would hope.
W: You’ve written about how The Abominable Snowmen and The Doomsday Weapon were the first Target novelisations your mum bought you. Back in the day before repeats and VHS releases, what was it like discovering and reading those two books?
NM: It was a revelation. I can’t recall being aware of the novelisations before then, though I do know I found a copy of Logopolis in the local library soon after. I was one of those post-series fans (-ish. I was born in 1986 so my memories of it as transmitted originally are hazy) so I did have access to some VHS tapes and resources such as the Doctor Who Yearbook, which blew me away. It meant that I was aware of stories like The Abominable Snowmen, which actually made reading it all the more exciting. It was like stumbling upon buried treasure.
W: After those first two novels, what made you want to keep collecting them?
NM: I am a hopeless collector, really. My bookshelves are full of whole series, my DVD and Blu Ray collections likewise. I have that collector mentality; the “Gotta Catch ’Em All!” mindset so favoured by Nintendo and the Pokémon company. Once I started on this slippery slope, I think there was never going to be a safe way back, to be honest.
W: How and where did you find copies of the older books?
NM: It’s been a case of searching all over the place. Back in the past, it was by going to second-hand bookshops and car boot sales and suchl ike. Later on, it was via online sellers and other fans.
W: What was the hardest novelisation to find and how did you find it (bonus points if it’s not The Wheel in Space)?
NM: It’s definitely not The Wheel in Space: I was extremely lucky and found it for the equivalent of just under a dollar in a bookshop in Norwich, England! I think the hardest to get hold of were the Companions of Doctor Who series. I tried for years to find them in bookshops, but in the end grabbed them off Amazon Marketplace. The last novelisation from the original run I purchased was The Underwater Menace and the final Target book outside of that was Harry Sullivan’s War.
W: What was it about Target novels that inspired you to pen Target Trawl?
NM: It’s that fascination with how different authors approached them: complete rewrites and reimagining’s? Say-what-you-saw affairs? Tinkering here and there? It’s the English Literature student in me crying out for work! Also, there were a whole load of books I had never quite got round to reading, so it was a good excuse to finally delve into them all and see what the fuss was with books such as The Myth Makers and Remembrance of the Daleks.
W: When you wrote your first column for Whotopia, did you think you’d still be writing them ten years later? Now you’re working on Target Trawl, what would you tell your earlier incarnation if you could visit him as he started to write that first column?
NM: I think I imagined I’d see this one through to the end. I can remember when I was reading for my finals at university as an undergraduate that I put study on hold to read the required books for the next issue of Whotopia. At that point, I think you know you’re committed.
W: Over the years, the Target novelisations evolved. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were really the only way someone could relive a story. They rarely strayed far from the script. By the late 1980s – with the advent of the video releases and the growth of fandom – the books began to get deeper and move further from a pure representation of the show (hello, Remembrance of the Daleks). How have you responded to the various eras of Target novelisations, and how do you feel about them now?
NM: I certainly felt that burnout in the middle of the range that every reader does, where they lose their flair and become little more than annotated transcripts at times. The later novelisations are interesting. They’re very reflective of a show and range now aiming at fans instead of a wider market, which comes with its pros and cons. By the time you reach Galaxy Four, they’re not even bothering to explain which Doctor is in the main role, assuming you just know instead, and dedicating The Macra Terror to DWAS just shows how deep into fan territory they were by then. The early ones are intriguing though, or rather the perception that they stuck to what we saw. That’s true for the most part, but we hit the ground running with a complete reworking of the show’s origins and characters in An Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, get a new introduction for Jo Grant a few books later, and all the while tinker and change bits here and there. They couldn’t help themselves! For all that later novelizations like The Romans push the format further still and stretch beyond original scripts, I think the past showed just how far they could go and they just returned in some ways to their roots.
W: What’s your favourite Target novelisation and why do you love it?
NM: That’s a tricky question to answer and one I’m still mulling over! The final answer will be in the book, though I suspect it may be a group of high hitters instead of a ranked list.
W: What do you look for in a great Target novelisation?
NM: They need to have a certain spark and life about the writing, be that in a retelling that changes a lot, humour that’s been added in, or even just a simple script-to-page affair that’s written with flair. Compare The Horror of Fang Rock to The Monster of Peladon, for example. They’re both essentially just he said / she said adaptations, but the former is far richer.
W: Do you have any of the weird spin-offs Target did, such as The Doctor Who Quiz Book and The Doctor Who Crossword Book. Will you include them in your adventures somehow?
NM: I own them but I’ve steered clear for this book (unless you’d like me to do otherwise?!) My reasoning was that I should stick to the fictional aspect of Target instead of muddying the waters with all the rest, interesting and important works though they are.
W: Besides the Target novels, what other types of Doctor Who-related books have you read?
NM: Oh lummy, where to start?! I’ve read all of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, which could be a mixed bag at times but extremely satisfying when it hit big. I’ve kept up to date with the New Series novels, too, though some of the anthologies I’m behind on. The Sarah Jane Adventures novelisations I’ve read all of, but I’ve never touched the original Torchwood books. I have read the three Class ones though, which were pretty good and show how much potential that series had deep down. The Missing Adventures range I’ve read around 50% of, and I’m working through the Telos Novellas, New Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures for various other projects.
W: Beyond Doctor Who, what sort of fiction do you like to read? Do you have a favourite Doctor Who writer and non-Doctor Who writer?
NM: I’m an eclectic reader, which I think is reflective of studying English at a degree and postgraduate level. I will defend a novel like Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes with the same ferocity as I explain why The Gruffalo’s Child is such a good book. My shelves are full of a lot of children’s literature, which is the area of writing I would love to make a living in one day, but you’ll also find in there Jack Reacher, graphic novels, romantic comedies (or ‘chick-lit’ if you will), non-fictional studies, manga, comedies, sci-fi, biographies, picture books… there’s a whole lot in there. Douglas Adams and J K Rowling are (predictably) favourite authors of mine, but I also really like a lot of the work of writers like Holly Smale, Ian McEwan, Jenny Colgan, Robin Stevens, Clara Vulliamy, William Shakespeare, Julia Donaldson, Ian Fleming and far more.
W: Now you’re working on Target Trawl, what would you tell your earlier incarnation if you could visit him as he started to write that first column?
NM: I’d let him see that I’m alive and well and writing, and hope that gets him through some of the darker days ahead. I’d also whisper in his ear that we’ll be up to Doctor Thirteen by the time he finishes, and see how he reacts.
W: How did the idea of writing the Target Trawl column evolve into writing the Target Trawl book?
NM: From memory, it was suggested a couple of years ago but I had to decline at the time. I was changing jobs, and not too long after houses and location, and things were just the wrong side of slightly busy. It was in 2016 when I was asked again if I’d consider it, and I decided it would be a nice project to work on across the next year. In the end, I read almost exclusively Doctor Who books that year, which was a bit much at times but it got the job done.
W: What sort of challenges have you had in writing the book?
NM: One of the main issues has been formatting it so it reads more like a book and less like bite size chunks in a magazine column. I’ve tried to stick close to the original articles, but I’ve expanded or better clarified points here and there to make for what I hope is a more satisfying read.
W: How would you say the forthcoming Target Trawl book differs from say The Target Book by David J. Howe?
NM: Mine is purely a review book instead of delving into the history of the range: they’re very different beasts. Howe’s book is rightly held up to be the best of the best, and if anyone hasn’t gone out there and purchased the thing, I highly recommend you do. It’s a fascinating and deep read worth every penny spent and every second read.
W: What is the one thing you’ve most learned from reading the entire range of Target books?
NM: That fan wisdom isn’t always right; that Terrance Dicks at his best is every bit the master of his craft that people claim, and at his worst is still brilliantly readable; and that The Pirate Planet is a fantastic book, no matter what we got on screen.
W: How is writing on the Target Trawl book progressing? What stage of the book’s production are you at?
NM: The books are all read and the reviews all written. Right now, I’m going through them all one by one, reformatting and tweaking the text and doing a lot of editing. I never knew I’d have almost 4 pages of things to say about Time and the Rani but barely two paragraphs on The Time Meddler, yet here we are! After my edits, it’s the turn of other editors to step in and then I suspect there will be a lot more to tweak and nip and tuck.
W: When can we expect to see the published version?
NM: These things are always subject to change, but I would hope Summer 2018, be that early or late in the season. It all depends on how quickly all the proofreading and editing takes. Right now, I’m working 9 to 5 in an office, then doing at least a couple of hours of editing a night, so it’s going as quickly as possible.
W: Once you’ve completed work on Target Trawl, what plans do you have?
NM: The plan to start with is just to rest, and then we shall see! I’ve some fiction I’m working on and a couple of pitches to agents I’m tinkering with, so hopefully some of that will yield fruit.
W: How do you feel about Target’s comeback in 2018 (with Russell T Davies’ novelisation of Rose et al.)?
NM: Extremely excited! What brilliant writers they’ve got for the range, too. It’s meant putting the publication of the book back so I can cover those as well, but that’s a small price to pay for what should be an interesting few books.
W: Ok, I have to ask: how do you order your Target novels on your bookshelves? Do you have them in the ‘Doctor Who Library’ number order? Do you go for a strict publication order? Or a hybrid method? Where do you file Harry Sullivan’s War?
NM: The sad and honest answer is that I’ve no space for them to all be displayed, so they’re stacked in a large plastic tub! Criminal, isn’t it? I should be kicked out of fandom.
Our sincere thanks to Nick Mellish for kindly answering all of our questions. We wish Nick all the very best as his Target Trawl column transitions into book form very soon.
Interview Questions by Richard Peevers, Bob Furnell & Jez Strickley
Interview originally published in Whotopia Issue 32. Used by Permission.
TARGET TRAWL is available to purchase on print on demand basis at Lulu.com. You can order your copy at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/penciltippublishing