Stuart Kelly introduced A.L. Kennedy by stating that even with her gloriously unpredictable career no one would have predicted a Doctor Who book. She does have another, perhaps more predictable, book, Serious Sweet, coming out next year. She had apparently described it to him as ‘just a happy love story’ and Kelly jokes that he doesn’t believe a word of it before inviting her to read. Before she begins Kennedy tells us that she had been wondering what the Venn diagram of people who read her work and people who love Doctor Who would be. The fact that the tent is almost full suggests there’s a decent overlap.
Aware of the audience for which she was writing Kennedy tried to make her book less children’s fiction and more nostalgic children’s literature for those who remember the 1970s and it’s confectionery. Towards the end of the section she reads a character’s indecision between a Mint YoYo and an Abbey Crunch sparks what she calls ‘middle aged laughter’ before laughing as she suggests we’re “crumbly but happy”. Her book involves the Tom Baker incarnation of the Doctor and begins, of course, with a man being eaten alive by a golf bunker.
Once the reading is finished Kelly turns the discussion to the nature of writing a book in the Doctor Who universe. Kennedy speaks of trying to make goodness interesting and that thing about the Doctor is that there is no ‘shoot first ask questions later’. You ask the questions first, do a great deal of running, and generally never shoot at all. There is also the challenge of staying true to the pre-existing universe. She didn’t break too many rules but there are apparently layers of ‘BBC police’ in place to keep you from making a mess of the characters. These layers include an editor who ensures that the spelling and use of all the fictional physics is correct who informed Kennedy that she had spelt Arton energy wrong. Kennedy ends this anecdote with an apology that she hadn’t taken an O Grade in imaginary physics.
Tom Baker was Kennedy’s first, and favourite, Doctor and she mentions the fallacy of only citing literature as an influence. Yes, she had read a great deal as a child but she also learnt the definition of genocide and the existence of moral dilemmas from watching Doctor Who. Another lesson learned was that laughter could disarm an attacker. It didn’t matter who was attacking the Doctor or what they were threatening to do, the Doctor would never take them seriously and there was always an element of victory that came solely from that attitude.
Before the questions from the audience Kennedy reads a section from Serious Sweet, pausing to observe that the title looks lovely on paper but is rather difficult to say. The book switches between first person point of view and closed third person, which is brought up in the questions afterwards. She explains that some books fit a certain point of view but that the problem with writing two characters in closed third person is that when they meet you have to switch point of view again to omniscient, which she prefers not to use as she doesn’t feel omniscient. She also observes that if you’re going to write a novel you have to find it fun. The aim is always to make them read as if they wrote themselves but unfortunately they don’t. Writing 230,000 words in a year takes work but you do have to enjoy yourself while doing it.
When asked if she loved Tom Baker Kennedy replied that she did, in a childlike way. Discussing her dislike of everything becoming increasingly sexualised she lamented that some of the nuance of friendship had been lost. People see a story or a show where two men are sharing a home and assume that they’re gay, without looking at the context where sometimes the whole point was that they were simply friends. She mentions seeing a production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead where they had been depicted as extremely camp and feeling that the melancholy of the piece had been lost. The assumption that love and intimacy always means a relationship rather than a friendship is becoming more prevalent, which erases levels of meaning in some works.
Finally she speaks of the intensity of acting found in people like Tom Baker, and in fact many other Doctors. When she first started going to the theatre it always seemed like the actors were playing their character as if their lives depended on it. She wants to sit in the front row and feel a haze of saliva because the energy and intensity that takes is captivating. At a recent play with Bill Nighy she felt the younger actors were just alright. Nighy on the other hand seemed to be have a transcendent experience on the stage and as she watched she thought ‘Yes, this is why I used to love theatre so much.’
At the signing afterwards she takes her time with each person, making jokes and thanking them for their comments. As always she was self-deprecating, funny and utterly fascinating.