❉ The man with a masterplan.
Andrew Cartmel is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter.
His work for BBC television includes a legendary three year stint as the Script Editor on Doctor Who.
His latest novel is The Run-Out Groove, second in a new series of noir thrillers about the Vinyl Detective — a record collector turned sleuth.
In our latest Q&A, Andrew Cartmel tells We Are Cult about his cult faves, writers and writing, his recent work including The Vinyl Detective series and Titan Comics’ Rivers Of London series (set in the world of the Rivers of London novels by fellow Doctor Who alumnus Ben Aaronovitch) and .. Just what WAS the Cartmel masterplan?
What were you like at school?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A writer. I’ve never wanted to be anything else.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Take up yoga.
Who were your pop culture heroes growing up?
James Bond. The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood in the Spaghetti Westerns). Rod Serling (host of the Twilight Zone).
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
Game of Thrones.
Monty Python: Is it funny?
It is beyond funny.
What was the last film that you watched?
Unlocked, a superb spy thriller written by Peter O’Brien, directed by Michael Aped and starring Noomi Rapace.
What film could you watch every day?
The Last Picture Show (Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich). Or Chinatown (Robert Towne and Roman Polanski). Or Heat (Michael Mann).
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Chinatown by Jerry Goldsmith.
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
I’m more interested in writers, directors and composers than actors. Having said that… Alicia Vikander, Emily Blunt, Tatiana Maslany and Marion Cotillard. In a thriller.
Which film, book or album last disappointed you the most?
Film: Sleepless, a promising Las Vegas police thriller starring Jamie Foxx, which goes fatally, hopelessly wrong.
Which album would you recommend and lend to a friend?
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?
Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans.
Which book or record would you save if your house was on fire?
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
I think the internet has killed that concept.
What are you reading at present?
‘The Dogs’ by Robert Calder, ‘The Good Old Stuff’ (a collection of short stories) by John D. MacDonald and ‘John D. MacDonald’ (a critical biography) by Edgar W. Hirshberg.
When did you first decide that you wanted to become a writer?
When I first learned to read. So around four or five years old.
In 2013, Miwk Publishing reprinted Script Doctor, your memoirs of your time working on Doctor Who, with a new introduction by Steven Moffat. Do you have any plans to update or reprint Through Time?
Miwk have indeed asked me to update Through Time for them and are eager to publish it in a new edition under a new and better title. I really like Miwk and would love to do this for them, but finding the time to do it is proving difficult.
This year Rona Munro, who wrote the last Dr Who serial you script-edited, Survival, becomes the first ‘classic series’ writer to write for the 21st century series (‘The Eaters of Light, to be broadcast 17 June). You must be thrilled!
Guardedly thrilled. I hope she is well treated.
In retrospect, the period you worked on Dr Who, particularly Seasons 25 and 26, seemed to paved the way for the direction of the series when it returned in 2005 produced by Russell T Davies. Do you feel this is a fair assessment?
What was the Cartmel masterplan?
To restore the Doctor’s mystery, power, autonomy and stature.
You’re a big comics fan, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen and 2000 AD’s The Ballad of Halo Jones have been referenced as creative influences on your own period of Doctor Who. Which comic creators or titles have been your biggest inspirations?
Unquestionably Alan Moore. He remains head and shoulders above all others, today as then. I was a big fan of comics when I was working on the show. Or, more accurately, a big fan of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta.
There were a few other creators whose work I read at the time that I started doing Who — Frank Miller, Love & Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg and a handful of others but really, compared to Alan Moore they hardly existed.
At the time you were working on Doctor Who, were you familiar with the DWM strip at the time and the different directions it had taken to the 80s TV series?
I fear I was completely unaware of any developments on the Who comic strip — I merely had my beady eye on it as a potential route into writing for comics. Since I was script editing the show I figured I could swing that and indeed, with the help of John Freeman, I did.
Some of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips you wrote, Evening’s Empire and The Good Soldier, were recently published in paperback by Panini. Are you happy with how they have been presented?
I’m very proud of Evening’s Empire, but it’s a crying shame some of the original art was lost and had to be reconstituted.
Evening’s Empire was my most ambitious work and the one of which I was (and am) most proud. It was like a Seventh Doctor TV story but with an unlimited budget — and also slightly darker, more abstract and more adult. Other than that I don’t think I can say much about it except you should read it.
But I also have a soft spot for The Good Soldier, a Cyberman story I wrote, which I think was very good and made imaginative use of the possibilities of the Cybermen in a way which I still don’t think has been explored or achieve by the show.
You’ve collaborated with one of your Who peers, Ben Aaronovitch, on the Titan comics series Rivers of London, based on his book series of the same name. Can you tell us a little about what that’s been like?
Your book The Run Out Groove, the second in the Vinyl Detective series, was published recently. Can you tell us a little about this series?
It’s a combination of suspenseful thriller and cosy murder mystery with a record collector as the sleuth. In each book the ‘McGuffin’ is some kind of rare or lost record. The books are, I hope, engrossing and fun. Definitely a remedy for all the grim Nordic Noir and Danish Disembowelment there is around these days. Warning, though: May contain cats.
Who is your editor and publisher for this series? What have they been like to work with?
The superb Miranda Jewess at Titan Books. She’s been a dream come true.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Luis Buñuel once said, ‘The imagination is a muscle” and I realised that the more I wrote, the better I’d get.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your work/life?
That would be a whole bunch of writers — Thomas McGuane, John D. MacDonald, Alan Moore, Thomas Harris, Elleston Trevor, Harold Pinter, Jack Rosenthal, Simon Moore and many others. They have taught me my craft.
Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?
Not never, but you have to be prepared for some damaging disappointments upon occasion.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Completing some piece of writing which achieves exactly what I set out to do.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?
The Vinyl Detective series. I felt I’d succeeded in doing what I described in the answer above 🙂
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Besides further Vinyl Detective novels and Rivers of London comics I’m currently writing a stage play.
How can our readers discover more about you and you work?
Thank you for taking time out to talk to us!
❉ The Vinyl Detective – The Run-Out Groove is out now from Titan Books, RRP £7.99
❉ Rivers of London Vol. 3: Black Mould, is due out on 25 July 2017, RRP £10.49. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon. You can find the complete series of issues and collections via Comixology’s Rivers of London page.
❉ Script Doctor by Andrew Cartmel is available to buy directly from Miwk Publishing, at a special price of £14.99 (RRP £17.99) or for insane amounts of money on Amazon.