Cult Q & A: Mark Wright

❉ This week: Mark Wright, writer, comic scripter, and co-author of best-seller Who-ology

Mark Wright is a writer who frequently collaborates with Cavan Scott. Mark has written many audiobooks, short stories, comic strips and novels for Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Power Rangers and Blake’s 7. He is the co-author (along with Cavan Scott) of the Sunday Times Top Ten bestselling miscellany, Who-ology and its follow up, Wit, Wisdom and Timey-Wimey Stuff.

Mark is currently co-editor of Doctor Who – The Complete History partwork. He also served as a production assistant for Doctor Who Magazine beginning with issue 448, and regularly contributes to the pages of the official Doctor Who Magazine and its sister publication, The Essential Doctor Who. He recently turned his hand to scripting the ongoing comic strip adventures of the Doctor in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine and is having more fun than is probably allowed writing about his favourite Time Lord.

A full-time writer, Mark lives in the countryside of West Yorkshire near Halifax, where he lives with his wife, stepson and two cats called Millie and Molly.

What were you like at school?

Probably a bit of a pain in the arse!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An actor. Thankfully for the good of the nation’s cultural health, I abandoned that path shortly after I did a drama degree (although I did audition for Corrie, very very badly).

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

A bit of patience and faith goes a long way. And cheese is awesome.

What are your best and worst qualities?

Best: loyal, good listener, cooks a mean chilli.

Worst: Lack of faith in my abilities, a lazy streak, getting cross over the smallest things that do not matter.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Sales assistant at WH Smith Do It All. Those blue dungarees were not flattering to my ample figure.

Who were your heroes growing up?

Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Roj Blake, Kenny Dalglish, Roald Dahl, Terrance Dicks.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

K9 and Company. Its genius will be recognised by scholars of future generations.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Some of it is, some of it isn’t. The movies are ageing better than the TV show.

What was the last film that you watched?

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism.

What film could you watch every day?

Flash Gordon.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

Three-way tie between Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future or Flash Gordon.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Terry-Thomas, Tony Hancock, David Warner, Mark Gatiss. Comedy heist movie.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

Batman v Superman will take a lot of beating on that score.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

At the moment, the new London Grammar album.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

The vinyl of Geoff Love’s Star Wars and Other Space Themes.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Got me through more than a few break ups that book did.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something with a small but dedicated audience.

Who are your favourite authors?

Ian Rankin, Joe Abercrombie, Winston Graham (I’m hooked on the Poldark books at the moment), PG Wodehouse, Daphne Du Maurier.

When did you first decide to become a writer?

I’m not sure I’ve decided one way or the other. I’m still weighing up the pros and cons.

Who has inspired you over the years?

Mike Ward, a director who came to direct the first school play I was in at secondary school; he was the first adult who treated us as equals. He went on to open the Actor’s Workshop in Halifax, which is still going 35 years later and Mike is still there. My primary school teacher Ian Ellis – son of the great referee Arthur Ellis of It’s a Knockout fame – Ian taught me for two years and gave me the confidence to come out from behind the shell of the tubby shy kid I’d hidden behind. He was the one who first recognised I could write and act. And my dad; in the last three years since Mum died, he’s been an inspiration in showing us all how to keep going.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

“Don’t be a dick.” Can’t remember who said that to me. Probably my wife.

Doctor Who fans first became aware of you through the Big Finish audios you wrote with Cavan Scott – how did that partnership come about, and what’s it like working in collaboration with other writers?

Our mutual friend Steven O’Brien introduced us. We’d both always wanted to write Doctor Who stuff but never quite managed it. I was about to move to Bath to try and get a job at Future Publishing, where both Steve and Cav worked. Steve introduced us via email before I moved, and then we met up for a drink. By the end of the night, we had a working plot for a Doctor Who novel pitch, which was ultimately rejected (with favourable comments), but it gave us the momentum to keep going. We’ve been mates since that very first meeting and we were always tinkering with stuff, and eventually Big Finish gave is our first break with Project: Twilight, a Sixth Doctor audio. It all went forward from there.

I always found writing in a partnership very rewarding – I’ve likened it to having a training partner, who can push you on when you don’t really want to do one particular day. We got to the point where our writing styles slotted together – editor John Ainsworth has said he couldn’t tell what was mine and what was Cav’s.

A few people have asked why we’re not writing together at the moment, and has there been a fall out!? Which of course is not the case – we’re lucky in that work has got incredibly busy for both of us, and with families to support, the practicalities of slotting joint projects in to an already packed schedule become increasingly difficult. But we talk every day and bounce plots around and keep each other motivated. Cav was best man at my wedding and I’m godfather to his eldest daughter.

A few years ago, you wrote the short film Looking For Vi, starring Josie Lawrence; what that was like?

An incredible experience that opened up some new opportunities. Looking for Vi was originally a stageplay that I entered into the Off Cut Festival, a competition that showcased new short play writing. It was performed at the Riverside Studios in London – it was quite a moment realising my work was being performed where The Web Planet was made. It was directed by Julia St John, a regular in The Brittas Empire (and many other things), and starred Maroussia Frank as Evelyn Hawthorne, a retired soap actor who has ended up in a nursing home. A fan who’s dealing with the long-term grief of her dad’s death tracks her down, looking for an autograph. It wasn’t until just before we opened that I realised Maroussia was the wife of Sir Ian Richardson – we’d had her son Miles in one of the Iris Wildthyme audios me and Cav Scott produced. She was incredible.

The play did really well and got through to the final, where we won Best Ensemble. The following year I was contacted by a director friend, Dave Maybrick, asking if I had any plans to take Vi forward (I was sitting next to Dave on the opening night). I’d planned to expand it as a radio script, but Dave wanted to do it as a short film, to be produced by Toni Staples, a massively experienced First AD in British film and television. And that’s what we did. Josie was on board very early on and we did some more work on the script. Josie had prosthetics to age her up, created by Barry Gower at BGFX – these guys are Emmy winners for Game of Thrones and had done Meryl Streep’s prosthetics for The Iron Lady.

It was amazing to have all these talented people working on the film and it was such a great experience. We had a screening in London for various industry people and friends, and form that I found myself with an agent.

Dave and Toni are just fantastic to work with. I’m actually about to go and have a meeting to talk about a new project with them.

You can see the film here: https://vimeo.com/90208109.

In 2013, Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary year, BBC Books published ‘Who-ology’ which you wrote with Cav Scott; a miscellany of the good Doctor’s adventures in a very visual, user friendly format. Can you tell us a little about how Whology came about, what was the process?

We’d been badgering BBC Books for years to be let loose on a project, and eventually they relented and came to us with the idea for Who-Ology. It was the perfect book for us really, although it was all-consuming for about 6 months. I spent a lot of early mornings huddled under a duvet, counting how many times Daleks say “Exterminate!”. But we were being paid to watch Doctor Who, the kind of thing you dreamt of when you were 11. It’s one of those projects where everything clicked together and worked so well – Ben Morris, who really should have had a cover credit for the internal illustrations, was an essential part of why Who-Ology worked. It’s the kind of book I would have loved to have been given on Christmas morning as a kid.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

I think both Mike Ward and Ian Ellis (see inspirations above) were the two who set me on the right path. Without them, I doubt the world of words and acting would have opened up for me when I was in my early teens and I doubt I’d be answering this Q&A without the influence they had on me.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

No. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with some of mine, and it’s never beenless than rewarding and uplifting.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

Tonight pizza, tomorrow the gym!

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

A very tall vodka tonic.

What are your three favourite cities?

Manchester, Edinburgh, San Francisco

What do you do to chill out?

That’s something I’m working on – my hobby became my job and I still haven’t found something to replace it.

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

A toss-up between Who-Ology and my run on the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip.

Talking of which, you’ve recently written the Doctor Who comic strip story arc The Highgate Horror. What’s it been like?

It was a massive privilege to be asked to write for the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Scott Gray asked me to write a one-parter, so I thought, well I’ve done that now, another tick on the list. Then I was asked back to write a two-parter, which was The Highgate Horror, a proper Halloween, 1970s set horror piece, which seemed to go down well. This was a case of right place, right time. With Clara being written out of Doctor Who on TV and now show on the air in 2016, there was the need for an interim comic strip companion. In Highgate, we had a supporting character called Jess Collins, a young black girl from the early 1970s. Scott thought she’d make a great companion, so we had the Doctor cross paths with her again.

One thing I never thought I’d do would be to write an extended run on the DWM strip. It ws very nerve wracking, this was my first major comic work, and I was working without Cav. I’ve learned so much about my ability to generate plot and story, and basically had a crash course from Scott in how to write comics. It culminated in the four-part Doorway to Hell, which gave us the title for the upcoming collected edition of all my DWM strips, which should be out in September. It brought back a well-known villain from the Pertwee years, which we had a lot of fun with.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Aside from Doorway to Hell coming out in September, I’m in one of those rare positions as a freelancer where I have a regular, ongoing project. I’ve been co-editing the Doctor Who – The Complete History part work for the last two years, and I have another year on that at least with Panini. It’s quite an all-consuming project, but it’s given me the stability to do other things alongside.

I’ve got a project coming up with Cav for later in the summer, which will be fun to get the band back together for a little reunion, and I’m involved again in the Blake’s 7 audios at Big Finish, which is gearing up again. There’s a lot of great stuff happening on that range in the next couple of years.

Next year will see a fifth series of Graceless for Big Finish, which I’ll be producing again. Simon Guerrier is working on storylines for that at the moment. It’s going to be something a little bit different this time round.

Away from licensed work, I’ve got an outline for a radio play on the go, a possible film screenplay for Dave Maybrick and Toni Staples, and a YA novel idea that I may write as a TV pilot script instead. It all keeps life interesting. The trick with speculative work is deciding on which thing to concentrate in among the paying commissions.

How can our readers discover more about you and your work?

I’m really bad at the whole online thing – I’ve tried maintaining a blog and website, but I get bored really quickly. I find Twitter much better for letting people know what I’m up to and you can find me at @mwrightwriter (to be honest, having a surname that matches my job is a bit of a pain).

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?

Off the top of my head, there is nothing unique about me.

What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Finishing!

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us!

Thanks for asking me!


❉ Follow Mark on Twitter:  @mwrightwriter

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