Notes from the festival scene

OK, so firstly: Doctor Who. (Those of you who have been periodically and slightly wearily checking this blog in the hope that I would write about something- anything- else, please feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.) I must be honest: after the ostentatious brilliance of the first couple of episodes, I saw the trailer for Under the Lake and sighed. DW has a track record of Second Episode Syndrome- Third, for two-parters- and maybe it was the way the trail was cut together, or maybe it was my own cynical pessimism, but it seemed doubtful that this episode would match the quality of the first two.

I’m not going to say it, so I’ll let him:

It was truly fantastic. It had genuinely creepy monsters, a sharp script, actual diversity, including an incredibly badass deaf woman and two- two!- well-developed non-white characters, a sharp script, a brilliant premise (“Good,” said my dad in relief, as the opening credits rolled. “Now can we just stick with this, please? Not just… walk off, like you did with the handmines?”), a mildly amusing paragon-of-greed character (“You’re doomed,” said my sister immediately) and a terrifying cliffhanger ending. I was not prepared for that cliffhanger, by the way. And now I have to wait six whole days to find out what happened.

Anyway. Non-Whovians, you weirdos, you can tune back in now. So, I’ve spent most of the week on what some people might call ‘the road’- and by ‘some people’ I mean the Lovely and All-Conquering Becca, who looks after publicity things, I can imagine that’s the kind of thing she’d say- and it turns out it’s not really the road at all. It’s ‘some trains’. And ‘a plane’, last week. But mostly, trains.

Last weekend I visited the lovely village of Wigtown to talk to some incredibly friendly and enthusiastic Scottish teenagers- thank you, guys, by the way, it was amazing. I also got to meet Jon Holmes and fangirled slightly, which I think might have come through in his inscription in my copy of his book:

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I mean, I may at some point have recited some of his routines from three and a half years ago back to him. And he may- may- have leaned over to his press rep and stage-whispered ‘Stalker!’ when I did this. May have done. But nobody has any proof.

I have just returned from Bath and Henley (with the lovely Taran Matharu and Cat Doyle in the first instance, and the equally lovely and brilliant Samantha Shannon in the second). This marks the second time I have been to Bath- the first being on a Classics trip in 2012, where the traffic meant we spent six hours on the coach, all told, and possibly succeeded in breaking some of our teachers’ minds. I remember them allowing us out for lunch from the square by the cathedral in small groups, looking exhausted and apprehensive. They counted us twice when we came back- although, at the three-hour mark on the journey back, trapped in a double-decker coach with a hundred hyperactive thirteen-year-olds, I doubt some of them would have minded there being fewer of us.

Anyway, this was a better trip. Taran and Cat were eloquent and wise as always, I got to go on a train and stick my head in the cathedral, and all was essentially well. Henley was also brilliant- I want to be Samantha Shannon when I grow up. We talked about the horrors of being compared to JK Rowling (“we’re not the next her! We’re not! Really! And we never said we were!”). Turns out she, I and Amanda Jennings, who moderated us, are all Ravenclaws, which obviously led to a few self-deprecating jokes about wit beyond measure.

So, yes! Back to school tomorrow, and then to Wimbledon on Tuesday and Cheltenham on Sunday. And then it’s over.

I am now going to go and have a nap.

(Oh yes- I know my readership will pale in comparison to his, but I thought I should at least try to do my bit. You’ve probably already heard of John Underwood and his blog, but nonetheless, if you’re between 16 and 30 and reasonably healthy, please have a read of this and consider trying to save a life. And if you’re not, you can donate to AN on his JustGiving page here. I mean, we’re all agreed cancer is generally bad, so I think this is a cause most of us can unite behind. Anyway. Just thought I should mention it.)

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39 Thoughts I Had While Watching Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar

In the words of the great philosopher Jeremy Scott: spoilers, duh.

  1. Ah, so Clara and Missy aren’t dead. I’d say ‘no prizes for guessing’ but I WANT A PRIZE.
  2. Look, I know Clara Oswald’s the Impossible Girl and all of that but there is no way she hangs upside down like that for that long without the blood going to her face. She should be actually purple right now.
  3. Where did they get that footage of Tom Baker creeping from behind a pillar like he’s in a panto? That must have taken longer than the entire rest of the episode put together.
  4. Why is this filmed in black and white? Did they run out of cameras and have to tear CCTV ones off the wall of Broadcasting House?
  5. Who’s he looking up at? There aren’t any assassins up there. Does he know there’s a camera?
  6. He did all of that in four nanoseconds? Those are astonishing reflexes for four nanoseconds. If you’re a Time Lord, do you get to be… is he Spiderman?
  7. Is she Spiderman?
  8. Look- you brought Missy back from the dead last week without any explanation at all. I don’t know why you’re bothering trying to make up some post facto reason why she and Clara aren’t dead now. No one really thought: well, that was an unceremonious ejection from the series for Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez. I hope they got good severance packages.
  9. What do you mean the Doctor always thinks he’ll win? He always thinks he’ll lose, at least until three-quarters of the way through the episode. He literally wrote his will before he went into this.
  10. Hahahahaha ‘pointy stick’… I love Michelle Gomez so much. If she isn’t nominated for a Bafta for this I will- I don’t know what I’ll do. Something unbelievably melodramatic.
  11. Duh duh duh duh. Duh duh duh duh.
  12. Look, Doctor, you’re centuries old and you’re a genius and please god just kill him you really never learn.
  13. I am convinced they’ve got one CG shot of the Daleks rising into the air over Skaro and they just keep flipping it and playing it at different speeds.
  14. In what circumstances did Davros lose his legs? We’ve established that on his homeworld their ‘mines’ just pull you into the earth, so he can’t have had them blown off. Were they amputated? Did they just… fall off?
  15. Peter Capaldi is sitting in a high chair. I don’t care that it’s a Dalek. It’s a high chair. I am now perfectly happy.
  16. Yeah, no, he’s not dead either.
  17. Clara, do not take your eyes off her. Do not look down there. Watch her hands, she’s going to push y- nope, that was your own fault.
  18. Yes, Doctor. The question of where you got a cup of tea is a very good one. Are you going to answer it…? No, I didn’t think you would.
  19. No. No. No. There is no way on any planet in any godfearing universe that anyone can fall twenty feet into a sewer and still have their hair that perfect. No. I have held onto my suspension of disbelief through thick and thin for you, Doctor Who, but here is where I draw the line. Thus far and no further.
  20. Interesting setup with the sewers. I don’t imagine that will be crucial to the plot at any later point at all.
  21. Do they have speakers in the sewers? Who for, the rotting half-corpses of Daleks? Do they play musak for them every so often, as a treat?
  22. Ah, the Mud of Doom. I have missed you.
  23. That Dalek just exploded with enough force to shake the tunnels and send a cloud of dust ten feet away. Is it… working, then, now? Can Clara just climb into it? Those are hardy things, those Daleks. Do they get MOTed?
  24. But why do you have any chairs on Skaro at all? Does Davros curl up on this one with a book and a gramophone?
  25. You know, Davros… there is a chance, a very small chance, that this might go wrong. There’s a tiny possibility that when you offer the Daleks’ greatest enemy the chance to destroy every single one of them in a second that he might take it. I hate to bring this up, but… if this plan is purely designed so that you can give a big speech about the Doctor’s flaws, then this is one of the stupidest plans I’ve ever seen on television. And I watch Downton Abbey.
  26. This entire ‘cancer of compassion’ speech might be laughable if it were in anyone’s hands but Peter Capaldi’s. In his, it’s heartbreaking and brilliant and I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about him. Including that he looks like a “drunk Glaswegian otter”.
  27. Clara, this woman has tried to kill you any number of times. When on earth are you going to learn not to follow her blindly?
  28. At the ten-second mark I thought the ‘Daleks can’t express emotion’ scene was an intriguing and though-provoking tangent in the script. Now we’re a full minute in and I am absolutely sure someone’s going to live or die off the back of this. Possibly an entire species.
  29. No, no, Doctor, please don’t talk about deep things with Davros. Dear God no. Don’t- no, please don’t feel pity or sympathy for him. Nothing good can possibly come of this. Oh, Christ, they’ve brought out the violins.
  30. And the sunrise. They’ve invoked the power of ‘the sunlight on the dying person’s face’. This. Ends. Badly. Every. Single. Time.
  31. I told you!
  32. And you, Clara, by the way! I told you as well! Why do none of you guys listen to me?
  33. Oh no, Doctor. There is no way you knew what would happen when you touched the Broadband Snake Cables of Death.
  34. Missy, I would have thought you of all people would know: if you want someone dead, you kill them yourself, and you do not let them talk. Under no circumstances at all do you let them beg for mercy.
  35. You know, if you hadn’t beaten it into us over many years that no one dies in Doctor Who without prelude, forewarning, and a heartwrenching goodbye, this could have been a truly haunting death for Missy. Chased down and cornered in an enemy base, laughing madly, brilliant and glorious and insane. But no. She’s had a ‘clever idea’. I mean, fair enough, no one wants Michelle Gomez to stay more than I do. But still.
  36. Firstly: you did the whole ‘glasses appear frivolous but are actually crucial’ thing nine years ago in Doomsday, and you bluffed it again last year in His Last Vow. Secondly: you are not getting rid of the screwdriver. I will not let you. That thing has been part of the series since 1963. No. I will protest in the streets. If Top Gear fans can drive a tank to BH to keep Jeremy Clarkson, I can drive a- well, no, I can’t drive- but I can be very angry very loudly if you try to get rid of the screwdriver.
  37. Aww, they’re walking off into the mist. You know… you do know you’re walking away from the Tardis, right? Into a warzone? A mined warzone? Where are you going?
  38. So… why was it called The Witch’s Familiar, then? I can sort of understand if the witch was Missy and Clara was her familiar, but this was an episode about sunrises and snakes and mercy and Clara being a Dalek. You had any number of amazing titles available to you, and you chose that? Ah, well, mine is not to reason why.
  39. DUH DUH DUH DUH. DUH DUH DUH DUH. Ah, who am I kidding, I will never stop loving this show. DUH DUH DUH DUH. DUH DUH DUH DUH. Oh, I’m happy.
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We Need To Talk About Doctor Who

Magicians Apprentice

I mean, let’s be clear, we always need to talk about Doctor Who- when we’re not talking about Harry Potter or Cabin Pressure, that is- but it seems especially appropriate to bring it up now, in the light of Saturday night.

(Spoilers for this week’s episode- S09E01, The Magician’s Apprentice- follow, obviously.)

Continue reading

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Various things.

Hello, everyone. Hope you’re all well. Sorry for the long radio silence- I’ve been fairly busy with various beginning-of-school-term things, mostly waiting apprehensively for the avalanche of work that the year-aboves swear will hit me any day now. So before that happens, I thought I should update this.

The first thing I should say is that I’ve set up a new email address specifically for this blog- or for anyone else who wants to get in contact with me, who I reckon will eventually find their way here anyway. It’s (and, in my defence, I put ‘writer’ in the handle only very reluctantly; who are all these other Helena Coggans forcing me to use pretentious Gmail usernames?); if you want to get in contact with me for any reason, please use that one. Needless to say, please don’t be rude and/or hateful, if only because I shall find it highly amusing and I fear you will have thus wasted your time.

The other thing I wanted to do is put up a list of all the things I’m doing over the next few months, because what’s the point in having a blog if you can’t use it for shameless self-promotion? If you’re interested, I’m at the Chiswick Book Festival this Saturday at the Tabard Theatre (which, despite walking past it fairly regularly for the last sixteen years, I have entered only once, surreptitiously, to use the toilet- I’m quite excited about going in there legitimately) at 2:45, talking to Torin Douglas about… things. Presumably. I’m also slightly further away, two weeks later, at the Wigtown Book Festival, at four o’clock on Saturday 26th, doing much the same thing. That, thankfully, is the end of my being on stage on my own (albeit with lovely and knowledgeable interviewers). On the 3rd of October I’m at the Bath Children’s Literary Festival with Taran Matharu and Catherine Doyle, talking to John McLay (3:30, the Guildhall)- all brilliant people; then on the 4th– I’m going to have to get a lot of homework extensions that weekend- I’m at the Henley Literary Festival with the amazing Samantha Shannon, talking about writing and fantasy to Amanda Jennings (11, Town Hall). On the 6th I’m at the Wimbledon Book Festival with Rebecca Morgan and Lindsay Barraclough, talking to Dr James Smythe (4:45, William Morris Tent- I’m in a tent!); and finally, on Sunday 11th, I’m going to the Cheltenham Literary Festival with the fantastic Francesca Haig to speak to Anna James (2:30, The Drawing Room).

It looks far more daunting when written out like that. I am now quite nervous. I’ve got to stop doing that to myself.

Anyway- the last thing I wanted to say is that the paperback version of The Catalyst comes out on the 24th of September. (If you’re at all interested, you can pre-order it here.)

And, that’s it! We apologise for the interrupted service- normal broadcasting will resume shortly.

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Calling the Internet… hello, is that the Internet…?

Well, hi there.

Hope you’re all okay. My name is Helena, and I kill imaginary people for fun. (I have actually tried introducing myself to people like this. Generally, they look quite nervous and immediately find someone else to talk to.) This is by far the most entertaining way of saying ‘sci-fi/fantasy author’ I have yet developed; I could of course say that straight out, but because of the whole age thing, I generally have to say it several times – and have other, older-looking people back me up on it – before people actually believe me. I’ve had six months, now, to invent more interesting ways of introducing myself. I prefer the trial-and-error approach.

I’m only going to be fifteen for another week or so. This has been making me unaccountably nervous, because after half a year of being introduced as ‘the fifteen-year-old author’, you start to feel that by turning sixteen you’re selling out in some way. Because I’m an August baby, though, most of my friends have been sixteen for months now, and they assure me it’s not that different, apart from being able to register for a tractor or gun license. A girl at my school apparently actually learnt how to drive a tractor a couple of years ago, just to prove she could. I did hesitantly raise this with my parents, to admittedly little effect (‘Can I learn how to drive a tractor when I’m sixteen?’ ‘No.’ ‘Not even a little bit?’ ‘Not even a little bit. But you can learn the lyrics to the JCB song, if you want.’).

The only problem with being regularly introduced to other people as a ‘teenage author’ is that you’re expected to know about the Internet. I know nothing about the Internet. All right, fine, I know a bit, but only in the same way that I can name the members of One Direction, in that I’ve absorbed stuff (very reluctantly, in the latter case) from years of being around people who do know.

I am not, and have never been, on any kind of social medium. The original reason for this, I must admit, was that I had no friends outside of school and thus no real reason to use them, but by the time I was thirteen or fourteen, though, it had become a sort of point of principle, albeit a completely illogical one. I felt occasionally like my school’s ambassador from the 1960s (I am a massive Beatles and Doctor Who fan).

Anyway, that worked pretty well up until a few weeks ago, when a whole group of us got asked, in front of an audience, about our engagement with the social media. The rest of them (Samantha Shannon, Lucy Saxon, Taran Matharu and Alice Oseman, four of the most intimidatingly clever and funny people I’ve ever met) delivered thoughtful and inspired answers exploring the importance of the online world to the modern-day author.

‘I’m… not really on… the Internet, as such,’ I said, slightly awkwardly. ‘I think it would be too… distracting. And I’d screw up and say something stupid, and it would be immortalised for all time, and…’

And three days later I was sitting in a meeting at Hodder about how best to use the Internet to interact with people.

It was this or Tumblr.

I’m still anxious about saying stupid things, or becoming too distracted- but too be honest I say stupid things on a daily basis, and prior to writing this sentence I spent ten minutes watching my cat stare at a pigeon in the garden, so neither of these things are really avoidable. So I will try to write this blog in as un-stupid a manner as I can, as well as trying to get some actual work done. In the meantime, enjoy the summer, those of you in the northern hemisphere; and to those of you in Australia:



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