(A novel in an anthology? My story, like the TARDIS itself, is bigger on the inside than the outside)
This month sees the release of Defending Earth, a charity anthology of Sarah Jane Smith stories raising money for researching cancer (which killed SJS actor Elisabeth Sladen in 2011). My contribution, “Swinging Londons,” rapidly mushroomed beyond the original concept, ultimately reachng 42.5K words.
Why/how did this piece grow so long. Part of it is simply that “Swinging Londons” was hella fun to write. But there’s more than that, “Swinging Londons” isn’t just a story for me … it’s a labor of love.
I first discovered Dr. Who on KERA, the Dallas Public Television station, in the late 80s. At time, this was something that branded me as a nerd even among nerds. Nevertheless, it was a revelation … a vision of sci-fi so much more expansive and full of possibility than anything I had encountered previously. My favorite Doctor was (and remains) John Pertwee, especially those episodes with Sarah Jane Smith and “Swinging Londons” is very much an homage to those episodes.
It also proves that, even when writing sci-fi, I am incapable of breaking his historical fiction addiction or my fondness for cameos by real-life historical figures.
As much as I’d love to toot my own horn about the role of “Swinging Londons” in Defending Earth, I need to credit the real heroes … curator/editor Mary-Helen Norris and artist/illustrator Sophie Iles.
So, obviously, I’m very excited about this piece. For all the of Dr. Who fans out there (and, dare I hope, fans of Jon Black), I’ve copy/pasted a Q&A about “Swinging Londons” from the press kit for Defending Earth.
Q) Which Sarah Jane story (any medium) is your favorite, and why?
A) My favorite Sarah Jane story is Planet of the Spiders (Sladen/Pertwee) with Pyramids of Mars (Sladen/T. Baker) a very close second. Of course, these are among the finest stories in Dr. Who cannon in their own right. They also present Sarah Jane at her best and most compelling: smart, pragmatic, determined, inquisitive, and, above all, humane.
Q) Tell us about your story?
A) In “Swinging Londons” the space-time surrounding that great city has become dangerously unstable, swinging rapidly between alternate possible versions of itself. As UNIT cordons off London and struggles to prevent dragons, Black Shirts, Mole People and other threats from spreading to the rest of Britain and the world, Sarah Jane and the Doctor travel into the heart of the disturbance seeking its cause. After she and the Doctor are separated, Sarah Jane must navigate dozens of alternate Londons while searching for the Time Lord, acquiring a strange companion of her own, and encountering someone she never expected…all before the small matter of saving her London by ending the instability.
Q) What is your favorite part of your story and why?
A) While the story allowed me to delve deeply into my historical fiction and alternative history addictions, the true joy of writing “Swinging Londons” came from exploring the relationship between Sarah Jane and the Doctor: specifically, the complicated and sometimes ambivalent emotions even an exceptional human would experience having a best friend and companion who is not only effectively immortal but possesses abilities which often seem to knock at the door of omniscience and omnipotence.
Q) Why do you love Sarah Jane?
A) While Sarah Jane is an ideal “everyman” to bring viewers along on adventures in time and space with the Doctor, she is so much more than that. The adjective “plucky” is, admittedly, cliché when referring to British heroines of a certain time period. That doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect characterization of Sarah Jane. With her resourcefulness, common sense, perseverance, and compassion Sarah Jane epitomizes how, in a universe full of ostensibly much more formidable creatures, humans manage not only to survive but thrive.
A Short Selection of Press for Defending Earth and/or “Swinging Londons”
The Doctor Who Companion II (Interview with editor M.H. Norris)
Time Lord Archives (extensive review of “Swinging Londons”)