Thursday, 6 June 2013

Interview with Simon Guerrier on the Doctor Who spinoff 'Graceless'

With the eminent release of Graceless III, Big Finish released an interview with the creator of the audio spinoff, Simon Guerrier, in their latest issue of their magazine, Vortex. Simon Guerrier is a frequent writer for Big Finish, as well as having written for BBC Books.

Hi Simon. This month sees the release of the third and final series of Graceless. And you’ve written them all. How does that feel?

Hello! I’m really very proud of Graceless – but I think of it much more as a collaborative effort, working with producer Mark Wright, director Lisa Bowerman and our stars Ciara [Janson, Abby] and Laura [Doddington, Zara] to make something a bit different and special. It’s been a great delight to work on and people seem to like what we’ve done. So I feel good.

Why bring it to a close?

I always had an ending in mind, which was first hinted at in series one, when the Grace tell our heroes, Abby and Zara, that they would one day choose to die. I knew what that would be and how it would play out, more or less… Back then we had no idea there’d even be a second series, it was just wishful thinking, teasing the audience (and my producers) that there were more stories to tell.

But I also like the idea of a definitive ending. My Companion Chronicles trilogies – the Sara Kingdom one of Home Truths, The Drowned World and The Guardian of the Solar System, and the Steven and Oliver one of The Perpetual Bond, The Cold Equations and The First Wave – had felt really satisfying to do and seemed to go down well. And I didn’t want to outstay our welcome. Plus, I think a finite run made the series more attractive to BBC Radio 4 Extra when they were looking to buy it for broadcast.

How much pressure did you feel to provide a satisfying conclusion?

The first two stories in this box were pretty much business as usual: agreeing an outline with Mark, Lisa and executive producer Jason Haigh-Ellery, and then ploughing through the writing without getting distracted by Twitterand biscuits. There’s always pressure: does the story make sense? Will anyone care about the characters and what happens to them? Is it the right number of words, with scenes no longer than three pages (so they’ll fit on the stands in the recording studio)? But the last one was much harder, partly because it ties up so many threads and things, and partly because it needed to feel especially epic. Mark very wisely made me rewrite a lot of the first draft to concentrate on what’s really important – which I won’t say here as it’s a spoiler. He’s very good at giving me plenty of freedom to try things, and then reining me in when it doesn’t work. 

Even in the studio we were changing the emphasis of things or underlining aspects to make it work more effectively. Fraser James – who plays Marek in the series – had a great note from one of his children which we were able to address, and there’s a whole bit of the very last scene that we worked out with the cast in the studio. See? It really is collaborative!

What are the positives and negatives of developing all of these characters solo?

It’s odd: this has felt like one of the least solo things I’ve ever written, because I knew who I was writing for in advance and there was lots of back and forth. It’s very daunting before a series has been written: there’s 30,000 words to bash out, and the three stories need to feel distinct from each other and the rest of the series. But it’s also very exciting and I’ve been allowed tremendous freedom, with a really good working relationship with everyone. I can’t think of any negatives.

How much inspiration have you had from the actors, producers and others on the direction the story should go?

Oh, that’s a good question. Um… I think generally I came up with the direction of the story, but everyone’s had their chance to chip in. The most obvious example of cast dictating a story is bringing back Brondle and Wing, who appeared in series two. I missed the recording of their first story, but later when I heard the finished version I absolutely loved how Michael Cochrane and Joanna van Gyseghem brought the characters to life. So I suggested to Mark that they should return – and he was delighted.

Is there anything you’re sad not to have had the chance to do? What are you most proud of?

We talked for a bit about doing an animated version, along the lines of the amazing Bernice Summerfield: Dead and Buried short film. There were a whole load of boring technical reasons why that didn’t happen, but because we had to work out how to tell a Graceless story visually, I had fun thinking what teleportation would look like. I’d also had an idea for a story about an 18th Century gang who investigate strange phenomena – sort of Torchwood but led by Mary Wollstonecraft. One day I’ll work that into something. As for things I’m proud of… I’m really pleased that it worked well enough to warrant three series. And there’s getting to write for some of my heroes, such as David Warner, Derek Griffiths and Geraldine James. But I’m proud of the whole atmosphere of working on the series; it’s been good fun and we’ve made something we can all be proud of.

You and your brother Tom have also been making some excellent short
films; how can others see them?

Thank you! Three of our short films are up online for you to watch for
Wizard stars David Warner as Merlin, working in a call centre alongside
Big Finish luminaries Lisa Bowerman, Lisa Greenwood and Matthew Sweet.
Another comedy, The Plotters, also stars lots of Big Finish alumni and
is playing in Picturehouse cinemas around the UK. Revealing Diary is a
spooky one that stars Ciara and Laura from Graceless.

Our first short film Cleaning Up – which stars Mark Gatiss and Louise
Jameson – isn’t up online but has been playing film festivals for the last
year, winning awards and getting us into some interesting meetings with
production companies and things.

And you’re hoping to take Cleaning Up to the next stage and make a fulllength
film. How can we help?

Easy! Cleaning Up will shortly be available to buy from the Big Finish
website. You can either buy the film on its own or a version packed with
extras, all for just a few pounds. Any profits we make from the sale will go
directly into a fund for making a Cleaning Up feature film. We’re hoping it
will help us pay a development producer to come onboard the project. So
spread the word, tell everyone you know, but most importantly: buy our
excellent and award-winning film and in the process help us make a Big
Finish movie!

What other projects are you scribbling away at?

I am in the midst of writing some more stuff for Big Finish which I don’t
think I am allowed to talk about just yet. I’ve also got an original sci-fi novel
sitting in the to-read pile of a literary agent. And I’m writing jokes for kids’
magazine Horrible Histories.

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