Tuesday, 3 April 2018

With the Doctor in Baltimore

I've been writing a whole piece about my trip at the end of March to Regen Who Four in Baltimore. The whole essay will appear soon on my Patreon page, but here's an excerpt...

Friday Night
We had a small gang in the bar. A merry John Leeson joined us, saying his Merlot was like getting ‘a huge warm cuddle in a glass.’ He threw up his hands expansively: ‘You writers! How we actors adore you writers! It’s like you’re the beautiful, perfumed air we drink! We have nothing if not for you!’
            They all said they weren’t really writers – they were artists, or designers, or they only dabbled a bit. ‘And I’m a vet,’ Syd said. ‘It doesn’t matter!’ John beamed. ‘It’s all delightful. And I know, because I’m old! I’ve had a significant birthday recently. My wife was born a few minutes before me and together we are 150! And if you add our grandchild, we’re 153!’
            A man dressed as a papier-mache Auton went by, dispensing hand-made paper daffodils.
            I told John and our whole table my story idea: ‘K9 goes evil – his eyes glow green – and he leaks all the Doctor’s secrets onto the internet. It’s Doggy-Leaks. He takes refuge in a foreign embassy and holds a press conference from the balcony. The Doctor arrives on Earth and finds that everyone knows all his business, and it’s all down to his old, neglected friend.’
            John clapped his hands with glee. ‘Oh, do it! Please do write it! You have my full support, Paul! Tell them from me! Write in and please do write it!’
            We had a delightful time in the noisy bar. By midnight I was ready to go up in that lift with all the disco music. Dead on my feet. I felt like I was sailing through the weekend, very happily. I felt confident in that crowd. My role was very specifically tailored to all the things I do.

Ready to take my books out for breakfast again. Wearing my Barnabus Collins T-shirt.
            On the way I bumped into the mother of the youngest member of my writing workshop. William was about nine, I think. His mum said: ‘He tells me stories all the time. We’ll be in the car and I’ll be driving, and he’ll say, ‘Can I tell you a story?’ and it’ll be all about the Daleks and I say, ‘Honey, you should write them all down,’ and he says, ‘How?’  So, we’re here this weekend especially for your workshop. We got permission from his school to skip Friday and come here because he was going to do your class. Did you hear him talking quietly all the way through? That was him dictating his story to me. I was typing it all up on my laptop, and he was coming up with new stuff the whole time, in response to the prompts you gave.’ She’d stopped me on the eighth floor as we passed in the hallway and I was so glad to hear this.
            It all chimes with what Oni was saying in her introductory speech. About trying to give something back via the arts. She said that when she was a kid and she first saw Dr Who it was Tom and K9 and they made her think of her step dad as he was dying and their dog. Both are now long gone, but that relationship on the telly takes her back to them. John Leeson piped up: ‘Affirmative, mistress!’, which made everyone chuckle. He’d just been telling me about his running around on his hands and knees and rehearsals and doing The Times crossword with Tom, and how they had an actual bond. And it’s true – I always believed in the truth of the Doctor’s fondness for K9. Funny to see these things come round in circles.

Later on Saturday.
The panels were very good, and hugely well attended. Oni was in her element, introducing from the main stage of the Maryland Ballroom, and then Kara doing a storming job of interviewing Capaldi. Very relaxed and natural, his skinny frame half-folded like a deck chair, holding forth in a very inspiring way:
            ‘Don’t listen if they say what you’re doing is rubbish and isn’t going anywhere. It really is going somewhere because it wasn’t here yesterday and now it is.’
            At the end he invited Kara to exit through the TARDIS with him. She texted me: ‘I guess I’m a companion now!’
            Later I was in the Green Room and he turned up and went round, shaking everyone’s hand: ‘Hello, who are you, and what do you do?’ I told him I was one of those people who’d sent him dodgy fan art. I explained how I’d sent him a watercolour painting while he was filming his last episode to say thank you for being our Doctor, and how he’d sent me a card almost by return of post. I told him how Jeremy had said: ‘He thinks you’re either twelve, or fecking daft.’ He roared at that.

The lifts are very busy. Every floor the doors open, revealing some cosplay tableau. A Weeping Angel, women with tiny Dalek fascinators on their heads, Davros and once – amazingly – a whole crowd of people surrounding Peter Capaldi. He turned to look at us in the lift and he pointed and said, ‘Hello!’ And then the doors slid closed and we were off again, as if to some other, exotic destination.
You really can’t pay for this stuff.
            I got the feeling that some people were staying in the lifts longer than strictly necessary, in order to play TARDISes.
            A girl stopped me to say she was in my workshop and has discovered writing in the first person for the first time. She always thought she’d ‘suck at first person’ but ever since yesterday ‘I’ve actually become Cassandra – the last human being! I’m loving it… but it’s so weird…!’
            I had a busy afternoon, doing a panel about the books all on my own (poor John Peel had hurt his back.) I get people coming up with their copies of ‘Verdigris’ and ‘Mad Dogs’ – the gay men and the older ladies who have discovered a devotion to Iris Wildthyme. And then there was a panel with Terry about Monty’s book, and I end up telling tales about life with Jeremy and Panda.

            After a noisy evening in a very busy bar I was glad to get to bed and finish reading my Batman anthology. I was still enthused about Tie-ins and thinking about the genre. I remembered that, when Peter Capaldi asked what I did, I told him I was a writer of Tie-ins. I fell asleep thinking: what a funny thing to call myself.

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