There are two versions of Jenny Colgan. There is ‘Jenny Colgan’, author of numerous popular romantic comedy novels, and then there’s ‘Jenny T Colgan’, who writes Doctor Who prose and audio stories, as well as the new sci-fi adventure, Resistance Is Futile; a novel that author Matt Haig has described as: ‘A riotous cocktail of action, maths geeks, and kissing.’
At least one of the two Jenny’s agreed to answer some of my questions.
‘Resistance is Futile’ is a little different to the sort of books you’re best known for, so what made you decide to tell this story? Has working on Doctor Who in prose and audio form given you the urge to branch out in this way?
JENNY: Not really; it was just an idea I really wanted to write. I grew up on films like Splash and Contact and Starman and really really wanted to do something along those lines, so I mentioned it to a couple of people and they said yes, which was awesome. Mostly when you pitch ideas people try to look interested and not check their phones then have you ejected from the building.
I heard a whisper that one of the characters in Resistance may have been based a little on Mr Ben Whishaw… Do you often ‘cast’ your characters as you write them?
JENNY: Ha, yes it certainly is. He wasn’t anything like as famous then as he is now. Anyway yes I always cast in my head, loads of writers do. I’ve got an Owen Wilson in one series. If you go back far enough I’ve got a Justin Timberlake in the early noughties and, to my eternal shame, a Darius Danesh.
How do you approach your novels; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a gal?
JENNY: I don’t have that thing they always do in films about writers- post its on the walls and stuff. The first few chapters are always about figuring out how it’s going to go. I keep a running planner at the bottom telling me what’s coming up, and I write the end usually at about the midpoint of the process so I know where I’m headed.
You’ve written a Big Finish audio play starring the Tenth Doctor & Donna, how exciting is this for you on a scale from ‘Squee’ to ‘SQUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEE!!!1!’?
JENNY: Hahaha- incredibly exciting. Having to sit on it for ten months whilst they got their insane schedules co-ordinated to tape it was really hard. I literally jumped up and down with joy when I got the call. I didn’t think people actually do that, but I did. My colleague and chum James Goss found out on a train and he yelled out loud.
That was mixed in with horrible panic. I felt like that Far Side cartoon with the guy who plays the cymbals. Fortunately Big Finish were great to work with and I had a brilliant script editor who stopped my characters pointing at everything. Also I just wanted to have Ten and Donna chatting and having a laugh in the TARDIS so they had to keep telling me to make them actually do stuff. Anyway, I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out.
I’ve actually just heard the very first little excerpt it’s here- LISTEN . I was on the DLR and for the first and only time in my life became one of those awful people who play things on their phones without headphones.
What’s the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another author? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things? SPILL!
JENNY: Oh well I have loads of very obvious influences- Douglas Adams was a big one; Peanuts; James Heriot is a big influence on me, that essential goodness and simplicity he has I’m always striving for. And Jilly Cooper of course, she’s in every romcom writer of my generation, and Ben Elton/ Richard Curtis. I was such a Young Ones fan. And I read so much Isaac Asimov he must be in there somewhere.
What’s the last great book you read?
JENNY: A Little Life. I know it’s critic-dividing. It’s not flawless, but I loved it despite its faults. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.
Do you have plans to publish more books of the ‘Resistance is Futile’ ilk under the Jenny T. Colgan name?
JENNY: Yup, Sex Lives of the Superheroes is out in March. You can probably guess what it’s about 🙂 I’m just editing it now. And I have a ton of Who coming up, which has the ’T’ of course.
How long was it between deciding to take writing seriously and your first novel being published?
JENNY: I have never taken writing seriously.
Have you ever read a book that scared you?
JENNY: God yes of course. I’m terrible with scary books, I get frightened very easily. The first Thomas Harris scared the wick out of me. Oh, and I Am Legend. Terrifying. And if I could go back in time, I’d tell myself not to read The Road.
How many abandoned novels do you have gathering digital dust on your laptop?
JENNY: Not many, I can normally recycle ideas into other things. One or two. A kid’s book that I would really like five minutes to get finished. But generally I never start on something without getting pitches approved and talking everything over. So I have a little book full of failed Who ideas (why yes it is a replica of River Song’s diary, thanks for asking), but I never launch in to stuff till we get a greenlight.
What are you reading/watching/hiding from right now?
JENNY: I am reading the new Alex Marwood, which is actually pretty scary; the new Coroman Strike novel- you forget amongst all the crazy hype what a tremendously fun writer Jo Rowling actually is- and I am going to read the Marlon James I think.
The last ever Peep Show inspired me to go back and watch them all from the beginning. I love them for the soap as much as the humour. And looking forward to this week’s Who, of course. It’s Sarah Dollard’s episode, and she’s tremendous.*
Name me a ‘classic’ novel that you’ve started, then not been able to get through.
JENNY: I have generally found classics are called classics for a reason; usually, they’re great. As Andy Miller says in his wonderful book The Year of Reading Dangerously: if you can’t handle Middlemarch, that’s not Middlemarch’s fault. I read Anna Karenina last year and it was brilliant. Oh, no, I know: Victor Hugo completely defeats me.
What was your favourite book as a kid? (No, you can’t include ‘The Joy of Sex’ that you found in your parents’ bedroom when you were nine and giggled over.)
JENNY: I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory about a billion times and now I’m reading it aloud for the third time to my youngest. It’s peerless. Also a big big Narnia fan- I’m so disappointed my boys didn’t enjoy them. I started reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader to my eldest and the first fifty pages are about slavery and public school and I couldn’t get him interested at all. He’s all about the Hunger Games, and anything jacketed vaguely like the Hunger Games. I loved What Katy Did and Ann of Green Gables too.
D’you listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasent white-noise babble? Or d’you DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.
JENNY: I like white noise- cafes, airports. My favourite place to write is the train. I really really miss the TGV since we moved from France to the UK. I had my own seat and everything. When I’m starting a new novel I generally make an excuse to go on a long train trip somewhere.
What does the future hold for you? Apart from gradually succumbing to the dreadful passing of time. (You’re going to die.) But immediate-writing-career-wise, gimme the lowdown. (Seriously, you’re future worm food)
JENNY: Hahah. Coming up, lots of Who stuff. I can’t remember what I can and can’t talk about so let’s just stay on the safe side and say, seriously, loads, it’s very exciting.
I have a lovely book about a librarian coming out in February called The Little Book of Happy Ever After and Sex Lives of the Superheroes shortly after that, and I’m about to start on next year’s Christmas book, then I’m writing a novella about Syrian refugees. So. Busy. Just how I like it.
Thanks a lot, Jenny!
You can find Jenny here: jennycolgan.com
And on Twitter here: Tweet
*This interview was given the week Face The Raven was broadcast.