Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn’t a bad start for a child of the Eighties. In 2006, Adam moved to the sunny North West of England, where he now lives in domestic bliss with his wife and cat in a house next to a canal, although he has yet to take up any fishing-related activities.
When not writing Adam can be found drinking tea and obsessing over DC Comics, Stephen King, and The Cure. His first novel, EMPIRE STATE, is out from Angry Robot books in January 2012. For more information, please visit angryrobotbooks.com.
Books and reading are two of the most important things we need as we grow up. I don’t need to tell you that, or explain why this is. You and me, we know this is a fact. And for some of us, reading and writing went hand-in-hand – I’ve still got exercise books full of stories I wrote from about the age of seven up, and, perhaps not surprisingly, these stories reflected what I was reading at the time.
I’m of a certain age where the term “YA” didn’t exist, not as a distinct marketing term anyway, when I was growing up. Books that might fit that category now certainly did exist, and there were books that were either labelled as suitable for “12+”, or were somewhat clunky, calculated “teen” reads, heavy with issues and serious business that for me, as a fan of ghosts and spaceships and time travel, were of no interest at all.
My greatest childhood reading memory, the books that meant the most to me, that spurred me on to write my own stories, were the Target Doctor Who novelisations. From 1973 to 1991, 152 paperbacks were produced (plus three early adaptations from the 1960s), novelising the TV adventures of the famous Time Lord.
These were pure gold. In 1985, Television New Zealand started a big Doctor Who repeat season, starting with a couple of Troughton stories, then continuing from Spearhead from Space through to Survival five years later. My parents, having watched the series in the UK, thought their seven-year-old SF-mad son might be interested, and I was. I was hooked. More than that, I became obsessed. I’m still a fan to this day, and in 2006 I even won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for editing a Doctor Who fanzine. And five years after that, I signed my first professional contract as a SF novelist. Neither of those events were ones I dreamed of happening sometime in my future when I sat down one Friday night in April, 1985, to watch The Mind Robber episode one. At the time, I think, I wanted to grow up to be a truck driver.
But, oh, those Target books. While the TV series was the source material, the original artefact to be watched and studied and re-watched, the Target books were a vital resource. In the days before DVD, before even VHS was particularly common in my part of the world, the stories you enjoyed on TV were relived again and again in the written form. This was portable magic – your favourite Doctor Who adventures you could take with you, anywhere, anytime.
The good ones were merely he said-she said transcripts of the TV episodes – Destiny of the Daleks was a particular favourite, one I prided myself in being able to read, cover-to-cover, on a single Saturday morning. The great ones were a little different, going beyond what appeared on screen, telling a story that was perhaps more what the original scriptwriter intended than the BBC’s meagre budget allowed. They were also a vital connection to episodes that could not ever be watched – to this day, there are 108 early episodes missing from the BBC archives.
And they taught me so much. How many eight year olds know what “armageddon” means (The Armageddon Factor), or that Cathay is an old name for China (Marco Polo), or wrote a short story about a political assassination (inspired clearly by The Deadly Assassin), using the actual word “assassination” correctly? Doctor Who was actually designed to be a semi-educational show, although after a few clunky info-dumps in early episodes this was quickly abandoned in favour of science fiction thrills, but the amount of knowledge I picked up and the vocabulary I gained from both the TV series and the Target novels is immense. I was fortunate in that the library of my primary school had a vast collection of Doctor Who novelisations, so many that I didn’t actually start my own collection until a couple of years later, around 1987. I loved the books so much that I rarely read anything else, in fact, I often refused to read anything else. Fortunately, that phase was short-lived, although that vaguely obsessive trait lingers on.
It would be hard to pick a favourite of these 120-page novels, but I have fond memories of The Green Death (which I loved so much I read it from cover to cover several times in a row, even taking it out to a restaurant with my parents and spilling tomato ketchup on it), The Abominable Snowmen, The Mind of Evil, while the cover art to The Face of Evil and The Talons of Weng-Chiang are so fiercely burnt into my mind that I’d happily have them hanging on a wall in my home.
One of the great things about the Target books is their range – some are kid’s books, no question. Some are very much what we would think of as teen or YA reads, while some – especially later ones such as Ghost Light by Marc Platt and The Curse of Fenric by Ian Briggs, both released in 1990 as the series wound to a close – are very much short adult SF novels.
Today, I still have them all. Some are battered and bent, all are much loved. I haven’t read any in years, but as I look across their spines I remember the adventure, excitement, and really wild things held between their covers, and I remember growing up in New Zealand in the 1980s, being the Doctor in the school playground and knowing exactly which shelf I’d be heading for in the afternoon visit to the library.
The Target Doctor Who novelisations taught me about story, about character, about plot. They cemented my early love for science fiction, and were the inspiration for me to start writing my own adventures in time and space. I didn’t learn to read from them, but I learned to write from them. I think there are a lot of authors and creators out there now who owe a great deal to Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke, Ian Marter and the rest.
I’m 33 now, and I’m still doing it. My debut novel, Empire State, is out in January next year from Angry Robot books. I still get a thrill when I think about that, and I’m happy that, in a way, it all came from those battles with the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Terrible Zodin.
I’m writing this on a Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday with no specific plans, and, y’know, I’ve just seen that copy of Destiny of the Daleks on the shelf. Maybe it’s time to see if I can break my speed-reading record…