Today I am delighted to welcome James Goss who has kindly taken time to answer a few of my questions about his new novel, Haterz.
James also has a long-standing association with the world of Doctor Who – as a lifelong fan of that particular show I sneaked in a few questions about everyone’s favourite Timelord.
Haterz is a dark comic tale which sees the central character killing off people who annoy him when he is online – I opened with the obvious question…
I’m a freelancer who works from home, so I’m obviously addicted to social media. It’s the ultimate work avoidance tool. If people aren’t uploading pictures of their breakfasts or a holiday sunset then I want to know what’s wrong with the world. That said, there are some elements of it that bring out the worst in people. For instance, a friend of mine is wonderful, charming, self-deprecating company in real life, but unbearable on Facebook. I would hide them, but I’m enjoying the ride. And that makes me a terrible person.
In Haterz when we meet Dave, he is just about to kill his best friend’s girlfriend because he finds her annoying on Facebook. Have you had to reassure your friends that they are not in any way featured in Haterz?
On the contrary, actually. In the couple of cases where I’ve used people I know, I’ve emailed them to ask how I would kill them. And they’ve been very creative.
Despite the fact he is killing people in nasty ways I found the character of Dave to be quite a likeable fellow. Do you think you will split the crowd on this one (with some readers condoning his actions and others willing him to succeed)? Or do intend for us all to empathize with Dave?
It’s terribly fashionable to issue death threats on Twitter. I just wondered who would be the kind of person who actually carried them out – and Dave’s not some ranting people-hating moron. He’s not a slick, smooth American psychopath – he’s a terribly British bumbler. Poor old Dave just wants everyone to be nice to each other. And is going to carry on killing until they are. I think, once you can get past that contradiction then he’s perfectly pleasant company. You could go out for a drink with him. So long as you don’t post too many pictures of your cocktail.
I am keen to avoid plot spoilers, however, I did enjoy some of the people and groups that Dave targeted his attentions towards. When you were planning out Haterz did you have a ‘hit-list’ of groups you specifically wanted to target?
Absolutely. All the groups, types and institutions were planned in advance. I toned a few of them down. Oddly, in the nearly two years between planning and publication, none of the groups have changed that much. Amazingly, woman-hating video gamers have got even nastier. Well done on that one, humanity.
As we all seem to be becoming increasingly fixated on social media do you think we have reached a point where more serious repercussions are needed to curb the worst instances of online behaviour?
It’s all such a muddle, like humanity is trying to work out where we go next. We may look back on GamerGate as the first online world war – not between countries but between violently passionate interest groups. A glance at Twitter tells you the consensus is “We want freedom of speech. Just not for them, them, and you can shut up”. We live in a world that is almost inexplicable to people from a decade ago, when we were all charmed by “Eric Emotes An Emotion”. I don’t know how long it will be before we reach Peak Oversharing. Possibly when all those babies whose every bowel-movement has been reported on become old enough to have Facebook accounts, log on and go “oh dear god.”
We live in a world where what’s really frightening is not that the terrorists are on social media, but how they’re making the same stupid mistakes the rest of us do.
Having now laid out our worst online offences have you had to modify your own online behaviour?
I think we’re all guilty of some pretty awful offences. Too many cat pictures. Enigmatic tweeting about how marvellous your life is. The terrible thing about being an author online is that there’s this pressure to constantly bang on about stuff you’ve written. No-one was gladder than me to find out from a social media expert that constantly being “Brand You” is really off-putting. I find the whole thing deeply embarrassing. I couldn’t convincingly sell you a new pair of socks, let alone a book, so I’m deeply relieved that the publicity team behind Haterz are really good. Because, no matter how proud I am of something I’ve worked on, I can’t enthuse about it on social media without sounding like a vicar trying to sound cool.
Switching track slightly, I also wanted to ask about your ongoing involvement with the world of Doctor Who. I have been a fan of the show since childhood and I am delighted to see it flourishing. You seem to have been involved with the programme for several years in a number of different roles, what have been the stand-out moments for you?
I still can’t believe that Doctor Who is back and so loved. When I first ran the BBC’s website (during the end of the show’s wilderness years and the first two series of the triumphant relaunch), the disinterest the BBC felt towards Doctor Who was pretty bad. Ever year the site’s budget got cut and the online audience only grew larger. It was a strange time – trying to do so much with such tiny resources against such vast corporate indifference. I’ll never forget a meeting with my head of department where she sighed and said “Well, Doctor Who, there’s only about another 18 months in it.” Then Russell brought it back and the whole thing snowballed. It was truly amazing to be involved in that. But also rather unbelievable. Genuinely. But suddenly the BBC fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who again. And rightly so.
Oh yes. And getting to stand on the TARDIS set and realising that a large amount of it was from IKEA. Which instantly validated most of my home furnishing choices.
Last year you wrote the Doctor Who novel The Blood Cell (which I reviewed and enjoyed immensely). It was one of the first novels published which featured Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.I believe that you had to write the story before the first Capaldi episode, Deep Breath, was broadcast – how do you write for such an iconic character when you do not know how he will appear on screen?
Very carefully. We were lucky in that we had access to the early scripts and they were phenomenally clear about what a different character this Doctor was going to be. I cheated and wrote my book from the villain’s point-of-view, so if I had got it wrong, I could just claim the narrator was lying.
My extensive research (Wikipedia) reveals that you and I were born in the same year. I have been a Doctor Who fan for as long as I can remember I do recall seeing seeing K-9 yet my earliest clear memory of the show is of the Melkur from Keeper of Traken. Can you pin down your first Who memory?
Curiously enough, City Of Death. There didn’t seem to be anything else on when I was a child. I was so lucky. I don’t think I really got what the show was, though. I remember watching an episode that, amazingly, wasn’t City Of Death. Doctor Who climbed up a tower, fell off, and turned into the young vet from All Creatures Great And Small. I was very confused.
You have worked with Big Finish and produced a number of audio plays. Do you prefer the solitude and personal achievement of writing or is the collaboration and assembling the cast and crew to make an audio drama a bigger challenge?
I love getting off the sofa and meeting people. I’m very bad at it these days, but I try my best. It’s really lovely that Big Finish have let me do some really wonderful projects. They’re a really great company to work for. Some of the most surprising emails of my life have come from them. Would I like to write a musical? Would I like to write for Servalan? Can you produce an audio series with an actress you helplessly admire?
One of your other projects was the non fiction Doctor Who book A History of the Universe in 100 Objects. I was constantly amused by the items you singled out for discussion but it all seemed to work perfectly – was there a method to the selection process or did you and (co-author) Steve Tribe just have fun picking unusual items?
We went to the pub. I hate it when people use that as an answer. It makes it sound so lazy. But my local does really nice coffee (for me) and very nice draught beer (for Steve), and then we sat down and we did that thing that Doctor Who fans love to do. We drew up a list.
Some things were written but didn’t make the final cut. There was a whole section on Dalek Plans, written by Penny, their long-suffering Project Manager. God, I loved that. Probably best it was left out, but occasionally, on nights out, Chris Allen, the current Doctor Who website editor, will perform bits of it aloud. It mostly comes down to Penny saying “And you haven’t left in a big red destruct button this time have you?” and the Dalek Supreme going “Er…”. I AM LAUGHING NOW. WHY ARE YOU NOT LAUGHING?
On a final note, are you able to share what you will be working on next?
I’m making the revisions to the novelisation of Douglas Adams’s City Of Death, which is a very odd, wonderful project to have done. Yes, in an ideal world Douglas himself would have written it. Or Gareth Roberts, but he got abducted to write A Top Secret Television Project, so it landed with me. I live in a world where, just this once, I’m third choice for something after Douglas Adams. That’s not a bad place to be.
Mind you, I’ve spent the last few months trying not to be run over by a bus (probably driven by whoever offed Danny Pink). Funnily enough, on the day before I finished the first draft, I nearly choked to death on a new potato. I was so horrifically aware of the irony I was giggling at the same time I was choking. Yes. I very nearly died laughing.