So here’s why I want to put my head in the oven, although I can see the funny side.
I had this dream in 2001 about a conscientious objector, looking for sanctuary in the English countryside during WW1. Waking up, I thought that married with some of my preoccupations of the time, such as shamanism and evolutionary psychiatry, it would make a decent novel.
I suppose I should have been suspicious of the fact that this was based on a dream, but ideas have to come from somewhere, yes?
I’ve already told you why that novel never happened, and that when, having taken a look at Azureus and noticing how many shows I was downloading, I decided to try and pour what was left of my writing energy into television, I dusted off the idea. That would have been around May 2004.
I took a look at what I had, and it wasn’t much - this pacifist dude escapes from a work camp, develops strange abilities, teams up with a troubled girl to raise Lyonesse and heal the European psyche.
Well, who was this guy? Why didn’t he want to fight? Why did he need to escape and who was trying to get him back? Slowly, very slowly, and with numerous false starts and dead ends, I decided that Princetown Work Centre was a test-bed for government aggression trials to create the ultimate, compassion-free soldier. The trials were being run by Lord Edmund Vyvyan, who had his own dark purposes - his lineage stretched back to the time of the mythic celts. The war is driving Europe insane, and the constant blood-letting is beginning to awaken the powers Vyvyan’s family once served. Our hero Tristan discovers Vyvyan’s plans, becomes an unwilling experimental subject, but reacts in an unforeseen manner: the drug that is being fed to prisoners sends him on a wild trip, granting him supernatural abilities.
And then we have Evey. A young girl in the fishing village of Portwick; her father drowned years ago and her brother’s at war - she’s a girl in some psychic distress who becomes a magnet for both Tristan’s and Vyvyan’s attentions.
But I couldn’t make these characters’ stories gel. They all seemed to be living in different shows. I did a quick brainstorm and came up with the following:
What if Vyvyan’s great house was one of the many stately homes made into hospitals for the duration of the war? What if we say Tristan is not a conscientious objector, but a Lieutenant suffering from war neurosis, and Evey a nurse? Presto, three hitherto disparate elements now unified. The military experiments and rise of dark gods could remain as they were, but now I could get right to the heart of the story a lot sooner, without having to lay so much pipe.
What had started out as a Robert Holdstock/Robin of Sherwood tonal hybrid had, quite naturally I thought, evolved into more of a Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker-era gothic Doctor Who-style story.
I'd have to change the title.
But first I thought I’d better find out a bit more about these hospitals. Presumably they’d have doctors, nurses, an officer in charge and a company of guards. To be sure, I whacked "WW1 psychiatric hospital staff" into Google, and got two enlightening hits.
The first is probably one of the most chilling photographs I’ve ever seen:
The second was one of the most unsettling coincidences yet to occur in my young life. So, I've developed what could be a gothic Doctor Who story, have I? Well, here's MY BLOODY IDEA AS THE SYNOPSIS FOR AN ACTUAL, 1999, DOCTOR WHO NOVEL. This shit ain’t right. I’ve never read the book, I’ve never heard of the author. Until last year I’d forgotten Who even existed. If I was “influenced” by anything it was Dane’s story and his relationship with Sir Miles in The Invisibles. And yet, here's this, as if something's telling me to try harder - as if this wasn't hard enough already!
Well, you’ve got to laugh, right?