Blakes 7 - Anthology

Anthology is a collection of three, novella-length Blakes 7 stories published in one volume. All are set within the first season. In order, the stories are:

The blurb for my story Trigger Point is:
Infiltration and explosions are one way the Liberator crew can help the resistance on the corrupt planet, Belzanko, but can a subtler approach work too ?

Anthology was published in October 2013 by Big Finish Productions as a hardback. I have written Blakes 7 and Star Wars fan fiction before, and have published western novels featuring characers based on ones from both Star Wars and Blakes 7: Anthology contains my first, professionally published science-fiction.

On the 5th June 2012, I received an email from Horizon, the official Blakes 7 fanclub, with news of a writer's opportunity being offered by Big Finish. They were accpting open submissions for B7 novellas - anyone could apply regardless of published writing experience, or whether they had an agent. Each application had to include a complete outline of the story, no more than one page in length; the first thousand words of the proposed novella; and a short paragraph about yourself and your writing history.
The deadline for this was midnight of the 10th of June.
So if I wanted to take the opportunity, I had less than five full days to do it. I hadn't written a Blakes 7 story in several years, and I was still struggling with a western, Darrow's Gamble. All the same, I felt I'd be foolish not to have a go, as I did love the series and it was a chance to break into professional sci-fi writing. If I wrote an original sci-fi novel in the future, I would have this on my CV, which had to be a good thing. The requirement was for a story set during the first season, which, although not my favourite, did at least narrow things down when it came to developing my story.

I started with the idea of a story set soon after 'The Web', with Avon and Jenna still being suspicious of Cally - she's an alien, and telepathic, too. Avon, Jenna and Cally would be sent on a mission somewhere and end up isolated together. By the end, the women would bond together in mutual irritation at Avon. This was expanded to Avon and Jenna being mutually tempted by money, while Cally was more interested in revolution. Her terrorist action fails, and Avon uses his computer skills to cause an economic crash that destabilizes the Federation governor of the planet. Afterwards, Jenna privately accuses Avon of keeping some of the money for himself. He offers her part of the money as a bribe for her silence, but she goes to Blake and tells him about Avon taking the money. Blake summons Avon to the flight deck, and as he arrives, the rebels on the planet send a message, thanking Blake for the donation that's just arrived. Blake apologizes to Avon for doubting him, though he doesn't know if Avon intended to make the donation all along. Cally sides with Jenna, and Avon points out that he's done a better job of uniting the woman than Blake had.
Now I had the outline of the story, at least as far as the most basic plot, and the character arc. I then added more detail: the name of the planet, Belzanko (which I'd invented and used in a previous Star Wars fic), the name of the governor, and the course of the action that would get the story from start to finish. I wanted all the characters to have something to do, especially the women. I put Avon and Cally, the experienced fighter, together, and left them on the planet to let Avon get on with his scheme. This gave Jenna to do the kind of fancy piloting worthy of a smuggler that she never really got to do in the TV series - after all, I didn't have to worry about my effects budget. I wrote my one-page summary, then set about the first thousand words of actual story. I chose to start in the middle of the scene, as Blakes 7 often did, with an ongoing conversation. I got back into the swing of writing the characters quite easily. I probably spent almost as long dithering over the single paragraph to accompany the submission, about myself and my writing. I finally got it all done and submitted at three minutes before the midnight deadline - cutting it almost as close as Blake himself ever did. I got an email back the next day to say my submission had been recived. After that, I just had to wait until the announcements in September.
I felt I had a pretty good chance - after all, with all the westerns I've had published, I know I can put together a well-told novel. I was also pretty sure of my grasp of the B7 characters and the setting. The fic I've written, both B7 and Star Wars has been praised by other fans. As an author with a dozen or so books to my name, the people at Big Finish could be confident that I was capable of sustaining the novella length, and knew how to put together a professional product. All the same, there are some very good B7 fic writers out there, so I was optimistic, but not absolutely certain, by any means.

Announcements of the chosen novellas were due in September. By then, I was heavily involved with writing Darrow's Gamble. As you might guess, it's one in a series of westerns featuring characters based on ones from Blakes 7. I used Avon and Vila as models for the sheriff and deputy in my westerns, and gave them the actors' surnames - Paul Darrow has said he wanted to be in a western, so I obliged, the best I could. Anyway, after a long struggle, I was finally getting to the end of Darrow's Gamble, though I still wasn't quite happy with it. I hadn't forgotten about Trigger Point, but was more concerned with the work in hand. Then at the end of the month, I got an email to tell me that mine was one of the three stories chosen. I was delighted of course. It seemed unreal in different ways. I'd written Blakes 7 stories before, albeit as fan fic. I still believe in the show, and am a fan, so it was like being asked to write more fanfic - only that particular story materialized as a hardback with a glossy dustjacket. It's a real, licenced Blakes 7 book, a novelty in itself; a professionally published hardback that happens to have a story that I wrote in it ! It's my first, pro sci-fi publication.
Of course, before all that could happen, I had to actually write the story. The deadline was the end of March, six months away. First of all, I had to finish Darrow's Gamble. I didn't have a deadline for that, but having finally got so close to finishing it, I wanted it done at last. So I worked away, re-editing it, and finally submitted it early November. Happily, it was accepted with enthusiasm, which put me in a positive frame of mind for getting to work on Trigger Point.

Writing the story went pretty smoothly. I did, after all, have that one-page outline to work from, so I knew pretty well what I needed to write. Expanding from the simple sentence, 'The Liberator leads the pursuit ships to an asteroid field and engages them in battle', to the full, blow-by-blow account, takes a fair bit of work. You have to decide where to start the scene; whose viewpoint to choose, if any; when to break a scene to catch up with what's happening elsewhere, and so on. I had to rearrange the details of a few things from outline to novella, not least being asked to make Belzanko an independent planet, rather than part of the Federation. This meant that the governor couldn't simply be dismissed by his superiors and sent to trial for corruption. I had to set things up so the governor's power would crumble dramatically, and he and his cronies could be arrested, leaving a chance for the local rebels to get into government.

I chose to make the story very much in the style of the TV series - I wanted it to read like a missing episode. I wanted to write the characters as they were in those early episodes, and keep the story to the ethos of those days, with the emphasis on helping other groups of rebels. Although the crew are still finding out one another's strengths and weaknesses, and learning to trust one another, there is still hope, with their shiny new ship and charismatic leader. No one has yet started to crumble under the pressure that will come later. I looked back at some early episodes to re-acquaint myself with the look and feel of that period.
I had first intended to have a patrol of human guards almost catch Blake, Vila and Gan as they broke in, but changed it to the security robot seen in 'Seek, Locate, Destroy' and 'Project Avalon'. The robot as it appeared on screen was sadly rather comical but a simple description on the page could be more convincing and would help create the feel of a particular era of the programme's timeline. Although the programme makers stopped using the robot because it was awkward, and frankly a bit rubbish, I wanted to give it a chance to redeem itself and appear as threatening as it would have done if being produced by today's special effects, and not on a BBC drama budget of the 70's. I also made specific reference to the two-tone hooded anoraks that were a distinctive look in the first series, but not seen so much thereafter. As Avon and Cally needed to wear something less distinctive at one point, and had to steal coats, I decided to make Cally's coat be the spotted fur jacket she wears in 'Breakdown'. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing to be found in the Liberator's wardrobes, so I thought I'd give an explanation for its presence.
While watching part of 'The Web' before writing, I saw Avon investigating parts of the Liberator with some probe-like tools. It reminded me that tech in the B7 universe is more about altering hardware than writing programs. We see data crystals in some episodes, fancy circuit boards and other gadgets and widgets, but although computers are extensively used, we don't really seem to see anyone writing a program, or hacking in the way we understand it now. So when I needed Avon to hack into one set of computers, and insert a program into another, I had to remember to have him do it in a way consistent with what we saw on screen. His program is encoded on a data crystal; there is a keyboard, but he uses a probe to access the programs directly and adjusts something inside a panel before glancing at the screen to check on the effects of his work. I deliberately keep the details of the tech as vague as they were in the show: it just works, OK ? It's science-fiction, not hard science.
All the same, I do try not to flout science too noticibly. I was describing the fight between the Liberator and the pursuit ships to friends in the pub when Adam mentioned that people writing/filming space battles often forget about momentum. Spaceships change direction incredibly quickly in fiction, usually without allowing for the effects of momentum on their movement. I pride myself on writing a good spaceship fight. I've written many multiship battles in my Star Wars fanfic, which other writers admit to shying away from. I remember Captain's Kirk's wisdom in 'The Wrath of Khan': Khan's mistake is that he thinks in 2D, rather than in the three dimensions of space, as Kirk does. So I try to write battles using 3D space. Jenna gets to throw the Liberator through some fairly extreme moves, that take full advantage of the artificial gravity as she flips and spins the ship. I really enjoyed writing it, giving the Liberator the chance to fly unrestrained by the effects and budget available when the series was filmed, and giving Jenna the opportunity to excel. Although she was the pilot of the crew, the limited effects available to the programme makers meant she had much less opportunity to show off her specialist skills than Avon or Vila.

It was an exciting project to work on, though slightly scary. I don't normally work to a deadline for one thing, but as well as that restriction, I was writing to meet certain expectations. There are some restrictions on my westerns, both in length and content, but style and content are fairly loose. With Trigger Point, I was writing for a new publisher and was less familiar with the tone of their books, and areas they are happy to explore within the genre framework. I also had to meet the expectations of fans of this setting and characters. If they were willing to take a chance and pay money to buy this book in order to read more about their favourites, I didn't want to disappoint them. Big Finish had committed themselves to including my story in their book. They had chosen to trust me to produce something to their standards, and I didn't want to let them down either.
I finished Trigger Point about six weeks ahead of the deadline and happily, the publishers were pleased with it. During editing, a few minor changes were made, mostly clarifying actions and motives. It was all very positive and straightfoward. Once the final changes had been agreed I just had to wait for publication. I was delighted with my copies when they arrived. It's so exciting and satisfying to see my name on the cover of a Blakes 7 book. It's so strange to love a TV show for over 30 years, to be a fan who buys DVDs and magazines, and to end up as an offical part of the story, producing something that other fans will buy. Reviews of the anthology have been good too, which is always satisfying. We're down and safe.