Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

June 01, 2012

  • I Love New York! (or “We Have (New York) Launch!”)
  • Back when we were at Gallifrey, DWNY‘s Barnaby Edwards offered to do a launch event for Who is the Doctor in New York in the Spring.

    An event in NEW YORK? No hesitation there.

    For Robert and myself this meant one thing… ROAD TRIP!


    That’s Dr. Smith? in Boonville, New York. Boy am I glad we noticed that sign as we drove past.

    Road trips with Robert are highly enjoyable. We talk almost non-stop the entire time. We talk about everything: upcoming projects, proposed projects, publishers, Doctor Who, people we know, fan gossip, sexuality, Doctor Who, his work, my work, politics, Doctor Who… The next thing we know we’ve driven from Ottawa to Poughkeepsie.

    Poor Robert was knackered from the driving and slept the train ride from Poughkeepsie to New York, leaving me to fend for myself with a crazy old lady who began by informing us that Canadians “don’t know the whole truth about Obama” and then asking us “Do you have x in Canada?” X being universal health care, lakes, art galleries, the sun (in fairness she was asking if it set the same as it did over the Hudson River) and other things. She was entertaining. And she was old and had cancer so I wasn’t about to be mean.

    Then we were in New York. It was my first time, by the way.


    I love cities. New York is the citiest city I’ve ever been to. Needless to say I wanted to live there after 3 minutes there. Here’s me on the High Line, a wonderful urban park they’ve made out of a disused elevated train line.


    Barnaby was a sensational host, showing me around all sorts of great places.

    The launch event was held at a bar in Brooklyn called The Way Station.


    It has a science fiction / steampunk / Doctor Who theme. It even has a TARDIS for their washroom entrance!


    And of course Doctor Who themed drinks… The Tenth Doctor Sonic Screwdriver was quite tasty.


    Again, like all the events I didn’t know how many people we’d get. It’s a book launch on Memorial Day Weekend (a nice day outside no less). DWNY tends to show episodes of Who during their meetings, so we suggested they show Gridlock. During that I started counting…I was well over 60 when I was distracted by something.


    Our first bit of talking about the book was kind of flat. During Gridlock I realized we needed to pump it up a bit. Robert is brilliant at improv, so I just came on with huge enthusiasm and Robert picked up on it, and we started to argue on stage and suddenly things took off. Here’s us during our antics taking questions from the audience…


    And here’s me trying to get the microphone away from Robert when he started talking about how he hated David Tennant…


    Everybody loved it. I’ve heard British actors and writers say how incredible the enthusiasm of American fans are, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it directed at us. It was really lovely. And the signing afterwards went brilliantly—we sold out of every single book in our consignment!

    It was a wonderful day. A wonderful weekend, though far too short. Thanks to Barnaby and DWNY for being such incredible hosts, and to our friends Gina and Jason for hanging out with us while we were there! And thanks to everyone who came out. We hope you love the book!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    May 10, 2012

  • Podcasting!
  • The weekend of our Ottawa launch was a busy one and spent mostly talking in front of a microphone (or a microphone on my laptop). On the Friday, both Robert and I were interviewed on CBC Radio Ottawa’s afternoon drive-time show, All in a Day. It was fun (Robert has been interviewed by host Alan Neal a couple of times for his zombie math stuff) but a little nerve-wracking. What was great was that Alan pretty much ignored his producer’s notes and had a really nerdy conversation and then took to reading from entries in the book! Sadly the CBC in their infinite wisdom did not choose to podcast this (they chose instead to podcast the guest who was on before us!)

    But that warmed me up for my next audio occurrence. I was asked to come on to Radio Free Skaro ostensibly to speak about 1960s Doctor Who script editor Dennis Spooner for the Radio Free Skaro “miniscope” segments (which discuss the career of a particular writer or director). It was a lot of fun because I got to sit in on the whole taping of that week’s show and comment on other things, effectively being a guest host. This was probably the most awesome privilege bestowed on me this year, honestly. It was a real thrill to say “and this is Graeme, from Ottawa” in the opening… You can listen to the whole episode here.

    And then on Saturday morning, Robert miraculously got himself out of bed and made it to my house by 11 to have an in-depth interview on the Doctor Who Book Club podcast. Erik and Sean really took the time to read our book and had all sorts of questions for us. It was a wonderful interview, and my thanks to them for all their enthusiasm for the book!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    May 06, 2012

  • We Have (Ottawa) Launch!
  • We held the Ottawa launch for Who is the Doctor at the Heart and Crown in the Byward Market area of Ottawa. We figured if we were lucky we’d get 20 of our friends out. But we managed to get nearly 50 people out, many of whom were strangers to us! A few had seen it advertised in various ways; others heard us interviewed on CBC Radio the day before.

    There were two definite highlights, both involving kids. The first was signing for an 8 year-old and discovering that I owned more Doctor Who toys than they did! The other was when we signed 3 books for an excited 11 year-old girl (she had her buy them so she could give them to two of her friends!). We loved talking to these kids. First of all, they were so articulate. (We asked them what their favourite story was and they clearly knew their Who. The 11 year-old girl was versed in classic and new varieties!) Secondly, both Robert and I can remember being (almost) that young and reading our first Doctor Who reference books (in our cases the Jean-Marc Lofficier’s The Programme Guide and Peter Haining’s A Celebration). It’s cool to be doing that for today’s young fans.

    A couple of photos:


    We had a prop this time! My colleague Jennifer and her husband Michael owned a TARDIS they made for a pantomime in Ghana. They’re moving to New York and needed to divest themselves of it, so it now resides in Robert’s backyard!


    Robert and I fielding questions, many of which were from my perspicacious mother-in-law!

    We had a great time. We met a lot of friendly fans and we hope they’ll get in touch with us (use the e-mail address in the acknowledgments in the back of the book!) about a semi-regular fan gathering in Ottawa in future. Thanks to ECW Press and my wife Julie for putting on this wonderful event!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    May 02, 2012

  • Who is the Doctor Ottawa Launch Event
  • image

    Our book tour for Who is the Doctor comes to Robert and my own adopted hometown of Ottawa this weekend. It’s at the Heart and Crown pub, 67 Clarence Street in the Byward Market on Saturday, May 5 at 2 pm.

    Details are on our Facebook event page.

    If you’re in Ottawa and the surrounding area (or just want to visit), and if you’re a fan of Doctor Who come celebrate the launch of what I believe is an amazing book about Doctor Who the new series. Trust us, you’ll have a great time—we know a Doctor.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    May 01, 2012

  • Catching Up
  • So let’s see what’s been going on since my last posting in…early April, hoo boy. The problem has been that I’ve been very sick. I came to Toronto with debilitating neck pain, went to Wizard World Toronto and then got hit with several weeks worth of bad cold / flu / ugly virus that eventually became a sinus infection. Consequently, I’ve been mostly working off emergency systems.

    And yet, I’ve been busy as well. Wizard World Toronto Comic Con was an incredible experience. The the Doctor Who Society of Canada were simply amazing, managing to convince Wizard World to let us sell and sign copies of Who is the Doctor from their fan table and pulling out all the stops to be nice to me. The DWSC were given the Doctor Who panel at Toronto Comic Con and they made it a Q and A with me. I figured we’d get 20, 40 people max. At 5 pm I went downstairs with the lovely Cindy (one of the founders of DWSC) and the fabulous Mike (also of DWSC, he acted as moderator) to find a massive line-up outside the door for the panel room. “Is there a Twilight panel after this?” I thought. No, they were all waiting for the Doctor Who panel!

    And so inside I sat at the front staring at a hall full of people, probably by my count 175-200 at least.


    This was just mildly freaky. I felt a fraud. A crowd that size deserved David Tennant, or at least a good David Tennant impersonator. But Mike asked me questions about the book, and then asked me questions of Doctor Who. And if there’s one thing I’m good at in the world, one thing at all, it’s talking about Doctor Who.

    I soon felt comfortable, and the crowd seemed to enjoy chatting about Doctor Who with me. Eventually a Dalek stopped by, which made it all the stranger. But it was a great hour. People were interested and friendly, though I wish, after being asked by a kid what my favourite funny moment in Who was, I had come up with something that made him laugh (of course later I thought: “‘You have headaches?’ from The Highlanders”. Dammit!)


    Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it. The Book Guys website sat in the crowd, recorded it and put the panel on their website as a podcast. So if you want to hear me opinionate, dabble in rumour and just witter on about Doctor Who, enjoy yourself.

    I was pulled aside afterward to answer questions about what classic stories to see and about Eccleston’s departure. And then the lovely Cindy came over saying, “You better get upstairs. There’s a huge lineup for your signing. We’re not sure if we have enough books.”

    Holy socks!

    So I went upstairs, signed autographs, doodled TARDISes and Daleks and other things, talked with a lot of nice people. Here’s a picture of me doing that, only for some reason I appear to have sucked a kilo of alum at the same time…


    By the end of it we almost sold out of the massive consignment of books the DWSC picked up from ECW Press and Bakka Phoenix. I came in the next day (I wasn’t planning to), did an additional signing and sold the rest. That’s right—we sold out every copy of Who is the Doctor. Oh did I mention I almost told Cindy she was crazy for getting a consignment that large?

    Yeah, that was definitely cool.

    Critics at Large had an amazing write up of the con and said some really nice things about me as well, the most flattering of which was, “With no sexy celebrity guests…. and armed with only a sincere and thoughtful enthusiasm for the series that was shared by everyone in attendance, Burk and the [Doctor Who ]Society were the epitome of what made Wizard World so enjoyable.”

    All I can say is thanks to the Cindy, Mike, Caroline, Dalek Auric and all the amazing people at the Doctor Who Society of Canada whose faith in me was astonishing.

    Other cool thing that happened in Toronto. I found a copy of Who is the Doctor at the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, where I bought most of my Doctor Who books as a teenager and adult. That was awesome.


    Reviews have been starting to crop up. Here, here, here and here. I’ll talk about the surrealness of that experience soon.

    Meanwhile, I’ve done a podcast interview for the Doctor Who Podcast which should appear later in May. This weekend I’m making another Radio Free Skaro appearance (not to talk about the book, but to help out on their Miniscope feature on writer Dennis Spooner) and Robert and I will be on the Doctor Who Book Club Podcast in the next week or so as well.

    This book launch stuff is a bit wild and weird but it’s awful fun too. Maybe next time I can be in better health to enjoy it!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    April 12, 2012

  • Parental Guidance
  • Not really about writing or my work, but you know what neither of those things would have happened without the love and support of my Mom and Dad, Winnie and Terry Burk. Here they are at the Who is the Doctor book launch last month.


    My Dad turns 70 today and my mom had her birthday a week ago (several binding legal agreements prevent me from disclosing her age). Thanks for everything, Mom and Dad. I love you both.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    April 11, 2012

  • If you’re at Wizard World Toronto Comic Con…
  • image...I’ll be there too!

    This Saturday I’ll be at Wizard World Toronto Comic Con headlining a panel on Doctor Who hosted by the good folks at the Doctor Who Society of Canada and talking about Who is the Doctor and any other Doctor Who questions you might have. I’ll be in the fan group section at the Doctor Who Society of Canada table signing copies of Who is the Doctor before and after. Hope to see you then!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    March 28, 2012

  • Talking About Our Book
  • Last night had a blink-and-you’ll-be-killed-by-weeping-angel blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on SPACE’s show InnerSpace where I give a quick soundbyte about what the book is about.

    It was not one of my better TV appearances. I was really discombobulated from getting up at 4 am to travel from Ottawa to Toronto and a day full of meetings, so I was not at my most coherent. I’m quite convinced that producer Mark Askwith and a crack team of editors and CGI artists worked round the clock to find a salvageable 35 seconds.

    imageI was a little more on my A game, or probably my B game, when Robert and I were interviewed on Radio Free Skaro, the world’s most popular Doctor Who podcast. Robert and I were interviewed at Gallifrey (the RFS gang, Steven, Warren and Chris had been given an advance copy of the book) and we were able to talk about our hopes for the book, how we wrote it, our differing approaches and more. It’s always a delight to be interviewed by Steven, Warren and Chris and Radio Free Skaro is my favourite podcast precisely for the freewheeling but thoughtful environment the three of them create, and that extends to the way they conduct interviews. Go listen to it!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    March 26, 2012

  • We have launch (party!)
  • The Who is the Doctor launch at Bakka-Phoenix Books in Toronto last Saturday exceeded all expectations. We had at least 70 people there at the start, and more people came afterward. Given our estimates were around 30-40 people, we doubled our expectations. It was both flattering and humbling that so many people came out.

    Our intrepid photographers (aka my Dad and my wife Julie) took quite a few great photos. Here’s some of them:



    ECW made some awesome posters and we had a lovely display greeting us outside…

    Here we are, ready and waiting…

    Robert and I answer the hard questions at the Q and A. I think this one was “how did you write the book?” or “Who was your favourite Doctor?”

    Robert does a reading from his review of “The End of Time”

    I do a reading from my review of “Turn Left”...

    And the signing commences!

    It’s busy at Bakka… Somewhere in that crowd is my High School English teacher!

    And busy around the signing table…

    Robert and myself with Chris from Bakka-Phoenix

    I’m shocked… SHOCKED!!!... to see Richard Salter whom I haven’t seen in several years.

    Robert and myself with Scott Clarke, whom I dedicated my half of the book.

    The two authors and their friends who stuck around to the bitter end! (We’re holding the Doctor Who mugs that Julie gave us as a present for the launch!)

    It was an amazing experience. One I’ll never forget and I’m sure one Robert won’t forget either. Thanks so much to everyone who came out!

    You can see more pictures on the Who is the Doctor facebook page.

    Posted by graeme | (1) Comments | Permalink

    March 13, 2012

  • Who is the Doctor - Toronto launch event - Saturday March 24
  • image

    We’re getting ready for our amazing launch of Who is the Doctor, which will take place at Bakka-Phoenix books (84 Harbord Street) on Saturday, March 24 at 3 pm.

    Details are on the ECW site, and there’s a Facebook event page as well.

    you’re in Toronto, its environs or the Greater Toronto Area (or just want to visit), and if you’re a fan of Doctor Who come celebrate the launch of what I believe is an amazing book about Doctor Who the new series. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    March 11, 2012

  • Anatomy of the Who is the Doctor Cover
  • So how did we get the awesome cover we have for Who is the Doctor? An excellent question. Let’s see if I can break it down.

    image First of all, Robert and myself suggested to ECW that they use Natalie Racz as the designer. I really loved the covers she did for the Doctor Who fanzine Enlightenment (which she did while I was editor) and I had seen some of her samples she had done at Humber college and thought she was talented. So the first hurdle was getting ECW to go for her, which they did.

    Then last June, before we had even submitted the final manuscript, ECW’s Art Director, Rachel, e-mailed us to find out what ideas we had. We were instructed that we couldn’t use copyrighted images (if we used a photograph it would have to be non-BBC, rather like how the Telos paperbacks use paparazzi photos of the actors out of costume), so we had to work with that restriction.

    Because I have worked as a communications professional for 15 years, I’ve worked with lots of designers, and I’ve done some amateur graphic design work myself. And I had plenty of ideas. So we gave them my doodles.

    Idea number 1 was the one I liked the most: a photo cover that featured the costumes of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. (I figured, they’re just clothes in a closet; there can’t be copyright issues). It would require a kick ass type treatment to make it work, but I thought it could. Here’s my doodle:


    Idea number 2 was the one Robert liked the most: A sihloutte of a generic Doctor running forward with the TARDIS behind him. The background was one of those funky sunburst halos like on the Scott Pilgrim books. I was inspired by the cover of ECW’s own book about Mad Men, Kings of Madison Avenue, which uses the cut-up sihlouette of Don Draper from the opening credits to great effect.


    (Although I didn’t articulate this in my brief, what was in the back of my mind was something kind of retro-ish, that looked like the title cards of Irwin Allen series like Land of the Giants or The Invaders.)

    Idea number 3 neither of us liked but thought we should have 3 ideas to choose from. That involved making an identikit face using photos of the three actors (Eccleston, Tennant, Smith). I saw this as an inventive way to use paparazzi photos of the actors, though it had the downside of making someone unrecognizable on the front cover!


    Robert and a designer he knew in Australia cooked up another idea using the words “Who is the Doctor” to make up the form of the TARDIS as well.

    Rachel came back to us and indicated the preferred option was #2, and so Natalie was set to work on it. Here’s an early doodle from Natalie indicating where the type would go:


    At some point Natalie (or Rachel or someone else) suggested using Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor as the sihlouette. We were fine with this as he is the current Doctor.

    Eventually came the first stab at a cover by Natalie:


    Which we more or less loved. We just had a few tweaks in terms of moving the subtitle so it didn’t amputate the Doctor’s leg, and elongating and foreshortening the Doctor’s arms so it looked as though the Doctor was running forward (as opposed to what we all called “the Judd Nelson Breakfast Club stance”). Because I’m a visual guy, I showed how these tweaks could be made in photoshop:


    Robert and his Australian designer friend suggested some font changes just to make it look fresher. We breathed easy. We were some minor tweaks away from the finish line…

    And then…

    imageOur editor Jen called me a couple of weeks later. (By now it was late July and we were editing the book). Potential book covers are reviewed by booksellers for feedback, and the feedback wasn’t good. It was felt Matt Smith’s Doctor shouldn’t be on there alone and that the other New Series Doctors should be there too. (A week or too later I had cause to seethe when they released a promo image for Series 6b with Matt Smith now wearing a trenchcoat. If we had stuck with the “generic Doctor in great coat” idea it really could have been any of them!) They weren’t wild about the font and wanted something more “Doctor Who” like. So the existing cover design was scrapped. Having covers nixed by the booksellers at this stage is apparently a common occurence so I was told not to take it personally.

    But I was asked if I had any ideas that could salvage what was there but also using the other Doctors. So I got on to Photoshop and I doodled. And with some rough-and-ready sihlouetting of Tennant and Eccleston using various photographs I came up with this in a couple of hours:


    ECW’s art director Rachel liked it a lot, though she wondered if we could lose the TARDIS now as it was a bit cluttered (which I didn’t oppose). She also sent me a screencap of the time vortex from the opening credits and wondered if we could use that as a background, so I obliged her using a blowup of the screencap.


    A few weeks later we got back Natalie’s version, which realized everything beautifully with her own take on it. With some minor tweaking (mostly the size of the title. Natalie in the meantime found a “Doctor Who font”—Assiduous, once the main font for Doctor Who brand during the late ‘90s, and still being used on the Classic Doctor Who DVD range!) And this is what we have. I’ve taken to calling it, affectionately, the “Charlie’s Angels” cover. Here it is in its final form, complete with highlight from our Neil Gaiman back cover blurb:


    It’s even better when you see the book for real!

    Posted by graeme | (1) Comments | Permalink

    March 07, 2012

  • The Who is the Doctor Book Tour!
  • We’re so excited about this book, we’re taking it to the streets and having not one but three launch events!

    The first will be in Toronto at Bakka-Phoenix Books on Saturday, March 24 at 3pm.  We’ll then have a launch in the city where we reside, in Ottawa, at the Heart and Crown pub in the Byward Market on Saturday, May 5 at 2pm. And then we’ll be in New York City (the first time for me!) for an event the details of which are still being worked out but it will be held on Sunday, May 27.

    More detailed announcements will come as we get closer to each event. In the meantime here’s the lovely flyer ECW put together to promote the book and the launch events…


    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    March 05, 2012

  • Oh the Misstakes… er Mistakes
  • Of course, now that the book is a real physical object, you can’t help but find mistakes. Neil Gaiman’s law is that the first thing an author sees when they open a new book is a typo. That hasn’t happened to me, but I have had my humility get a little bit of a thumping…

    ECW Press put first 10-15 pages of the book on their website to read. Of course, this is the part of the book where a) we introduce the book and what we’re doing and b) attempt to write the 26 year history of the Classic Series in 2200 words or so.

    Cue a number of fans pointing out that the Doctor Who Prom video, Music of the Spheres did air on BBC1. (To which I respond “No, the Doctor Who Prom aired. Music of the Spheres was part of that live presentation.” I suspect I’m going to be having that argument for a very long time…). That’s fairly minor.

    But what really did hit me like a knife was when a friend said to me “You didn’t really mean to say Sydney Newman was responsible for Coronation Street?”

    Oh. My. God.

    It’s there on page xi: “Under Newman’s watch at ITV, shows like Coronation Street...became unqualified hits at ITV”.

    Oh bugger. No, I did not mean that. Sydney Newman didn’t have anything to do with Coronation Street. ITV was a loose confederation of different television networks; Newman worked for ABC (Associated Broadcasting) and Corrie was produced by Granada.

    In writing the book, I simplified it a little and talked about Newman working for ITV as opposed to ABC because the book was being written primarily for a North American market, where such distinctions would be meaningless (heck, one editorial note I got back was “You mean there’s more than just the BBC?”), especially as today all those networks have been more or less subsumed into ITV anyway. I have no idea where my head was at, but somewhere in the writing and editing process (possibly even before the book was submitted) I (and it was me) managed to come up with the howler that Coronation Street was Newman’s doing.

    I suspect, originally, I was probably trying to get at the influence he had. Newman brought kitchen sink drama to ABC (in part from Canadian television) and that influenced a lot of TV which he had nothing to do with, including, I would argue, Corrie and Z-Cars. But that’s not what I wrote. I have no idea how that got there. I’ve been researching Newman’s work at CBC and elsewhere for over a decade. What a goof to make.

    Fortunately, it’s been changed to Armchair Theatre in the eBook, so if you read by Kindle or iPad you’ll never see it. And in future printings we’ll change it as well.

    We’re quite proud of our knowledge of Doctor Who and had a lot of knowledgeable people look at it as well but this goes to prove that even in spite of these things there will be something amiss, and Doctor Who fans are so darn smart they’ll spot it. But, as a friend of mine pointed out, that’s true of even the really exquisitely researched Doctor Who books as well.

    Even so, I suspect I’m going to be in a foetal ball for the next six months…

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    February 29, 2012

  • Things you can’t help but do with your first book upon seeing it published…
  • 1) Randomly opening it and reading it to make sure your text is still there.

    2) Stroking the embossed foil part of the cover (This one is more my co-author’s thing)

    3) Looking at your name on the cover for long periods of time, muttering “Yes it really is there…”

    4) Putting it on bookshelves and seeing how it looks. Lots of them.

    5) Re-reading it again and again.

    And so on…

    Posted by graeme | (1) Comments | Permalink

    February 28, 2012

  • It’s Here…
  • image

    Oh, yes baby…

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