brought to book
Loving the alien. The Brit novelist tells us about mixing up romance and sci- fi…
Jenny T Colgan’s on our spine – here’s the interview!
There are those in this world who will tell you that The Terminator is an action- thriller about a time- travelling soldier pursued by a cyborg assassin. Rubbish, says Jenny T Colgan. It’s an SF romance. “Seriously, as far as I’m concerned, Terminator is about a great love affair between a woman and a tortured man and a very special baby,” she says. “The killer robot is really a sideline, in my opinion.”
In contrast, Colgan’s new SF novel, Resistance Is Futile, has a romance at its centre, and not a rubbish one like in Contact. “Connie, the heroine, is a mathematician,” she explains. “She discovers the existence of alien intelligence, then accidentally falls in love with it, with devastating consequences for, basically, the entire world.” No wonder the blurb says “Bridget Jones meets Independence Day. It’s a book, says Colgan, that grew partly from her experience writing a Doctor Who novel as JT Colgan, Dark Horizons ( 2012). “I’ve been writing romantic comedies for a female audience for about 15 years, and there’s lots of women in publishing,” she says. “Then I started writing Doctor Who and suddenly that balance completely reversed, and I’d often find myself on panels as the only girl, or very, very outnumbered. It has been such a fascinating – and wonderful, by the way – experience. So, Connie is a mathematician, which is quite a masculine world too.”
If this makes Colgan sound like a dilettante in the world of SF, nothing could be further from the truth. Resistance Is Futile is not only funny, but it’s deeply rooted in a love of the genre. This seems entirely appropriate for someone who was, by her own estimation, a nerd and a bookworm when she was growing up in small- town Scotland. “Nobody ever saw me from the nose down,” she remembers, “I just read constantly.” Colgan did, however, find time to watch the TV. Tom Baker, she says, was her Doctor, but her “formative Who memory” involved meeting Peter Davison after winning a Target Books competition at the age of 11.
“I had short hair and he thought I was a boy, and the TARDIS was made out of plywood, but it was still the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me,” she says. “I was completely amazed that Turlough [ Mark Strickson] was so nice to me, as I was young enough to think that if you played a baddie you were a bad person. And I was so overwhelmed to meet Nyssa [ Sarah Sutton] that I burst into tears. I thought – and still do think, pretty much – that she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen in my life.”
Needless to say, it was a huge thrill to be asked to write a Who novel, but what was it like to do? “I’m still writing Who stuff, and I still adore it,” Colgan says. “It’s just a thrill and it never goes away. You get a TARDIS! And if I get a funny line in there that really works with the character, I’m furiously proud. The other great thing in writing for the Doctor in other media is you can go nuts with the budget. I aim never to write anything that could be filmed for less than $ 150 million.”
Even Who editorial discussions are great. “You can just talk about Doctor Who for hours and call it a meeting,” she adds. “That is very, very high on the list of stuff I like to do.”
But to return to the younger Colgan, she recovered herself sufficiently to make it back to school and onwards to Edinburgh University, a prelude to moving down south. “You could live in London then without having to be a billionaire,” she says. “I did absolutely everything. Sketches; cartooning; and I was the world’s worst stand- up comedian – and when you recall that Lembit Öpik once tried to become a stand- up comedian, you’ll get an inkling as to just how bad I was.”
If Colgan was rubbish at telling jokes to a live audience, she turned out to be much better at telling funny stories in print. (“It’s easier in print because you can think about it and use the delete button…”) In 2000, her first novel, Amanda’s Wedding, involving a social climber, a Scottish laird and attempts to prevent said wedding, was published. Subsequently, she’s written at least one book a year, most of which have appeared on the bestsellers’ lists.
Somewhere along the way, she set up a home in France, where she lives with her husband, who’s a marine engineer, and three children. “Like all working mothers, I am quite ruthlessly efficient,” she says. “And like all working mothers, I have help. So I take the children to school, get some exercise, then hide in a bakery and type furiously whilst a nice lady does the hoovering. I actually have it loads easier than most people because I choose my own hours and don’t have to commute so actually it’s not as hectic as people think at all. I am, fundamentally and undeniably, incredibly lucky.”
But for all that she also has a home in London, is it ever a battle to reconnect with her British roots for the sake of her writing? “No, I’m culturally still British,” she says. “Things like Twitter are very good for keeping you connected. My kids, though, are total froggie frogs. They even walk funny, with their fancy scarves and rubbish pop music and salad- ordering.”
Resistance Is Futile is published on Thursday 28 May.
“Seriously, as far as I’m concerned, Terminator is about a great love affair”