A Review: The Forgotten Son

As many of my readers may know, I’m one writer in the multi-authored Lethbridge-Stewart series, aka The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame. So I thought to look back at the book that launched the series by the author and editor, Andy Frankham-Allen.

My most lasting memory of The Brigadier is an episode of Doctor Who (I could not tell you which) starring Jon Pertwee. I have a clear image in my head of the Doctor driving away in Bessie with Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart looking on. Whether time has altered that visual I don’t know, but that is my clearest memory of first seeing Nicholas Courtney play a character as well-beloved by Who fans as any of the companions.

I’m a Doctor Who fan, but I cannot call myself an aficionado. An abiding love is not the same as repeatedly watching and researching the series to be as knowledgeable as Andy Frankham-Allen. His love of the show shines through not only in this story but in that Lethbridge-Stewart now appears as the lead in a new series of books. I didn’t even know that the first appearance of Lethbridge-Stewart takes place in a 1968 episode The Web of Fear before reading the first book, nor do I remember the Yeti who terrorised London at the control of the Great Intelligence.

The Forgotten Son is a sequel of that story where the Great Intelligence, having escaped, leads Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart away from restoring order in London to his birthplace of Bledoe in Cornwall where he has to face not only a resurgence of the threat but some peculiar truths pertaining to his past. In this way, we learn a great deal more of the character, and in that, the story becomes more than a mere continuance.

As I’m not a diehard fan, I reserved my expectations. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the story at all, but the writing is warm and opulent, making even the more complex elements easy to read and understand. Although I’d say it’s an action driven book, it still reveals much about the characters. I found the work a little choppy in places, but to explain I need to add that some scenes run short, unlike in most novels; however, I’ve encountered this with some tie-in/spin-off series from television before. These books often seem written as complements to the episodes, and the change of scenes happens the way they might in a show. Once I grew used to this, I no longer found it a problem. A pleasure was seeing the story set in Cornwall, an area I know well.

The story is the first and perhaps the hardest to produce. It’s the springboard from which other stories will come and sets the tone, provides a background even those who watch Doctor Who will be unfamiliar with. I’m just sorry Nicholas Courtney didn’t live to see these books come to the market. I can think of nothing better than had he a chance to read even a snippet of this aloud to an audience.

I began the book with a fondness for Lethbridge-Stewart created from nostalgia and memories, but with no desire to get to know this character at all. I finished it, wondering where the novels will take him and what more they might reveal about Lethbridge-Stewart’s job and beyond—the man (both fictitious and real) who will always be to me ‘The Brigadier’.

I cannot end without praising all those who aided in getting this series launched at all. Whether the books meet with commendation or censure, the character deserves his own series and has been too long overlooked.

Looking Back Ten Years

I think we all have to agree this has been a terrible year, and we’re not even at the end. Looking through some old posts in my draft list, I spotted this and thought looking back might prove to be a strange blessing and appropriate. We too often overlook the best reasons to be grateful:

Throughout 2009 I kept writing 2008. Maybe I was trying to claw back a year of my life, but I don’t think that’s the reason. I think so much has happened to me in the last couple of years I had lost track of time. When you’re young the older generations tell you time speeds up the older you get. You turn away in disinterest for only time can teach you how right they are. Yep, time has sped up in recent years and only partly because I’ve been so busy. [I didn’t realise how much was about to happen in the years ahead, including having to move twice, eventually ending up in the countryside, only then to have the move spoiled by health problems.]

Well, I spent the Christmas holidays and New Year slowing down as much as possible. I read but didn’t write (although I dreamed up a couple more story ideas and scribbled them down). I ate, but not too much. I drank, not too much. I put my feet up. I visited family. I slipped and slid in snow that melted the very next day. I came home. I visited neighbours. I jumped around like a loony playing on a Wii console, amazed it aged me younger than my years. I relaxed as much as I could on my birthday and welcomed the new year in with ambiguous feelings, probably because I really couldn’t get my head around that number of 2010. Yesterday (Sunday) I took the decorations down and wondered how it was possible I was doing so because it felt as if I’d just put them up. The poinsettia — a gift — is the only evidence of Christmas left. [Now I’m struggling to get my head around the year 2020. Such fond memories, especially in a year of a pandemic which has robbed us of seeing family and friends.]

Many of us in the UK also said goodbye to David Tennant as Doctor Who and try as I might, I’m not entirely sure I can give the new Doctor a chance. He’s too young for me, which must prove my age. LOL. Jon Pertwee and to some extent Tom Baker were my doctors — and for those who understand the programme, each generation has their ‘own’ doctor. David Tennant gave the show a new lease of life that I doubt anyone else can, mostly usurping the doctors of my childhood. The last episode gave him a parting line eloquent for the actor and us as an audience. David loved playing the doctor and didn’t want to leave, although it was his decision to do so. But sometimes we have to leave good things behind to move forward to better ones. Likewise, most of the audience didn’t want him to go, but gone he has, and the thing to do is appreciate the good things while they are there. Tennant is one of my favourite people on TV, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he does next. I’ve also got three hours of him in Hamlet to watch. [Note: Matt Smith eventually grew on me, and I went on to write an audio short story featuring the 11th Doctor.]

So, new year and that often means changes. I rarely make new year’s resolutions but this time I have. I have in mind what I want to do writing wise, holiday-wise…and the lovely experience of spending some quiet time with the one person most important to me in this world has made me determined to make more ‘home’ time, including time to get out for some walks, do some exercise, and sit down for a good home-cooked meal now and then. I do cook, almost every day, but I want to dig into my recipe books so every other Sunday it would be nice if it was a morning of freshly brewed coffee, some home-baked bread, or a nice dinner over a bottle of wine. We’ve been so busy in recent years, writing, working, moving, decorating, dealing with the unfortunate incidents life throws at you and some wonderful ones, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to do those things; the simple things. This is the year I want to remember. [Note: Life and health issues now mean I can’t touch the wine and have to be careful to avoid certain foods. I didn’t know when I had things so good.]

What’s in a Name?

One question I never thought I’d need to address was whether to write under a pseudonym. Pen-names weren’t for me. My dream was to be a writer. Why wouldn’t I want to ‘own’ that?

I came to a stuttering halt when my first novel turned out to be erotic romance (heavier on the romance/adventure aspect). Why? I had an idea which nagged me and a market to submit to, delighted to take it. I dithered over what name to use with a few friends coming up with some (truly) ridiculous offerings. I had to explain the publisher I was with would never allow such jokes to stand, and neither did I wish to use one.

Then a writer/friend advised I should never write something I wasn’t willing to put my name to; speaking from experience, if I were to put out work without owning it, I might come to regret it. My thoughts were similar: “What if this is the only novel I ever publish?” I had nothing to hide, though I have to admit I never gave a day job a thought. Never occurred to me an employer might object to something one of their employees wrote, though I’ve since come to realise that for many writers, their day jobs are foremost on their minds when publishing.

This still seems unfair to me. Especially with certain genres, of which romance and/or erotica appear to get the brunt of dislike. I believe a writer should have the right to depict an accurate reflection of the world. Sex? For goodness’ sakes, be an adult. No one seems to object when the teenage couple slink off into the woods to have their kissing interrupted by an axe-wielding maniac, or cannibalistic family living in the wilderness. But depict consenting adults doing what makes the world go round, and too many will advert their gazes. If you don’t like something, don’t read it. Simple as.

Still, I now realise many writers choose pen-names for protection. They don’t want their writing to affect them in their workplaces, or halt their non-writing careers. They don’t want to encounter abuse from friends, family, colleagues, or neighbours. They don’t want a super fan right from the pages of Stephen King’s Misery to track down where they live.

So, it’s a serious question worth considering before you’re ever published, although these days one can never guarantee keeping an identity secret. Still, I wish I had given it more consideration for another reason: although never my intention, I’ve slipped into the precarious category of multi-genre author, not an enviable position to be in.

I’ve often said I write as I read, meaning anything and everything. When you’ve varied tastes and the muse strikes, it’s hard not to follow where the ideas lead. Yet it’s not the wisest choice. Writing can be as much about branding as the work itself, but success in one genre does not guarantee success in all. Readers, even devoted ones, will not necessarily follow you everywhere, especially if you’re a lower-end or mid-range author (perfectly acceptable levels in which to have excellent publishing careers) rather than that of the household name variety. Writing in two (or more) genres often means twice (or more) the amount of work. Hence, unenviable. You may also want to avoid confusion. Readers come to expect a certain something from a brand (name).

An ‘easy’ way to separate genres is to choose different names, regardless of whether you keep them unrelated and/or secret. In retrospect, I wish I had made a better selection for all my romantic endeavours, but it’s far too late now. Changing at this stage might confuse those who love my work. When I came to write steampunk, and then Doctor Who related fiction, I simply dropped the middle name — originally added because I thought it sounded better. But, though these works have dark elements (as so, too, do some of my romances), they’re not as dark as several short stories, or the horror novel I’m working on. How do I brand this fiction?

For a long time I toyed with writing under the name Sharon Kernow (much of my original interest in myths and legends arose from holidays in Cornwall/Kernow, but I grew to love Devon and other counties as well), and even attempted this with some short works, but now I’m not so sure. Though I don’t consider my name to have a particular ‘author-like’ sound, I don’t wish to feel detached from my writing. So, I switched to using initials, as there’s still some belief that, as men have and still use pseudonyms to write romance, women still struggle to achieve recognition in horror. But I’ve seen a few women who are breaking these barriers, and I’d feel proud to be one of them and part of women in horror month.

For now, I remain torn. Do I discard the middle name, use initials, or change my name entirely? Some days I feel like calling myself Sharon Savage, but that’s more to do with my mood than reflective of anything I’m writing.

What do you think? Anyone who has thoughts on the subject or a similar experience is welcome to comment.