INTERVIEW – Jake Black, Niki Haringsma and “The Book of the Peace”

The worlds of Doctor Who have plenty of facets, but, of those, few are as obscure and enthralling as the mythic dominion of Faction Paradox, two words which elicit an equal amount of “ooooh yes” and “what the actual fuck” among the fandom. But, in its secret rooms and obscure boudoirs, the brainchild of Lawrence Miles is still growing strong at the hands of Obverse books and its team of elite canon-welders – their newest anthology, The Book of the Peace, which came out today!

And two of the writers published in it are here to talk about it! I didn’t blackmail them with pictures of my newborn kitten, I swear.

[Pre-scriptum: you can order the book at https://obversebooks.co.uk/product/faction-paradox-the-book-of-the-peace/ ]

Jake, Niki, it’s a delight to have you here – could you rapidly introduce yourselves and tell us how you’ve come to Who, and subsequently the Faction?

NIKI: Hi Sam! Thanks for having us here. Cute kitty, by the way. I’m Niki Haringsma and I’m a Dutch writer, artist and editor. I fell in love with Doctor Who in 2012 and dived headfirst into the Faction Paradox side of the fandom soon after. My first proper encounter with them was in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel “Alien Bodies“. Obverse Books is the current home of the Faction, and I’m incredibly proud to have contributed to this range. I was actually on Whovian vacation in Cardiff when I got invited to pitch!

JAKE: Hello! Really happy to be here and included! I technically had two “comings to Doctor Who.” The first was in 2005ish when “Rose” finally premiered in the US. My brother and father kept up with the show with me (though for a while, my brother and I mostly watched for the Daleks). I loved it, but admittedly more in a “this is so weird, weird and mine” kind of way. Then, beginning of high school, I watched “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “The Five Doctors“. Been rather stuck ever since!

I discovered the Faction through the Eighth Doctor books and essentially fell into the chasm when finally coughing up the dough for a copy of “The Book of the War. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

 

First question – I’m making a wild leap here and assuming a large part of this blog’s relatively small audience is not the most familiar with Faction Paradox, its lore, and, well, basically, what it is, concretely. So, in your own words – what’s Faction Paradox, and, more importantly, why should your average Who fan stop what they’re doing and go read it/listen to it right away?

NIKI: Faction Paradox is a time-travelling death cult that sets out to break everything you think you know about Doctor Who. On the one hand, the range plays beautiful games with Who — it pokes and prods at all those things the mother franchise avoids, and gleefully so. On the other hand, the Faction is very much its own thing, and can be enjoyed whether or not you know what Doctor Who is about. These are stories about paradox anxiety, subversive horror, questions of identity, massive space opera, and big old metatextual puzzles. They waltz over the boundaries of narrative convention. But, you know, they’re also just really cool sci-fi tales full of delicious gore. If you’re into that kind of thing.

JAKE: Faction Paradox essentially stole Doctor Who from the Doctor in “Interference, using their own mythology and rules laid down in books like “Alien Bodies” and “The Taking of Planet 5 to wreak absolute hell on the familiar and comfortable universe we tune into every weekend. You can’t find some of the incredible writing and innovation anywhere else in the franchise. You simply cannot.

 

Jake – it’s the second time you’ve been in one of these collections, after featuring in the excellent “Book of the Enemy” last year (his story had Dracula being an evil meme, people, it’s amazing, go read it): what would you say was the difference in the writing process, as far the two books are concerned? Did you approach anything differently, how would you articulate the thematic differences between the two? And Niki – it’s your first Faction Paradox story, so do you feel about the experience – what kind of ground did you want to cover with it?

NIKI: I just want to say that with everything we’re writing for the Faction, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. The writers who came before us created this world where nothing is impossible, yet where the lore is so deeply intricate that every story adds meaning to all other ones. So becoming part of that has been the most amazing experience and I’m incredibly grateful to have been invited.

My story is very much “core” Faction, in that it deals directly with a small group of the cult’s members, like we saw all the way back in “Alien Bodies“. I chose to expand on a number of established themes, especially from Andrew Hickey’s novel “Head of State” and from Simon Bucher-Jones’ “Book of the War” entries. Both Andrew and Simon have been very kind and encouraging. But those existing pieces of the lore inform the choices my characters make, rather than being at the forefront of the story. I wanted my writing to become a puzzle piece in this sprawling world. An entry point into the range for new readers, as well as an exciting addition to it for long-time fans.

JAKE: What Niki said. I fear I wasn’t bold enough with my work in “Book of the Enemy“. I was shy, overwhelmed, excited. Simon Bucher-Jones took an incredible and gracious chance with me, and I’m forever grateful, but due to time and my own fears, I didn’t let myself be bold with the mythology. I think I fixed that with this one, sort of tackling narrative elements in the series that I felt needed to be seen again or addressed at all.

 

Pardon the cliché question – but what were your influences for writing these stories? And: do you think one of the strengths of the Faction is the sort of weird syncretic combinations it allows for?

NIKI: Bertolt Brecht, Joanna Newsom, Suzanne Vega, the anime series Shoujo Kakumei Utena, the games Fallen London and Undertale, Luigi Serafini, J.L. Borges. You’ll notice that very few of those things are prose in the traditional sense… I believe Faction writing is by definition multimedial, and should include different perspectives in everything it does. That’s what makes it so beautiful, that mixing of unexpected genres and styles.

Also, not to get too mushy, but Jake has been responsible for completely reshaping the way I look at Doctor Who and all its branching universes. I don’t think I could have written my story the way I did if I hadn’t met him.

JAKE: Inside Doctor Who and the Faction, I’ve been inspired by Lawrence Miles himself, Lance Parkin, Kate Orman, Lloyd Rose, Mags L Halliday, Daniel O’Mahony, Philip Purser-Hallard, and Ian Potter. Outside that sphere, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Sir Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Neil Gaiman probably have the greatest influence on anything I write. They’ve all shaped my writing style in different and equally important ways.

And yes, I absolutely say that’s one of the Faction’s strengths. It’s really quite beautiful to watch and read.

(Also Niki needs to HUSH!)

 

Last cliché question, I swear – what’s the one thing you’re the proudest about your work with the Faction, and with these stories in particular?

NIKI: I just feel proud and honoured to have contributed to my favourite little corner of Who lore at all. I was able to give shape to a cast of characters whom I came to dearly love, and I hope that their identities, their struggles, will ring true for readers as well. That said, I snuck in a few very out-there references to non-Faction things which I’m still giggling about…

JAKE: I did a bit of canon welding with the (Mostly and Fairly Reviled) “Ancestor Cell” to work it more quietly into prime Faction lore. No shame.

 

The Faction Paradox collections are very unique is that they often contain an overarching narrative woven through the different contributions of the various writers – obviously, no spoilers, but can you tell us a bit about what the book is, in the general sense, about?

NIKI: Well, there’s a clue in the title! But seriously, I feel that it’s a book about being observed. About the fear of being scrutinised. And about the horror of looking at something that you’re meant to understand, and realising you don’t even know where to begin. That’s my theory about all Faction lore, actually — that everything in these stories is alive, everything is staring at everything else, and as a result the characters and the readers are constantly forced into a scopophobic unease that extends far beyond the immediate plot.

In “The Book of the Peace“, there’s also a strong focus on camaraderie and romance, on the bonds of family, on clinging to people who were once important in our lives. Whether that’s always such a good idea for these poor characters, well…

JAKE: Oh, the themes of camaraderie and romance are definitely extremely prevalent in the book. There’s a lot of hope in the anthology as well, as well as questions of identity and independence. The Spiral Politic has been given a message of Peace, an end of the War, and now you have all these characters trying to figure out where they stand without this quantum conflict. Who are they? What are they hoping for? Do they stand alone or do they have someone’s hand to hold?

 

Obviously, his title is a reversal of “The Book of the War”, the famous guidebook to the Faction’s universe – is that relevant?

NIKI: The two books are thematically and stylistically very different from each other (and from “The Book of the Enemy“, as well!) but there are running threads that bind them all together. One of my main characters — a young human woman named Amara — is even in “The Book of the War“, if you know where to look. Basically my favourite thing about reading Faction stories is to leaf through “The Book of the War” again afterwards, finding new links, new ways to connect the puzzle pieces together. But like I said, “The Book of the Peace” is also definitely a standalone work which can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their background knowledge!

JAKE: Yeah, they’re as connected to each other as I think every Faction Paradox story or collection is connected to “The Book of the War“. But “The Book of the War” is more of a puzzle box disguised as a roleplay gaming manual, while “Book of the Peace” is far more of a more welcoming, straightforward short story anthology.

 

The Faction stories often, through the prism of free-interpretative canon-welding poetry, offer the reader a sort of view of our reality and pop culture, as through a cracked mirror – is there any points you wanted to make, or think the book as a whole is trying to cover? And, more generally, do you think the Faction lore should be applied to contemporary topics and controversies?

NIKI: If you ask me, Faction lore is a perfect space to explore political issues in. Andrew Hickey’s novel “Head of State“, for example, explored American presidential elections and queer European online youth culture in the face of harmful right-wing ideologies. Many other stories have been about self-determination in equally political settings, and expose the constructedness of the social identities we base our lives on.

Specifically in “The Book of the Peace“, I wanted to showcase a cabal of Faction members who all want to honour their own identities. To forge their own paths in life. And that’s a lofty goal but all of them, one after the other, end up going about it in unhealthy ways. It’s a book about agency, but also about making the wrong choices, about becoming fixated on the opinions of others. And there’s pieces myself in my story, certainly, echoes of pigheaded decision I made in the past. I guess there’s a lot of social commentary to be found in there for people willing to look. I’d say the specific point I’ve made is to explore what happens when characters try to self-actualise in overly solipsistic ways.

JAKE: I admit I had very little in the way of a political or social agenda and mostly wanted to write a really gay Faction story. So my story doesn’t address current things very much.

But believe me when I say that Faction Paradox should. It’s based on an anti-establishment concept… what better place to tell a criticizing story?

 

A follow-up question on that last one – obviously Doctor Who, the flagship show, is taking a very strong swerve this year, with its politics and casting. Do you think that has affected the Faction’s little (… well, little …) universe? Should Doctor Who and the Faction have a strong empathic bond, or should the Faction aim to be its own independent entity?

NIKI: The Faction can draw on everything Doctor Who does, and vice versa. Certainly Faction writing should aim to be at least as compassionate and inclusive as Who currently is. (But then, so should every story out there.) It can be a constant dialogue. I feel that although TV Who and Faction stories might intersect, it’s also important to keep the two ranges sort of in competition with each other, because at its core Faction Paradox is about challenging and shattering audience expectations. Let them both roam free, and let them both teach us new things with every story!

JAKE: … I have nothing to add to that, Niki’s answer is pretty much perfection.

NIKI: No, Jake, Perfection was in “The Next Life” (Ba-dum ching!)

JAKE: It costs no money to not be like that.

 

Niki, you’ve talked a lot on social media about the importance of queerness and queer representation within your Faction Paradox writing – do both of you think there is something of a tie between these non-conforming aesthetics and the Faction as an intellectual property and storytelling concept?

NIKI: This book is so fucking queer. Seriously, it’ll be the gayest thing you’ll read in ages. Anyway, yes, Faction Paradox aesthetics are all about creating your own identity and breaking free of other people’s expectations. That includes expectations the Faction itself may hold towards its members — the cult has its own peer pressure as much as any other social group, and escaping the Faction can be just as liberating for characters as joining it. Previous stories (in particular those by Philip Purser-Hallard) have explored the radically queer side of characters’ journeys in really beautiful, inventive ways. So being yourself regardless of what society thinks, that’s a huge part of the Faction lore vibe. I actually went through gender confirmation surgery myself halfway through the editing stage!

For people who have trouble feeling at home in society, in the lack of representation in mainstream media, in normative storytelling, these books offer a sense of liminality which encourages everyone to forge their own paths. Not just on the level of being queer, polyamorous etc. (strong themes in this book) but also when it comes to people’s ethnicities, neurotypes, traumas, any sort of individual experience. I mention neurotypes here specifically because as someone who’s autistic, I’ve found the Faction Paradox mythos and its endless intricacies one of the most welcoming corners of Who lore to develop a special interest in. And for many of us Faction writers on the autism spectrum (which Lawrence Miles has said he belongs to as well) this world-crafting space carries a lot of meaning especially for that reason.

JAKE: I wanted to write the funny image of two awkward boyfriends trying to kiss with their skull masks on, and I did it, and now canon is stronger for it.

 

The Faction is over twenty years old (relative human time, of course, it has always existed and will always exist otherwise) – that’s … quite a considerable achievement. If you had to choose one thing from its vast, sprawling history – a concept, a character, a story, that you think just embodies what it’s about, and/or makes you really happy – what would it be?

NIKI: The story of Academician Devonire still cracks me up after all this time. I won’t spoil it, but it’s about this Homeworld agent who thinks he’s found Grandfather Paradox’s missing arm and, well… things go downhill for him from there. It’s Night Vale level hilarious.

Also, the way the BBV / Magic Bullet Faction Paradox audios turn out to map onto the “Mujun: The Ghost Kingdom” section in “The Book of the War“. It’s such incredibly detailed plotting, and I still can’t believe how well it’s constructed. Plus, the publication order of “Dead Romance” and “Interference” and Fitz Kreiner and the Man in Black and how Miles got away with that. I know you said “one thing” but I’m dreadful at choosing just one, I love it all!

JAKE: Oh god, um. I really really love the massive recontextualization and simplifying of Gallifrey history. I’m a complete lore slut, and Faction Paradox’s reinvention of the sprawling (contradictory) mess of televised and published Gallifrey just hits every single right spot for me. Completely retooling Morbius into something actually impressive and scary (the Imperator), linking the Mast- I mean War King, excuse me, and Grandfather Paradox together, redefining the Virgin New Adventures lore of the Houses and looms into these chilling, inhuman, unearthly menageries of eldritch things. Working in Shada and Dronid’s background lore, etc. All of it just makes me really happy.

I’m also at my happiest rereading the Doctor-shaped holes in “The Book of the War“, of which there are many, and imagining Paul McGann’s Doctor in them (the Rivera Manuscript renegade is Paul McGann, the renegade who destroyed the babels at the Lethean Campaign is Paul McGann, etc), but that’s neither here nor there.

NIKI: I too highly enjoy imagining Paul McGann’s Doctor-shaped holes.

 

Following up on that – where do you think the Faction is going to head next? It’s an ever-evolving storytelling vessel (and evolution is, incidentally, one of its major themes and preoccupations): what is going to be the next step? What is your vision for its future?

NIKI: There’s something inside one of the Homeworld’s suns…

JAKE: And maybe the enemy has a very different definition of “victory.”

 

Final question, back on a more micro scale: if you were to describe your story in three words, what would they be?

JAKE: Daring, loving, fanwank.

NIKI: Dreamy, cosy, doomed.

 

Thank you very much for your time! The Book of the Peace is available to buy on the Obverse Books site – where you can also preorder Niki’s upcoming Black Archive (a book-length essay) on “Love & Monsters”, the controversial but also kind of genius Russell T Davies episode. Both of you are also featured in the Unbound charity anthology (alongside DoWntime columnist Janine Rivers, by the by). A last word for the readers?

NIKI: If you want to get into Faction Paradox stories, “The Book of the Peace” is a fantastic place to start — but don’t be scared to try other entry points as well! Whether it’s the Obverse, Random Static and Mad Norwegian Press books, the Eighth Doctor Adventures, the audios, comics or charity short stories, there’s something in there for everyone. Let yourself be overwhelmed!

JAKE: And if you do want a bit of that overwhelming, start with “Alien Bodies“, “Dead Romance“, and “Interference” (and maybe follow up with “Unnatural History” and “The Taking of Planet 5“!) From there, you’re ready for The Book of the War. I really can’t express how much of a scope-altering treat that reading path is.

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