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Shammah Banerjee on turning Doctor Who TV shows into Target book novelisations
A pleasure! So… You’re a Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House. Broadly speaking, what does that entail?
Being a commissioning editor at Penguin Random House is all about finding the voices and ideas to publish, and making it happen. It’s a really fun job – it means I regularly get to chat with authors and agents about their book ideas, come up with new ideas myself and look for opportunities in the market.
And what happens after you acquire a title?
Once a book’s been acquired, it’s about working on the manuscript with the author, the book jacket with the designer, and the campaign with the marketing and publicity teams.
What kind of titles do you look after?
I look after a real range – being part of the BBC Books team means that we publish content that is as broad as the BBC’s content. We really do hit every genre! I work on the Doctor Who publishing and other big brands like Match of the Day and BBC Weather, as well as books that are more in the history, politics and current affairs space.
Sounds fantastic! How did you come to be doing this?
I joined Penguin Random House just over a year ago on their Next Editors Programme – a scheme designed to bring people from minority ethnic backgrounds, and outside of the publishing industry, into PRH as commissioning editors. It’s been a real learning curve!
What’s your background, Shammah?
I was very lucky to come to this from a totally different industry. I was a writer and content producer for a small research and events company specialising in business and technology.
Oh! Interesting. Quite a jump. Now… One of the product lines you oversee intrigues me. You’re responsible for the Target series of licensed Doctor Who novelisations.
For those not in the know, what’s the difference between a novel and a novelisation?
A novel is an original story, whereas a novelisation takes the story from something else – be it a film or a TV episode – and puts it in book form. With our Target series for Doctor Who, we take the fan-favourite episodes from across the six decades of the show, and get the original TV scriptwriters to novelise their own stories.
Oh, wow! That’s amazing. I didn’t realise the original scriptwriters did the books.
Yes. They’re a great group of people to work with. They’re often big fans of the Target series, and have collected the books all their lives, so it’s fun to see them get to contribute to the series with their own novelisations.
Just to recap then: starting with their own scripts, the original TV-show scriptwriters turn their own episodes into prose?
Yes, correct – it also gives them the chance to dig into the characters’ feelings and thoughts in a way that we don’t necessarily see on the TV screen.
How does that work, Shammah? What’s involved?
Our editorial consultant, Steve Cole, works with the writers at each step… From kicking off the editorial process in thinking about how to novelise a script all the way to the final manuscript. It can take a few iterations, but generally – because the scriptwriters know their own stories and characters so well – it’s just about giving them the creative licence to expand what they’ve already put into their scripts.
And how does the team decide which episodes are right for adaptation?
We think about it as a team. Generally, it’s the most popular episodes from a season, or celebrating a particular Doctor. Each era of Doctor Who has it’s own distinct feel, so we try to get a good spread of those in our publishing!
Finally, then, Shammah, Doctor Who is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Any special plans?
There are lots of exciting things planned for the 60th anniversary. The BBC team has just announced the three anniversary specials featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, as well as the return of Russell T. Davies to the show.
Fans have gone loopy for that!
We’re also bringing Disney+ on as a streaming partner. We have some great publishing lined up to join in the celebrations. We’re really excited to see where this next phase of Doctor Who takes us.
Fantastic answer! Thanks Shammah.
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