When I spoke with Jamie Anderson earlier, we spent some time discussing our favourite moments from his father’s shows…
One of your favourite bits of Anderson is one of mine too: the Fireflash landing. When you watch that, you just think that this is something being taken very seriously, because it would be unbelievably difficult to coordinate all of those four platforms at the same time. Because it’s done in detail, and because they let you see all the engineering issues, you don’t need to know anything about physics or engineering to just appreciate that everything’s got to be matching speeds, and friction is going to throw this off. When you watch that now, you think that frankly they wouldn’t make a show like that today: they wouldn’t have that kind of verisimilitude, that kind of loving detail.
When I watched that scene, I thought that this was one of the things that was going to have to be different in a book. If you were to sit endlessly describing all those procedures that have to happen in a book, it’s not as interesting. A book’s got to be much more about the characters and what it means to them. You can’t have that much technical detail.
When I first had meetings with Jamie, I said, “You realise we can’t have that sort of detail,” and he said, “No, no, of course not.” It’s got to be much more about the characters, what their expertise has trained them for and the failures they might be facing, as much what they’re not able to do as what they’re able to do. That’s why we wanted a young character to lead us into the first adventure.
How did you get involved with Gemini Force One?
My literary agent, Robert Kirby, was Gerry’s friend. We were working together on a project, and he knew I was writing American YA books for HarperCollins. I don’t think he’d even thought of me for this but I said to him, “By the way, I need to tell you that before I signed with you, I contracted to do a Blake’s 7 novella for Big Finish. [Cold Revolution, in Anthology, out this November].” He called me back, and said, “So you’d be willing to write other people’s ideas?” I said, “If it’s the right idea, yes.” He said, “Do you like Thunderbirds?” “God, of course I like Thunderbirds, it’s amazing.” He said, “Gerry’s got this half-finished book project that really needs a lot of work because he’s been ill while he’s been writing it. Would you be interested?” Gerry was still alive at this point.
I said, “Of course, I’d love to.” Christmas was coming, and he said, “We’d set up a meeting in January, but I have to warn you that Gerry’s really ill. He’s not going to be able to have any productive conversations about the plot. But we’ve got quite a lot of notes, we’ve got audio recordings, bits and pieces of the novels, pieces of chapters.”
I asked if he had designed the craft because I’m rubbish at that! One of the things I found difficult in The Joshua Files is the advanced craft. I don’t like describing airplanes and stuff – I prefer to see it, then I can describe it. Robert said, “Gerry had some ideas for the craft he wanted, but, no, we don’t have any designs. You’d have to do that.” But then we hit on a very easy way to do that: I work on the idea of a craft that does this or that and then find a modern design on the internet which will give me ideas. We were able to quite quickly get a visual for what these things would look like. That made it so much easier to write it.
Robert told me that Gerry did have this idea for what the base would look like: it would be this semi-submersible platform that would rise out of the sea, and beams would be guiding the aircraft in. “Okay,” I said, “that is amazing, and we are definitely keeping that.” He also said, “Gerry wanted the base to be on a Caribbean island, but we don’t think that’s right because it’s too much like Thunderbirds.” I thought about that for a bit then said, “No we’re keeping that as well. Just because Thunderbirds has an island, doesn’t mean we can’t – he’ll just live on a big Caribbean island.” So Jason, the owner of Gemini Force, lives on a populated Caribbean island, not a little Tracy Island type thing, and then they take a helicopter or a submarine to the base, which is fifty kilometres off shore.
Jason is American, because I wanted as many nods as are possible to Anderson work. In some of the opening chapters that I rewrote, I had some dialogue that was more Andersonian, and Jamie asked if we could not have Jason using the word “swell” and not calling the boy “son” because that was old-fashioned American – but Jason is a sixty year old American. That’s how they talk. I know them, these gentlemanly upper class Americans, and they have that nice genteel way of talking. Obviously the young Ben won’t talk like that: he’ll talk like a young British public schoolboy, which is what he is.
I was really happy for everything that Gerry had left to be put in – maybe not all the prose, because he’s not an experienced novel writer as I am – but anything I could use I’m using. The book is Gerry Anderson’s Gemini Force One, and the credit will be MG Harris; I will write the first one, and if there are more, we may bring other writers in.
Although things are on hold during the Kickstarter, I do have to do a little bit of development on it, otherwise I wouldn’t have time! I’ve rewritten three chapters, and the whole story is written now – we have a detailed twelve page synopsis. When I write, I write to a plan, which may change in the making but only to get better really. When you’re in the thick of it, you may go, “this will be even better,” but there is a detailed plan based on Gerry’s first half of the story. I don’t have any worries that I would finish it in time if I started it at the end of this month, but it would make it a bit easier.
Jamie talks about this as a 21st century take on the Anderson series – how much has that meant altering Gerry’s ideas?
As they were for Gemini Force, not at all. Gerry saw that too: he knew a woman had to be a main character. But I had to make a few changes. The woman is an Austrian countess who had been, as a young person, an Alpine rescuer. She’s scaling a hotel at the beginning of the story, and Gerry had her doing it in a Dolce & Gabbana leather jump suit. I’m sure that would be televisual and fantastic, but as a woman, I read that and thought, “She’s in Abu Dhabi, she’s not wearing a Dolce & Gabbana leather jump suit – she’d be boiling.” So I changed that to floaty linen trouser suit, which of course means she has to take that off before going up the side of the hotel and change into the Alpine climbing gear she happens to have because she’s been to the Himalayas. Those of the kind of details that changed: I wanted to keep everything I could from Gerry without making the reader stop. In a novel you’d know that’s not right.
There are women pilots and others playing key, active roles, which is a modern thing, but it’s more about the feel and the tone. The two main threats of the modern world are terrorism and environmental problems. When we have disasters they’re either manmade because of terrorism, or corruption or bad management, which were in Thunderbirds, or more environmental stuff – but not in a preachy way – such as tsunamis. That’s how the series will progress. If you’re building a series idea, as I learned from The Joshua Files, you want to keep things as open as possible.
To learn more about MG Harris or The Joshua Files, go to themgharris.com