The Women Who Lived: The Making of a Doctor Who Book

The Women Who Lived: Amazing tales for future Time Lords does exactly what it says on the cover: telling the stories of wonderful women from throughout Doctor Who’s history.  From companions to historical legends, this book highlights the very best.

Written by Christel Dee and Simon Guerrier, it encapsulates everything we love about the show and its incredible women through brilliant story telling. The book also features beautiful illustrations from a number of talented women who have captured our favourite Time Ladies from screen to paper.

So, just how do you create a Doctor Who book of this scale? We went behind the scenes at BBC Books to find out all about the making of The Women Who Lived...

Christel Dee – Author

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How did you come to be involved with the book?

I had the idea after Jodie Whittaker was announced as the first female to play the role. I thought it would be wonderful to have a book that celebrates the incredible women from Doctor Who’s history, both real and imagined. I discussed the idea in the pub with co-author Simon Guerrier to see if he thought it had legs (and to ask if he’d like to work on it with me). He liked it and we worked on a pitch together which we took to BBC Books. They loved it and the rest is history!

What was taking on the role of author like for you?

I actually love writing but I hadn’t done it in a professional capacity before besides articles for Doctor Who Magazine. I also like to write articles and non-fiction factual stuff (I really enjoyed writing my dissertation at uni and stuff like that). So when we decided to go down the fictional route for this, I have to say, it was a bit daunting! But the character’s stories were already there on screen so we weren’t working from nothing. The challenge was just condensing all of the events that happen in their lives to a page or two without missing anything vital!

What was your favourite part of your involvement in the book?

I really liked revisiting episodes I hadn’t seen for a while when doing the research for each story. Writing about the characters often made me think about them in a different light because we were highlighting the strengths and achievements of everyone, including villains like Cassandra and Missy. They’re actually incredibly smart and cunning but they just use their talents for the wrong things!

Simon Guerrier – Author

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How did you come to be involved with the book?

Christel very kindly asked me. I initially thought she was just asking my advice on how to pitch a book, which I was happy to do, but then she wanted me to help write it. Writing a book is a fair amount of work so I think she was heeding advice once given by Leela: if you are bleeding, look for the man with many scars.

What role did you play in the books creation?

I helped Christel research and write the pitch, and then we went for a meeting with Albert and Beth at BBC Books, together with Steve Cole who acted as our editor. Between us we agreed the final format of the book and a better sense of which women we’d cover. Women from episodes since 2005 were pretty straightforward to agree, but Steve and I haggled a bit over characters from the “classic” series. We then presented our list to Christel and the team and BBC Books. Once we had their approval, we got writing.

Christel and I divided the list between us and wrote entries on each character. We sent each other our first drafts and edited each other’s entries, and once we were both happy they went to Steve – who often came back with notes or ideas of his own.Christel and I also suggested some of the artists commissioned for the book, and wrote short briefs for the illustration of each character.

What was your favourite part of your involvement in the book?

It was all a lot of fun, really. I already knew and liked working with Christel, and I’d known Steve for years but not worked with him before, and enjoyed stealing his clever ideas. It was also great to see the artwork coming in, and all the enthusiasm from the artists – and from people responding to the book generally. But I think my favourite bit was the research – looking up the real history pertaining to Locusta from The Romans (1965) or Lady Jennifer from The War Games (1969), or figuring out the life story of Helen Clay from Twice Upon a Time (2017). I also did some of the rewrites while sat on a beach on an island resort in Vietnam, watched by a macaque. I recommend this to all writers.

Albert DePetrillo – Publishing Director – BBC Books

How did you come to be involved in the book?

Christel and Simon came to me with a proposal, and I loved it. It seemed the perfect project to celebrate Jodie’s first series. There were successful books like Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls that showed an appetite for this kind of clever publishing, and I thought it was a genuinely great idea.

What role did you play in the books creation?

I helped assemble the best people around the book to work with Christel and Simon, and then I got out of their way. I suggested the title, but that’s about it.

What was your favourite part of your involvement in the book?

Reading it from beginning to end when we had first proofs, soaking in all the great storytelling and beautiful art – it was just a joy. And Verity Lambert’s entry at the end made me a bit emotional!

Tess Henderson – Publicity Manager – BBC Books

How did you come to be involved in the book?

Christel and Simon first told me about it when they were pitching it to Albert, at the time they were promoting PAPER DOLLS. I thought it was an amazing idea and perfect timing given the world in 2018 – and this was before I knew Jodie was going to be the Thirteenth Doctor!

What was your favourite part of your involvement in the book?

Meeting some of the wonderful illustrators who were so excited to be part of the project. And also just the reaction from fans – it is wonderful to see how people respond to a book like this, especially younger people who are just discovering the show.

Sophie Cowdrey – Artist

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How did you come to be involved with the book?

I have Christel to thank for my involvement – during the time that series 10 was airing, I was making a lot of art surrounding the show that was picked up by the Doctor Who Fan Show. She must’ve known about me through that, because I had a lovely unexpected DM from her asking to contribute to the book! I got in touch with the editors at BBC Books and they seemed more than happy to have me on board.

What role did you play in the book’s creation?

I provided some illustrations to accompany the many stories in this book. Originally I was commissioned for Ashildr, Queen Nefertiti, Ohila and Donna Noble, and after completing those the editors came back with more briefs, to my delight! I also created art for The Hostess, Sarah Jane Smith and an illustration of every Doctor.

What was your favourite part of your involvement in the book?

For me, this has been a dream project and what I hoped my art might one day lead to. The entire process was fun – being given briefs for these fantastic characters, watching their episodes back to get a feel for the scenes, and then the delight of seeing my artwork printed amongst the treasure trove of talented artists featured in this book. The fan art community for Doctor Who is thriving, there are so many creators out there making all sorts of art, so it’s brilliant that BBC Books chose to showcase this.

We’re running a competition to win an exclusive bundle seen below to celebrate the release of The Women Who Lived: Amazing tales for future Time Lords. To find out how to enter, take a look at our tweet over at @thetimeladies_

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