Unnatural Selection by Jim Mortimore. Book review

UNNATURAL SELECTON  by Jim Mortimore, MIWK Publishing, 2014

Review by Stuart Douglas

The growth of the digital print industry over the past decade has been something of a two edged sword for both authors and readers.  On the one hand, relative cheapness and low minimum quantities means that everyone with a book in them can finally actually see it in print.  The doors have been blown off the insular and notoriously difficult to breach publishing industry and small presses of a sort which were rare twenty years ago are now almost common.  But on the other, related, hand, it does mean that a right load of old tat sees the light of day which might, more sensibly, have been better left festering In the author’s head.

But there’s also – paradoxically – a third hand to consider.  That’s when a very good, very professional small press combines with a witty and inventive author to create something which simply blows you away.  Unnatural Selection is just such a book.

Let’s be totally honest though.  Even today this is as niche as niche can be.  At its most basic level, it’s a Making Of for an audio play which came out on cd, largely by mail order, to a relatively small audience of Doctor Who fans something over a decade ago.  The phrase ‘labour of love’ has surely never been more aptly used than here.  

It’d be easy, therefore, to assume that the book stands or falls depending on what you thought of ‘Natural History of Fear’, the audio play in question.  But that do the book a great disservice.

Instead what you get (in a genuinely beautiful hardback package) is the story of how one writer nursed an idea through innumerable variations, drafts and edits, tweaking here, slicing there, removing entirely over there, until he finally found a home for it.  Covering the story’s inception as an idle thought prompted by a reading of Orwell’s 1984, through its short period as proposed prose novella, and then on to its final destination as a radio play, the author throws everything but the kitchen sink at the reader.  As well as the expected drafts, deleted scenes and interviews there are emails exchanges, author’s notes and what seems to be about a hundred pages of reviews.

Mortimore is funny and self-deprecating and generous in his praise for the other creative types involved in the play’s gestation.  Read as a guidebook to getting your work published it works just as well as the more traditional Making Of, and is all the richer for that.

Special mention should go to Robert Hammond for the excellent cover and general design, with CENSORED stamps throughout, mirroring the theme of the play.
This is not, I suspect, a book for everyone, but if you’ve an interest in Doctor Who or in writing, you could do far worse than picking up a copy.