After leaving Emmerdale, I wrote four books about the soap.
Mandy’s Secret Diary [2000, Andre Deutsch Ltd, ISBN 0233999353]. Mandy Dingle, as played by Lisa Riley, was one of the viewers’ favourite characters, and Riley was much in demand. Her commitments elsewhere meant she was increasingly absent from the show. In 2000, viewers learned that Mandy had been down South having an affair, but we didn’t see much of it on-screen until the end. This book was Mandy’s unseen story, drawn up in close collaboration with the Emmerdale writing team but with a great deal of freedom to fill in the gaps. It sold well – I think it might still be my bestselling novel. The book was a bit saucy, that led to a disapproving news story in the Daily Star, of all places. Buy it from Amazon (UK) (US). It was translated into Finnish (by Kaarina Suvanto), as Mandy salaisuus.
Emmerdale: Their Finest Hour [2001, Andre Deutsch Ltd, ISBN 0233999191]. There was a short, very popular, series of novels set in Coronation Street during the Second World War, and the Emmerdale researcher Karen Grimes had the idea that Emmerdale might try the same. Ironically, half the characters in Coronation Street in 2000 had been living there during the War, but only one current Emmerdale character – Seth – was. Oh, and the village wasn’t called Emmerdale back then, it was called Beckindale. Hmmmm. There was a little leeway to allow the love of Seth’s life, Betty, in there, and I was able to base the story around the Sugden clan and particularly Annie Sugden, one of the key characters of the show’s early years. I lived in Yorkshire at the time, and knew there were a lot of RAF bases there, so I gave Beckindale its own base (RAF Emmerdale!). I wrote a book that was a heady mix of romance novel – not my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it – and all the lesbianism, house fires and people scolding each other that Emmerdale fans have come to expect. I established a group of new characters, knitted it as well as I could into what was established. I was happy, my publisher was happy, the Emmerdale people said they loved it (I got a phone call from Stan Richards, who played Seth, who was delighted to be portrayed as so dashing and wrote a glowing Introduction), it got pushed hard at the end of the episodes. There was even vague talk that it might make a good spin-off video, perhaps even a prequel series like First of the Summer Wine. I was all geared up to write a sequel, and both Mandy’s Diary and the Corrie at War books pointed to it being a hit. Then … the book didn’t sell. Bah. Buy it from Amazon (UK) (US), and Doctor Who completists please note there’s a cameo appearance from the eighth Doctor.
Soapstars [2001, Boxtree, ISBN 0752261908] The behind-the-scenes book of the reality show Soapstars, where members of the public competed to play members of a new family on Emmerdale. I got the gig really suddenly when the original writer (I never knew who it was) left the project. I was brought in and spent the next month following the team around the country, frantically writing in the evening, trying to make the book a good primer to becoming an actor, to the making of a soap opera and to tell the story of the series. Oh yes – at the time I was also writing my book about Alan Moore, Emmerdale at Thirty and Trading Futures. A very odd, very rewarding month or so, at a weird time of my life, and it was very interesting and distracting to travel around and to meet so many people. Not to mention seeing just how reality shows are made. Soapstars was very contentious – Actors’ Union Equity didn’t like the idea of hiring off the street (in the event, all the finalists were experienced actors), there was some tension between the makers of Emmerdale and of Soapstars. There’s always the balance between making the reality show entertaining and making it real. The first episodes were shown before the last had been filmed, so a lot of the actors saw how the show was portraying them and weren’t happy. I stood at the sidelines of all this, with a licence to ask impertinent questions and make notes. 2001 was the height of the soap boom, the height of the reality show boom in the UK. The first Big Brother book had just sold over a million copies, and we all sort of assumed the show and the book would be smash hits and everyone involved would make it at least to the C-list. In the event, the show started modestly and didn’t catch on. Truth to say, I don’t think the TV show captured the heady atmosphere of the contest, some of the great stories of the contestants and the pressures they were under. I hope the book managed a better job. Even if it didn’t, I got to interview a Grumbleweed who was dressed as a clown on a pier in Blackpool, and that’s something. A lot of copies of the book – a lot of copies – were printed, rather fewer were sold, and it was something of a mainstay of remaindered bookshops for a few years. Buy it from Amazon UK.
30 Years of Emmerdale / The Emmerdale Story [2002, Granada, ISBN 0-233-05068X]. A big hardback book celebrating the anniversary of the soap, lavishly illustrated. I shamelessly based it on the Peter Haining Doctor Who anniversary books from the eighties. I think I managed to square the circle of skewing it towards the current show, while having a lot of detail about the olden days. It took over a year to research and write. It includes the final interview with Kevin Laffan, the creator of Emmerdale Farm (a charming man who invited me to his London club). There were hundreds of photos – I don’t think a single archive photo in the book had ever appeared in print before. Lisa Bowerman, a professional photographer as well as the actress who plays Benny Summerfield, took many, many new photos of Emmerdale village (the largest standing set in the world) and the cast. The book sold very well, scratching the low end of the Christmas bestseller list, and I’m very proud of it. The Emmerdale Story is the paperback edition.
The Official Emmerdale Annual 2011 – [Grange, October 2010, ISBN 978-1907104831]. After many years, and out of the blue, I was asked to write another Emmerdale book, the 2011 Annual. An interesting challenge in a lot of ways – for example I had to summarise, in a kid-friendly way, a story in which a woman pays for an unfaithful lesbian’s abortion because the father had killed the woman’s dog. This in the knowledge that any youngster reading the book would have seen the story on TV. Hmmm. I also got to compose crosswords and quizzes and a wordsearch.