Hidden Tiger recently sat down for a chat with Nick
Goodman, the co-author of Magnet Memories to discuss the book, his
series The Magnet Editor, its origins and, bluntly, to have him explain what it's
like to have been the creator of a forty-year-old series that is only just
being made public!
Hello, Nick! If you had to describe The Magnet Editor to someone who
had never heard of it (and lets be honest, thats 99.9% of people!), what
would you say?
Essentially, it's about a man called Cabin Relese a scientific
adventurer and agent of a top secret organisation, who possesses
alien-awarded special powers. He travels the universe on missions or
private journeys, fighting evil and righting wrongs with his own craft and
with the help of his crew of fellow travellers.
In 'behind-the-camera' terms, The Magnet Editor is a
home-grown science-fiction adventure series that I created and wrote in my
childhood and teens. It evolved from a playtime whim to a series that was
as real to myself and my friends as anything on the telly. It survived
because of the time we took to build it up, to establish the world of the
series. It's the toy in my toy box that keeps coming out. It kept me
entertained in my pre-teens and sane in my teens. And in my middle age?
Who knows where we are going with it now!
You started making up the Magnet Editor stories in 1977.
What led you to create the character of Cabin Relese and to start telling
stories about his adventures?
I needed a hero, quick. In those days, the games I played
were largely ephemeral and involved grabbing any toy within reach. Action
Man was available that morning and was duly volunteered. Cabin didn't get
a name for a few days. The whole character and all that we know about him
was added to day-by-day. It constantly evolved. It was as on the hoof as
you can imagine. What made a difference was the episodic storytelling that
I hit upon. My best friend David, who had left my street two months
earlier, and I used to competitively write mini-books and we were
experimenting with episodic games. Doctor Who did this of
course. It was an attractive idea. Cabin began life simply as a nameless
How did The Magnet Editor grow from these humble
beginnings into such a long running secret series?
An ongoing need to be a storyteller; a need to have a foot
in the action / fantasy camp. As a child I was quite a fantasist and I saw
myself as a TV producer with an ongoing TV output to maintain. The
Magnet Editor was only one such show I had boiling. From a really
thrown together start, I knew I had some things I could play with further.
After a while it had its own continuity, too, which helped. It grew and
grew. I also knew I had something worth continuing because I tried to kill
it off several times and failed! It was like getting bored of friends
when you are little. Then you miss them. The mini-fanbase in the
playground also helped. My sitcoms also went down well and they lasted for
a while. But Jo is the reason it all went on beyond 1980, for sure. His
enthusiasm and persistence with it all cannot be underestimated (and I
have done so many times). If I wrote a closure, he would pick up the
gauntlet as a challenge. I was the grumpy git who wanted to stop and move
on all the time.
How did things change when Jo came onboard and how did
the partnership work on a nuts and bolts level?
Shakily, at first. Jo has always been the most intelligent
and amusing company, but communication is not his strong point! We had a
meeting in the school holidays, where we pooled our ideas. At first, he
had carte blanche to construct seasons and write stories and then I later
returned to contribute some more of my own. We then decided between us the
running order. So that I could experience his stories, I needed to record
them. He used to narrate them from notes and I would record these on tape.
I would then type them up. Things became better documented because they
had to. It gave it much more of structure and meant for the first time
that we could clearly read the stories rather than talk about them or
enact them. It made the process a whole lot easier. At that time (early
80s) I started going back and writing up the storylines of older tales to
preserve them. In 1986, we teamed up for the first time on a joint story,
pulling respective notes together and constructing the story. We did this
three times with The Magnet Editor and twice more with Life
After... its offspring series. On a nuts and bolts level, I provided
the discipline of the partnership and he the ballsy enthusiasm. I cringe
when I think of the lectures I gave him on plot and character. We were only kids!
And what were the things that were inspiring you and, in
turn, influencing the adventures? What was the nine-year-old you into?
Doctor Who and The New Avengers were the tops in November
1977. I had been interested in Who for several years, but was just
coming up from behind the sofa and really taking it to my heart. The
New Avengers was a delight to me. Action, humour, eccentric
characters!! I liked action shows. The Six Million Dollar Man
(though the Look-In comic strips were a greater inspiration than the
show!), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond were big
influences, too. The Spy Who Loved Me had just been in the cinema. I
think You Only Live Twice had just been re-shown, too. I loved gadgetry
and robots. Star Wars, Blake's 7 and The Professionals
were just weeks away from starting and they too ticked my boxes. It was an
exciting world and I wanted to make my mark with my own version of it all.
What elements of The Magnet Editor would you say owe the
most to Doctor Who, and, looking back, what strikes you as having been
unique to your series?
The time travel element is the most obvious steal. The TACTON is a blatant
TARDIS rip-off, though it's not bigger inside than out (even though its
interior was copied from elements of other shows). The reliance on
monsters. Some plot elements were lazily cribbed from Who. Also,
it was never intended to be, but the organisation that Cabin works for, Base Security, comes to resemble UNIT;
indeed it could be seen as predicting Torchwood! There were even
plans for a centre in Cardiff!
However, I do think that we had a very human hero. Despite
super-powers and the dealing of death over and over again, he was a family
man. We see him get married and have children. On more than one occasion
we see stress levels break him. Things stop for Christmas and family.
Unlike Who, it was not afraid to change the rules with or even
polish off long established monsters and villains in the name of moving
on. There is a knowing acknowledgement of its Salisbury roots, which
becomes quite surreal. Doctor Who lessens its grip increasingly
towards the end.
The Magnet Editor spans the time in your life and Jos
where you both went from childhood through your teenage years. How well do
you think The Magnet Editor developed as you were both growing up?
It helped us both practice and learn stuff like plot development and
honing character. It kept us going during hard times. It didn't win us any
girls, mind you. But when you had hateful days at school or your heart was
breaking because of a girl, there was a universe to save. We were running
a much more thoughtful and rounded show by 1987, which led us to the next
series. The idea that it had to end in 1987 made us up the game all the
time and keep it fresh.
Your many years writing adventures for Cabin and his
friends must have stood you in good stead when you came to write scripts
for video productions and later, the stage. Perhaps you could tell us
about your work in these areas?
In the early 90s some of my friends bought video cameras. Thoughts turned
to productions we could put on. I was keen as mustard to write and produce
scripts; I had been for years. After some tentative experiments, I
co-wrote and recorded Sutton Park - Prison in the Sun with Paul
Chandler. As shambolic as it was, we went on from there and I did 18 in
the end. It kind of took over as my main creative output. It was the next
stage if you like. I was done with sci-fi and, after 17 years writing for
Cabin, I wanted to come back down to Earth. I wrote my last adventure for
Cabin - The Nazi Hunters - in September 1994. In the event of the
films, Cabin had become like Peter Pan or Puff the Magic Dragon, that
ageless childhood friend who always seemed to be saying, "Come on, just
one more adventure!" I was nearly 26!
In 1995, I was asked to write a one-act play that was
performed at Salisbury's Arts Centre as part of a competition. It was very
daring piece about a lesbian relationship. On and off, I've been asked to
write stage pieces ever since, albeit on more restrained subjects! My most
recent was a disability awareness piece for Girl Guiding.
And now, some forty years later, you are returning to
The Magnet Editor and finally introducing it to the wider world. What were
your motivations in deciding to write the Magnet Memories book?
To be honest, a brutal realisation that I had no future in writing (Hidden
Tiger disagrees - Ed). I was approaching my mid-forties,
crushed by indifference and fed up. In 2011, one project I was asked to do
was left hanging in the air and I have still yet to find out if it was
ever used. Another project fell through when I had a painful falling out
with a close friend, which left me feeling very low. I started to realise
that I wasn't anywhere near as good a writer as I'd always imagined and maybe
people were trying to tell me that all along. In short, my nerve had gone.
All I had was my past writing. Various other horrible things happened
around that time and I thought, "Life's too short". I had toyed with
trying to introduce the world to The Magnet Editor, but just did
not know how to go about doing so.
My original idea was an anecdotal book. But in 2012 or 2013
I thought, "Lets go for broke and tell the whole thing, good stuff and bad
stuff." When all is said and done, I wanted people to experience the
journey. It was something I wanted to share with people. It was a bucket
list project come early.
Something that people might not be expecting are
illustrations, which I'm pleased to say pop up regularly in Magnet
Memories. What was the thinking behind designing monsters, sets and
costumes and do you look back on them with fondness or embarrassment?
Design drawing of a
I used to sketch designs and monsters from Doctor Who
(before the video years), so it came from that. I had always tried to
visualize the creatures, even in the early days (when I even made some of
them), and with Jo on board that became more important than ever. Fondness
or embarrassment? Both! I wish I hadn't thrown so much away. I never
thought this kind of book was ever going to be made. An original Mantoea
drawing would have been fun. Jo was the better artist by far!
What do you think that newbies to The Magnet Editor will
gain from reading the book?
I hope they will enjoy it, first and foremost. I hope they will identify
with the essence of childhood games and the influences. I'm sure I was not
the only one with a series all of my own. Maybe it lasted longer than
most? People may get thinking, "What shows floated my boat?"
so, I hope
there will be some knowing smiles. I hope they will be amused, stimulated
and maybe even excited by the adventures. Most of all, I hope they have a
ball and a riotous laugh exploring this childhood world of ours through
the pages of Magnet Memories. I will be even more interested to
know what a younger generation than ours might make of it our world of play
before computer games.
And where to now? Is there more to look forward to from
Jo Bunsell and I decided not to pull the plug on Cabin and his friends
when The Magnet Editor ended in 1987 and we wrote a spin-off
series, which we called Life After... the complete guide to which
is currently being worked on. This is a different, more mature series.
Just as much adventure, but darker. Less space gadabout, more scares and
intentionally thought-provoking. It ran from 1988 to 1994. It also features stories from
prolific writer Paul Chandler.
And now that Magnet Memories is finally published, are you happy with
I'm delighted with it. It was a long job, but I think it came out really
well. Hidden Tiger have given it some essential TLC and I'm so grateful.
I've had a lot more fun with it than I thought I would.
And so did we, Nick. Thanks for your answers and we at Hidden
Tiger look forward to the Life After... book!
Hidden Tiger / Nick Goodman, 2018