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Life After Magnet Memories - The Return of the Secret Series 1988-1994

A year on from our first chat with author Nick Goodman about Magnet Memories (to read that interview, please see here), and to celebrate the publication of the follow-up book Life After Magnet Memories, Hidden Tiger is pleased to interrogate him once again!

When we last spoke to you in 2018, we’d just published Magnet Memories, which covered the stories you wrote for The Magnet Editor between 1977 and 1987. Now, a year later, here we are with the follow-up. Awkward first question… for those unfamiliar with The Magnet Editor, what was it and why did you bring it to a close?

NICK GOODMAN: It was a child's game I created in that difficult time between breakfast and school in 1977. Even at that age I loved the cliffhanger serial idea (not surprisingly, being a Doctor Who fan) and the thought of an ongoing adventure continuing and changing gear every few days was irresistible. After an initial period of faff, it emerged as the ongoing adventures of one Cabin Relese, science journalist working for the top secret, time-space travelling Base Security, his brother Martin and a host of friends and even creatures that accompanied them. Keen to cash in on the superhero boom of the ’70s, both brothers possessed super powers that were bestowed on them during an extraterrestrial war. This series grew and became a mainstay of my life, being eventually written out and its chores shared with my school friend Jo Bunsell. By 1983, when we settled into a shared writing pattern, I predicted (with my pretend adult head on) that it would build to a climax to mark its tenth anniversary in 1987. I'm a bit over-organised in my thinking and felt ten years was enough. Looking back, I realise what a journey it was. An entertaining odyssey where a child's game grew and out-grew its origins. As we raised the bar the stories became better.

And, considering that you had by 1988 left school and Jo was about to do the same, what was it that convinced you to carry on with characters from the Magnet Editor stories?

We didn't want to break up the writing team but it was hard-wired that ’87 was it. The final season was two years in the planning and we gave it all we had. We were proud of what we had achieved. Moreover, Jo had clearly not run his course with it. So I said, "Okay, maybe a special each year." That became two, then four! So we had a series BUT having gone to great lengths to wrap things up I was determined to make it an all new series. I wanted shot of things that were childish or tired. Cabin was a given but several characters that had been in it for years were written out. I wanted a more mature series, and we got that with Life After...

Had there been any attempt to create a completely new series and if so, what brought you back to the characters you’d be writing for before?

We tried to find another vehicle, even proposing a dreadful space comedy. The fact of the matter was we were still having too much fun with Cabin et al. Had something revolutionary come up we would have snatched it. But we had a lot of routine we enjoyed. Just a select few characters returned initially. We had some ones that took time to creep back but they were more developed. We would approach any aliens we returned a different way for example. We tried to intelligently develop them. If characters returned it always had to be for a good reason.

Design drawings for one of the Life After... adventures

Was there not a temptation to simply continue The Magnet Editor? What led you to the decision to write a new series based in the Magnet Editor universe?

Having finished work on this new book, and talked at much length with him, I now see clearly that Jo would have continued The Magnet Editor to this day had it not been for my insistence we changed. By 1987 there had been a lot of ground work to end the series. I was more than ready for a new series. I was 19 and wanted more from stories. Jo took longer to take on this 'brave new world' but when he did he was incredible. There were still concepts to explore from the old series. On my part, Life After... was, to start with, a resignation that Cabin's world had not ended as willingly as we had intended.

When you started planning Life After…, what were your aims?

A more developed series from the off, less derivative, more inventive stories with a more adult outlook. More Earth tales to ground it in reality. Less time travel (as we had jiggered Base Security's primary method of that at the end of The Magnet Editor – I wanted to make it more difficult). A more vulnerable, human Cabin, put in the command seat at his late boss' insistence. Less messy space opera. More character driven.

There seems to be a more standard structure with Life After… of a season per year. Was this forced on you by the time you had available to work on the series?

No, it was a discipline, to ensure we had time to write better stories. Again, Jo and I differed here. He had so many ideas that the constraints of only two stories a year – three at the outside – sat awkwardly with him and (as gleaned from my interviews with him) he was bursting with storylines. I was happy to slowly develop two. My social life gained momentum around 1987-88, so it suited me to do less. In the second year of Life After... I was still writing my first story of Series 2 when the following year rang in!

Initially, the team that wrote The Magnet Editor in its final years – you and Jo Bunsell – collaborated on the early years of Life After… How was your working relationship at this stage and was there a noticeable difference in approach when compared to your work on the original series?

If you look at the final season of The Magnet Editor, that was a good indication of how we were upping our game and where we were going for the new series. That we created it together made the difference. Unlike The Magnet Editor, which was like a random weed that grew into the beloved household plant, it was planned from the start and its characters set in place.

Initially, we were pulling in different directions. I wanted a new template (feature length stories) and threw too much too madly into my first stories. Jo was playing out The Magnet Editor before settling into this new environment. The way we recorded the stories was the same and we met up about the same times. Personally I think the reduced story count brought out the best in both of us.

Paul Chandler, Nick Goodman and Jo Bunsell -
always up for cheesy photo opps!

About halfway through the Life After… series, in 1991, the writing team was expanded to include Paul Chandler. How did he come to be involved?

Paul and I met at a writers' group in the summer of 1987 and again at a Doctor Who convention via a mutual friend. The shared writing interest made us quite rapidly close friends. By 1990 he was writing ongoing series of his own, and so, inevitably, The Magnet Editor/Life After... was brought into the conversation. I think he was fascinated that this thing of mine had such a history. Paul has always been drawn to prolific series. Around the time he was starting The Muddled Memoirs of Sir Roland Quaverall, so we suggested a cross over.

In your opinion, what did Paul bring to Life After…? Was he a good fit for the series?

He was vastly different from Jo and I in terms of the stories he told. His storytelling was much more focused, though his story pace was much slower than our own, and this fazed us to begin with. It was almost like another series. He brought a nice variety to it, a different flavour. A different voice. He was too much his own man to quite imitate our own style of story, but then it wouldn't have worked if he had.

What are your happiest memories of the times when you were writing Life After…?

The 1991 season. By then, after an uncertain start in ’88, it was really coming together. And with a third writer starting, there was a buzz. Jo and I did our best work that year, I think.

If you had to choose one story from each writer – you, Jo, Paul – which three would you choose as being the highlights of Life After…, and why?

The Stranger Lives Again from my own stories. I actually followed my own mandate for the show for a change! It was present day Earth, a little back history, a strange, surreal idea, which I think worked really well, a new character dynamic and a good steady pace. It felt right. Jo's Identity of Crisis was my overall favourite. It's a stunning, gritty piece of writing. The structure is genius and I was so pleased with the direction he chose to take my own character of Alistair Laner. Paul's Ice Mind was on the money as far as the series went and was a great fun whodunnit which was firmly routed in the scientific world. It was very satisfying and played to Paul's strengths.

Life After… eventually came to an end in 1994. By this time you had been writing for Cabin Relese and his friends and enemies for 17 years. Was it a wrench not to write for the series when suddenly it was over?

Not for me. I was busy on other things. It was like Peter Pan or the Puff the Magic Dragon inviting me for one more adventure. Cabin was still there and so was my annual trip to his world. Jo lived in Winchester by then and I hardly saw him. And in terms of sci-fi, I was burned out as a writer, and wanted instead to write about the real world.

What did you and the other writers move on to after commitments to Life After… were over?

Paul departed in 1993 as his commitments to his ongoing Sutton Park video series increased. He went on to write far more than I ever will. Books, poems, scripts... he is a force of nature! I was already writing video scripts that friends and I filmed up until 2008. I also wrote some stage plays. Unbeknownst to me, Jo never gave up on Life After... – he just didn't have me nagging him! He is going to unveil his post-1995 storylines one day soon. He took my supposed end to the series and saw it as a challenge... Not for the first time in our work relationship!

Now that Magnet Memories and Life After Magnet Memories are both finally out there for people to read, what do you hope people will enjoy about them?

The two books tell a story I was desperate to share and I think the first book will touch a vein with anyone who remembers fondly their own games, their own characters. I really wanted to share the laughs, the drama, and even the cribbing. Our work back then stands as a snapshot of what TV and film inspired us and hopefully the readers, too. In terms of the second book: its vision and the concepts within. I hope they find the stories exciting and be interested in how lifestyles can shape the way the whole project went. Again I want people to experience the journey.

What’s it been like revisiting The Magnet Editor and Life After… for the books for Hidden Tiger?

A joy, quite a revelation and a catharsis. These stories have been hidden for so many years. I've learned much about myself and others.

You’re now novelising a couple of Cabin’s adventures for Hidden Tiger. How strange is it to be writing for Cabin again, a quarter of a century on?

Odd, but strangely natural. I got to know him very well. I have discovered there are still quirks he has to uncover. When you look at the man you created and put him in close up in the stories, you can surprise yourself. I am also remembering this is pre-Life After... Cabin, with the weight of the world not yet so heavily on his shoulders.

And are you enjoying novelising The Secret of Myton? What have you found interesting and challenging about the process of revisiting and rewriting a story from your childhood?

I'm loving it. Fortunately it was a final season story and I was eighteen when I wrote it, so I was old enough to invest enough to the story to 'bite' on. My last attempt at a Magnet Editor novelisation was in 1982 for the benefit of an old friend. Back then all you wanted was a scrap with the 'baddy-of-the-week'. Now you want to get into the heads of everyone involved.

Secret is a story I gave a lot of thought to back in ’87, so revisiting it is like meeting old friends. What is challenging is that the snapshot world you created for these people back then requires you to enter it completely now. There is so much to bring to the table. One of the settings is 1957 Milwaukee, which is particularly fun to write for. There is a returning enemy who I first creating when I was nine. In 1987 Secret was attempt to expand on and explain its extraordinary behaviour in the original story. Thirty-two years on, this novelisation goes further still to make logical sense of its existence. All the way down the line you find yourself making good and explaining away the zany excesses of your childhood imagination!

Finally, let’s bring this back to the book we’ve just published… What are your feelings about now having your childhood, teenage and young adulthood writings out there for people to read? Are you proud of what you, Jo and Paul achieved back in the day and how does it make you feel to finally see all that hard work, enthusiasm and imagination recorded for posterity in Life After Magnet Memories?

I'm very heartened to have it all out there for people. Ten years ago they were destined to rot in a box along with my memories. I was unsure how to do this before settling on going the whole hog. I am proud of what the three of us did; it was a series I'd tune in to gladly. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to know the sum total of this creative period of my life can be shared any time by anyone. It's made it all worthwhile. Everyone likes a bit of immortality to be remembered by. This will do me nicely.

Thanks, Nick, for another fascinating and frank interview. We're really looking forward to working with you on The Secret of Myton!

© Hidden Tiger / Nick Goodman, 2019

Available at

Amazon Hardcover £29.99
Amazon Paperback £19.99

Available at

Amazon Hardcover £29.99
Amazon Paperback £19.99

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