Sci-Fi Author Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson on Writing DOCTOR WHO and Her Novel THE PRINCIPLE OF MOMENTS

You’d be hard pressed to find a nerd who doesn’t enjoy at least one sweeping space saga. Some of us are devotees to The Doctor and the TARDIS, a cosmic joyride that can take us (almost) anywhere in space and time. Others pledge their allegiance to the Rebel Alliance and its ongoing drama in a galaxy far, far away. Exploring the final frontier in warp drive is also quite the epic adventure, too. Watching these expansive worlds in live-action is fantastic but there’s something special about a sci-fi/fantasy story in print. That anticipation of flipping to the next page and watching a universe slowly unfold sparks supreme joy, especially when the narrative hits several checkpoints that separate it from typical mainstream fare. That’s what Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson’s The Principle of Moments, the first book in her Order of Legends trilogy, does with ample heart. 

The Principle of moments cover shot

This book has a little something for everyone: a Regency-era queer romance, time traveling, an evil emperor to overthrow, and an unfolding prophecy, among other things. Better yet, the characters are culturally diverse and fuel this high-octane story with their distinct personas. Here’s a quick synopsis:

A century-spanning space fantasy novel that will take you on a whirlwind adventure, from a Regency Era love affair between a time-traveller and the prince waiting for him in the past, to a rescue mission in the 60th century, where a girl desperately races against time as she searches for the sister the emperor stole.

Nerdist caught up with Sunday Times Bestselling author to chat about this epic space opera, her recent Doctor Who novelization, and how fanfiction laid the foundation for her creative journey. 

Nerdist: What was your relationship with sci-fi and fantasy like during your childhood? 

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson: I was always the biggest sci-fi and fantasy fan… I was actually born in Australia. And there was not that much fantasy and sci-fi TV. There wasn’t much TV at all. We had about five channels. So when I was growing up, I read a lot of books because Australia had a really amazing literary scene there, especially for children… My gateway into sci-fi was the book series called Animorphs by K.A. Applegate. And they’re the weirdest books ever! 

Animorphs is awesome! 

Jikiemi-Pearson: They’re amazing! And I’m so passionate about them.. those books were all about alien battles and aliens invading Earth and kids having to step up and become heroes. Something about that just engaged me from a really young age. 

The other big thing for me was Star Wars. My mum’s a huge Star Wars fan and she said when she was pregnant with me, she would watch the movies on repeat. I like to think that it somehow filtered through and turned me into a sci-fi baby. I love everything Star Wars

When I came to the UK, I was about 10 years old. I started watching Doctor Who because it was on BBC iPlayer. I remember I was struggling to make friends and stuff in the UK. On the weekends and after school, my sister and I would watch Doctor Who, and we were obsessed with it. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before. In a big way, Doctor Who really got me into sci-fi and fantasy. I was into Harry Potter as well, but then I started reading a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction. And that was, again, a huge fantasy work… Those were my big influences and the things that really got me hooked.

Those are some heavy hitters! I especially love, and already knew, that you’re a Doctor Who fan like me. What was it specifically about that show that drew you? 

Jikiemi-Pearson: I think because I came to it as a child, it really appealed to my sense of wonder. It felt very much like an adult show with adult characters that doesn’t take itself seriously… except for when it does, and then you are crying and your heart’s broken! I love [the show] strikes that balance while retaining a sense of joy without ever feeling patronizing or like it is dumbing down any of the themes.

As a kid, it felt like I’d been let into the cool club of adult stuff, whilst also nurturing the most creative parts of me. I appreciated Doctor Who’s love ethos and the positive messages that it prides itself on. 

When I was watching it, I totally latched onto Martha as a companion. I was mesmerized by her. I remember when she was introduced and her first episode, the one with the hospital…

Yes, “Smith and Jones!” I love Martha.

Jikiemi-Pearson: Yes! I wasn’t fully aware of the idea of companions at that point. It was like, “Oh, yeah. Sometimes people come along for the ride.” I didn’t realize in that episode that Martha was being set up as a companion. I thought she was just going to be in that one episode… When I got towards the end, I was like, “Oh my God, I think she’s going to travel with The Doctor!” 

I was absolutely just overjoyed. And I remember watching their seasons and being a bit in love with her, really, because she was just so clever and funny. And she wasn’t afraid to put the Doctor in his place at all! I loved that… it was obviously amazing to see a strong, intelligent, funny Black woman in this show that I just absolutely adored. So, she was probably a bit of a role model to me as well.

She brought something to the partnership, because she’s obviously a fully qualified as a doctor. So, she had that pragmatic way about her. As an eldest child, I appreciate that pragmatism and the logic

I love that and I definitely share those same sentiments. When I started watching, I liked Rose well enough but once Martha came on board, I was like, “Okayyyy…”

Jikiemi-Pearson: …I can rock with this!

Yes, I can rock with this show! So, you mentioned that you were into reading fanfiction. Was writing fanfiction a part of your path towards becoming a novelist? 

Jikiemi-Pearson: Yeah, I did write fan fiction! My first full fanfiction was The Maze Runner fan fiction, which is the most random thing. I thought The Maze Runner was so cool at the time. It was mainly marketed as being the answer to The Hunger Games but for boys, so I wanted to be super cool as a girl. I also had a crush on Dylan O’Brien, as did many people, so I wasn’t unique there. I also wrote a little bit of Harry Potter fanfiction.

It was that sense of play with writing that was kind of like, “I’m just doing this for me, it’s not for anyone else. It’s not supposed to be this mega prestigious thing. It’s just like what makes me laugh? What makes me emotional? What do I want to explore within the existing themes of a work that I’ve really enjoyed?”

And how did that experience inform your original work, like The Principles of Moments?

Jikiemi-Pearson: It gave me the courage to explore themes that I find interesting, rather than trying to appeal to a historically white audience or a historically heteronormative audience. With fan fiction, there’s no limits, there’s no rules. It’s a bit of a free for all. And that’s very much how I approached writing The Principle of Moments. I’ve never thought of it like this, but you could call The Principle of Moments fanfiction of the sci-fi fantasy genre and fan fiction of the Regency genre. It takes all of the existing tropes and settings and character archetypes that we know and love. And then I just brought myself to it. I showed up and was like, “These are the things that I would do, that I would change. These are the kind of alternate universes that I would want to explore.”

headshot of author Esmie Jikiemi Pearson
Courtesy of Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson

That’s such a wonderful way to approach a story! Besides Doctor Who, what were some other influences on The Principle of Moments‘ settings and storylines? 

Jikiemi-Pearson: It’s definitely inspired by Star Wars, too. Especially things like Finn’s character. I felt like it was a missed opportunity in many ways… he actually had a great motivation for wanting to overthrow the Empire because he’s part of this abused underclass of stormtroopers who have no other way of life. I thought that was so compelling and something that just wasn’t touched upon enough. So I was interested in digging into that. 

At university, I studied classical civilization, a lot of Greek and Roman stuff. The Iliad, The Odyssey, Greek Ancient history, basically. The story beats of mythical myths, legends, and origin stories of heroes definitely influenced my work in a big way. So much of The Principle of Moments is about understanding what makes a hero and really interrogating the Chosen One trope. Sometimes I feel like we take it too lightly. 

It’s like, “Okay. There’s a prophecy and you’re the Chosen One.” And I remember as a kid, I was always like, “But, do you not think that would be scary?” Imagine if that happened to you, if you were suddenly in charge of saving the world. And then add the layer where you’re in charge of saving the world, but the world hasn’t treated you very kindly. How do you then feel about that?

That’s a good point, especially for people from marginalized groups. Why would we want to save the world?

Jikiemi-Pearson: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that’s definitely a question that’s been persistently on my mind, just as I’ve always been watching fantasy and sci-fi that has particularly had white protagonists, because it’s kind of like, “Of course they would want to save the world.”

Very true. Let’s go back into Doctor Who for a moment. You mentioned writing for Doctor Who and I love your novelization of “The Church on Ruby Road.” It’s such a fun and full circle moment for you as a fan. How did you land that opportunity and what was the collaborative process like? 

Jikiemi-Pearson: …I don’t know how I was put onto the radar of the BBC or Doctor Who as a whole. [The Principle of Moments] was announced in March of 2021, and that was prior to Ncuti Gatwa being cast as Doctor Who publicly. But, I think that when I announced my book, he had already potentially been cast, or they were in talks to cast him. My book deal was a big announcement within the sci-fi and fantasy community, especially among Black writers. It must’ve caught someone’s eye because it’s kind of similar to what Doctor Who was planning [with a Black Doctor] behind the scenes.

cover of doctor who the church on ruby road novelization
Penguin House UK

…I think the BBC was looking for people with newer perspectives, different perspectives. I believe I am the first Black person to write a novelization, which feels absolutely insane. Not to be naive, but I felt like we were almost over the thing of “the first Black person to do something.” We’re definitely not… I was happy to lend my voice and my writing to Doctor Who, because I’ve proved it can be done. 

I found the process such a joy and so fulfilling and welcoming. Everyone was so welcoming that I was like, “This is a fantastic opportunity. I really, really hope that more women, more women of color get to experience, and more black men get to write for Doctor Who!” 

I love that. Do you have any upcoming ventures that you can share with us?

Jikiemi-Pearson: Well, first of all, I need to finish this trilogy. I’m on deadline for the second book, and it’s kind of murdering me, but I want it to be done. I owe these characters a solid run in these three books. If I can finish these books to a high standard, no matter what turns my career takes, I’ll always be so proud to have produced a very solid, entertaining sci-fi fantasy saga, starring Black and gay characters. For that to exist on shelves, that will always probably be one of my biggest accomplishments…

The other thing that I’m really excited about is my next book, which is a little bit more literary sci-fi. I want it to be like if Emily St. John Mandel really wrote a romance story. I love her work, and I find it so eerie and spooky. I love how she deals with speculative elements in that sense. So, I want to write a romance. And then, I also have a fantasy book planned, which is about a young black girl who is working as a scullery maid in this very big English mansion in a magical society.

She basically gets an invitation letter to join the upcoming class at a prestigious witch university. I want to do a deep dive into what it’s like to be Black at a predominantly white institution, what it’s like to be navigating class, and almost like the different language that you have to then switch into when you’re in such an alien environment. And doing all of that with magic… Hopefully in a year you’ll be hearing me saying, “I’ve got a book deal. It’s going to be on a bookshelf.” 

That’s so exciting! I have a fun final question for you. If you could fancast your top three characters from The Principles of Moments, who would you choose to play the live-action versions of them?

Jikiemi-Pearson: I was thinking about this last night! These are the ones that have the clearest ideas of. So, Nicholas Galitzine would play the love interest, the British prince who’s very angsty and depressed and who goes on a mission with his boyfriend Obi’s dad. I’ve always fan-casted Obi’s dad Alaric as Idris Elba. I think those two would capture that awkwardness and the comedy quite well.

The actor of Obi would be… well, he’s a model. Mukasa Kakonge. He is just gorgeous and has a really nice smile, but he can also look quite mysterious and brooding. So, I think that’s perfect for Obi. Yeah. So those are my top three fan casts at the moment.

…For my female main character, Asha, honestly, I mourn the lack of diversity among young, Black female actresses. The only actress that I can think of that looks like Asha is too old to play her. I was talking to someone recently and they said they could see Ayo Edebiri playing her, which I thought was so fun. I know there are a lot of black actresses, but for some reason, Ayo is the only actress that I actually feel represented by, because she’s a bit awkward.

Those are some great answers! Here’s to hoping it happens one day!

Jikiemi-Pearson: That would be the dream!

Check out Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson’s The Principle of Moments novel and her Doctor Who novelization of “The Church on Ruby Road” today.

Author Bio: Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson is the Sunday Times Bestselling author of The Order of Legends trilogy. Inaugural winner of Future Worlds Prize Award in 2020, her debut novel, The Principle of Moments, was published in January 2024, by Gollancz. She holds a BA in English Literature and Classical Studies from the University of Exeter, where she enjoyed writing essays on Disney villains and reading Greek lyric poetry on the same day. As an author of Nigerian, Jamaican, and British-Australian heritage, her work primarily focuses on people who live at the intersection of identities, whether that’s here on Earth, or in far away galaxies of her own creation.

Tai Gooden is the Features Editor at Nerdist and a sci-fi fan who spends most of her free time watching the same Doctor Who episodes on a loop. She hopes the Doctor and the TARDIS will take her away from this very ridiculous planet soon.

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