So another year has passed in the blink of an eye but at least I have something to show for it. Whilst the film I sold last year is sadly now languishing in ‘production hell’ (almost a necessary evil on this career path so I’m told), I have in the meantime finished a third and final draft of my new novel. I say ‘new’ – it’s taken a good two years to get to this stage but I’m hoping that allowing it time to breathe has meant my writing has matured and that this draft will secure me an agent and publisher. As much as I enjoy the freedom of self-publishing I can’t help but think the traditional route might suit me better in the long run so it’s time to peddle my wares I guess.
Now that I have a little more time on my hands, my mind has of course wandered back to the wider world and specifically to the actual business of being a writer in this day and age. With news that ‘A Casual Vacancy’ has been adapted for TV and is coming to our screens here in the UK on 15th February, I got to thinking about how quickly books seem to be mutating recently. It seems only yesterday that J K Rowling’s novel was first published (Paperback: July 2013) and I can’t help but wonder whether the public really need or want this kind of turnaround or whether big business is simply cashing in whilst the titles are still fresh in our collective memory? Other recent adaptations that spring to mind are ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn – published June 2012 and already in cinemas by the end of last year – and ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by S J Watson – published in the Spring of 2011 and on the big screen by 2014. Obviously there are countless others, but these are the ones that are foremost in my mind.
Surely literature should be granted the opportunity to linger on our book-shelves a little longer, to marinate in the sub-conscious and be deliberated over with our peers, rather being instantly reborn as a movie? It makes me question whether this in turn, for some of the wider population, might render the book itself obsolete? After all, why labour over three hundred pages when you can visually download it into your brain in around ninety minutes. The temptation is often too hard to resist. In a moment of weakness and in our current mood of instant gratification, how many of us now regret giving in and watching the movie before we’ve even had a chance to read the book and thereby create its world in our own imagination? What a pity to have our protagonist played by some major league actor rather than by a unique individual we ourselves have created.
Then of course there is the question of whether this demand for adaptations is altering the way some authors approach their writing. Are they simply writing stories that they know will make great movies? Where is the incentive to challenge themselves as authors and perhaps write some deeply reflective literature if the words ‘film rights’ are forever floating about on the periphery?
In considering this I was taken back to my own tentative first steps towards a writing career many years ago. Film was my medium of choice then and I longed to see my imaginings up on the big screen – the thought of writing an actual book in those days seemed too laborious an endeavor. However in time I discovered that writing a screenplay was neither as easy nor as fast a process as I had imagined. Just because there are fewer words on the page doesn’t make it any simpler, quite the opposite in fact. And then I also got to thinking about how perhaps there might be more money to be made from writing a novel and then selling the film rights to someone better experienced (not that money has ever been a motivation of mine of course…). As I said, this was a long, long time ago and I was very naïve.
The proverbial nail in the coffin of my first dabblings in screenwriting came whilst watching ‘The Player’, (written by Michael Tolkin and directed by Robert Altman) and in particular the scene where the wildly gesticulating screenwriter, played by Richard E Grant, pitches an idea for a movie. I was mortified – there was no way I could ever have the confidence to do that. I would have to find someone else to do it for me, i.e. an agent. There was nothing else for it – I would write books instead and leave the film world to the professionals.
Twenty years later and I’m delighted to now be confident working in both mediums and finally at peace with the fact that I love both equally. The liberty to delve into the minutiae of my imagination via languid prose is wonderfully cathartic, but equally the direct and instant power of pure visuals and dialogue that film demands, and the suggestion and intrigue that this can conjure up in its audience, is an irresistible form of expression. My achievements so far may be small but I consider it a luxury to be comfortable enough to venture into both worlds, accepting now that I am incapable of making that final decision to be faithful to one or the other. I can even manage the odd pitch here and there when my nerves can stand it.
So perhaps I can answer my own question – does the opportunity of a film adaptation and the extra monetary value affect my own fiction? Not at all, but maybe that’s because in my head all books play out as films– just very detailed, week-long ones. Question is, were I to adapt my own, would my editing abilities be up to the job?