If I got a pound for each time I was asked when a film would be made of my books, I would be a very rich author. Do you think the fact that a film has been made cements a book’s reputation or is it the death of many of a good one? The jury is probably out on that but it’s still a pleasant daydream to imagine a producer calling me up – and, who knows, one day it might come true.
What I’ve not talked about before is how films affect what I write. I don’t think there is an author today who isn’t working under the influence of the big screen. Modern creative writing teaching says ‘show, don’t tell’ – that’s not how our ancestors did it. Have you ever tried reading a Victorian novel? Most of the famous authors go in for page-long descriptions, giving you everything you need to know visually and often also branching out into character notes. The audience must have expected full disclosure. Compare that to how we write today and you’ll see how different we are. We have become used to the shorthand of the cinema. Authors write more like screenwriters: a couple of pieces of information – a sketch to set the mood – are standard. Long descriptions, unbroken paragraphs, these are all rarities.
And I expect you’ve also read that book which feels like it is really a screenplay in disguise? There’s a fine line between a page-turning novel and something that’s trying too hard to be something it isn’t, like your baby sister walking around in a grown up’s high heels – cute but it’s best to avoid that.
The series in which I’m most conscious of film is Struck, the second part of which, Stung, is just out. Each book in the series is imagined like a different crime genre. The first is like one of those closed box crime scenes loved by Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie – the country house murder, the jewel heist in a museum, the murder on the Orient Express. The limited number of suspects and the scary environment all add to the tension in the exclusive private school setting of Struck.
The second book, Stung, takes another kind of plot structure – the chase. I was thinking the Jason Bourne movies, but also John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, which influenced Bourne. One character is on the run, the other pursuing and most of the excitement is from the outwitting of each other. I’m sure the way I crafted the cutting between scenes owes much to how cinema does the same thing. That was positive, I think, but I also had to remember the great gift of text which is that you can be inside the thoughts of a character, see action from inside, a very different special effect.
If you want to find out more about Stung, you can see my book trailer here:
Happy World Book Day!