I first met Chris Brookes when assessing one of his scripts, “The Street Arab” – a story unlike any other I’d ever read. Since then, Chris has taken that story and has adapted it into a novel that he has worked tirelessly on for over a year. It has been an utter pleasure to help him on his journey as one of his editors, and I’m very excited to welcome him for a Tuesday Chat!
Welcome to Writesofluid, Chris! First up, can you give our Tuesday Chat readers an idea of what “Entanglement of Fate” is about?
I suppose my novel slots neatly into the romance genre, but really it’s more about two seemingly different people who are brought together unexpectedly and how their lives become entangled. The back cover probably describes it best:
“Sheffield, England, 1912. Nurse Mary O’Driscoll’s sheltered life is set to drastically change when she is called to a police cell by Court Missionary, Robert Elliott, to help with Walter Stanford; a roguishly charismatic, deaf and mute criminal. When Walter collapses and is rushed to hospital, Mary has the first of her vivid out-of-body experiences, which turns her normally organised life into turmoil and forges an undeniable connection with Walter.
Why have the two of them been brought together? Can Mary really accept the possibility of spiritual intervention? How can her feelings for Walter coexist alongside her developing friendship with handsome surgeon, Tom Sharpe? And what links a harrowing crime to a locket found in Walter’s cell?
One thing is certain… the answers have consequences!”
So, you’re both a screenwriter and a prose writer – but which came first? Did you always want to be a writer?
I came quite late to prose writing. My background is in theatre production and really I’m more at home writing for the stage than screen, albeit they’re not a million miles apart in terms of how you write a script – just different formats really.
No, I didn’t always want to be a writer, more a producer actually. However, I’ve always loved creating stories from ideas and have been lucky enough to help bring them to the stage.
What inspired you to write “The Street Arab”? What’s it about and how did it develop as a screenplay?
Phew! It’s quite a long tale, but an abridged version: My father-in-law used to be a church warden and one day was helping a couple find a gravestone. It transpired that they were looking for the parents of a man, who was apparently from around the area, and became an unofficial spy in WW1.
Ever intrigued, my father-in-law, Bill, did some research and, sure enough, unearthed the story of a most fascinating character. I was absolutely hooked and began doing my own research. The more I did, the more I became immersed in the whole tale of this man’s life – I could see it so vividly as a film and just had to write the screenplay.
That was nine years ago! Over the years I worked on it; lost interest; put it in a drawer; tinkered occasionally until, finally, a couple of years ago my zest returned for the story and I sat and finished the screenplay.
What made you decide to ultimately pursue your story as prose as opposed to being aimed at dramatic production?
I didn’t think the story would lend itself very well to a stage play, so I concentrated on the screenplay and embellished the story massively. I sent the script to the BBC and it ultimately got declined, however, the feedback was so positive and encouraging that I reworked it several times.
I knew my interest was waning again and I didn’t really have the appetite to trawl it around. It was destined for the drawer once more!
Then, my wife said for the umpteenth time, ‘I don’t know why you don’t write it as a book, your story is so suited to being a novel.’ And she was right!
How did you find the adaptation process?
I loved it! It was so liberating to be able to write without having to worry about 1 page per minute: what stays; what goes; how to capture a scene in just a few brief words. I got carried away – ‘The whole bloody lot’s going down on paper,’ I said. The biggest thrill is being able to describe in detail. Let me give you a comparison to better illustrate:
EXT. MESOPOTAMIA, 1912 – DUSK
A Dhow enters the harbour. Walter looks over to the sun setting over the mountains. The heat is relentless. In the distance the chant of prayers is heard.
In the book this became:
It was a dusk so evocative, a sunset so beautiful, a time so peaceful. Never before had Walter witnessed such a glorious sight. The golden ball of fire slowly melted into a perfectly still sea. Above was a dark pink sky, washed with shades of yellow and crimson, threaded with blue clouds. In the far distance, the mountains were finally released from the sun’s scorching grip and fell into shadow – a myriad of grey-green hues. In the stifling warm air, crickets chorused relentlessly, amid the chant of prayers coming from the minaret. This was Yemen, his new blessed land.
The title changed, didn’t it – why did you make this decision?
It’s now called ‘Entanglement of Fate’. I decided to change the title for two reasons. Firstly, the story was no more just about The Street Arab, it was now dealing with the fate of two people. Secondly, the book is primarily aimed at the romance market and I felt the original title may alienate potential readers.
What advice would you give other writers who may be thinking of turning their script into prose?
If you want to try it, absolutely, go for it!
Prose writing, though, ultimately has all the same frustrations as screenwriting. Most of the time, you still have work to a set formula and the plot, as always, is everything. In addition, be assured, you still have to deal with rejection and solider on.
For someone new to adapting their scripts, my biggest piece of advice would be to break down the story into chunks and then play about with piecing it back together.
The start of your book could well be the middle of your script. Then begin building the links to give a start, middle and an end.
You’re great to work with – professional and sympathetic with a great ability to take on board suggestions without losing your voice and control over the prose. Was the process of working with proofreaders and editors beneficial to your development as writer?
Aah! Bless you, MG. For me, working with an editor that I trust is essential, mainly because I like to work with creative and like-minded people.
A good development editor will bring a lot to the party, helping you build the structure of a story and developing the character arcs. They’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts and instinctively know when things are good or bad – you learn from their input.
Proofreaders or copy editors are, again for me, essential. They help polish your work – When you think your work is perfect, give it to a good copy editor, sit back and be prepared to be educated – 10,000 very valuable amends on my book!
As a writer, how do you know when you’re “ready” to take your work to the next stage?
When you’ve read it for the hundredth time and it still excites you.
What was this next stage, for you?
Creating a visual style and typesetting the book properly, converting to ebook format and giving to total strangers, book clubs, etc, and asking them to review it and give feedback.
How did you find the process of gaining reader feedback?
Although it stings on occasions, there’s nothing better than honest feedback from people you don’t know who review your work objectively. You soon get a feel for what parts of your book people like and, of course, may not like!
However, I would say that if I changed my book based entirely on pre-publication reader feedback, I’d still be changing it now. You have to learn not to try and please all the people all of the time.
Ultimately, you have to say, ‘That’s it – that’s my voice, that’s my product.’
You’ve chosen to self-publish. Why is this?
Purely because I wanted control to create my brand, book style, cover artwork and pricing. Unless you’re a bestselling writer, you would be very lucky to influence any of the above.
That said, I am not against the traditional publisher route – they obviously know their stuff and get your book onto the shelves and hopefully selling copies. And if you’re not bothered too much about control and happy to trawl your manuscript around then this should be the route to pursue.
Self publishing can be hard work. You need to get the product looking right which doesn’t come cheap – I would say you’re not going to get much change from £2k to cover fees of editors, cover designers, interior styling, typesetting and proper ebook conversions. Then, after all that, all you’ll have is a tangible book – the real slog now begins, you have to sell!
As a self-publisher, what are you planning to do to promote your book?
I have numerous meet and greet days planned in local book stores, hospitals and book clubs for the launch of the book and several magazine interviews/reviews thereafter. Then, with pop-up stands in hand it’s off to wherever I can get an audience and potential buyers – festivals, carnivals, anywhere they’ll have me.
You have to be prepared to be a publicity whore, I’m afraid.
I will be shamelessly promoting via blogs, emailing and tweeting links (so apologies in advance if you get one!) and most probably I will look at doing a limited period ‘download for free’ on Amazon, etc.
When, and where, will we be able to buy Entanglement of Fate?
As mentioned, it will be available on Amazon as an ebook on 21st Sept and as an ‘order only’ paperback through all major book outlets and my website from Oct. I’m also picking up on some old contacts in a major retailer to see if I can negotiate a deal to get it on the shelves. Fingers crossed!
What’s next on the cards for Chris the writer?
I would like to say a rest, but unfortunately not. I’m currently working on the sequel to ‘Entanglement of Fate’ and also have an idea I want to pursue for a short story. In addition, I’m working on a 3 part TV script called ‘Luisa’ – all about the Crown Princess of Tuscany. Now there was a feisty woman!
BUY Entanglement of Fate HERE: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Entanglement-Of-Fate-ebook/dp/B00EOAGHYU
Ways to connect with Chris…
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