I was lucky enough to work on a report for Tricia Walker’s novel “Benedict’s Brother” earlier this year leading up to its relaunch. It’s a very exciting time indeed, because this novel – previously published as blog excerpts – has not only achieved the biggest selling début launch of an unknown author in Borders UK book stores the year it was published, but it was also selected as a Top 3 Book of the Year in Publishing News. It’s now being made into a feature film. Tricia’s kindly joined us to tell us more…
Welcome to the Writesofluid blog, Tricia!
Had you always wanted to be an author? Where did it all begin, and how did you learn?
I’ve known since I was about 10 years old that I wanted to write and tell stories. I won prizes at school, my aptitude for writing was recognised but it took a long time for me to find what it was creatively that I wanted to write. I learned a lot from being a copywriter, from writing songs in the local band I sang with and from growing up in a family of storytellers and writers.
What’s Benedict’s Brother about?
It’s about a young woman, Benedict, who is asked to scatter her uncles ashes for the Bridge On the Rive Kwai in Thailand. He had been a Japanese Prisoner of War there but she doesn’t know why he asked her to go. Then in Thailand she meets her estranged brother who has since become a Buddhist monk.
What inspired you to write it, and to initially publish it in instalments on a blog?
I had been searching for a long time what it was I wanted to write and then, based on notes I’d made from a trip, I began to write a novel in the first person and my voice just flowed. Thankfully! I had an agent and we worked on the novel for 2 years before submitting it to publishers.
It was rejected but received some very positive feedback from high-level editors and from best selling writer Val McDermid who very kindly gave me a critique of the first draft.
I left the manuscript alone for 8 years, drafted another novel, by which point the web had come along and these strange new things called “blogs”. I just decided I had nothing to lose if I posted it and as the book was written in real time as a diary, it made sense to publish it in instalments as if in real time. But there was no greater plan at that point.
How did you go about gaining representation?
I grew up in a writing world – my Dad, Peter has had about 150 titles published over 40+ years. My first agent was Juliet Burton who worked for Pollinger, my Dad’s agent at the time. She was fabulous at helping developing first-time authors. Then, for a few years while I wasn’t being published I didn’t have or need representation but the novel got picked up more recently by some significant film people and Julian Friedmann now represents me and Nick Lom who is an expert media lawyer. I’ve been very lucky.
How did the opportunity for it to be made into a feature film come about?
By a mixture of good fortune and circumstance really. Wonderfully the girlfriend of the agent representing JK Rowling read the novel and loved it and I got an email from that agent. At the same time but separately, a producer who works with the team who’d made The King’s Speech invited me to meet them. The King’s Speech had just won the Baftas and was heading that week to the Oscars, where of course it did fantastically. From there, the interest in a film of Benedict’s Brother started and has rolled forward.
What process has the novel had to go through in order to be adapted?
A lot! It’s taking the essence of a story, de-constructing it and then rebuilding it to suit a different format. It’s the same story told in a different way. Jessica Townsend, the scriptwriter, has done a fabulous job and came to Thailand with me to visit all the locations in the book which was very important to get a true feel of what the main character is reacting too. Jess had caught that wonderfully.
We also had input from the script editor who helped developed scripts for Four Weddings and Funeral, Trainspotting and Girl With A Pearl Earring amongst other films so she helped identify genre, structure and areas to address as the drafts were worked on.
The novel version leaves things a bit open in terms of the main character’s completed emotional journey and that needed to be addressed in the film script but essentially it is the same story. I wouldn’t agree to something that changed it too much but equally knew that a film script that follows a novel narrative structure would be the wrong thing too. It would be so boring to sit through!
As a script consultant, and having seen your father’s Constable series of books being adapted into ITV’s Heartbeat, do you find that you have an advantage when it comes to storytelling, and receiving feedback?
Definitely. I know what the process is. There’ve been over 350 episodes of Heartbeat and Dad was a script consultant on every one. I also know how amazing it is seeing your written words come to life on screen. Dad is a fabulous natural storyteller who created some incredibly well-loved and durable characters in a very self-contained and appealing fictionalised world and having that skill is very special. That’s what you hope to emulate with a film. He was also very good at stepping back and letting people do their bit to make the programme happen – the director, the actors, the script writers. He advised, mainly on detail of 1960s policing, but he let the experts do their job which is very important. The first time he heard the actors do a read through had a very big impact on him as did seeing the first episode on screen. It was so exciting!
The book is being relaunched. What changes has it gone through, and when can we buy it?
It’s available from Nov 18 on all major eBook platforms and to reassure fans of the novel, it hasn’t gone through major changes at all. It has had a light edit to polish it – and you did a brilliant job so thanks! We’re talking the occasional paragraph and a couple of scenes that dragged a bit and didn’t really add anything to the reader’s experience of the story. But nothing major – the novel had such good feedback that more significant changes would feel wrong and it just didn’t make sense creatively. I’d doubt if many people will notice – which is the aim, and a light edit was all the experts advised.
And the film! What’s the schedule looking like? How have you found the experience so far?
Production is planned for Oct 2014 in Thailand and it is fantastic! The film is at the final stage of development when it is being “packaged” so we are being introduced to the acting talent and pulling the funding arrangements together.
I’m meeting the composer who worked on Chocolat, The Duchess and Private Peaceful, and have offers to put the project to the likes of Richard Gere for a cameo and Keira Knightley and also to sales agents whose films are on Oscar runs this year.
The production teams in Thailand are in place and ready to go, we’ve met a couple of times and there is another planned meeting in the New Year. We are hoping to do post-production and some filming in York too. I haven’t appointed a director yet but that is when things get really going so I am very very excited about that too, especially if the people suggested are involved.
What advice would you give to novelists who are hoping their work may be considered for film adaptation? Is there anything that they can do to increase their chances?
Firstly, write a good story. Benedict’s Brother was selected as a Top 3 Book of the Year in the industry press when it was published. It’s not an accident that the film is happening – it got recognition as a good story and film is all about story – or should be at least! I suppose after that it is to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and not to give rights away to soon.
It’s easy to get swept along by the idea of your work being taken up by some glorious-sounding film maker but be discerning and if you think the interest is serious, get legal support early on. Never sign anything without understanding it or feeling that it is the right thing.
Sometimes it’s good to let go of creative control, sometimes not so but learning to trust your own judgment as to when that moment is, is very important. There are some lovely people in the film industry, some truly inspiring fabulous human beings who make some amazing work and who work very very hard. Seek them out and give back as much as you can too. It’s a roller-coaster ride it’s true, but roller coaster rides are popular for a reason. They are the most exciting ride of all!
Most of all though, write a good story in the first place.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Tricia – I for one can’t wait to watch the film!
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