I’ve done a lot of events these past months, mostly talking about how my novel “These Foolish Things” mutated into the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. This has led to discussions about the strange sea-change that takes place in the journey from print to celluloid, and the effect each has on the other. Judi Dench now lies like a hologram over my original character Evelyn and one wonders if she and the rest of the cast will one day dissolve and the book will return to itself, or whether my fictional creations are permanently altered. This is less the case with “Pride and Prejudice”, where my screenplay was one of many, for it proves there is no real interpretation – there are so many choices. But with only one film, the answer must simply be that there’s the book and there’s the movie; each are different and hopefully each will have its own life.
I’ve been thinking about this as I’m about to adapt my forthcoming novel, “Heartbreak Hotel”, for television. Even before I’ve started I can feel the characters subtly changing into creatures of drama, leaving their other selves behind. They’ll behave slightly differently, they’ll have to, and in doing so will take on a new identity. And yet the book itself has no existence yet, as nobody will read it until it’s published in February. I feel a strange loyalty to these characters, still immobilized on the page, who I created and love, and with whom I have lived for so long. Do they know what’s about to happen to them, when they’re turned into a script and then surrendered up to actors?
There’s also another dimension to this, as I’ve written an online short story, “Twin Beds” to coincide with publication (see the Random House website). And I’m also planning to put some short films onto the internet which will glancingly reflect the novel. With my book “Tulip Fever” I scattered Dutch paintings into the text to both reflect what was happening in the story and give it another dimension. In this case, “Heartbreak Hotel” is the story of a man who runs Courses for Divorces. You know how, when you live with somebody, you divide the tasks – one of you is better at cooking, the other at DIY and so on. When you split up, you can feel helpless. So the courses teach you the skill that the other person had.
In the novel, needless to say, it doesn’t go according to plan. So on the internet one can actually have a demonstration of how to change a plug or make a cheese sauce, and these mini-courses will be run by characters from the book, or people connected to them. You’ll be able to access them from my website when they’re ready.
The internet, as we know, is a wondrous thing. But it’s also destroying independent bookshops for all the obvious reasons. Recently I was presenting “Heartbreak Hotel” at a Random House event for independent booksellers. Gazing at them was like gazing at a roomful of threatened wildlife, like lapwings or Madagascan lemurs. For how many more years would we be seeing their faces? My hope is that the very best bookshops will survive, but they have to be bursting with energy and imagination. An example of this was the wonderful band that played at the event – young musicians called The Bookshop Band (look at their website) who are connected to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. When an author visits this, or indeed other, bookshops for a reading, the band will sing songs they’ve composed based on the person’s novel. They’re utterly wonderful, a good deed in a bad world, and are exactly what a bookshop needs to help its survival, for to compete against the internet it must offer something very personal and special.
And we do need such things. The more people are locked in front of their screens, the more they hanker after a flesh-and-blood connection, and live events are flourishing as never before. For instance, the uber-trendy Shoreditch House, in London, hosts a book group that draws a huge crowd by offering a free cocktail, pizzas and a terrifically entertaining MC, Damian Barr, as well as big name authors and a lot of fun and flirtation. One just needs to make a party, or something special, out of what is basically a book-reading, and the people will flock in. So there is hope.
I’m doing some literary events around publication of “Heartbreak Hotel”: amongst the more exotic are the Jaipur Festival in late January and the Dubai Literary Festival in March. You can find details on their websites.
And I’m still working on the TV serials I mentioned in the last posting – “The Kill” for the BBC and “Soho Girls” for ITV. Hopefully they’ll get beyond the pilot stage.
Meanwhile have a great winter, and indeed Christmas, and do email me if you fancy at email@example.com
Stop press: My story “Twin Beds”, which describes a Christmas at Myrtle House, aka “Heartbreak Hotel” , is published in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 22 December, and if you follow this link you can see me talking about it, and reading from it.