With some trepidation I sent the first draft of the outline for Victor’s Quest (the musical) to the composer, Peter Rutherford, and our producer, Neil Gooding, this week. Given that I know they like the book, it might seem silly to be so nervous (still am!) but the nerves come out at the beginning of any new venture, I think.
What I found interesting in writing the outline was how previous experience adapting someone else’s book for television helped. A long time ago, I adapted Mem Fox’s Night Noises as a For the Juniors episode. Because Night Noises is a picture book, there just wasn’t enough story for a half-hour episode. But on each page, the old lady, Lily Laceby, is dreaming about/remembering a piece of her past, so we took each of those images and wove a little scene/story out of it. It was an education in seeing the difference between what works on the page and what works on screen (or on stage).
So in making my own adaptation, I started from a premise that nothing was sacred. It’s remarkably liberating. As it happened, I kept fairly closely to the book but cut out some scenes where people sat down and ate or thought for a long time, because that would slow the action down too much, and inserted three extra scenes to introduce characters and establish motivation.
I had to make a conscious effort to forget Kim Gamble’s illustrations, too. Kim did both Victor books and it’s very hard now to imagine a scene without his images. But the stage version will be significantly different.
Night Noises was my first drama script. We had some great actors in that show: Queenie Ashton played Lillie and Noah Taylor her brother in the past. Lots of others, too.
Working with those people, I learnt about leaving spaces for actors to expand into… it’s a hard thing to explain, but the script shouldn’t tie everything down; the writer wants to control everything, but you can’t. That’s the trade off: working with composers, actors, producers, directors, animators, puppeteers and all the other technical staff gives your script a richness and depth – and a rigour – you can’t get on your own. But the final result may not be what you had imagined.
I have missed that collaboration and that sense of ‘goodness me, I didn’t know that scene worked that way!’. It’s why I love working with illustrators on books for kids – I relish the extra layer of meaning and life that the illustrator gives to the text.
On the other hand, one of the things I like about writing adult books is that what I imagine is what there is…
…lucky I get both, I guess!