Laura Wilkinson speaks with Bethan Roberts about her novel, My Policeman, and its screen adaptation – ahead of Bethan’s keynote address at Writers’ Week 2023.
Hello and welcome to the New Writing South blog, Bethan. Thanks for taking time out to speak with us. We’re very much looking forward to your keynote talk at Writers’ Week this spring.
Thank you. So am I!
My Policeman, first published in 2012, was your third novel. Was it the first to be optioned for the screen – big or small? If not, what happened to the other option (s)?
The only other option I’ve sold was for my first novel, The Pools, which was bought by the company responsible for Germany’s most successful soap opera, Lindenstrasse. Strange but true. They wrote a script for a feature film based on the novel. I met with them early on and they seemed to want to retain the gothic/noir feel of the book. They renewed the option several times but in the end they didn’t get the funding to make the film. I think this is a very common experience!
At what point did you become aware there was interest in optioning My Policeman?
Soon after the book was published (2012) I heard that the football player Robbie Rogers, who at the time was publishing his memoir about coming out, was interested in buying the option. We met in London and his love for the book was immediately obvious. I think it meant a lot to him personally. He spoke so passionately about it that I felt I could really trust him to do his utmost to get a good movie made.
And how did you feel about it at that early point? What were your expectations – if any?
At that early point I was grateful that someone was interested enough to buy the option! Having a book come out is a strange thing. It’s hard not to get excited — your life might be about to change! — and yet, essentially, nothing happens to you on that day the book is published. If you’re lucky you get a launch party and a few reviews might dribble in over the following weeks. And then…that’s usually it. So any interest is always welcome, and interest that pays (as an option does), especially so! I hoped, of course, that the film would get made, but I knew this was very unlikely. My agent told me that only 1% of the novels that are optioned actually make it to the screen. So I tried to keep my expectations pretty low.
KEYNOTE: My Policeman – from book to big screen
Mon, 27 February 2023
Keynote | Writers’ Week | Online
£15 (£12 Concessions)
During the process of writing the story did you imagine it as a screen play? Another way of framing this question is: are you a visual writer? Do you ‘see’ the story unfolding before your eyes as you write? Many writers do.
I definitely don’t imagine it as a screenplay, though I am (I think) a visual writer. I ‘see’ the story unfolding in my mind’s eye and I try to follow the action. I have written scripts for radio, so I’m used to telling stories through dialogue and sound, but I have never written a screenplay. To me, interiority is the novel’s superpower. The special thing about a written story is that the reader can have direct access to a character’s inner life and all their secrets. That’s much harder to convey on screen.
Do you cast your novels as you’re writing them? And if so, how did you feel about the casting of your leads – Tom, Marion and Patrick – for the film?
I don’t cast my novels. I imagine my characters as characters, rather than actors, if that makes sense. I suppose I’m the actor, playing them all in my head! The director of the film, Michael Grandage, had a difficult job. Because there are two time-frames in both the novel and the film, he had to cast six leads who would convincingly echo each other’s physicality. I think he did that very well. I was particularly thrilled by the casting of the icon that is Rupert Everett – when the producers asked me for my thoughts, I did suggest him for older Patrick.
You didn’t write the screenplay. How did it feel to pass your ‘baby’ over to someone else?
I don’t think of it as passing my baby to someone else. My baby remains my baby. The novel still exists and hasn’t changed. But it has spawned this new being. And I was handing responsibility for this new child over to Oscar nominated scriptwriter, Ron Nyswaner, so I didn’t worry too much about it…! Ron came to see me in Brighton a year or so after the option was bought to discuss the novel and his ideas for adapting it. I gave him a tour of the book’s locations — we walked for hours — and we got on famously. So it felt pretty good.
You’re the Keynote speaker at the upcoming Writers’ Week. What are your feelings and ideas for this event, and what do you hope attendees come away from the talk with?
It’s a privilege to be asked to give the Keynote speech. I’m excited, and also slightly anxious, to be honest, as I’ve never done one before! My talk will go into greater detail about all the things flagged by these questions, plus give an insight into what happens to a book after it’s adapted for film. I hope attendees will come away with insights into the process by which a novel becomes a film and a sense of how this might impact a writer’s practice and career. And, of course, they can expect a few Harry Styles-related anecdotes!
WRITERS’ WEEK SPRING 2023
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