Thursday, January 10, 2008

The dangers of adaptation

Usually you don't tell the world what your mum says about your writing (everyone can guess!), but this is worth repeating, I think.

Last week, after finishing reading Balancing, my mum rang me and cried: 'What on earth have you done to "Power"? (She had read it before because it had previously appeared in an anthology from Honno which I'd given her as a present.)

'Eh, Mum? What do you mean?'

'You've changed the ending!'

What? Is this my mum finally beginning to show signs of old-age forgetfulness?

Me (patronizing): 'No, no I haven't changed it, Mum. It's exactly how it appeared in the Honno anthology.'

'Yes, you have: what on earth has happened to the little girl in the pond?'

Now I'm actually worried. What on earth can she be muddling my story with? Is she going senile?

'No, no, Mum, nothing like that happens in that story. Remember, it's all about a divorce, and how the little girl weaves a magic spell to bring her father back...'

'Yes, yes, that's right... and he does come back, in the nick of time, because she's fallen in the pond and he saves her from drowning.'

I swallow. It comes to me. That was the ending I was forced to invent when I adapted the story as a radio drama, because drama needs action whereas stories can be subtle and internal, and because the BBC commissioning requirements included happier and less ambiguous endings.

But I had completely forgotten the ending of the play. Is it me who's going senile?

Actually, I think it's explained by something Art of Fiction blogger Adrian Slatcher said to me in the wine bar last week: that when stories and novels are adapted for broadcast media, there is always the danger, or indeed the likelihood that the drama replaces the original as the primary text within the culture.

To me my story had remained the primary text behind which the differences in the play were insignificant and so had faded. But to my mother, who heard the broadcast, it was the drama which had become the primary - the real - text, and when she read the story it fell short of it...


Debi said...

I originally read this as the dangers of adoption, saw the post mentioned your mother and ... well, you can guess the rest.

Now who's going senile???

Happy new year BTW. Hope it brings us all lots of new beginnings.

Elizabeth Baines said...


Happy New Year!