At the end of July there were sparks flying from my fingertips every time they went near the keyboard. The new Eddie Collins book, working title: Imperfectly Balanced, was coming along a treat.
That all stopped quite suddenly when we hit August. I had a massive promotion running for my other books and I spent a ridiculous amount of time overseeing it all. When I say ‘overseeing’, I actually mean sitting here, looking at things and fretting a lot.
When it was over and fireworks had gone, I was left rather drained by it all, and filled with the desire never to do it again. Only time will tell, I suppose.
Over the next week or two, I was chatting about writing with one of my best friends – he was co-writer on several scripts we collaborated on around 2006. If I take my modesty cap off for a moment or two, I can tell you that the scripts were pretty damned good and we came oh so close to having them made. If it wasn’t for the credit crunch shrinking broadcaster and production company budgets almost overnight, I like to think I’d have the DVD box set by now. We wrote four scripts, eleven hours of crime drama from a CSI’s point of view – not dissimilar to the Eddie Collins books of late, and using a similar type of character for the lead – his name was Roger Conniston. Ring any bells?
The fact is, they were all good stories, and I remarked how it was an absurd waste to leave them gathering dust on a producer’s shelf somewhere.
And that conversation led me to scrap Imperfectly Balanced, and attempt to bring to life the story inside one of the scripts. I chose one of my favourites; Sword of Damocles because it deals with a very dark subject, and a very emotive one – even now. Of course, there are murders and evil deeds throughout, as you’d probably expect. But among all the darkness, there are some wonderfully illuminating and even humourous parts that I hope will show Eddie in a new light. I wish I could tell you more about it.
Taking an already written story and transposing it from a script format to a book format couldn’t be easier, right? Wrong. Scripts are different animals entirely. There is no prose, no interior monologue. The action is immediate, nothing gets in the way of dialogue.
I began by stripping away everything that wasn’t directly related to the essence of the story and constructed a list of scenes that I would use in the new book. All the subplots went too, and I was left with the problem of blending the story into Eddie’s life as he is now, creating new subplots and shifting unusable characters out of the way to make room for the new, more important ones.
That work is done now, and I’ve built the first scenes that will allow the script to sit nicely without looking skew-whiff to a reader (hopefully).
And of course, it’s very easy to write. Isn’t it? No, it certainly isn’t. I’d say it’s far harder to write from a script than it is just making the story up as a regular first draft idea. The script is a good guide, but it’s very constricting, and at 1am it’s all too easy to slip into script-writing again, using the present tense. And only when you’ve read it through do you realise you’ve omitted all description, all interior monologue, and all feeling is lost. It has become a bullet point story.
But I shall finish it because the story is magnificent, and there are scenes in it that can move me to tears and others that have me belly laughing.
Anyway, here’s a snippet of the script and below it the corresponding first draft scene from the manuscript.
2. INT. HOTEL, WEDDING SUITE – NIGHT.
TERRY and LIZ SHAW, fifties, survey the large room.
Guests surround a bride and groom, congratulating them as they hand over presents.
SOUND of a DJ’s muffled speech competing with music.
An hour, we go.
Don’t be stupid-
I’m not standing, Liz, okay. I hate standing.
With fixed smiles, the bride and groom approach.
They’re coming over.
Do the ‘happy for you’ bit, I’ll get the drinks.
TERRY heads for the bar.
The noise was appalling. Up on the stage, his equipment illuminated by red and green spotlights, a DJ spoke unintelligibly into a face mic positioned so close to his mouth that he might as well have been shouting through a pillow. And Terry would’ve volunteered to be the one holding it there.
Why couldn’t they be more dignified; why couldn’t they play some Vivaldi, or if they insisted on a band, something melodic perhaps like Credence Clearwater Revival?
He grimaced at the music – correction, he thought – at the noise filling the room from a pair of huge loud speakers, one each mounted on a pole either side of the stage. When the light was right, you could actually see the speaker booming behind its wire mesh. Around him, the crowd had taken their first steps towards merry. Of course, there were always the ones who had been merry two hours ago, and were now blitzed; either sitting rigidly still on chairs while holding tightly onto the table as the room spun around them, or those who had suddenly been reincarnated as John Travolta, but living in Bernard Manning’s body, bopping and rocking to a tune wholly different to the one inflicted on everyone else.
And then there were the other members of the crowd; those not unlike Terry himself who it was plain to see, were here enduring this assault on humanity out of a sense of decency to the newly married couple. Or, more specifically, those who were frog-marched to this charade because of an RSVP handed over in person and a rash promise made eight months ago at a civilised dinner party.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” Liz stood next to him, smiling, and all Terry could hear were vowels and all he could see was the reflection of red and green lights twinkling in her earrings as he brought his face closer to her mouth.
“I said are you enjoying yourself?”
His face said, ‘Don’t ask silly questions.’
Liz laughed at him, and then she pointed towards the entrance, and shouted, “Oh, they’re here.”
Terry’s shoulders slumped as the bride and groom, obligatory smiles stapled in place, and no doubt already making their cheeks ache, shuffled into the room to a warm ripple of applause, accepting claps on the back, handshakes galore.
“Shit,” Terry muttered. “Go do the ‘congratulations’ bit,” he shouted to Liz. “I’m off to the bar.” And then he walked, miming to her, ‘one hour’.