Monday, 7 May 2012

From book to stage

How do books get turned into theatre productions? Actually, I know precious little about it, but I can tell you how it has happened/ is happening to one of my novels.

Because, yes, hoorayishly for me, Fleshmarket has been acquired for stage adaptation. I have signed the contract and, if all goes well, it should begin a run in a London theatre by the end of next year. The only reason I am able to say this quite calmly is because I have just dosed myself with chocolate and am in a state of somnolent bliss.

How did I bring this about? By doing sod all. Yes, there may be ways of making it happen, but I didn't do them. People often said Fleshmarket really should be a film, but a stage play? I didn't understand enough about the stage even to know if the book was suitable. Unconnectedly, last year I'd had a helpful conversation with a man who specialises in writing stage plays, and he'd strongly suggested that I should DO something, by which he meant I should write the play and take it to amateur dramatic groups. But I didn't because a) I have no time and b) I wouldn't even know where to begin.

However, several years ago a dramatist had read Fleshmarket and approached my agent, expressing interest in writing a stage version. The theatre she had in mind was the Unicorn Theatre in London. My agent told her that yes, the rights were available. And then we heard nothing, but to be honest I never expected to. That conversation was maybe three or more years ago.

About eighteen months ago, out of the blue, she contacted my agent again and said the story of Fleshmarket wouldn't leave her head and she really wanted to do it. She'd been talking to the theatre. Were the rights still available? Yes, they were.

About six months ago, she told my agent that the Unicorn Theatre was definitely interested in commissioning her to write the adaptation. Were the rights still available? Yup. Shortly after that, the theatre director contacted us and a contract was duly negotiated. Which is what I signed last week.

Hooray! *pauses to let it sink in*

Some questions you might have about the process:


How does the money work with a theatre deal?
I am paid a non-refundable advance. Then, when (or "if" - see below) it is performed at the theatre, I get a percentage of box office takings, as does the dramatist doing the adaptation.

Will it definitely be performed?
Nothing is definite in life but this is not like a film option deal, where the film is more often not made. A theatre contract is a specific undertaking to create the adaptation with a view to performing it within a set time-scale. (That is how I know it is supposed to happen before the end of 2013, because if it doesn't the contract ends and I keep the advance. The adapter would also keep her fee, so a theatre really only enters into these contracts if it's as sure as possible that the play will be performed.)

Do I have to do anything?
No! Except come to see it. And naturally I'll want to drum up lots of interest when the time comes, but I don't actually have to do anything. I'd LOVE to sit in on a rehearsal when it gets to that stage, but they might not want me. :(

Can they change the title?
The contract says that the title must be Fleshmarket unless we agree otherwise. I find it conceivable that I would.

Do I have any say in the adaptation?
No. I have to trust the writer. However, I already know that this will very much be an adaptation so I can't be precious about the story. I have to respect that a play is very different from a novel, especially a novel where so much of the action is in one character's head. I am quite relaxed about what they might do with it, as long as history is not entirely rewritten. I'll be very cross if they make Burke and Hare into body-snatchers, for example.

Anything else?
Yes, there's been some interest from someone else in doing a radio play... Not sure if anything is happening with that suggestion.

Any other benefits?
Well, I expect it to help sales of the book. Also, I wonder if schools might be interested in performing a version in school drama lessons. That would be wonderful. Because so many schools study Fleshmarket, it would make huge sense to create a school drama version.

I am very excited and delighted. Especially since I don't have to do anything. It's lovely to think that a piece of work I did over ten years ago still has life in it. I think a first class train ticket to the press launch is definitely in order.

I am a tad worried about how they will create the first scene and whether the audience will all faint, however... Please bring your smelling salts.


21 comments:

Stephanie said...

Sounds fabulous, Nicola: I'm so pleased for you! And I think it's such a good - and appropriate - thing that books can have a life of their own, and wander off and do stuff that their author wouldn't have necessarily seen, or planned, or done for them.

Sarah said...

How exciting! Looking forward to seeing it already.

catdownunder said...

I had a talk with Alan Marshall after he had seen the film version of his autobiographical book "I can jump puddles". He said it was a "very strange experience" and he wondered how he would feel if it had been fiction they had adapted.
When I was teaching I used to write plays for the special schools I worked in (so that every child had a part) and I always used to feel as if I was watching what someone else had done. I hope you feel more engaged than that - and it really is tremendous news. If I was in London I'd be there!

Vee said...

That's just brilliant Nicola! And so interesting to hear about the process.

Elen C said...

Hurray! Congratulations. I will definitely be buying a ticket!

JO said...

This is fab!! I hope you can go to rehearsals, and then tell us all about it.

There'll be chocolate, and wine, and new shoes in your house today!!

Sally Zigmond said...

Wonderful news, Nicola. You must be pinching yourself! I look forward to more exciting news as the project progresses.

Dan Holloway said...

How incredibly exciting! Theatre is such a vibrant format so full of possibilities - you must be itching to see what they do

maryom said...

So exciting!! Break a leg and all that!

David Griffin said...

Wow, terrific news for you Nicola, mighty congrats! Onwards and upwards, as they say.

:-)

Jesse Owen said...

Yay, congratulations :D

Linda Strachan said...

It will make a great play. Congratulations!

Rebecca Alexander said...

Brilliant news, I would have said film, myself...

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat - I LOVED that book when I was a kid!

Thanks all, for your comments. JO - if I can go to the rehearsals i will definitely tell you about it.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Oooooh, I reckon it will have a bit of a Sweeny Todd feel to it. Yay! I bet it comes to Melbourne in the not too distant future as well.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Wow, that is fantastic!! Congratulations :)

widdershins said...

Bravo! ... what a wonderful adventure!

alex rushton said...

Excellent news. Perhaps the play will make its way to the West End?

Nina B said...

Oh my goodness--congratulations!!!

Joy said...

Wow! Super-fab news!!! I'm so pleased for you :D Looking forward to seeing it.

The Virtual Victorian said...

How exciting. It's such a dramatic, compelling story. I'm sure it will make a wonderful play.