The Shades | Chapter 1
The core idea of The Shades occurred to me several years ago, although the seeds of it are to be found even further back, in another century. Some of those seeds are personal (though I hasten to add that there is no autobiographical element to the story, in the literal sense). I originally wrote the story as a feature film, for cinema. Reviewing the script, the BBC Writersroom described it as a ‘strong supernatural thriller that becomes a simple, though not simplistic, parable about love, hatred and revenge’. Not to quibble with a good review, but I like to think of it as a drama first and a horror/thriller second. I’d love for people to be able to read it with fresh eyes, completely spoiler-free; surprise is such an important element in storytelling.
The feature script my first real calling card scripts. It’s a story I’m happy to be judged by, because it’s one that I deeply believe in.
The story’s protagonist is Ellie, a troubled teenager who – as the narrative begins – falls prey to despair. But Ellie is also one of five main characters, each with their own significant story. For this and other reasons, I came to the realisation that the best medium for this story, these characters and their world, might be television drama, as opposed to film. As a writer still in the process of trying to forge a career (you know, that thing for which you get paid?), I have to be pragmatic and make strategic decisions about which projects I focus my energies and resources on (my resources being time, use of grey matter, and heart and soul). Adapting The Shades as a drama serial is not far down my list of writing priorities, but for the time being it is not in the top three. I would like to think that the feature screenplay is a strong enough advert for the project that the right producer would be able to see the potential and would therefore be willing to fund its development. We shall see.
I have also envisioned The Shades in other formats. I love good prose. There’s a unique pleasure in exquisitely crafted sentences, whether short and concise, or more elaborate and full of flourishes. The conception of imagery, thought, meaning and feeling through language is both a kind of sculpture and a kind of conjuring. As a screenwriter I have to try and suppress some of my more ‘writerly’ instincts, and I have learnt to whittle my scene description down considerably since the early days. I love the way that screenwriting can feel like ‘pure storytelling’, but I also love to paint with prose. Of course, the idea of ‘authorship’ is also appealing. The Shades is a story I have played in the cinema of my mind countless times – why shouldn’t I be able to prescribe every fine detail of it and mainline it into my reader/audience’s consciousness? Why must I hold back any piece of the full vision? Why must I give up my work for adoption, surrendering it to an army of ‘interpreters’, ‘collaborators’, under one megalomaniac alien general? There is some fallacy in this comparison between script writing and novel writing because every act of reading is an act of interpretation, and every reader a unique ‘collaborator’ (to get philosophical about it). But these are pessimistic and egotistical thoughts, albeit ones that all screenwriters experience on some level, so I gather. The pros know to subsume these dreams of authorship. Or they become writer-directors.
Some time ago I started (re-)writing The Shades as a novel. This threw up many unfamiliar challenges – simple things that for a reader might seem elementary. Questions of style: Do I write in the first person or third person? Past or present tense? I had to experiment and to really wrestle with these questions, until finally the solutions appeared clear to me. Structurally, too, I was forced to do something different. I had to find a different way in to Ellie’s story. In some ways this was laborious, but it was also extremely rewarding – I had to explore more deeply and in so doing I discovered new things about my characters and new avenues of story. The process challenged me, but I enjoy being challenged, and I am fond of the result.
That result is the first chapter of a novel. I would like to imagine that I will one day complete this novel, but it may be a very long time before I do. Apparently, these things can’t be rattled off in a weekend. Work, sleep and other vital functions, together with numerous other writing projects, keep me away from this one, for now. But I’d like to share with you this work in progress. Which translates: I’d very much like for you to read it, if you like. It’s 13 pages long, which is not very long, is it?
I am also sharing the first dozen or so pages of the screenplay, covering much of the same action. Hopefully this will illuminate something about the process of adaptation and the differences between screenwriting and prose fiction writing. How to do it, or how not to do it. You may be the judge(s).
I welcome your feedback / criticism / encouragement / adoration / vitriol / cash gifts / offers of publishing/development deals... Genuinely, if you take the time to read, I’d love to know what you think.