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Saturday, October 24th 2009 : "Vera"
Authors have mixed feelings about the adaptation of their books. One famous crime writer hated the TV film of his work so much that he bought back the rights at great expense! So I know how lucky I've been throughout the process. I've been included right from the start. My main contact at ITV productions, Elaine Collins, has been a delight. It helped of course that she was the person to find the book (in an Oxfam shop according to Paul, the scriptwriter!) and pitched the project to the commissioners. I think she was almost as excited as I was when we got the green light.
Then I was fortunate with the scriptwriter. Paul Rutman had worked on Lewis and Marple, but this was his first original script and he's been totally committed to the story and the characters. He spent two days with us in Northumberland to get a feel for the city of Newcastle, the beautiful bits of the coast and the dramatic post-industrial landscape along the Tyne and in the south-east corner of the county. Of course the details of plot have changed but the essence of the characters and my preoccupations with place and family are still there.
In the last few weeks filming has started. I was invited to the read-through in the old Swan Hunter office in Wallsend. My first meeting with Brenda Blethyn who has become Vera. I loved her immediately because she'd read my books and liked them. And because she was so nervous that she was trembling. As the read-through progressed it became clear that she 'got' Vera and even in that impersonal office, sat around a board room table, Brenda Blethyn became Vera in front of me. A kind of magic. Now, writing the dialogue for the new Vera book I hear Brenda's voice in my head.
Yesterday I spent a day on set and for the first I realised the size of the undertaking. A corner of Newcastle's Town Moor has been taken over with trucks and buses as the base unit. Walking past to the catering van I glimpsed the wardrobe truck full of washing machines and dryers, the directors' and producers' offices and the actors' dressing rooms. Then we headed off to the location for the morning's shoot - The Sage.
My daughter Sarah was with me because her husband works as a sound engineer in The Sage (like the character Gary in Hidden Depths) and it's a special place for them both. We were both amazed at the time it takes to set up each scene. Adrian Shergold, the director, patient and relaxed, talked the actor through the moves again and again. The whole process took about three hours for a scene that will last about 10 seconds. But then, watching the final take on the monitor with Elwen the producer, it came together so brilliantly that all the rehearsal and preparation seemed wothwhile.
I'm left with a really weird feeling, almost of embarrassment. It's all happened so quickly. I've been writing for more than twenty years without anyone noticing I'm there. I can hardly believe that this huge undertaking has anything to do with my sitting at a computer three years ago and telling a story. But there's pride too. Not just that it's happening, but that it's happening HERE in the place I think of as home. In a small way I've contributed to providing work - for the dad of one of my granddaughter's classmates, for Neil the actor who's a friend of my daughter, for the young musicians from Folkworks, who provided the background to yesterday's filming. And the security guys and the drivers...
So a huge thank you to the crew and the actors and the people at ITV who put up the money. You've made a writer (on her birthday) very happy.
Posted by Ann at 10:12 AM GMT