It’s hard to believe that I am coming out soon with a novel based on a television drama series that I wrote back in 2014. I originally wrote Playing Rudolf Hess as a movie and then developed it into a six-hour television series.
It’s a great imposter story and it reads like a John le Carré novel. A friend of mine commented that my Paul Cummings character is “very reminiscent of George Smiley (John le Carré) and Bernard Samson (Len Deighton)”. Of course, it would be since the novel starts in Berlin in 1973 at the height of the Cold War.
The story deals with one of the greatest mysteries of WW2, the real identity of the Nazi Reichsminister. It is an historical novel that takes the reader back to wartime Britain with the rationing, the POW camps, the capture of enemy agents, the interrogations, the land girls, the secret codes, etc..
I’m new to writing novels. I’m a Canadian and British writer and director of feature films and television drama (Women Without Wings, Leatha Acident, Killing Ruth – the Snuff Dialogues, Treeline, Short Change, Cottage in America).
I am an avid reader of fiction, some 50 novels a year, mostly psychological thrillers, detective and historical novels, lots of them best-sellers. I suppose I inherited this taste for escapist literature from my mother who was a short story writer. Story ideas are what make me tick and the novel is a fantastic arena for exploring characters and story lines.
My background, however, is in science. I did a Master’s degree in Chemistry at the INRS (Université du Québec) after arriving in Canada from the US where I did a B.Sc. in Physics at Yale University. I abandoned my career in science when I fell in love with film production, cameras and sound recording. While working behind the camera as a director and cameraman, I discovered that I had a real talent for writing screenplays for film and television.
Writing, of course, is the key to a good movie. The story idea is very important. Is it fresh, new, different? Are the main characters sympathetic? Can we identify with this character or that? These are the main questions that we must ask ourselves when we start writing a script. A lot of times the structural problems in a film come from the script, so the cheapest way to address the problem is to do the work on the script first. It saves an immense amount of time and money later.
Writing is also the key to a good novel. The difference is that the canvas is much bigger. You need to write the back story of each character and know the thoughts going through their minds. You need to plan a novel. You need to know where you start and where you finish. For me writing a novel always appeared to be an insurmountable task and I never felt I was up to it.
On the other hand writing for film and television never felt like work. You see the characters and scenes in your head. It is easy to play with an idea, add a scene and see where it goes. I can’t imagine doing this in a novel. In writing for movies and television, I never feared the empty page, what I feared was not getting to the end of it. So I would write scripts at ferocious speeds, seven days a week with no let up until I got to the final page. I once wrote an entire first draft thriller entitled African Hearts in 11 days and it remains one of the best scripts I ever wrote, although it was never produced.
Like the legendary screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, I prefer to write spec scripts. I hate to have to write the synopsis of a story that I haven’t written yet. I can write a spec script in no time once I have the characters in my head.
Film or television drama is a tough school and any competent writer quickly learns that the opening scene is key. How do we pull in the viewer? In film and television the story must unfold very quickly just like a best-selling novel today. So having written for film and television, I felt quite confident I could pull off a novel based on one of my own screenplays since more than half the work was already down on paper.
Next week, I will share with you some myths and falsehoods about WWII.
Meanwhile, please leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences as a writer! If you have written a book, fiction or non-fiction, how did it go?
Does one need to be born a writer today with all the technological assistance available?