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  • Writer's pictureChris Dresser

The joys and adventures of making my novels known

Having spent most of my life writing movie screenplays and television drama series, the experience of seeing my novels in print is quite different. In contrast the writing of a screenplay is the beginning of a long collaborative effort which goes something like this:

Any story starts with an idea, whether written for the screen or as a novel. The story can be initiated by the author or screenwriter or it can be an idea that a movie producer has come up with. Very often in the case of movies, a published novel attracts the attention of a movie producer. The advantage is that if the sales of the novel have been good, then the producer can be confident that there is an audience out there that enjoyed the story. The disadvantage however is that audiences then compare the novel with the movie and very often they are disappointed. In fairness to the screenwriters and film makers, a story has to be told a different way on screen. Movies are essentially visual and the director's task is to tell as much visually as possible. Dialogue is important but it should always play a secondary role to the visuals.

In the early days when silent movies became 'talkies' the film makers tended to regard the medium as theatre on film. Long dialogue scenes followed with all kinds of theatrical devices, such as slow fades down to black at the end of scene were used. Over time as cinema audiences became more educated in the medium, all kinds of cinematic shorthand were employed. For example, a guy gets into a car and pulls away. The next shot shows him arriving at his destination. In the old days we would see a number of shots of the car travelling but unless it's a vital clue to the progress of the storyline, it would now slow down the pace of the movie.

So, when a novel is adapted for a screenplay, dialogue is shortened, a person's thoughts are usually excluded or portrayed by body language. Therefore, there are some novels that are simply not suitable for adaption as a screenplay. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to stop producers from trying to adapt these novels just because the book sold well.

During my years as a screenwriter, I always came up with original screenplays or they were based on true facts, rather than a novel. When I first started to write a novel, I was worried that I would write it like a movie screenplay with tight dialogue and minimal visual description, which would be interpreted by the director if a movie were made. I believe that I overcame that hurdle by being acutely aware of the risk of writing a screenplay instead of a novel.

The bottom line is that movies and novels are two different genres and should be treated as such. A screenwriter has to come to terms with the fact that if their story is chosen by the producer, they will want a particular angle to be emphasised. The screenplay is then given to the director whose task is to translate the story into visuals with only necessary dialogue and he will edit it accordingly. Once the movie is shot the film editor will in turn put his spin on the story by editing each scene a particular way and quite often changing the scene sequences. A confident director will allow a good editor to impose his style on the finished footage. The screenwriter has little say in the final product unless he is also a producer. Sometimes he or she is excited by the organic process and regards the final product as better than their original screenplay on paper. Sadly, the screenwriter is often disappointed by the resulting changes in the original screenplay, but this can be an ego thing. The ideal evolution of a screenplay into a finished movie is when each person involved adds something good to the final product, resulting in a successful movie.

With a novel there are some intermediary steps whereby the publisher may employ a story editor or make changes themselves. Proof reading is essential, then the cover and the layout of the book add the finesse required for the novel before it goes to print. However, these steps are far less intrusive on the author's final work, than the lottery of writing a screenplay!

Getting a novel published is quite an ordeal, in much the same way that getting a producer to accept one’s screenplay, is the bewildering process of persuading an editor to choose your work over hundreds of others. In my case I initially went the route of dozens of other unknown authors and self published on Amazon/Kindle only to discover that apart from a few friends, hardly anyone knew that my novel existed. It was just one of thousands of books on Amazon with nothing to indicate it was better than its rivals.

Then out of the blue I was re-approached by a lady who had previously read and liked my first novel "Pursuit of Treachery." She had been in the book industry for many years but not as a publisher. Her company represented, and still does, a number of publishers from around the globe and she sells to book trade outlets in the UK and Europe. She had been helpful with advice but was not then a publisher.

Andrea Grant-Webb told me that she was now going to venture into publishing herself and she would be interested in publishing the two novels I had written, on condition that I write a third novel in the series to make it a trilogy. I jumped at the chance, having wanted to be published as an author long before I even considered screenwriting.

With the first novel we did two book signings, one in East Grinstead where we used to live and where Andrea lives. The other was here at Lovat Fields Village in Milton Keynes where we currently live. At Lovat, which is a retirement complex with nearly 400 residents, I was able to spend about twenty minutes talking about my early life, especially in Africa and how I came to be a writer. I then did a brief reading from "Pursuit of Treachery," followed by signing books purchased by those who attended. In East Grinstead it was a rather cold day and because of Covid we could not hold the event inside The Bookshop (that's its name) who hosted us. I was delighted to sell and sign a number of books.

This time with the second novel "Deceit of Treachery" it was a lovely warm summer's day and a table was set up right outside The Bookshop on the High Street. John Pye, who has owned the Bookshop for 30 years, has retained the atmosphere of a classic English bookshop located on the High Street which is considered to be one of the most historical streets in Britain, with a number of the buildings dating back as far as the 12th Century. I could not have wished for a better setting. When my wife Hero and I arrived I had my first chance to actually pick up and hold a copy of "Deceit of Treachery" which I had only seen online until then.

There is something magical about holding a novel that I had written. In some ways it transcends the premieres of movies made from my screenplays. It just seems so much more personal and of course it is closer to my original storyline than any of the screenplays I have written. Although I'm grateful that these novels are also available on Amazon/Kindle, holding the paperback and delighting in the beautiful cover was a special moment. With the first book "Pursuit of Treachery" it was obviously a unique experience for me and one I shall never forget but the sequel "Deceit of Treachery" has also given me a sense of continuity. The third novel, "Surviving Treachery", that I wrote in East Grinstead over the past couple of years is another sequel following the fortunes and misfortunes of the Willjohn family some years after the first two books were written. The third book will be published in March 2023.

The biggest challenge now is to make the public aware of the trilogy. The really big publishers spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing, far more than smaller publishers are able to do but Andrea, owner of Pagoda Tree Books, my publisher, has been wonderful. She done everything possible to create awareness of the books and I am spending more and more time doing the same. Book signings help to network the novels. A number of readers have been kind enough to write glowing reviews and this will eventually help to push awareness of the trilogy on Amazon and places like "Goodreads." I will shortly be approaching book clubs and hope to speak on local radio stations and feature in regional newspapers. It's a long road but an exciting one. Best of all, after many years I can actually tell people that I'm a published author. There are thousands of would-be authors out there and all I can say is -

"Never give up. You deserve to be recognised. Any artist in any field helps to create a culture and environment wherever you may live. A society without artists is a desperate one indeed. Provide your touch of colour to an otherwise grey world!"

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1 Comment

Jul 15, 2022

Good advice. Thanks Chris! I too self-published on Amazon, but it was just for the family. Its a 600 page book called 'For The Love Of Betty'. Its the story of my Father-in-law's trials and tribulations in the Far East during WW2, told through the daily letters he wrote to his young wife. Many of his letters had been 'photo-shrunk' to save space and weight in the wartime airmail service. It was quite an effort to get everything transcribed. Now I am writing a novel based on that story but with added fictitious events and happenings. Hoping to be done before the year's out.



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