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Alice Hunter: Watching My Novel Come to Life on TV

Alice Hunter: Watching My Novel Come to Life on TV

As an author, seeing your creation leap from the pages of your novel to the screen is the stuff that dreams are made of. When I learned that my book The Serial Killer’s Wife was being adapted into a four-part TV series for Paramount Plus, I was ridiculously excited, and it took weeks for it to fully sink in. Then, questions started flooding my mind: would it be faithful to the story I had written? Who would play the lead roles? Where would it be filmed? What would the final series look like? Would viewers enjoy it? I was on an emotional rollercoaster as I awaited news of each step from my publisher, Avon, HarperCollins. Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait – within a year of me finding out about the option, the series was on our screens!

From the outset, I knew that I wouldn’t have any say in the adaptation process. While some authors may relish the opportunity to be involved in bringing their work to life on screen, I had to come to terms with the fact my role was strictly as the writer of the novel – the source material – and once the rights were sold, that was my part over. In some ways, this was disappointing, particularly as I was undertaking a screenwriting MA at the time. In my head I thought it would be amazing to have an input in adapting my own work. However, I trusted the skill and expertise of the production team and their ability to bring my story to life in a new and compelling way. I understood the complexities involved in adaptation and the creative decisions that would need to be made in order to translate the story effectively to a different medium, and ultimately, it would’ve been beyond my scope of expertise!

Nonetheless, it was still a daunting prospect to give up control over my own story – what if I didn’t like it? Would fans of the novel be disappointed with how it translated to screen? It’s often said by readers that a film or TV series is never as good as the book it’s based on – and I wondered if that would be the case for mine.

Most of these questions were answered when The Serial Killer’s Wife debuted on Paramount Plus in December 2023. I was beyond excited – but really nervous, too. I had seen a trailer and was blown away by it (and it happened to include some of the scenes I’d observed when I’d visited set, so that was thrilling!) but other than that, I had no idea how the finished series would look. When I settled down on the sofa with my husband to watch the first episode, my heart was in my mouth. I immediately found myself attempting to work out which scenes might be taken from my novel, and whether characters were mine, or those created specifically for the series; my attention flitted for the first few minutes. Then I stopped trying to figure things out and simply enjoyed the episode.

While I was prepared for the inevitable adjustments from my novel, it didn’t stop me from having the odd moment where I found myself questioning changes made to the storyline or character arcs, wondering what the reasoning behind each one was and the impact on the overall narrative I had crafted. Yet, as I watched the series unfold, I came to appreciate the unique perspective that the production team, director, and actors brought to the table. While the vision may have differed from my own in some respects, I also understood the necessity of such changes in order to translate the story effectively to a visual medium. For example, certain elements were expanded upon or altered to suit the episodic format – subplots from my novel were condensed or omitted altogether, while others were given new life and added complexities with back stories I’d only touched upon in the novel.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the adaptation process for me was seeing the characters I had spent time developing spring to life on television; the actors were all fantastic, imbuing each with personality and depth beyond what I had imagined. It was both surreal and satisfying to watch as these characters, once confined to the pages of my book, took on a life of their own in the hands of talented performers. As the final credits rolled on the last episode, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and gratitude for the opportunity to see my work reach a wider audience through the medium of television.

The feedback and reactions from viewers were overwhelmingly positive, and I was grateful it opened up new opportunities for my work to be discovered by audiences who may never have picked up the novel. It challenged me to let go of my attachment to the original text and embrace the creative possibilities of adaptation and while the series may have deviated from the novel in some respects, it remained true to the essence of the story I had set out to tell. And in the end, that’s what truly matters.

Alice Hunter’s latest book, Bad Apple, is published by Avon on 9 May 2024

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