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‘FROM BOOK TO FILM’ by Meg Rosoff Author of HOW I LIVE NOW

 

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From Book to Film‘  by Meg Rosoff

I wrote my first novel in 2003, at the age of forty-six, having convinced myself over a lifetime of self-doubt that I was no good at plot and didn’t have what it takes to write fiction. Nothing preceded it. Not a short story, or a creative writing course, nothing. So when my agent told me she thought the book was brilliant, I was touched by her kindness, but totally unprepared for it to be any kind of success. Two auctions later (in the U.S. and UK), and a year before the book even came out, we sold the film rights to How I Live Now. Clueless about the process, I was nonetheless ecstatic. I’m going to make about £700 million any minute now, when the film comes out!

Cue cosmic laughter.

Four madly enthusiastic young men with impeccable manners bought the rights. I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence, but they seemed sincere.

My film agent suggested I write the screenplay, so I wrote a draft before the project ended in all manner of tragedy. My film agent was murdered. I discovered I had cancer. Shaken, and somewhat traumatised, I turned the job back over to the producers, who (no doubt with some relief) hired a professional.

Years passed.

Thomas Vinterberg was hired to direct, and an unknown actress, Kristen Stewart, considered for the lead. Thomas came to see me at home, paced back and forth, and asked what I thought the book was about. I asked what he thought the book was about. We parted cordially, mutually bemused.

Some months later, I heard that Vinterberg was no longer on board, while Kristen Stewart was starring in some low-budget vampire flick called “Twilight.” That’s the end of her career, thought I.

More years passed. The first scriptwriter was replaced by a second. My mother phoned weekly from California asking when the film would be out. “Preferably before I’m dead,” she added. For a few years I reassured her. After a while, I wasn’t so sure.

Then I had a call from one of the producers. “We’ve got Kevin!” he announced in triumph. Kevin who? I thought, madly googling. Kevin Macdonald, Oscar-winning director of “One Day in September,” “Touching the Void” (one of my favourite films), “Last King of Scotland,” etc.

That Kevin.

More months passed.

Scraps of information from various sources appeared in my in-box. Kevin was searching America for an unknown actress. Kevin has cast rising-star Saoirse Ronan. Kevin finally found his Edmond – who wasn’t anything like the one I’d imagined.

When, last summer, the film finally went into production, I felt nervous. I hadn’t even seen a script. But on location in Wales, the set looked like something cribbed from the inside of my head. The cast was absolutely amazing. Saoirse Ronan (the beautiful, talented, Oscar-nominated star of “Atonement” and “Hanna”) looked like some cute skinny girl with a mischievous grin until you saw her through the camera – which transformed her into a luminous young woman with the ability to express complex emotion through her eyes. If she and soulful George MacKay, our Edmond, look as if they’re falling in love on-screen, it’s because they actually did. And when the kids are forcibly separated, Tom Holland told me he didn’t have to pretend to cry – they’d all grown so close over the preceding weeks that the violence of the scene felt genuinely traumatic.

In the meantime, our funny young producers were now big successful grown-ups with long lists of successful films behind them. The director was wonderfully polite, but looked nervous around me, as if I might suddenly start screaming, “What have you done to my book!” (At which point I’d be taken out by a sharpshooter disguised as second assistant director.)

When I finally saw the finished film last month, so nervous I could barely look at the screen, the feeling was extraordinary. Exactly ten years had passed since our first meeting, and despite the fact that writers are supposed to despise their film adaptations, I loved mine.

The truth is, I got lucky – the sort of lucky you get when people with vision show relentless, stubborn dedication for ten long years without flagging. And despite not making anywhere remotely near the millions I’d dreamt about, that feeling was priceless.

 

HOW I LIVE NOW. In cinemas November 28.

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