‘Forget what’s in the Book’

One of the biggest pleasures in having my first novel published is listening to readers talk about my characters as if they exist outside of the book. In addition to public literary events I have visited book groups run by my mum, my brother-in-law, friends and ex-students to discuss Alarm Girl.

However, I am keen to get folk who don’t know me to read my work, too, and to this end I asked my partner and my eldest son to help me make a short promotional film.

Alarm Girl is partly narrated by eleven-year old Indy, so casting was tricky. While it delicious to have readers discuss my characters as if they exist (which of course they do, in the writer’s imagination and in the reader’s imagination), I was hesitant at the prospect of my child narrator coming to ‘real life’. I wanted to protect the private version of her I had in my head and wanted to protect the reader’s imagined version of her too.

The novel is set in South Africa, so shooting on location immediately proved a challenge. We substituted close-ups of the sandpit in our local park for a South African beach and by lucky chance, the publisher’s publicist was visiting South Africa on holiday so we gave her a camera and asked if she wouldn’t mind filming some bits and pieces – a beach, we suggested, some scenery out of a car window…

A Facebook friend had a daughter of the right age for Indy and happily, soon after our first meeting I found myself accidentally calling her ‘Indy’ – a good sign, I thought.

My partner works in factual television but even in so-called documentary, narrative is essential. I was shocked (and I admit, a bit hurt) when he told me ‘forget what’s in the book.’ Our task, he said, was to find economic visual signifiers and allow enough blanks for potential readers to fill in.

The film we made has a narrative of its own – one that the viewer constructs from the associations they make between the visual images and the spoken element. As with the book itself, the viewer, just like a reader, fills in the blanks and creates a story.


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