Books vs. TV

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

This week’s playlist:

Don’t Be Afraid if Nobody Loves You – Suede
Exile Rag – Kyle Craft
Discoverer – R.E.M.
Burning – The War on Drugs
I Am the Moment – Arthur Buck

There’s a lot of talk nowadays (certainly since I started working in bookselling back in the late nineties) that people don’t read as much as they used to. This is evidenced widely, from entire compartments on the London Underground peopled by phone-gazers, falling sales for career-authors whose cookie-cutter production-line half-arsed thrillers sold in higher numbers back in the seventies or eighties, to the proudly-delivered public utterances of Donald Trump, who’d clearly struggle to adequately read the words “unindicted co-conspirator” on the front page of the Washington Post, in big black 100-point type. The fear – amongst teachers, amongst employers, and certainly amongst publishers, is that people are just “watching stuff on their iPads instead”.

You have to take a long-term view. The humble novel evolved, a couple of hundred years after the invention of the printing press, as a means of giving people a supremely portable form of narrative entertainment. But technology has moved on, as has the art of storytelling itself. You could argue that the twelve part Netflix TV boxset is now the supreme form of narrative storytelling, and you could argue that the most exciting work in that area is now being done in this medium. And thanks to Steve Jobs, this is also a highly portable form of entertainment.

But it’s not entirely at the expense of books. Look at the sales of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books in the wake of the television production of A Game of Thrones. Remember, too, that despite Ian Richardson and Andrew Davies’ iconic 1990 BBC adaptation, Netflix’s own House of Cards owes its life to the three Francis Urquhart novels written by Michael Dobbs. Amazon are currently launching a show about eponymous hero Jack Ryan, central character of a many a Tom Clancy novel. American Gods started life as a book, and so too have book to TV juggernauts like Wolf Hall, Endeavour (via Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse) and even Orange is the New Black. Doctor Who was kept alive during the wilderness years 1990 – 2005 mostly by the original novels which spawned many ideas and writers involved in the ‘new’ version. And this codependency has been going on for -what?- the best part of 100 years. TV has always needed books. And books benefit hugely from the oxygen of publicity they derive from television.

All of which leads me to my actual point, which is that TV rights for my Winterhill series -which were created to inhabit the space between prose fiction and serial TV drama- are available to the highest bidder. I mention this purely on the off-chance that Abigail HBO is reading this while searching for new books to adapt for her TV channel. Until then you can read them on your Kindle, or indeed your smartphone or tablet if you’re running the Kindle app.

Let me quickly mention Simon Brew’s excellent new podcast Film Stories in which, from a place of quiet but deep love, Brew speaks about the great films of the last forty years, unscripted and with great knowledge, in a slightly more professional way than I used to manage in my old book podcast Five Minute Fiction, but following a similar format. In many ways it’s the podcast I’d aspired to make FMF. If you like films, (you can guess where this sentence is going) I think you’ll love Film Stories. You can follow the podcast on twitter at @filmstoriespod and subscribe to it wherever you get your podcasts.

I hope you are well. I’m doing OK. But you should never be afraid to ask for help if you’re a bit fed up with things.


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