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Behind the camera: taking Fawley to the small screen

Bestselling author Cara Hunter talks bringing DI Adam Fawley to life in the upcoming Fawley TV series Fawley

In the old days, traditional TV channels like the BBC and ITV used to make a lot of their own content, but also commissioned some specific programmes from independent production companies. But now, with the rise of major new players like Amazon and Netflix, who don’t make any of their own material at all, the independents have never been more important, and that’s translating into some really exciting and ambitious programming. Which is where companies like Castlefield come in.

Castlefield is part of Fremantle, one of the biggest media groups in the world. Castlefield is based in Manchester, and run by Hilary Martin and Simon Judd, who previously ran BBC Drama North. So even though Castlefield itself is a relatively new kid on the block, it comes with a serious track record of great programme-making.

Sadly, with lockdown, I still haven’t been able to meet Hilary and Simon in the flesh, but we’ve Zoomed and talked on the phone and I’m so impressed with their understanding of the Fawley books and their empathy with the characters. So I was really delighted when they agreed so enthusiastically to be interviewed for this newsletter.

Hilary and Simon, it’s so fantastic to have the prospect of the Fawley books on the small screen – what was it about the series that you thought would make good TV?

As soon as you read the Fawley series, as a TV producer, you know that they will make fantastic adaptations. Not only are they written in such a visual, striking way, but in some ways they read like TV scripts already – with their incredible hooks, twists and turns, and the way the narrative is always driving forward. We loved how each book is a big, self-contained crime story (the perfect opportunity to have one novel per series!) but also how you so deftly weave in the bigger ongoing stories with Adam and his team. We also loved how each story played with recognisable elements of popular culture, which would appeal to a TV drama audience, but with their own unique slant and licence to fictionalise. It’s like having the best of both worlds! And of course, we couldn’t help but fall in love with Adam and his team – their mix of professional and personal lives and how, as characters, they are as layered and intriguing as the crime stories themselves.

I don’t think most people will know very much about the actual process of taking a book to TV – I didn’t! Can you talk a bit about that?

The first – and most important – thing to do is to find a screenwriter who shares our love of the books and vision for how to adapt them to screen. This really is crucial; the process of TV drama development is a long and often winding road, so it makes sense to be on that journey with someone who is on the same page with the rest of the creative team from the start. Once the writer is on board, we will all chat about how to break a book down into a TV series – probably six episodes – thinking about what the big hooks for each episode might be and what a broad shape of the series would look like, what the character arcs are etc. We would then look at the pilot episode in more forensic detail, doing what’s called a ‘scene by scene’ – for example, writing a prose document about what will be happening in each scene. Once this has all been signed off, the next stage would be to go to script on the first episode. This would either be self-financed (by us) or we would take the material to a drama commissioner and pitch to them and hope that they are excited as we are and finance a script.

Either way, the writer will then go and write for a couple of months, before emerging with a first draft of the script. This will go through four or five edits before then being taken back to the drama commissioner (or taken for the first time if the script is self-financed!). Sometimes, at this stage we might attach an actor if we think that could help sell the show, but not always. The commissioner will have their own thoughts about the script, which the screenwriter would then incorporate before, hopefully, returning the script to the commissioner and getting a green light to make the show! This is in an ideal world. The TV drama landscape however is littered with shows that were developed for one broadcaster but ended up on another. We feel the Fawley novels have the potential to become a much-loved mainstream crimes series and we look forward to sharing the fruits of our labours with your many loyal fans and introducing your characters and stories to a new audience too.

So what happens next?

We are currently in the process of matchmaking a brilliant screenwriter with your amazing characters and stories. Once they are on board, we will then dive back into the books along with the screenwriter, and chat in more detail about the characters’ backstories, their psychologies, their journeys – enjoying finding the little details to make the characters jump off the screen in the same way they do in the novels. Then we’ll start breaking down the plot into episodic chunks, to ensure the architecture of the script is solidly built with plenty of twists and turns, ending each episode on a big cliff-hanger. In normal times we’d also travel to Oxford to understand the parts of the city that are captured so evocatively and authentically in the books. Hopefully we still will be able to do this in due course or, if not, we’ll be asking you to give us a Zoom tour at the very least!

And now the million-dollar question – we’re all agog to know who will play Adam!

We have some ideas but our lips are sealed! We’d love to hear readers’ wish-lists though…

Who would you love to see playing Adam in the Fawley TV series? Let us know in the comments below…

The Whole Truth

Cara Hunter

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