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Books and Adaptations

By Mary Karayel, Alexandra Constable and Hayley Cadel

With the ongoing success of adaptations, in this issue, the team looks at translating books for the screen. With the popularity of shows such as Bridgeton and Normal People, we are seeing more and more series creating book trends, with readers not only reading the books these are based on but reading more generally within a genre. Publishers therefore can use this to spot books which could be adapted well into television and sell to readers more widely.

Books being adapted into film is no new phenomenon. However, with the popularity of streaming services, adaptations have the opportunity to reach an even wider audience. With the popularity of adaptations translating directly into book sales, the selling of rights aids the success of a title. In recent years we have seen the success of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, with the BBC adaptation generating interest in the book and elevating the author, with readers and fans eagerly anticipating the upcoming release of Conversations with Friends. For Normal People, the setting created an authenticity which translated well for the screen. Interestingly, this popularity has arguably gone on to create a trend, with similar titles, such as Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, Orion Publishing, emerging. On the other hand, adaptations can also generate interest in backlist titles, for example The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, saw a renewed interest following the TV series, which managed to reach an audience extending beyond the original readers. This ties in with accessibility, with adaptations being an effective way of connecting stories with an audience beyond just readers.

Whilst many adaptations like Normal People, Lord of the Rings and Dune are “truthful” to the novels they are based on, there has been an increase in film and television programmes that are inspired by books and offer some differences. The biggest example of media being inspired by books is the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin. The first book of the fantasy phenomenon was published in 1996 but was only commissioned for HBO in 2011. The series started out following the books quite closely but by season five, HBO trancended George RR Martin's written work and had started to create their own plots. Martin has promised fans a very different ending to the series, although, exactly when the final book The Winds of Winter will be released, is still unclear. More recently, the cult favourite Bridgerton is back on Netflix with season two and is based on the second book of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series The Viscount Who Loved Me. We will keep this a spoiler free article, but there are some deviations from the books! Both Game of Thrones and Bridgerton create an interest in historical fiction that otherwise may have never become so popular and there is clearly a huge market for these kinds of episodic novels.

Another interesting adaptation that has been released this year is Adam Kay’s memoir This is Going to Hurt. The non-fiction memoir recounts Kay’s life as a junior doctor and working for the NHS and has received much acclaim especially off the back of the pandemic with over 2.5 million copies sold. The BBC adaptation has been created, written and executively produced by Kay himself, yet he still chooses to adapt the book and develop certain scenarios further to make it more inviting for a visual audience. Despite some minor changes, Adam Kay promises that “people who have read the book will recognise lots of the scenes and hopefully feel that it’s still as funny, sad and of course repulsive as they remember.” We implore you to check out this adaptation to see how non-fiction books can be translated to the screen.

TV adaptations have also been known to prompt the publication of further books related to a particular series. For example, the Outlander series saw its first instalment published in 1991, but the release of the TV series in 2014 led to a whole host of related books being published. For example, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish – the stars of the TV series – have capitalised on the popularity of the show by writing their own book named Clanlands. Outlander now also has its own cookbook and specialised tour guide around Scotland.

There are many new adaptations to come this year that we think you should check out, such as Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka starring Sandra Bullock, Alice Osman’s graphic novel Heartstopper which has been developed by Netflix into an 8-part series and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, based on the popularity of Owens’ novel which became a New York Times Bestseller. The film adaptation will undoubtedly become a cinematic hit thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s experience producing book adaptations and the brilliant acting of Daisy Edgar-Jones who has been cast as Kya. We see no sign of the book-to-screen trend stopping and expect more books to be adapted especially for TV series in the future.


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