Publishing Scotland Conference 2016: Adapting Books for TV & Radio

February 29th, 2016 by Isobel Anderson | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Publishing Scotland Conference 2016: Adapting Books for TV & Radio
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TV & Radio panelOn 25th February Publishing Scotland and the Booksellers Association held their annual Scottish Book Trade Conference in Edinburgh. While all of the presentations were extremely interesting and informative, with one involving a number of amusing Star Wars references, the session I was most looking forward to was Adapting books for TV & Radio. Chaired by journalist Sheena McDonald with panelists Gaynor Holmes (Head of TV Drama at BBC Scotland) and Bruce Young (Head of Radio Drama at BBC Scotland), the session provided an informative insight into the work it takes to successfully adapt a novel for television or radio.

In the past decade eleven of BBC Scotland’s fifty eight television productions have been adaptations, such as Case Histories and Hamish Macbeth. It can take anywhere from eighteen months to three or four years to adapt a novel for television so those in charge look for known titles, award-winning or best-selling novels, to adapt in order to increase their chances of attracting the five to eight million viewers who regularly watch BBC One dramas. Gaynor explained that while it is inevitable changes will have to be made to the original content, producers must adapt the novel with a great deal of integrity and remain respectful of the original intent. When trying to get around obstacles in the adaptations, writers sometimes change element after element of the plot in order to suit television, but Gaynor stated that it is at this point a step back must be taken and the following question asked: should we just write an original drama? Sometimes the plot of a novel is simply used as inspiration to create original content, such as Monarch of the Glen.

While many of us wince when we hear that our favourite novel is being developed into a television show or film and instantly worry about the content that will be changed or simply ignored, Gaynor explained some of the challenges of adapting a novel. The majority of productions are bound by their budget and so merge characters and locations together, especially as there isn’t enough time to develop each individual character if they are not integral to the plot. Some novels simply do not lend themselves to adaptation at all, such as stories that involve a lot of internal monologue. One of the main rules of television is “show, not tell”, and this simply cannot be done in some cases.  While BBC Scotland try to remain as faithful to the text as possible, it must be accepted that the content will be different for different mediums. Perhaps these are points we should consider the next time we are about to despair that one of our favourite scenes didn’t make the final cut.

Though some books may not be suitable for television, they may be easily adapted into radio productions, and Gaynor light-heartedly bemoaned the fact that a number of books she has failed to adapt have been made into radio programmes by Bruce. Sixty hours of drama and readings are commissioned for Radio 4, Radio Scotland, Radio 3 and Radio 4 Extra each year, and Bruce said that Radio Scotland try to strike an even balance between producing readings of international books, such as the recent East of Eden, and Scottish books, such as 44 Scotland Street; this is in spite of a recent complaint asking why so many Scottish voices were being heard on the radio. The question was raised whether authors have a hand in adapting their material for radio and Bruce answered that most leave him to do the work, with one author stating something along the lines of: “If we take the money, we must accept the changes”. However there are some authors, such as Alexander McCall Smith, who write both the book and the adaptations; quite an amazing feat. Once radio adaptations are made they are enduring and can be enjoyed by generations for years to come.

The forty five minute session passed by extremely quickly and the panelists were fantastic to listen to. It certainly gave me an appreciation for all the work that goes into creating BBC Scotland’s wonderful productions and I look forward to seeing what they will adapt next.

Visit from Barrington Stoke

February 8th, 2016 by Marian Robb | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visit from Barrington Stoke

Last semester Stirling University’s publishing students received a visit from Mairi Kidd and Kirstin Lamb of Barrington Stoke, a publishing house in Edinburgh that specialises in books for dyslexic children and reluctant readers. Mairi provided a very interesting talk, on how Barrington Stoke came into being, what its business model is and how it achieves this.

The company was set up in 1998 by a mother and daughter-in-law who recognised that children with dyslexia needed a more user friendly font for their needs than any that were available on the market and decided to commission their own. Their font is designed to reduce ambiguity between characters, making them more distinctive to the eye. Spacing between the characters is also increased, to provide further clarity and the publishers use tinted paper in their books which reduces glare and makes for more comfortable reading.

The books themselves are also shorter than many children’s books. Being faced with hundreds of pages can be daunting for any child and liable to turn reading into a chore rather than an enjoyable and engaging experience. As Mairi said, they produce “snacks not meals”. They also like to work closely with their readers, encouraging feedback on what they could improve to make the books even more readable. What is also very interesting is that Barrington Stoke only commission popular and well known authors to write their books. They have recognised that children who find reading challenging don’t want to be stigmatised by having books which are clearly different from their friends or siblings. Authors include Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman, Jeremy Strong and Anne Fine. A full list of authors can be found on the Barrington Stoke website and it’s an impressive list.

It’s also not just printed books that Barrington Stoke publish. They have recently produced their own e-reading app called Tints which, as the name suggests provides a choice of tinted backgrounds to use with their reader friendly font. In addition, the app has a slide ruler to help with reading and parents can download free samples. Information can be found on their website along with a video of coverage by STV. The app is just one example of how progressive Barrington Stoke are. Mairi explained in her talk that they are now promoting their books as “super readable” other than “dyslexia friendly” which reaches out to a wider audience, particularly as children and adults can find reading challenging for a variety of reasons. As an example, the picture books they produce are just as important to adults. Most children under the age of 5 cannot read for themselves anyway which leaves a parent who finds reading a challenge left with the problem of how they read stories to their child. As Mairi explained to us, many picture books can cause difficulties, such as fonts against dark paper, or words floating across the pages against the normal order of left to right which we expect. Their picture books (Picture Squirrels), follow the normal sequence of left to right and top to bottom for text as well as the reader friendly font and tinted pages.

There is no doubt that the Barrington Stoke books help so many children to overcome the barriers to the enjoyment of reading. One look at their Facebook page confirms that from many happy parents. Mairi said that the founders of the company were given an award for the “stupidest idea in publishing: producing books for people who didn’t want to read!” As it turns out it wasn’t a stupid idea at all. In fact it has just highlighted the fact that they do want to read. They just find it that bit more challenging.

Barrington Stoke really are a team of enthusiastic and inspirational publishers. The talk Mairi gave was so interesting and at times poignant, such as the child who wrote to thank them as she/he could now read a whole book. It was just great to listen to and was really appreciated that they gave up the time to come and speak to the class. They left behind a group of very enthused students!