Friday, September 19, 2008

The Blue on air

I was called by Jane Waddell tonight. She is directing The Blue for Radio NZ National and wanted to check out the pronunciation of some of the words for the first recording on Tuesday. She told me the adaptation is for three voices - a narrator, Lilian and The Friar. She also told me the names of the actors but I didn't write them down.

Someone is going to be Lilian, someone else will be The Friar.

For a moment this is exciting, terrifying, inexplicably moving.

Two characters I know better than many people will be given a human voice. How will that be? What if the voices are not what I imagined them to be? Will Lilian and the Friar develop unexpected characteristics? Will they act differently without my hands on the reins?

This must be how authors feel when their books are made into movies. Then again, I tell myself, surely every time someone opens a book and reads, another version of it is created in the reader's head that the author can't control anyway. No two readers will 'hear' Lilian's voice the same way. So a radio version of The Blue is simply another - more public - version which listeners will 'adapt' to suit themselves. (Or that's what I keep telling myself. The thing is I don't often see the other Lilians people have imagined, although sometimes they tell me about them: there is much that is familiar, but there are some surprises too.)

A new audience for the book is marvellous, of course, and should lead to more sales, but hearing Lilian speak outside of the voice in my head is something else altogether. It will be close to miraculous - terribly moving - an ultimate act of the imagination.

To finish, the very funny Anne Enright (a hero of mine whom incidentally I had a chat with outside our hotel at the Auckland Writers' Festival) has been talking about the vulnerability of the writer in the face of the reader. Not someone reading at home in bed, or listening at the kitchen table, but the live reader. The sort who goes to festivals like Going West in Auckland this weekend.
Any of the writers performing up there could usefully read Enright's article for some terrific tips on what to do in this sort of situation ....

Performance is always a gift from the weak to the strong, and it is a transformative gift. Everyone feels better, you think, as the last lift and drop of your voice ekes out a final trembling trochee, as your head drops that humble half inch, as you pause and step back from the clatter of applause, surprised, overwhelmed, murmuring "Thank you. Thank you so much."

And then they turn up the house lights.

"Why are you so bitter?" says the woman in the front row, before they can fumble a mike across to her. She is sitting very straight. She seems to be wearing a hat with flowers and a pheasant in it, but of course she is not - that is just your imagination.


Rachael King said...

Crikey Mary, if you're worried about hearing The Blue with a real-live voice, I have to warn you the strangest thing is actually hearing only about 20% of the actual book read out due to the heavy abridgement that is necessary to condense it to x number of 10 minute readings. When they whip through a chapter in the space of a paragraph you'll forget about the voice altogether, I promise!

Hearing mine made me realise that novels on the radio only really gives you a taste for it, and when you hear one broadcast, you shouldn't imagine you have read the whole book. said...

Mary, you lucky woman with 'The Blue' on radio, and yes, what a mixture for you of trepidation and joy - the people in your head, who landed on the page, will now metamorphis into yet another chapter, and the listeners will be influenced by the abridgement, the interpretation and the voice - but how exciting and how amazing.

Regarding Anne Enright and the piece from the Guardian - I like this bit about her listening to Norman Mailer and finally getting brave enough to say:

I said: "If you're that keen on sex, then why are all the sex scenes in your books so unhappy?" And he said: "Why are you so angry?"

I loved "The Gathering", although I expected not to.

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks, Rachael, I was wondering how you found the radio adaptation of The Sound of Butterflies. You're right, it can only be a taste, and I know how often readers come into the bookshop I work at and ask for the book they've heard being read on National Radio and wanting 'the whole thing.' So I'm pleased about that!

And Maggie, you're right too. I am lucky. And on Anne Enright's piece - I thought her 'tips' were fabulous. I have stored away some of those ripostes in case of need.

'The Gathering' was a tour de force, I thought, and like you I didn't expect it to be. Too many reports of this book during the Booker seemed to reduce it down to the storyline and forget the wonderful language, the humour, the way the story was constructed...

Rachael King said...

I'm reading Making Babies by Anne Enright. I think she's great. I love her sense of humour. The photos of her when she's just given birth she describes as looking like she has just cleaned the oven and is about to tackle the fridge.

I found The Gathering quite a funny book. Does that make me strange?