Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I recently had one of those 'if you could adapt anything, what would it be?' sort of conversations, with someone in the position of actually being able to make it happen (i.e. a BBC drama producer).

This doesn't actually mean I've been handed the keys to the drama warehouse or anything, because it's now an incredibly lengthy process of finding literary properties to which a) the rights are available, and b) sound even vaguely like the sort of thing the BBC would want to make in the first place.

Sadly, my number one dream literary adaptation: PG Wodehouse's 'Psmith' novels have already been crossed off the list. Annoyingly, the rights to the main novels are available, but someone's got the rights to the character from a minor appearance in the Blandings novels, which makes it a bit fiddly, mainly because if one major Wodehouse adaptation is in the works, no-one's terribly keen on another starting up for the time being.

Hollywood, meanwhile, has bought the rights to pretty much every British children's classic from the last fifty years, so farewell my idea of doing the 'Dark Is Rising' books properly. Same for John Wyndham's 'The Kraken Wakes' (although I would have needed to come up an ending for that one).

Still, what with my mum having been a librarian, and my having worked in a bookshop for a good few years and having spent my formative years with books rather than people, there's still a list of, ooooh, approximately one jajillion titles to work though.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME. What's the one killer title you'd love to adapt/see a good adaptation of, for film or television? Includes comics, as the BBC seem much more open to that sort of thing nowadays (man, a decent BBC version of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Hellblazer would have been AWESOME).


Jason Arnopp said...

I'm blown away by the fact that Luke Rhinehart's novel The Dice Man has yet to be adapted to film.

It must have become entangled in Development Hell. Or perhaps the adaptation process has been governed solely by dice rolls.

Paul Campbell said...

I'd go for something massive in the space opera genre. Maybe Peter Hamilton.

But it would never get through development.

OK, frankly, it'd be impossible and unaffordable.

But I'd love to crash and burn trying.

James Henry said...

Jason: I think that's a classic Development Hell story, from what I recall.

Paul Campbell: I know a british production company that's seriously looking at adapting Iain M Banks' Culture novels, although it's very early days. But yeah, would love to see some proper british SF stuff like Ken MacLeod or Charles Stross turn up on at some point.

PK said...

When I was young and foolish and just starting out, I wrote to Harlan Ellison and asked if I could adapt one of his short stories for radio. I didn't expect to hear anything. I was young and foolish and doing one of those silly unthinking things that young and foolish people do.

Then one night around midnight Harlan Ellison rang my house! Panic!

He refused permission, naturally, but he was very gracious and encouraging. Plus he let me gibber for a couple of minutes.

These days I wonder if adapting H.P. Lovecraft for radio might be fun. Or might it be quite pointless.

Would love to give Sally Nicholl's weep-fest Ways to Live Forever a shot, but no doubt that's all sown up already. Plus it's an emotional enough job reading it. Adapting it might break me completely.

(trafl: a long forgotten Doctor Who monster with tiny shovels for hands)

Michael Cook said...

I'm sure Spielberg had the rights to John Wyndham's The Chrysalids at one point. It's the X-Men crossed with Planet of The Apes - a natural blockbuster. Keep expecting it to be announced every Summer.

Mike Booth said...

I always thought the novel "Flicker" would make an interesting film or drama series, but it looks like that's being torn apart in Development Hell as well.

Ooh, and the cover blurb now calls the book "Sunset Boulevard meets The Da Vinci Code". Those cunning publishers!

James Henry said...

Awww, I think the blog world (by which I mean james moran can confirm Mr Ellison to be an astonishingly generous and lovely writer.

The Chrysalids is ace, isn't it? About time I re-read that.

ScreenTerrier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScreenTerrier said...

Ways to Live Forever is currently being filmed...

Matt Gibbs said...

With Bingethink on John Wyndham's The Chrysalids and PK with Lovecraft adaptations.

On the comic book front would love to see something like Warren Ellis' Ministry of Space or John Wagner's Button Man: The Killing Game adapted for screen. Both have great possibilities, plus Button Man would also be low budget.

PK said...

He was very nice.

"Hi, this is Harlan Ellison ringing from Sherman Oaks."

I responded with a subtle exhortation requesting that he have sexual congress with the Son of God. Any man who can be nice after such an idiotic response is indeed generous and lovely.

Re Ways to Live Forever. I wonder how they'll deal with that emotional sledgehammer of an ending.

Unknown said...

Oh I wish the BBC could steal rights from Hollywood...just watching the trailer for the 'The Dark is Rising' practically made my eyes bleed - a proper, wonderful, amazing BBC version would have been so fantastic. Probably. And at least a hundred times more fantastic than the film.

But titles I want adapted...that's hard. Most of my favourite books would probably come across horribly on screen as most of the greatness is in the words themselves rather than the action. I'd have loved a good adaptation of the His Dark Materials books, and I'd love to see some Trollope - Framley Parsonage would make a fantastic costume drama.

This is a tough question which requires much thought. I may have to come back to you on this one with more later.

James Henry said...

'Button Man' has been in development for a few years now.

Interestingly, it's often the potboilers that make great adaptations - has anyone read 'The Godfather'? Because the film is wayyyyyy better than the book. Whereas I've never been bothered about Pratchett adaptations, as you lose far more than you gain, as far as I can tell.

Watched the Coraline DVD last night btw, which I thought was very well done (well, right up to the last five minutes, but I don't want to spoil it).

PK said...

Ooh, ooh, one more. Grant Morrison's 2000ad strip Zenith always struck me as something ripe for a big screen adaptation. But I can see execs balking at the idea of a British superhero quadrology. A pity, because the opening of Phase one could be lifted almost directly off the page to give a fabulous opening.

Anyway, must get back to work. Those blank pages won't blank themselves.

Dan Metcalf said...

Oooh, I want to do Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis! (D'y'think the BBC would go for that?) Or a live action version of Button Moon.

Swiv said...

I always thought I'd love to see Wodehouse's 'Uncle Dynamite' done, preferably with Sir Ian McKellan as Uncle Fred.

Also, a really good film of Alan Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen would be most awesome.

patroclus said...

I'd like to see someone with an infinite costume and props budget give the Baroque Cycle a LOTR-style go. On which note, what happened to George Clooney's TV adaptation of The Diamond Age?

patroclus said...

Actually I've just realised (again) that Neal Stephenson would be rubbish on the screen, because all of the brilliance in the writing. This is why I don't work in telly.

jill said...

On the children's lit front, I would adore a good adaptation of "Mistress Masham's Repose." And the tech is available now to enable Lilliputians who don't look like the superimposed, overly green-screeny brownies* of "Willow."

*Their dialogue, I loved. Their visuals? Not so much.

Steve Dix said...


I'd love to see an adaptation of "Anti-Ice" by Steven Baxter.

The problem is dealing with the start and the end, which are both letters.

James Henry said...

Blimey yes, 'Anti-Ice' is a great book. Even if the bit on the Moon did lose me for a while.

Benjamin Russell said...

I think that either Snow Crash or Zodiac would work well on the screen -- and while it might still be hard to see Snow Crash in a post-Johnny Mnemonic world, I think Zodiac has circled back around to being topical.

My pick would be Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle. There's some great meat in there about the clash between fantasy and history, but the ending might need work to make it a little less anticlimactic and a little more Mad Madam Mim.

James Henry said...

Yes, Zodiac is quite timely - as is Interface actually - and there's a character in there who's clearly Karl Rove before Rove was even well-known, which is impressive.

Never read Peter Beagle, must give him a go at some point. I keep thinking about Little. Big, by John Crowley, but it's a very American book, the rights are probably long gone, and I'm not sure it should ever be adapted anyway, it's just perfect as it is. Apart from that...

Vicus Scurra said...

Shame about Psmith, you would do it very well.
What about some Saki stories?

James Henry said...

Ooh Saki! What a cracking idea!

*runs to Amazon*

LC said...

I'd love to see a really gritty, authentic feeling version of the Robin Hood legend instead of the campy rubbish that Hollywood and the BBC keep churning out.

Also, I think Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles could work really nicely as a TV series.

James Henry said...

Oh crikey yes - I've wanted to do a really dirty gritty Celticy Arthurian story FOR YEARS and then 'Merlin' came along and done a big plop on the whole concept.

I did a few events with B Cornwell at Waterstone's, and he is the nicest man in the world.

rue said...

I'd like to see Iain Bank's The Bridge. That said, I'd watch it with my arms folded, harrumphing every couple of minutes because it didn't live up to my expectations (which would be very high indeed)... Still, I reckon it could be outstanding, though perhaps not on a Beeb Drama budget.

Kniffler said...

The BBC did some Saki a couple of years ago, under the title "Who Killes Mrs De Ropp". It was all delivered in frame story and voice-over, so it lost a lot of the Saki's sharpness, I thought.

I'd love to see an adaptation of "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers", by Harry Harrison. Shot in the style and with the budget of the early Dr Who episodes, and generally doing to film what the book did to the prose on which it was based.

Unknown said...

I've always thought that Robert Rankin's Brentford 'Trilogy' would make an entertaining TV series.
The various books have aspects of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, with a rich vein of somewhat off-key comedy throughout. (Think Vic and Bob meets the X-files for a rough idea.)
The various characters range from believable to totally mad, but all are very funny and totally entertaining.
Even though having a sci-fi/fantasy/horror theme, the locations and environment are very much 1960s England, and the special effects required would be minimal and well within the budget limitations of British TV.
Rankin has written the books very well, and whether he or a careful and sympathetic other handled the screenplay, I could see a TV series of the adventures of Pooley, OMally, Norman Hartnell ("not THAT Norman Hartnell") and others becoming a cult in no time at all.

Unknown said...

Additional to my previous comment: the British TV viewing public DESERVES to learn about Marchant the bicycle, Soap Distant's Journey to the centre of the Earth (from his front parlour,) about Norman's perpetual motion machine, and even about Colin, the antigravity camel.

In case you haven't come across the Brentford books, the eight (at my last count) titles are as follows:

- The Antipope
- The Brentford Triangle
- East of Ealing
- The Sprouts of Wrath
- The Brentford Chainstore Massacre
- Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls
- Knees Up Mother Earth

Unknown said...


..and The Brightonomicon
(I thought there were eight!)

James Henry said...

It's weird, I've never really clicked with Robert Rankin's stuff, although I have friends who are absolutely obsessed with his books. Does sound like the sort of thing the right person could turn into a cracking series though...

Imo said...

The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers would be good, or The City of Dreaming Books,or Rumo. In fact these 3 books could be the new fantasy trilogy to rival LOTR.

btw: Blue Bear was made into a cartoon back in 1999 according to Wilkpedia, but that doesn't count.

Oli said...

My dream project is a 13 part adaptation of American Gods for HBO. I'll wrestle whoever has the ridiculously expensive rights in custard if it comes to it.

Phill Barron said...

I'd love to do any of 'The Stainless Steel Rat' or 'Flashman' books; but honestly, my number one adaptation wish is 'The Meaning of Liff'.

Don't ask me why, it just is; and really, really don't ask me how.

Unknown said...

Phillip Pullman's The Tin Princess. I know they have done the first two books with Sally Lockhart, but why they ain't going to the whole hog and doing the other two I don't know! (Or are they?)

But reading The Tin Princess I just couldn't help thinking, "WOW this would be awesome!"

nanga parbat said...

*takes deep breath*

Novels of Christopher Brookmyre, Fire and Hemlock and/or The Merlin Conspiracy by DW-J, Scarlett Thingie's The End of Mr Y, The Sterkarm Handshake and The Sterkarm Kiss by Susan Price (Bit of costume drama, bit of romance, bit of conspiracy, bit of swordsmen on horseback, bit of time travel set in the Borders ie next to my house), the Cherub novels of Thingy Muchamore (somebody SURELY must be developing these...), Mortal Engines Quartet by Phillip Reeve (Would be waaaay too expensive, but still...), similarly The Bartimaeus Trilogy although at least you wouldn't have to build LOndon-on-Wheels, ummmm... Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner... I could live with someone having another crack at the Peter Wimsey novels of Dorothy L Sayers, Dead Man in Deptford (Burgess's novel of Christopher Marlowe) and probably lots more too. Actually, has anyone ever done GK Chesterton's Man who was Thursday? That would be grate.

Smat said...

Our household vote goes to any Georgette Heyer (but we reserve the right to veto the casting), also Pratchett's The Bromeliad (much better than his adult stuff).
No idea about Proper Serious Literature, sorry.

just dropping by said...

pk dick! the short stories, not the novels as interpretively danced by hollywood.

PK said...

I see they're filming George R R Martin's Game of thrones. If it's to be an even half decent adaptation it will outstrip the Wire in complexity and sheer chutzpah.

It could well be utterly fantastic, and yet it still won't reach the heights of the books. Must be scary to adapt something with that scope.

Pugh said...

I'd love to adapt any of the George MacDonald Fraser 'Flashman' series, it could be a kind of anti-Sharpe.

Failing that, the brilliant, non-fiction Agent Zigzag, although I heard Tom Hanks owns the rights.

Piers said...

Righty-ho. Bagsy any or all of the following. (I know some of 'em are already taken, but fuckit, let's dream.)

Bulldog Drummond
The Dark Is Rising
The Seafort Saga
Culture novels

The Skylark of Space
Lensman series
Dragonriders of Pern
Fu Manchu series

Off the top of me head.

spacemonkey said...

I tried to get BBC Wales to do an adaptation of The Dark Is Rising books back when I worked as a script editor there (and, sadly, before it was Cool and Rejuvenated and Full Of Daleks). Unfortunately the Henson company had the rights...

Like yr other esteemed poster, seeing the trailer for the eventual film of it made dark matter fall out of my eyes and burn away my hands.

The words "childhood" and "raped" spring to mind.

Otherwise: my secret wish is to do Grant Morrison's The Invisibles as a big-ass movie series. Sadly difficult post-The Matrix (which arguably stole from it big time) and kind of harder to do Terrorists As Heroes nowadays.

Hilariously, the BBC were once developing a TV version with Mr Morrison himself. It is shit. You can find it on-line.

spacemonkey said...

Oooh, oooh - also, The Baroque Cycle. But you'd have to take out the dull-as-ditch-water Daniel Waterhouse character and focus on the adventures of Jack and Eliza - and then it would probably just look like a Pirates of the Caribbean rip-off.

My fave kids books The Borribles was also meant to be In Development as a UK movie - but seems to have gone the way of all such things...

James Henry said...

Weren't Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry looking at The Borribles? I think they gave up in the end, because it did make child homelessness look potentially like a cool fun thing. If you were stupid.

Cuh, it wasn't until I re-read those books years later that I got all the references to other things, like the Rumbles being the Wombles, and the Borribles being captured by Steptoe and Son at one point...

Good Dog said...

I wouldn't mind seeing the three Bernard Samson trilogies, done in a way Len Deighton would be happy with (i.e. let them be repeated or available on DVD).

Or however many episodes it would take to chronicle James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. Wasn't HBO sniffing around American Tabloid some time back?

Shame Roland (disaster porn merchant) Emmerich has the rights to Foundation and is planning to make a film.

And I just saw on the Variety site that Columbia have nabbed the rights to remaking Red Riding. Oh dear.

(And yes, Harlan is a top bloke.)

spacemonkey said...

Ha! I never realised the latter. The whole Wombles thing was weird, it was sort of a Clockwork Orange-style ultra-violent hyper-parody of other kid's books. With nail-spiked clubs and burning gold for good measure. And catapults. And the Special Branch.

And no bespectacled wizards in sight.

James Henry said...

I know the 'Special Borrible Group' were a reference to the 'Special Patrol Group' set up by the Met in the 80's, (allegedly) responsible for the death of Blair Peach.

Be quite hard to sneak that kind of thing past the publishers these days, I would think.

Newf, who is working on starting an actual blog said...

I reckon you should do a good, nostalgic adaption of one of your favourite childrens' books. You've already written for children's TV; it'd be great.

As for me, I'd like to see a series adaption of I Capture the Castle. Or a live action Redwall series...

Matt said...

I second the Robert Rankin suggestion. His most recent books feel a bit formualic to me, but the Brentford trilogy is just calling out for a TV adaptation.

I wouldn't say the Sky Pratchett adaptations are bad, but to me the look and feel of them is just too much like a fan film thrown together over a number of weekends. Just with proper actors. So a higher budget stab at them would be good.
And of course theres Good Omens, but Terry Gilliam has a version in development hell.

One thing I'd really like to see is a proper version of Jekyll and Hyde, which actually follows the plot of the book, and doesn't reveal they're the same person til the end. But I suppose everyone knows that already, so it wouldn't work particularly well any more.
I think I heard Guillermo Del Toro wants to do a version, though, so heres hoping.

(word varification is castle...not only a real word, but the name of the TV show i'm watching right now....i'm slightly scared)

extemporanea said...

China Mieville's Un Lun Dun. Post-punk subversive alternate-London Alice-evoking YA lit. Of the Marxist persuasion. But bloody brilliant.

Or, in fact, anything else by him, New Crobuzon would be hell on the budget but would visually blow you away. The weird mirror stuff of "The Tain" would also be very creepy, visually.

Near by said...

I second that MM's Repose, loved that as a child

Matt Gibbs said...

That's great news, didn't know Button Man was being adapted.

Reading through the comments, there are tons of good suggestions.

Have been mulling it over and kept coming back to Moorcock's Cornelius Quartet. Being able to play so fluidly with perception would be fantastic.

rue said...

Just thought I'd add a second vote to Dave Bartlett's one for Robert Rankin's Brentford trilogy of eight. I can't for the life of me imagine how it might work (except perhaps in a shockingly low-budget, original Hitchhikers' Guide kind of way: not sure how you'd pull off Victorian flying cars powered by Tesla Towers on a Beeb budget, without resorting to tacky CGI, and frankly balsa-wood models would probably suit the material better).

Knees Up Mother Earth might adapt better than most, given that it's relatively ordinary (in the context of the others, far less absurdly sci-fi/fantasy/horror), and deals with Brentford F.C.'s pursuit of the FA Cup (with the help of a little black magic), which obviously has a fair bit of crossover appeal.

Steve Dix said...

Imo : Captain Blaubär has been made into a cartoon, a puppet series AND a musical in Germany.

James Henry said...

AND a T-shirt, which I ended up giving to my friend Nick, because he whinged at me every time I wore it.

Imo said...

There's a Blue Bear T-shirt - I want one.

And surely things made in Germany don't count!

Imo said...

There's a Blue Bear T-shirt - I want one.

And surely things made in Germany don't count!

Boz said...

I am disappointed in myself not to have found the time to rifle through my books before you blogged again. Still. Ten minutes squat on my bedroom carpet has yielded the following:

I'd like to see a good adaptation of Good Omens. I buspect they already have writers for this, sort of covered though.

Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys.

Mrs Jordan's Profession by Claire Tomalin is rife with period detail and in need of tellying (or radioing).

Zuleika Dobson is an awesome book.

Turns out I am something of a period piece and not at all hip and trendy. Or I just, er, lent all those books to other people. Um.

Boz said...

Yeah. Me again.

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson is VERY BBC4. Although it's not really ticking any regional boxes.