Monday, 18 February 2013

When is a book not a book....? Linda Strachan

On Saturday I went to see the play of Julia Donaldson's novel Running on the Cracks at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

It is about a 14 year old girl, Leo, who runs away to Glasgow. Her parents were killed in an accident and living with an uncle and aunt she has become more and more upset by her uncle's behaviour towards her. So she decides to go and look for her Chinese father's parents, who disowned him before she was born. She has little to go on and is desperate that her uncle does not find her.

The story looks at the fear of being a young runaway, and the dangers. It tackles mental illness with great understanding and sensitivity in the character of Mary, who takes Leo in, and her friends.  Finlay the paperboy is a delightful character who, like any 12 year old boy, makes rash decisions but also shows kindness and support for both Leo and her predicament, and for Mary when she needs help.

The way in which a story is told depends on the medium being used to tell the story and as we all know, reading a book is not the same as watching a play, even if it is the same story.  I am fascinated by the process of adapting a novel of something like 250 pages into a play where much of the text in the book must be changed into action and dialogue, or cut altogether and presented in a way that makes sense visually.

There was an interesting post show discussion with Julia Donaldson, the cast and Andy Arnold, who adapted the book as a play, spoke about the restrictions he had to take into account.   He had to work with only 5 actors, so other than the two main characters, Leo and Finlay, the rest had to play multiple parts, which they did very successfully.

He said that as there was a lot of dialogue in the book, much of that ended up in the play and he only had to add some here and there for continuity.
The director Katie Posner was not able to be there but the excellent actors in the cast told how she encouraged them to work through the characters, to get to know them. And so the story unfolded, using the set skilfully, and allowing the characters space and time to affect the audience, making us feel the emotion while still keeping the story moving fast enough to never pall for a moment.

Crafting a novel so that the reader lives with the characters and the way the plot unfolds is something that takes time and a lot of thought and I imagine it must sometimes be difficult to allow your creation to be changed in this way.  That was one of the questions Julia Donaldson answered later. She said that  when writing picture books you are working with another creative person (the illustrator) who adds something extra to your words, using pictures, so perhaps the idea of someone taking what she has written and adapting as a play it is not quite as much of a stretch as it would be for a novelist. 

There is not one single way of telling any story and I suppose the process of cutting and editing when you are writing is in some way similar to that required when adapting a book as a play, but I find the whole process fascinating and cannot help trying to think how one of my own books might look transformed into another medium.

Red Book Awards
 I recall when my book, Spider, was shortlisted for the Red Book Awards, each of three schools had chosen a scene from the book to act out on the stage during the award ceremony.  I was delighted, but also surprised by the scenes they had chosen, and by the original way they had portrayed those scenes on the stage.

In Running on the Cracks, young Leo runs away from home.
 In the UK over 100,000 children run away from home each year, that is one child every five minutes. This is something I touched on in my book Dead Boy Talking, where the catalyst for what happens to the main character, Josh, is his older brother running away from home. It affects the whole family and changes everything for Josh. 
The Aberlour Young Runaways Service in Scotland offers refuge, and support for young runaways.

I was watching Running on the Cracks in the company of some writer friends who have seen their work transformed in this way and it was interesting to hear their experiences of the process.- Theresa Breslin's Divided City has been running as a play recently, Vivian French who has also had one of her books, Baby Baby, produced as a play and Cathy MacPhail whose book Another Me has just been made into a film for adults called Panda Eyes, due to be released in the near future.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the play, as did the rest of the packed theatre.
 TRON THEATRE COMPANY + PILOT THEATRE, YORK  are taking Running on the Cracks on tour and here are the tour dates


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook Writing For Children 

Her latest novel is Don't Judge Me  published by Strident 2012 



Penny Dolan said...

Wonderful to be able to hear the whole story of how the Running on the Cracks play was made, including what would - and what wouldn't - transfer across art forms.

Great that you'd also seen some of your novel "Spider" dramatised. Such an experience! Maybe Don't Judge Me will become a whole play one day?

I do like the way so many library and similar awards encourage children to make such generous presentations or drama pieces about one of the books they have read.

(Must admit I'm saying that as proud someone with a CD of such a school presentation waiting on my desk for viewing. I am saving it for a truly calm and quiet afternoon for its premier home here.)

Joan Lennon said...

Interesting stuff!

Angelica said...
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Sue Purkiss said...

Must be lovely to see what someone else makes of your story!

Linda Strachan said...

Hi Penny. How exciting, It will be lovely to have your own home première! I am constantly discovering how talented young people are when they are given the opportunity.

It was really interesting, Joan, and made me look at what I am writing in a different light, too.

I agree, Sue!

Inspirational Sayings About Life said...

Really interesting to hear the backstory about this. Thanks for sharing!

Lucy said...

Did you know about Mumsnet's recent campaign to help child runaways? I blogged about it here: .

I've also blogged about adapting children's books for the stage - it really fascinates me too!

Linda Strachan said...

No, Lucy I didn't know about it, off to have a look.

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