Megan Hunter on the Experience of Bringing a Novel to the Big Screen

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Megan Hunter’s 2018 novel, The End We Start From, has been adapted for the screen by director Mahalia Belo and stars Jodie Comer. We asked Hunter about the experience.

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How does it feel to see your characters come to life on screen?

It’s an experience that’s very hard to describe; there’s something genuinely life changing about seeing aspects of your imagination take physical form in that way. When I walked onto the set of the flooded flat (which was a real house) I cried—it was somehow exactly as I’d imagined it, down to the water marks on the walls.

There was a real shift in my experience from that moment on, the whole process having an emotional force I was unprepared for, a kind of reliving not only of my experience of writing but of aspects of my own life. Then when I first saw the film I again realized some of its images were just as I saw them when as I was writing; there was something haunting in this, like an echo of a memory filtered through fiction and then the lens of a camera years later.

For all this talk of recognition it is so important to say that the film is something completely new—a work of art in its own right—so beautifully directed by Mahalia Belo, brilliantly written by Alice Birch, and with stunning performances by Jodie Comer and many others. I feel extremely lucky to have had my work adapted—and transformed—by such a dream team of visionary people. I am aware that it’s quite unusual to feel such faith that an adaptation will retain the spirit of the book, but I always did. So each glimpse—and then each viewing of the film—has been a confirmation of this.

But then I also love the parts where the film diverges from the book and adds something new and unexpected. There’s this whole section towards the end which expresses something visually about a woman (and baby) in nature that the book couldn’t have done. There is a scale and beauty there that is unique to the film. I loved seeing that: it felt like something I hadn’t seen before on screen and that it was exciting entirely in its own right, cinematically.

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What’s the best part of having your work adapted for film? 

I think it’s that sense of the work opening out—in new directions, to new people, having your story re-imagined and then worked on in so many different ways—by another writer initially and then by casting, costume, set design, cinematography and so on. There is something magical and thrilling about this in its breadth and opportunity.

When I visited the set I was astonished to see, in person, just how much work goes into every single element, and by so many different teams of people. The collaboration is happening through the work itself, seeing your work become part of someone else’s work, witnessing people finding their own meanings and perspectives within the story.

There’s something genuinely life changing about seeing aspects of your imagination take physical form in that way.

This process has also helped to awaken my own interest in adaptation and in writing for screen—I’m currently adapting my second novel, The Harpy, for television and also working on other screen projects, and have discovered a real love of this form of writing and collaboration.

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What’s your favorite book to movie adaptation (other than your own)?

I am partial to The Price of Salt/Carol—I read the book first, swiftly followed by the film, and the two are somehow joined in my mind while still remaining distinct in their own identities. There is a dialogue between the forms, a way that the film manages to express the book’s essence visually, and most of all a subtle emotional potency (particularly in the final scene!) that can be read between the two: it’s as though you can look at them simultaneously, without discord or contradiction, or (as in the case of lesser adaptations), that awful sense of something falling short, being unable to capture the original. It’s a failure to achieve its own life, I think, this sense, to literally live up to its source material. But Carol does create its own reality, while holding the heart of the book close.

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What notes or pieces of inspiration for the story/characters did you share with the creators?

I met with Alice Birch before she wrote the script—I’m a huge admirer of hers—and one of the things we discussed was names; in the book everyone is known by their initials, and the narrator is nameless. Alice asked me how I felt about this in relation to an adaptation, and we discussed its importance in giving the book a certain universal, but also mysterious and perhaps even timeless quality.

This was kept in the script and the film, as well as the book’s emphasis on the name of the baby: Zeb. He is the only one with a name, and it’s wonderful to see how many babies played “Zeb” in the movie! I also loved seeing the credits roll and the long list of initials at the end. It felt playful but also fitting, just as I hope it does in the book.

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How was your relationship with the book changed during the process of adaptation?

There is a sense in which the work becomes less personal to me, in this form, and I welcomed that—it was interesting to have another stage in the publishing process, from the intense attachment of the writing of the book, to publication when there is a loss, in some sense, of the book to the world, and then this rare opportunity for another stage, when the book becomes something else, when there is a metamorphosis into an entirely new form.

I am always wary of the book/parenthood analogy but I can see something here in the process of letting go, seeing something become independent from you but always with that origin, that root in your creation. There is also something personal in this for me as the book has ‘grown up’ alongside my children—they were 3 and 6 when I wrote the book and will be 11 and 14 when the film comes out…



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Nicole Lambert
Nicole Lambert
Nicole Lamber is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes about arts, entertainment, lifestyle, and home news. Nicole has been a journalist for years and loves to write about what's going on in the world.

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