Broadchurch series creator, Chris Chibnall, gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted with the book. New twists, new endings, new characters; all these were up for grabs, he said. There was only one condition: under no circumstances was I allowed to give anything away about Series 2. Given that I knew next-to-nothing, that wasn’t a huge risk. Whenever I wanted to make a change, I would run it past Chris first. Usually, he’d say, ‘Great, go for it,’ but once or twice, he would tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted, saying only that it will be important later on, but enlightening me no further. The phrase it will be important later on grew to haunt my dreams over the course of writing this book; as well as an author, I’m also one of Broadchurch’s biggest fans. This was easing on an intolerable scale.
So what changes did I make? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But alterations were naturally necessary. My first novel, The Poison Tree, was filmed for ITV in 2010, so I knew from the inside that a degree of butchery was unavoidable, and that gave me confidence to delete a couple of sub-plots that slowed the book down.
The biggest challenge for me was the structure of the book, simply because of the fundamental differences between drama and prose. No novelist can match the camera’s agility; it chops and changes at will. Scenes can last for just a few blinks. It’s not unusual for a five or six scenes to appear on screen in under a minute and it will be no struggle for a viewer to absorb this. Try doing this on paper, establishing a new location or narrator with every paragraph, and the reader will be dizzy with confusion before the end of the first page. To make the narrative fit the novel, I had to string separate scenes together as one, leading to continuity nightmares (how did everyone get from Point A to Point B? And why is it suddenly night time?). Occasionally I would have to sacrifice tiny slivers of suspense to make the book work, but I found that I could build them up elsewhere in subtle, psychological ways that wouldn’t have worked on screen.
That said, while a novelist can never match a camera’s agility, there is one thing that no television drama, not even one trailing multiple Baftas in its wake, can do, and that is to get deep inside the hearts and minds of the characters. On screen, all we have to go on is what the characters say and what they do. On the page, I can tell you what they were really thinking when they said that line, how they really felt as they watched that scene unfold. This was the easy bit. The performances by Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andy Buchan, David Tennant and … well, all of them, were so convincing that when it came to writing the characters’ inner monologues I just sat down to watch the DVD and felt like I was taking dictation. I very rarely had to second-guess at motivation or thought process.
Broadchurch gives it to you straight, and while I love using unreliable narrators in my own fiction, it didn’t feel right to do it here. So I decided early on that I would rule Ellie, Hardy and Beth out of the frame by giving you the story through their eyes. Delving deep into their hearts and histories is where I really feel I have made Broadchurch mine.
Writing this book has been a privilege for me but also a departure. Broadchurch is – a couple of dream sequences and one flashback aside – a linear, classically-structured story whereas I like to use flashback and jump-cuts to create suspense and I have been fascinated to see how my writing performs within these relative boundaries. My psychological thrillers are quite claustrophobic, dealing with tight, intimate relationships. I’m not used to such a massive ensemble cast. Few modern writers are. Broadchurch encompasses an entire community, spending time with every member; it’s almost Victorian in its scope. When I learned that Thomas Hardy’s novels were a big part of Chris’s inspiration, it made perfect sense. And then of course the rhythm of a book is different. I’m not tied to the arc of a whole episode. I can leave my cliffhangers wherever I want, rather than timing them to coincide with ad breaks.
I had some fun with the novel too; there are one or two new minor characters in the novel who flesh out the backstory of some of Broadchurch’s most enduring residents. And although I stayed true to my brief not to hint at what happens next, at the 11th hour, Chris inserted a tiny ‘Easter Egg’ into the novels first few pages; it’s a mere detail, an anomaly really, but one that the eagle-eyed Broadchurch fans will pounce on. I can’t wait to see what they make of it.