People often ask me which of my two careers I prefer. Hide and Seek (published this month) is my sixth novel, yet I am still relatively new to publishing, having made my debut in May 2014. My TV CV is rather longer, starting with Eastenders and Monarch of the Glen before moving on to crime drama. I have written original pieces and contributed to popular series like Silent Witness and enjoyed all my experiences in different ways.
So which one is the the more enjoyable? Of late, my answer has been swift and instinctive – novel writing. Perhaps we are always smitten by our latest love, yet it’s unquestionably true that the creative freedom, reader interaction and the obvious passion of everyone involved in publishing is hugely appealing to a writer.
In TV, you have to spell out the ins and outs of your story in some detail before you are allowed anywhere near a script. Contrast this with my fourth Helen Grace novel, Liar Liar, which my editor was happy to let me write, despite knowing only that the book was “about fire”. There are also no production constraints in a novel – blowing up a skyscraper in prose costs no more than a conversation over a cup of tea – which is extremely liberating. I remember that when I worked at Eastenders, our storytelling was further hampered by the actor’s schedules. Their time was carefully managed to avoid burnout and the studios efficiently run, so on any given day the actors were either “studio only” (interior scenes only) or “lot only” (exterior scenes only). Which left you in a spot if you needed two characters on different rotas to have a full on confrontation. Could they shout at each other through a window perhaps?
As a novelist, your interaction with the public is also far greater. This is partly due to Twitter (instant fan mail and author response) but mostly due to the brilliant festivals, signings and events laid on by the industry throughout the year. There is nothing more thrilling for a writer than seeing a reader’s enthusiasm for their work. It is more than just encouraging, it is life-affirming. There is little or none of this in TV, where to my mind the audience are treated rather more cynically and the writers are far more dispensable.
And yet…there is still something about the small screen. We are currently half way through shooting Innocent, a four-part thriller I’ve written with my producing partner Chris Lang for ITV and it’s been a blast. Screen writing is sociable and collaborative and is capable of producing magical moments that novels simply can’t. Innocent is my first original piece for TV and I remember one moment from our pre-shoot preparation very clearly. It happened at the read through, when the whole cast come together (under the beady eyes of the ITV Execs) to rehearse the scripts. The day was long and tiring, but I’d written the final episode and was determined to hang in there. I’m glad I did. When the script climaxed with a one-on-one confrontation between our wronged hero and his wife’s killer, the entire room went silent. You could hear a pin drop as the killer gripped all present with words I had written. It was a mini-epiphany for me, a moment I’ll never forget.
Which is why I’m going to persevere with both careers, for the time being…