Louse Doughty in London. Photo: Andrew Crowley, The Telegraph
I love it when a favourite read of mine is set to become a film or TV drama because I can bore everyone to pieces by droning on about how the book is so much better than the film, while secretly enjoying the story all over again.
I recently reviewed Susanna Clarke's book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell in this way, and now can’t wait to watch
Faber & Faber UK
Apple Tree Yard,
the steamy psychological thriller by Louise Doughty, on BBC telly. I call this a thriller, but Doughty herself says…the weird thing is, I don’t think I’m writing thrillers, but quite a lot of other people seem to. I thought Apple Tree Yard was a feminist indictment of criminal justice…
Emily Watson, one of my favourite actors, will play Yvonne Carmichael, a middle-aged woman who falls heavily in lust…I am both relishing and daunted by the prospect of taking on this role…she’s already been quoted as saying…it’s grown up, steamy and of queasy moral complexity…
Watson in Gosford Park
Photo by rottentomatoes.com
If you’re not already familiar with Watson’s work, try her early films. I first saw her as Maggie, in the TV adaptation of Mill on the Floss, but then caught Hilary and Jackie, in which she plays the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. She was brilliant in the star-studded film Gosford Park, and most recently, she was wonderful in The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawkin.
The BBC describes Apple Tree Yard as…a provocative, audacious thriller that puts women’s lives at the heart of a gripping, insightful story about the values we live by and the choices we make…But what I recall most vividly about the story is how quickly I was hooked. Doughty shows Yvonne Carmichael's well-ordered life plummeting into the ground. At the outset, Yvonne is a happily-married, eminent geneticist who, after giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee, meets Mark (who’ll be played by Ben Chaplin) on her way out of the House of Commons. Her fall to earth begins as they indulge in raunchy sex in a crypt chapel.
Yvonne thinks she can keep her marriage and her red-hot affair in separate compartments, but, from the start of the book, we know she is on a downward spiral because we’ve already caught a glimpse of her future – and it’s not good. Or, as Hilary Mantel says…there can’t be a woman alive who hasn’t once realised, in a moment of panic, that she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man…A compelling and bravely written book…
Something I always relish in a novel is the use of place to bring the right atmosphere to the writing. This almost always involves good descriptive skills…the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster beneath the drowned saints and the roasted saints and saints in every state of torture…
I read the book after it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Steel Dagger (for best thriller), in 2014. Like most readers, I was gripped, not just by the heat of the read, but also by the varied styles Doughty uses. Yvonne has sex with Mark in seedy locations; a broom cupboard, a disabled toilet, the secretive doorways and back alleys of London. In between these scenes, written in the difficult and arresting 2nd person point of view…I don’t know it yet, but the man is you…Yvonne writes long letters to Mark which deepen our emotional connection to her, which she hides on her computer in a file marked VATquery3. Every so often, we return to the trial. The two of them are in the dock at the high court. All that illicit passion, betrayal and deceit has led to murder. A perfect story for a four-part television drama, in other words.
Before reading the book, I knew Doughty had already written, between her other novels, a book called A Novel in a Year, originally a series of articles in the Telegraph. Writing a book in a year isn’t necessarily a good thing. The writer may end up with something less than perfect, too hurried. But on the other hand, knowing you are going to write every day for 52 weeks
(a chapter a week, perhaps, or a first draft in 6th months, leaving half the time for research and revision), concentrates a writer’s mind wonderfully. I read A Novel in a Year in 2015 because I was about to do just that. The third of my Shaman Mystery Series Beneath the Tor was delivered to the publishers precisely one year after I’d agree the contract date, and I used the Nanowrimo method, to kick-start the process – http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/writing-that-very-first-draft.html
Louise Doughty has already managed that…My first, Crazy Paving…took me 18 months. By the time it came to writing my second, I was theatre critic for a Sunday newspaper, which meant I had all day to write before going to the theatre in the evenings: as day-jobs go, it was a corker. Dance With Me was written in seven months. Honey-Dew… about a girl who murders her parents…was written in eight months while I was sick with exhaustion…
Doughty’s most recent book, Black Water (Faber & Faber UK, Farrar Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton Books US) was published a full 3 years after its predecessor, Apple Tree Yard, but it is very different, with a new direction again. She’d gone to Bali, where the book is set, for a literary festive, and came back with the seeds of an idea.
I was lying awake…and a really strong image came to me of a man lying awake at night in a hut in Indonesia, mortally afraid. Why is he so afraid? In the opening pages, he decides that men with machetes are going to come and kill him. But I didn’t actually know who he was, I didn’t know how old he was, I didn’t know why he was there. But what I did know about him was that what he was afraid of wasn’t what was going to happen; he was afraid of something that he himself had done…Of course, he’s a metaphor for Indonesia itself. Because a military dictator came to power in 1965, there was never any truth and reconciliation, there was never any coming to terms with this massacre.
Likened to a John LeCarre, and described by The Bookseller as…a meditation on guilt and responsibility…I can’t wait to get my teeth into a new Doughty story, while I’m waiting for Apple Tree Yard to appear on the small screen.