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Adaptation often, and perhaps usually, involves cutting out elements of the told in text story for conversion to the shown in sound and visuals one. Streamlining is a word that has been used for the process. Yet every now and then a novel or short story is adapted that doesn’t quite fit the minimum time period felt necessary for a movie, or whole pages of such a story are filled with thoughts, speculations and reflections that can, and must be reduced to a few seconds of what Joey, in Friends, famously called ‘sniff the fart’ acting.

That old favourite novel (or novella? One day I’ll get those two successfully differentiated in my mind) The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate is an example of a story where a little bit needed to be, tastefully, added. And I can recall, on the ‘specials’ CD of a collector’s set of Blade Runner, I think, a movie-maker saying how difficult it would be to convey the thoughts of Deckard when they can’t be translated into actions that will show how he feels!

William J. Locke’s story Ladies in Lavender, which I mentioned but didn’t explore in an earlier blog-post, is another that had to be filled out to make the full-cut of a film. The film sticks remarkable closely to the characters, actions, and situation of the short story. Andrea, the Polish virtuoso violinist is washed up on the beach of Ursula and Janet, and is taken to their house where he is looked after. Even small details of the story crop up in the film – their attempts to learn his language, his theirs; the dressing of him, the buying of the suit, the discovery of his musical talent.

Even the storyline follows the same path. The foreign young lady hears his music, and has a brother who is big in the business, and who will offer Andrea a new, and successful career. The comedy, the pathos of the two maiden ladies and their delicate, suppressed lust, the desire for love, the jealousies between them and the jealousy they both have for the young women, which they fight against for his sake: all are in the film as they are in the short story. Yet there is significant difference too, and it’s a difference that highlights the differences of the two media, and brings us back to that issue, mentioned before, of how the internal life of characters can be ‘shown’, when telling is no longer desirable. The voice over is said to kill the ‘movie’ story, and it remains a source of glee to me, I confess, whenever I see it having to be resorted to (in an episode of Bridehead Revisited, and at the end of Strick’s Ulysses, for example, and at the end of John Huston’s earnest adaptation of The Dead).

There’s more though, for there are many scenes in the film of Ladies in Lavender, and especially towards and including the ending, where what the characters, or narrator only refer to (leaving it to our perfectly well developed imaginations to create) is played out before our astonished, and unimaginative gazes.

In particular, there is the ending of the film, and the ending of the short story, which fall quite differently, not only in time and place, but in intent. The film takes us on beyond the written story’s ending, to that successful career, which is only hinted at, and not even promised in the told version, and to a reconciliation between the sisters and the wonderful boy that is entirely absent.

The short story ends with Ursula looking out to sea – where the sea air, no doubt, rather than the fart, would have to be sniffed – and realising that a subtle change has taken place in the relationship between her and her sister; thinking that she, the previously weaker of the two, must now be the one strong enough to help the other come to terms with their mutual loss. The film’s pat reconciliations are cruder, perhaps to the point of triteness, and they are accompanied by another difference, for the sisters in the story nurse not only the boy, but the photograph of the father who has bequeathed them their seaside nunnery and its lonely life. In the film, the photograph is of a younger man, lost the more to one of them, in a war that hadn’t taken place when the original story was written (Wickipedia dates it to 1908), and which is certainly not referred to in it. In fact the film explicitly dates the story to 1936, adding a whole agenda of suspicion and undercurrent to the story, turning it from a study of two specific personalities under stress in an Edwardian ambience, to one with a historical consciousness of a later period, as held in 2004.

The agenda of the film is not that of the short story, and perhaps could not have been.

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I felt like a shit today. But there was no need to worry. I didn’t need to go out and look for one. I already had me at home.

The fact is I gave a cold caller a hard time. It was unforgivable really. If I’d known I was going to I wouldn’t have taken his call. Perhaps, subconsciously, I did know, and that’s why I hadn’t asked him to call in the first place. But, the guy was just doing his job, following his script, trying to make me an offer that I wouldn’t refuse. It wasn’t as if I was in a bad mood. I’d just heard that I got a funny story into the longlist of a competition. I know. A long list is a long list. It’s not a short list. It’s so far off a commended as to be out of sight. It’s so far off the money as to be not worth worrying about. But hey, I don’t get into a long list every day, and besides, I re-read the story, and even if it doesn’t get into the shortlist, let alone any further than that, it made me laugh again. So I was in a good mood – when the guy rang.

He told me I was overpaying. It doesn’t matter what for. He told me his name was Dave. He had an interesting accent, for a Dave. Most Daves that I know don’t have interesting accents at all, from my perspective. I’m sure Dave knew he’d struck a bad one almost as soon as we got going. I could hear it in his voice, and if I’d been any sort of a gentleman I’d have pulled up there and then, put on the brakes, hauled down the mast, mixed myself a stiff metaphor, and put down the phone.

Yes, I said, to being the man of the house. What a quaint concept, by the way, and my guess is, that being a professional Dave knew right away that he was on a sticky wicket. My guess is Dave probably likes cricket. Personally I can’t stand it, but then they made me play it at school, and like most of the other things they made me play…well, let’s put it this way, it has been the things they tried to stop me from playing that I’ve always enjoyed the most.

But Dave went on, gamely, politely, professionally. He knew, he said, I was paying twenty pounds more than I should be. So that was where I jumped in with my size nines, and demanded to know how he knew that! Well, he said, they’d carried out a survey. But who did they ask, I asked? Was it my suppliers? Outrageous, I said, and I thanked him profusely for tipping me off, that someone out there was blabbing about my private affairs. I’ll take it up with them, I told him, and then I put the phone down.

It was a shitty thing to do. I mean, the guy’s just trying to make a living. Industry, and commerce, and services have got to be bought and sold. What’s the guy supposed to do?

49 stories,flash fictions and monologues by BHD

I’ve felt like a shit ever since, but as I type this, there’s a fuckin’ big grin on my face too!

You see, never to be left out of it…now BHD’s gone and got something else into print….in Issue 4 of the Black Market Re-view which that was a link to, back there <. Thankfully, he’s buried among lots of good writing, from all over the place. So, why not go and take a look?

Also, while we’re here….Did you know BHDandMe are leading a workshop as part of the Borderlines Festival in Carlisle? 10.00am-12.00 noon, Thursday 5th October, at the Library (in the Lanes)? Come along and play around with ideas of how the humble (or even arrogant) triangle can inform the situations we create for our fictional characters in the short story.