Tag Archives: douglas adams

And another thing – did Hitchhikers really need one more sequel?

AndAnotherThingPhil: Some books inspire an almost religious devotion. People read and re-read them. They sit in pubs enjoying alcohol-fueled dissections of the text. Every nuance is chewed over. If there are funny lines, they are quoted until they are no longer humorous.

Once such series is The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams.

Originally a superb radio show, the scripts then became a 5-part trilogy of books, a pretty good (for it’s time) TV show and the second worst film ever.

At some point, Adams suggested that the 5 part series of books wasn’t quite complete. The last one was a bit bleak and ended with everyone about to die. No problem, he would one day write a sixth book and put it all right.

Then he died.

Now, if you are a publisher who owns the rights to such a series, you don’t let the death of an author put you off. This book has best seller written all over it. You’ll shift a ton of hardbacks too because the hardcore fans won’t want to wait for the paperback.

When it was announced that Eoin (pronounced Owen) Colfer had been signed up to write the final volume, there was always a mention in the press release that Adams wife had approved the choice of author.

Cynics suggested that along with discovering the idea to write a 6th book, she’d also discovered the Mercedes Benz catalogue. That’s the trouble with cult books, people want them left alone. Perfect. Unsullied.

I wasn’t sure. Quite frankly, I was happy with the 5 books and didn’t feel the need for another, so I forgot about it.

That was until browsing through a charity bookshop where I spotted a copy. For a moment, I pondered and then decided that I’d always wonder if I didn’t buy the thing and give it a go.

So I did.

And now I know. They should have stopped at book 5.

It’s not that this is a bad book, it’s just that if you are taking over a much loved series, you better be brilliant. We want to believe that it’s the original author writing it, not some interloper doing an impersonation.

This isn’t a great book. The story is confusing, the vital footnotes non-existent and I don’t see what it adds other than cash to people’s bank balances.

It’s a bit like watching a bad actor overplaying everything. What we’ve got it Hitchikers turned up to 11. Adams was far more subtle and if I’m honest, grown-up. Colfer made his name in books aimed at youngsters and it shows in places. I don’t envy him the task he faced, after all you are never going to keep everyone happy but that doesn’t make me any less grumpy.

As I say, this isn’t a bad book but I was happy to have forgotten it and I’ll be happy not to add it to the shelves with the others. It can go off and live with someone else and I’ll let the story slip from my mind. In fact a pint of pan-galactic gargle blaster might be just the thing to help with that…

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Telling the story in different media

MarvinPhil: Last week I went to see The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show.

It was, quite frankly, brilliant. If you know the radio version and get the chance, go and see it. You don’t have to dress up in an Arthur Dent dressing gown (about half a dozen did) or take a towel (a few more) but it’s a great night out with the real cast. Apart from the ones who are dead obviously, but the replacements are very good although Miriam Margolyes was perhaps a bit to thespy for the book compared to the Peter Jones original.

What has this to do with writing books?

Well, Hitchikers exists in lots of different media. To date these are:

Each version of the story is the same. But different. For example, in the radio and book versions you can have characters that change shape on a spaceship. The BBC might have been able to solve the problem of a character with two heads in 1980, but they baulked at this so Douglas Adams wrote a version that was filmable within the budget and technical possibilities.

The terrible, terrible film is written by morons and we shall talk no more about it.

On stage, most of the effects you might require for a show aren’t possible. Space is Big, really big after all. So the adaptors cherry picked elements from the story and strung them together in a way that told the story but could be realised live. To be honest, doing as though the cast were recording a radio show but with special effects and costumes was a genius move too.

The computer games is probably the most interesting. Although it follows the main story, since you play the role of Arthur Dent (the main character) it behaves differently. You can explore the world in much greater detail than is possible in a normal narrative. For example, it’s important to look under the bed in the game but we never get to do this in radio, book or TV series. Of course if you are in control, doing this is interesting. On the page, who cares unless it is essential to the story?

What you have to do is make best use of the media to tell the story in the best way possible. The story is the backbone of everything, and if it’s rubbish no amount of budget, bells or whistles will make it better. Start with a good ‘un and you can’t go far wrong. Well unless you produce the second worst film in existence, but I said I wouldn’t talk about that.

Is this relevant to team nolanparker?

Maybe. At one of the places I work (portfolio career, I do lots of things now) one of the guys is a screenwriter. A proper one who’s been on courses and everything. He’s working on a secret screenplay at the moment that stands a good chance of getting him, what he describes as the Holy Grail, a credit on a film. Chatting in the pub a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had written a great book. I generously suggested that if he could bag us a film deal, the adapting credit was his.

I guess we just have to sit back and wait.

The thing is I can see how The Book would work on the screen. Both Candice and I write by imagining the scene in our heads. We have a pretty good idea what the characters look like. We even, after a little discussion a few weeks ago, have the perfect role for Michael Palin. So perfect in fact that I really want to make this happen before he gets too old to drive a tractor!

In the past we’ve even discussed a stage show. Like Hitchikers, we can’t do the thing as a play. Instead, we have an idea about starting with a reading of a few paragraphs and then getting on with the story of how we came to get into writing. There will be much banter at each others expense. One of use will make numerous costume changes and we’ll even have time for a bit of Q&A at the end before shuffling the audience out to do a quick book signing.

Maybe Douglas Adams started something. Is the future one story but spewed out over lots of media?

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Marvin - the proper one from the TV series.Candice: Phil, being Phil, fancies the Pun Run,  ”the only pun and wordplay-based comedy club in the UK”

Phil: M’writing friend is not wrong. I love a good pun. In fact, like most writers, I really enjoy wordplay.

Next week I’m heading off to see “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show” which means an evening spent enjoying the wonderful writing of the late Douglas Adams. He was a man who enjoyed messing with the language to amuse the reader. Who else could have described a space ship thus?

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

or the exchange

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

“Ask a glass of water!”

These aren’t jokes, but they are funny. Or at least I think they are.

Enjoying langauge is vital for writers and playing with it is an excellent way to get better at using it. In one corner of my life I spend my time trying to communicate to people the methods for making models. The problem with this is avoiding repetition. Sometimes you desperately strive to avoid repeating a word. In my head, using the same one twice in a sentence is a crime I’ll do my best not to commit. For this reason, I chose a thesaurus over a dictionary when offered the choice some time ago. I need more words!

I guess this might also explain my predilection for the Quick Crossword rather than the more elegant cryptic version. I can’t solve the later but really wish I could. As it is, the idea that I need to find a word that can replace the quick clue is irresistible, although I need practise to become any good and stand a chance of completing the grid.

Writers seem drawn to crosswords and other word puzzles. Maybe we have a larger vocabulary than mere mortals, I prefer to think it’s like muscle memory. If you exercise it, you gain strength and writing a book is hard work.

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