Author Louise Doughty and Screenwriter Amanda Coe on Apple Tree Yard

Any adaption of book to film or even TV can be a road paved with plot holes (ah love a good pun). Have you ever read a book and then watched the film/TV series and felt disappointed? or perhaps it’s been the other way around the book has been deflating to read after watching it on the big or indeed the small screen. But what about when an adaptation is just so, the perfect balance of new and true.

Earlier this year a four part BBC TV adaptation of Louise Doughty’s novel ‘Apple Tree Yard’ aired with record numbers, it was the most viewed BBC drama after The Night Manager (2016), and it didn’t even have Tom Hiddleston. But what made it so viewable?

Well I was lucky enough to attend Waterstones Gower Street where author Louise Doughty, and screenwriter Amanda Coe sat down to talk about the novel and adapting it for our small screen.

Louise Doughty- The Storyteller is the author of eight novels, her seventh Apple Tree Yard was published in 2013 and was shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger Award and the National Book Award Thriller of the Year. It has sold in twenty-eight languages worldwide.

Amanda Coe- The Storyteller is an english novelist and screenwriter and was brought on board by production house Kudos to write Apple Tree Yard before they even had the rights to Doughty’s novel.

Picture Shows: Yvonne Carmichael (EMILY WATSON) – (C) Kudos – Photographer: Nick Briggs

Apple Tree Yard – The story begins as Yvonne Carmichael sits in the witness box. The charge is murder. Before all of this, she was happily married, a successful scientist, a mother of two. Now she’s a suspect, and across from her is her accomplice, a man who’s also her lover. As Yvonne faces hostile questioning, she must piece together the story of her affair with this unnamed figure who has charmed and haunted her. This is a tale of sexual intrigue, ruthless urges, and danger, which has blindsided her from a seemingly innocuous angle. Here in the courtroom, everything hinges on one night in a dark alley called Apple Tree Yard.

How did Doughty go about writing these characters?  it’s a balancing act between the outer and inner life, and how the world treats women.  It’s quite a radical thing to do,a 50 year old woman having an affair, it’s depicting something other than sexy people having sex on TV, an every woman’s woman. Writing it in first person means the reader gets a front row seat to Yvonne’s denial, and the luxury of her deceiving herself.

If we were to write everything down about her lover, Mark Costly, he is a loser, but Yvonne imposes on him her idea of what she wants him to be, and he doesn’t correct her. Even when the events unfold, she doesn’t lost faith in him and unfortunately, as Doughty says, human emotions aren’t simple.

Doughty made sure not to make Yvonne a self destructive character, we had to believe she is overcome by lust, that she has been a rational person until she was irrational. If their paths had crossed at any other time it wouldn’t have happened, as quoted in the novel ““You caught me at the precise moment I was ripe for it. On another occasion, it wasn’t so much that I might have said no. I wouldn’t even have realised you were asking the question”

For her research Doughty sat in on hearings at the Old Bailey, a back door opportunity which allowed her to sit in with the cop team and learn about evidence that wasn’t going before the jury. it was also fascinating the difference between various cases and the way society treats them: in one room there was a well known case being taken to trial with a huge amount of press coverage, and in another two homeless alcoholics involved in a murder with no press case

And Amanda? Coe really wanted to entertain viewers, she brings difficult women in difficult situations to our screen, and she was drawn to the the character of Yvonne wasn’t questioning her sexuality, even though her sexuality becomes a problem because of her actions. Coe did not sign up to write a TV adaptation about a woman being assaulted for her actions, there is too much drama that treats it brusquely, and it’s almost gratuitous.

Amanda made the decision to change the names to make it more universal, and juxtapose the affair of Yvonne with her husband Gary/Guy’s affair. Yvonne has sex with someone the same age, and keeps it separate from her life, making sure it doesn’t impact her family. Gary/Guy’s is a mild inconvenience, he takes advantage of a young student, and it wrecks emotional havoc. He is kidding himself that it’s not an affair if it’s not sex. (Or as Doughty suggested- eating’s not cheating).

My opinion is that the TV series was better than the book. I loved the condensed and claustrophobic tension of Yvonne and her husbands affairs. No one was in the right, but was one more justifiable? no they both inflict their own sort of damage. There is very little focus on Mark Costly, he has hardly any descriptions, and being in first person we really only see and feel Yvonne’s lust for him without any logical depiction. This was true for the TV series as well, I wasn’t attracted to Mark Costly and couldn’t see why Yvonne was. And the slow reveal worked brilliantly, where as it dragged too much in the book. I have heard of authors being told to look to Apple Tree Yard as a guide to creating the ultimate alluring leading man, which I can’t understand at all.

And the twist? Did Yvonne mean what she said? legally it makes her guilty, but morally? would any of us say or do anything differently?

Disclaimer: Featured photos are saved from internet sources and are not the product of my own skills. All workshops/events are paid for by me and all reviews are mine from my own notes, opinions, and experiences.

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