I am heading to the UK today, via the medium of a heavier-than-air flying machine. I'll be there for a couple of weeks, and so will narrowly miss the US premiere of INTRUDERS on August 23rd (BBC America, 10/9C). I'll then be in the US when the UK premiere takes place, in — last I heard — October. Life, eh? But I'm fortunate to have already seen the first three episodes, and the trek from idea to screen has been so long and tangled that it comes as little surprise that the dates fall this way. I wrote the book in 2006: the series has taken its own sweet time in coming round.
Over the last month I've been retweeting information about the show to — I'm sure — the point of tedium, but you'd do exactly the same, my friend. You'd probably be stopping random people in the street and telling them about it. Yeah, I bet you would. In, like, a really annoying way. Whereas I'm not doing that. Often.
What I'm going to do now, however, is jot a few background notes about the book and series...
• INSPIRATIONS FOR THE NOVEL
The core ideas for my books are cautious in their approach, arriving in dribs and drabs, sometimes over the course of years, until they start sticking together and finally achieve critical mass. There's a degree of spoiler-dom in this first section if you haven't read the book, but the trailers for the show have already made it pretty clear what we're talking about...
THE INTRUDERS was basically inspired by four things:
1. An awareness of how dualized many of us are, in ways major and trivial, how we daily and inherently act and feel as more than one person. How we can be merrily going through our lives, watching our weight, knowing we're definitely not going to have that cookie, then suddenly finding it's in our hands and we've eaten half of it already. How we can be fascinated by other countries or historical periods, without any obvious reason from our (known) past, deeply consumed by passions that seem to have a life of their own. The secrets people keep, too, the things they've done or wish to do, or have happened to them, and how these hidden elements of their psyche define their lives forever. As Carl Jung said, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” And he should know, because he's dead.
2. I was also intrigued at the time by people who seemed to enter the world with an inside track, as if starting the game of life armed with prior experience and a strong following wind. There are many examples, from Mozart's precocious composition skills, Bach's apparently effortless genius and other artistic prodigies — to entrepreneurs who were already selling their parents' possessions back to them at the age of two. My most compelling personal marker is a little-known fellow called Sam Mendes, whom I knew at university. While the rest of us spent the first term flallopping around the place like baffled puppies, newly-released into neo-adulthood and agog with self-doubt and exhilarated confusion, Sam was busy putting together his first theatrical production. I didn't even know where the theatres were. In time, I was directed in a play by him and we were both part of a barge tour of pubs, performing wordy skits to audiences of perplexed drunkards who'd probably been hoping for strippers. Been decades now since we spoke, but luckily my father keeps me updated on just how jolly well my old acquaintance is faring, which barely causes a beat of chagrin. Sam is an infuriatingly decent guy on top of it all, and when I heard he'd won an Oscar for his first movie my reaction (while howlingly envious, I'm only human) wasn't one of surprise. Well, yeah, I thought — he would: that makes perfect sense. And good for him.
Though I didn't care for SKYFALL at all, dude. So there. Ha. Loser.
3. Another trigger was an incident with my infant son and a toy saxophone. Tiny children will go for any old thing with their grabby little hands, raise it to their mouths — and suck on it. But one afternoon I saw Nate pick encountering a yellow plastic sax for the first time, put it to his mouth, and blow. He then picked up something else, and sucked as usual. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but it made my bleary sleep-deprived mind wonder how he'd known that's what you did with this particular kind of object...
4. And finally, the number 9 has long fascinated me, almost as if I knew it would one day come to have special relevance. Years back, mainly as an excuse not to write the current novel, I got interested in curiosities of math. To avoid writing a previous book I taught myself to write in hieroglyphs — a skill I have now forgotten, along with all the math stuff (which fell quickly out of a head not fundamentally suited to holding it). I was interested to discover, however, that the number 9 has some fun properties. Try this, for example: pick a three digit number in which the digits are all different, then reverse it — you could start with 367, for example, and get 763. Subtract the smaller of the numbers from the larger: in fact, don't do this yourself, but get someone else to do the math, without telling you either number. Then ask them for the last digit of the result, and you'll be able to tell them the whole number in a way that appears divertingly remarkable. How? The middle digit will always be nine, and the first and last will add up to nine: 763 - 367 = 396. You can then do the process again, with a variation, getting them to pick a new starting number, and allowing them to make their own choice about whether to tell you the first or last digit this time. Feel free to use this nifty trick to score large sums of money in bars. If you do it more than twice and get beaten up, however, you're on your own.
My son, to whom the novel is dedicated, will be nine years old when the show airs.
Once I had the idea for the novel, I realized I already knew the place to set it, too. The story wanted to be placed in the Cascade Mountains, and the coast of Oregon, and Seattle, a city in which I'd previously spent only a few days. Generally this kind of thing doesn't bother me, as my job is basically to make shit up, but on this occasion I felt it might be a good idea to get to know the place better. The prospect of escaping for a while from the sleeping patterns of a very young child had absolutely no influence on the decision.
Accordingly I flew to Seattle and spent a week there by myself, walking the streets nine hours a day stopping only for coffee, beguiling the evenings in a variety of bars, reading local history and drinking rather too much local amber. The scene in the novel in which Jack Whalen slips and falls on his ass when walking down vertiginous and icy Madison Street, for example, is closely modelled on an incident in real life. Doubtless for cogent creative reasons, this scene doesn't appear to have made it to the screen adaptation.
Though shot mainly in Vancouver and its environs, the show totally captures the look and atmosphere of the parts of Seattle in which it's set. Here are a few photos I took on that trip...
Post Alley, close to the Pike Place Market. It features a stretch of wall where local custom dictates that people stick their pieces of used chewing gum, creating an intriguing piece of "art". It was a glass-fronted business down here that provided the inspiration for the office for Kerry, Crane and Hardy — Amy Whelan's employers.
My favourite alleyway in Seattle, not far from Pioneer Square. Yes, I do have favourite alleys, and Good Christ I've got a lot of pictures of this one. I like the man in the sweater carrying the suitcase: albeit dressed wrongly, he puts me in mind of the character of Shepherd.
My favourite doorway in Seattle, the astonishingly verdigrised entrance to the Seattle Steam Company, again not far from Pioneer Square. This door has no bearing whatsoever on the show, but is a very pretty colour.
A bird, flying on a typical sunny Seattle afternoon, across the back of the building I had in mind when I was writing the climax for the novel. In fact, I think the production have found a better building in Vancouver for the TV show...
The highway from Portland to Seattle. The Pacific Northwest does, to be fair, look a bit like this a lot of the time. But the point of this picture is that it's close to the Sutter Creek Rest Area, at which — though renamed for the show — some non-lovely things happen...
• THE PRODUCTION
Jess Pope at the BBC in London optioned the book soon after publication, and invited me to be part of the development process — deciding how to adapt the book, and coming up with a bible for a series. I tackled this with vim, but soon came to realize that spending the foreseeable future tying my brain in knots as I cut out stuff I'd spent the previous nine months putting into the book would swiftly have me committed to a padded cell (a fate which may be coming down the line anyway, but let's not hurry it along, eh?) Eventually a novel deadline hauled me off the project and I handed it with some relief to a series of writers who came up with at least three different script approaches that I'm aware of — all had merits, but none really landed.
Part of the problem was trying to re-site the story to the UK, which just didn't work. Eventually, with regret (and after an astonishing amount of dedication and hard work), Jess let the project go — at which point it emerged that Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner had been waiting patiently in the wings. Jane picked the book up for BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles, we had initial phone conversations, there was exciting talk of Glen Morgan getting involved, and then it all went very, very quiet. I stoically accepted this as the standard story of potential interest fading like the morning dew, toward a future time where everyone would not only deny that they'd ever been interested, but claim that the novel had even existed in the first place. But then suddenly late one night there was an email from Julie, giving me the heads-up that the BBC would be greenlighting a series worth of scripts the next day. Things seemed to go pretty quickly after that...
A lot of people have asked me if I wrote the scripts, or wanted to. Hell no, is the answer. When someone like Glen Morgan is on deck you'd have to be insane to do anything other than stay out of his way. I've been consulted throughout, however, and he and the other writers (Darin Morgan and Kristin Cloke) done a superb job of porting the novel to the screen. Adapting a book to a visual medium requires a lot of changes, as I know from my own time in the script mines (including over a year spent adapting Clive Barker's WEAVEWORLD as an eight-part series, way back in the mists of time. Why has someone still not screened that book, for crying out loud? I still have my scripts. They're right here. I'm just saying.) While much of the series stays true to the novel, new material has been added and the timing of some of the reveals (as will already be evident from promo materials) has been pulled forward to work better for television. The scripts do a fantastic job of retaining everything I cared about in the book, maintaining both the slow unfolding of the narrative and the sense of ominousness.
The web site io9 reacted to the press screening of the first episode by saying it was "Bananas. Creepy bananas". I'll take that. I'll do more than take it. I'll put it on my business card.
Something I would never have expected is the sheer class of the cast who've become involved. Though American audiences (so far) mainly know him for a compelling stint as The Master on Dr. Who, John Simm is not only an incredibly accomplished and versatile actor, but a hallmark of quality. There's simply no-one better at playing a complex everyman, drawn into a conspiracy and forced to fight for his — and other people's — lives, while he uncovers the truth. Mira Sorvino's ability to play the multiple sides of her complex character is spell-binding. James Frain nails his pivotal role as Shepherd with a chilly grace spiked with vulnerability, Tory Kittles is perfect as the grenade thrown into Whalen's life from his past, and Daryl Shuttleworth should simply be given his own show. And as for Millie Brown... the trailers barely hint at how extraordinary this young actress is. When you write a novel with a big, difficult role for a nine year old girl you don't even think about how impossible it might be to film the damned thing. Luckily, with Millie, it turned out to be perfectly possible. She's something else.
Authors are understandably protective of their books: the only safe way of trying to ensure they turn out well is to have the luck to have them worked on by the best people available. Add these actors to Glen's creative direction, the directing talents of Eduardo "Blair Witch" Sánchez and Daniel "The Last Exorcism" Stamm, the production designs of Mark "Breaking Bad" Freeborn, the producing vision and drive of Julie Gardner, Rose Lam and Jane Tranter, the music of Bear McCreary and all the other talents in camera, sound design, costume and everything else, and INTRUDERS turned out far better than I could have dreamed.
And no, I'm not just being nice for the good of the show. It was my book. If the adaptation sucked, I'd say so. Loudly. The series very much does not suck. You heard it here first.
I couldn't be happier, too, with the ballsy way in which Glen, Jane and Julie have allowed the mystery to take its time. The thing that saved the television industry, and has raised it so far above movies in the quality and depth of its output, is this willingness to engage with viewers as adults, to expect an attention span and use it to tell a story in the way it's meant to be told.
Stories are like people: if you can get to the bottom of them immediately, there's not much bottom there. It's the process of getting to know them (stories, and people), that journey of uncovering their wondrous depths and unexpected corners, that binds you. Approach slowly, carefully, and with a curious mind and an open heart, and they can become a part of you, forever.
Anyway. The show's coming soon. I hope you enjoy it. Just remember this:
Everything in it is true.