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From page to screen - a novel adaptation

Prolific Welsh writer Bill James talks to KFTV about having his novel turned into a French film, and his delight at the choice of director and cast.  

French film Tip Top has been selected for screening at the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, which showcases international features, shorts and documentaries.

Directed by Serge Bozon and starring Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain, the film is an adaptation of the novel by James. It was shot in France, Luxembourg and Belgium.

He took time out of his writing schedule to talk to us about seeing his work make it to the big screen.

The source material

“I first heard of the interest in my book through my agent, Euan Thorneycroft at A.M Heath, in September 2008. He had been told by Nouvelle Agence, the sub-agent in France.

The film is using the same title as the original book, Tip Top, although the French version, on which this adaptation was based, is called Mal à la Tête. The French publisher, Rivages, is bringing out a version to match the film title when it is premiered for public showing. There will also be a tie-in edition of the original novel published by Sellerio in Italy.

This is the first of my works to be adapted in a language other than English.

Hands on or hands off?

I had no involvement with the adaptation or production process, but I think it would be exceptional for an author to be involved when a film is being developed for cinema release.

My book Whose Little Girl Are You? was made into a feature film, The Squeeze, by Warner Bros. [1977, directed by Michael Apted and starring Stacy Keach, David Hemmings and Edward Fox]. There were several periods under option – then one day the script came through the letter box with a cover note saying filming would start the following day.

Handing over control of the characters

I don’t generally worry about how the characters are presented. I feel honoured to have Isabelle Huppert playing the lead in a distinguished cast and with an accomplished director.

I’m comforted by the fact it’s billed as a comedy, as people don’t always see the joke in my stuff.  I am confident it will be a success.”

About the author

Among Bill James’ many writing credits is the crime series Harpur and Iles, published all over the world. The fourth novel in the series, Protection, was made into a BBC drama in 1996 starring Aneirin Hughes and Hywel Bennett. James also writes under the pseudonyms David Craig, Judith Jones and James Tucker.

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