Imagining the Past: Episode 11: The Silver Screen: Scriptwriting and Adaptations

More and more historical novels are being adapted for screen, complete with lavish production values and high profile stars. What is the secret to writing scripts compared to books? How do scriptwriters condense intricate plots into a few hours screen time while maintaining complexity of characters and themes? What elements are producers searching for when considering a story? And are compromises needed when wooing an audience compared to a readership? 

In episode 11 of the Imagining the Past podcast, Jesse BlackadderMalla Nunn and Mira Robertson chat with Kelly Gardiner about the different approaches required when writing novels, adaptations and screenplays.

This episode of Imagining the Past was recorded during the 2019 HNSA conference. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Our Speakers

The late Dr Jesse Blackadder was the author of critically acclaimed fiction for adults and children, including the historical novels The Raven’s Heart (about her Blackadder ancestors in 16th century Scotland) and Chasing the Light (about the first women to reach Antarctica)She won literary awards including the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Historical Fiction (USA), and twice won the coveted Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship. Jesse was a writer-in-residence in Alaska, Antarctica, outback NSW, Varuna The Writers’ House, and Byron Bay. Her Doctor of Creative Arts thesis explored using real historical characters in fiction. She tragically died in early 2020.

Malla Nunn is the author of four internationally published Detective Emmanuel Cooper novels set at the beginning of the Apartheid era in 1950s South Africa. A Beautiful Place to DieLet the Dead LieBlessed Are the Dead and Present Darkness have, between them, received two Edgar Award nominations, a RUSA Award for Best Mystery Novel, and a Davitt Award for best crime novel by an Australian author.  Born and raised in Eswatini in Southern Africa, Malla now lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

Mira Robertson is an award-winning screenwriter, short story writer and novelist. She has written feature films, documentaries and short films as well as script editing on many projects. Her feature film credits include Only the Brave (AFI award for best original screenplay) and Head On, (AWGIE award for best adapted screenplay) both co-written with director, Ana Kokkinos.  She has taught screenwriting at various tertiary institutions and currently teaches in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Arts and Cultural Management. Her first novel, The Unexpected Education of Emily Dean, was published by Black Inc in 2018.

Kelly Gardiner’s latest novel is Brimstone, the first in a middle-grade time-slip series, The Firewatcher Chronicles. Her previous book, 1917: Australia’s Great War, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Young History Prize and the Asher Award. Her other books include the young adult novels Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which were shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Swashbuckler trilogy, and Goddess, a novel for adults based on the life of the seventeenth century French swordswoman, cross-dresser and opera singer, Mademoiselle de Maupin. She teaches writing at La Trobe University. Kelly is also the co-host of Unladylike, a podcast about women and writing, and the HNSA podcast, Imagining the Past.

Greg Johnston has edited and hosts the Imaging the Past podcasts sessions from the HNSA 2019 conference program. It is a treat for those who couldn’t attend our conference at Western Sydney University in October last year to hear some of the panel discussions such as this one. It’s also a chance for HNSA 2019 attendees to catch up on the sessions they missed because they couldn’t be in two rooms at once!

G.S. Johnston is the author of three historical novels – Sweet Bitter Cane (2019), The Cast of a Hand (2015), and The Skin of Water (2012), and a fourth novel set in contemporary Hong Kong, Consumption (2011). The novels are noted for their complex characters and well-researched settings. After completing a degree in pharmacy, a year in Italy re-ignited his passion for writing and he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. Feeling the need for a broader canvas, he started writing short stories and novels. Originally from Hobart, Tasmania, Johnston currently lives in Canberra, Australia.

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