Today I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Juliet and Romeo, the latest novel by David Hewson which is published by Dome Press this month. Juliet and Romeo is a retelling of the classic Shakespearean tale, and David Hewson has kindly written a guest post about his new book and about adapting and changing stories!
Different stories need different endings
Think you know the end of the story of Juliet and her Romeo? All those corpses in a crypt? Well with my retelling of the story you may have to think again. Because, yes – shock horror – I have changed things around. It’s different. In keeping with the themes of the original stories I think – and I don’t just mean Shakespeare’s here, but the Italian originals he worked from. But a new ending all the same.
Why do writers play around with familiar stories. In part because we can, it’s fun, and gives us all something new to argue about. But two other big reasons too. Firstly, this is an adaptation, not a novelisation. It’s not an attempt to photocopy the script of the original onto the page. Adaptations try to see something familiar through a new perspective, a different lens or point of view. Yes they need to be carried out with respect for the original. But a good adapter is never in awe of what came before. That’s fatal.
When I set out to adapt The Killing TV series from the screen to book, I never saw myself as taking part in an act of homage. In fact I would never have signed onto the job if I hadn’t first negotiated the right to change the stories as I saw fit. I was there to write a good book, not make the TV look even better than it did already. Fresh perspectives, new twists and turns, and unexpected diversions are all a part of that process.
Just as importantly, when you move from one medium to another – drama to page or the reverse – you have to recognise they are very different forms of storytelling. In drama there is (unless you adapt the technique known as ‘breaking the fourth wall’) no easy way of conveying an inner voice. When you see Sara Lund working her way around the crime scene you can only guess what’s going through her head. In a book you can hear her thoughts.
There are tricks drama can handle that are difficult or impossible in books. You can’t have characters talking over each other, for example, and cross-cutting very rapidly between scenes and points of view can be tricky on the page.
The biggest difference though is in the ending. When you go to a play or watch something on the screen it’s the medium that’s in control, telling you when to sit down, dictating the speed at which the story moves. With a book the reader’s the boss, easily able to flick back a few pages and spot where your continuity control breaks down if you let it.
Endings are one place this difference shows up most of all. With drama they’re sometimes the weakest point of the story because they simply, well, end. Take The Killing I. At the close we finally discover the culprit, a family friend. But we never know why he acted as he did, why he tortured and murdered the daughter of his best mate, someone he’d known since she was a baby. Then there’s the ending of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which was dictated by the fashion for tragedies in Elizabethan times. This demanded death – sometimes lots.
At the close of R&J the body count is quite astonishing. Tybalt and Mercutio are dead already. Paris, Romeo and Juliet have just snuffed it. In case you missed the message Romeo’s father then walks in on the corpses and says he’s sorry his wife can’t be there but she just died too. It’s overkill if you’ll pardon the expression, but that’s how things were done in those days.
Just as with the three Killing books I’ve taken a different route, one that I think is in keeping with the themes of the story but makes more sense in book terms. In a novel you’re not just looking for a story to end. You’re seeking some sense of resolution and comprehension. An understanding why things happened, not just what occurred.
No spoilers here but let me say just this about the ending of Juliet and Romeo. One of the underlying themes of this story is individual identity. Are we the people we feel ourselves to be inside? Or the masks society, parents, the church seek to put on us to make us fit in?
As Juliet says about Romeo in the play…
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title
Her point is that the only obstacle to Romeo being her husband is his name, Montague, the clan her father hates. But what does a name really matter? It’s a label, not who we are.
Remember the most famous, and most misunderstood, line in the play – Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?
Juliet’s not asking where he is. She’s wondering why his name should be an obstacle to their love, what might happen if one could lose that burden. And there, perhaps, lies the clue to a different ending to this tale. I’ll leave it there…
It has been many years since I studied Romeo and Juliet at school, though of course it is a story that is well known, with a tragic conclusion that many will remember. As I hadn’t read it for so long, I was looking forward to reading David Hewson’s retelling, and I really enjoyed it. As I read on there were names that were familiar to me, and I enjoyed meeting these characters and David Hewson’s portrayal of them. And in the case of Romeo and Juliet, their characters are different in this retelling compared to Shakespeare. For example, Juliet is a few years older and wiser, and I enjoyed her character and her reaction towards Romeo’s romance, and the feud between their families that threatens to tear them apart. There are also changes to the location of the story, which make the novel feel fresh. And of course there is a a twist to this tale which made it a gripping read.
I enjoyed Juliet and Romeo, a novel which turns this famous tale of star crossed lovers into a compelling story about love and feuds at the birth of the Renaissance, which gives the story a modern twist.
About The Author
David Hewson is the author of more than 20 published novels including the Pieter Vos series set in Amsterdam and the Nic Costa books set in Rome.
His acclaimed book adaptations of The Killing television series were published around the world. His audio adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet with A.J. Hartley, narrated by Alan Cumming and Richard Armitage respectively, were both shortlisted for Audie Awards.
A former journalist with the Sunday Times, Independent and The Times he lives in Kent.
His first book with The Dome Press, Juliet and Romeo, will be published in May 2018.
This post was written as part of the blog tour for Juliet & Romeo, you can check out the other stops on the tour on the dates and blogs below