Tale of Dickens' mistress for Abi Morgan
The Birdsong writer on the genius of Sebastian Faulks and how it feels to fail
The writer of Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady and 1950s-set drama The Hour Abi Morgan is set to bring the life of Dickens' mistress Nelly Ternan to the big screen.
She told the Hay Festival that one of her next projects will be an adaptation of Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman. Ralph Fiennes is to direct, and to play the Victorian writer himself.
Morgan has made a name for herself with literary adaptations, not least her 2007 version of Monica Ali's novel Brick Lane, which caused controversy among some members of the east London Bangladeshi community, not least because the storyline includes a young married Muslim woman's affair. She said she had fallen in love with the novel's "humour and tenderness and political vividness" and admitted that she now felt it had been a "fatal mistake" to omit the novel's climactic riot, partly because "I was afraid".
"As a writer," she said, "You always feel like an interloper."
Morgan also discussed her experiences of adapting Sebastian Faulks' much-loved First World War novel Birdsong for BBC1. She was the 11th writer on a troubled production, which was initially intended for cinema. "Film is a whole other business [to TV]. You have to think: how will this be perceived globally? Is it a love story? Is it a war story? What will the tagline be?"
"Faulks is a genius - and it is hard to work with a genius on your shoulder, you have to push him away a bit... [This] is my take on [the novel], and there will be others."
Tackled by the audience on whether dramatising a real, living person with mental decline - Thatcher in The Iron Lady - was morally appropriate, she said: "it was always meant to be a fiction", pointing out that Thatcher's health was already a matter of public debate. "She's been reviled and revered in the press, and I wanted to write about what it means to have your moment in power, and to look back on it." She added, "I don't think there are any taboo subjects."
Asked whether she had ever been unhappy with any of the filmed versions of her scripts, she said: "I think all work is a process of failiure. That makes me want to write the next thing."