Upon a request from her friend and Granta Magazine editor to submit a birdwatching article, journalist Lynn Barber instead sent in a piece of memoir. Well it was published just the same, in the 2003 Spring Issue of Granta… good to have friends in the right places. But why not, it was an entertaining piece, albeit the name of the article might be a bit of a surprise to the editor: ‘An Education’. And who would have known that six years later, the short memoir would evolve into a full length, award-winning film.
In her recent article in Granta, Lynn Barber reminisced on the creative process and the adaptation from print to screen. I find the article both amusing and enlightening. Here are some tidbits.
Soon after her memoir was published in Granta, Barber was contacted by film producer Amanda Posey about turning it into film. (Now that’s quick! But no… don’t think I’ll start writing a memoir, not just yet.) But Barber was too preoccupied with other personal matters at that time to take it seriously. Nevertheless she said okay to the proposal. Months passed, and a contract ‘the size of a phone directory’ arrived. Then she realized it wasn’t just talk after all.
Now to the screenwriting process. Barber declined to write the screenplay herself, to the delight of film producer Posey, who had someone in mind already. That was her then boyfriend and now husband the writer Nick Hornby. Hornby’s books include About A Boy, Fever Pitch, and High Fidelity, all turned into well-received movies. But what caught my attention is Barber’s comment:
I found it odd (still find it odd) that this pre-eminently ‘boy’ writer should so completely understand what it felt like to be a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who was on the one hand very bright but on the other very ignorant about the world but, miraculously, he did. He even seemed to understand my parents, which is more than I could ever say myself.
Do writers always understand their own gender better? Are they necessarily less equipped to write about their opposite sex? Barber’s comment mentioned Hornby had grasped an understanding of her parents just as well. Maybe it’s not so much a gender issue but one of sensitivity, empathy, and observational skills: A good writer is a good reader of people, regardless of their gender, or age, for that matter.
It took years for the screenplay to evolve, after eight drafts to be exact. The last one is quite a divergence from the very first. Herein lies another interesting point. The first draft is close to the memoir, while the last has taken a life of its own, reality has been altered to fit the screenplay genre. The ending has also been tailored to elicit intended effects. It speaks to the creative writing process: Memories may be the initial springboard, but imagination is the fuel that propels the work to a visual realm.
The adaptation from memoir to screen has been a long process. Barber notes:
Years passed, draft screenplays came and went, possible backers came and went. I would have given up by year two, but Nick and Amanda and their partner Finola Dwyer persisted and eventually, last year, the film went into production.
Apart from creativity and talent, persistence and diligence could well be the key ingredients in all sorts of production.
And finally, it boils down to memories again. When asked about her thoughts upon seeing her sixteen-year-old self being portrayed on-screen, Barber, now at sixty-five, has no immediate answer. She is lost in memory, again. What exactly was her feeling at sixteen? Or, for that matter, what had happened at twenty, or thirty?
Poignantly she asks: Who owns memories after all?
Do memories belong to one’s subjective self? Or to those around you who had shared your experience? Is it merely age that has blurred the boundaries between memories and imagination, or is it our creative mind?
Or, does it even matter anyway… as long as you don’t call it non-fiction.
To read my review of the movie An Education, CLICK HERE.
To read Lynn Barber’s personal essay on her memoir, CLICK HERE.
Photo: Banff, Alberta. Taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August, 09. All Rights Reserved.