SHETLAND... in Shetland
I've now watched the 2 part DVD of SHETLAND, the BBC drama adapted from my novel Red Bones. People ask me how I feel when I see my characters recreated for the screen. Is it a shock? Am I horrified by the inevitable changes, the missing plot lines and new characters? In fact it isn't such a surprise. Because I have a good relationship with the script editors and the writers, I've seen the script before filming starts, I've sat in at the read through, visited the set. I trust the production team and know that they'll be respectful of the source material. So sitting in my living room I'm more interested in the director's interpretation of the script. I want to know how much these very special northern isles have been captured. Perhaps I'm too close to the project to be dispassionate, but I thought this worked beautifully. The acting is terrific and we have a true sense of a complex community.
On Wednesday I saw episode one of the show again, but this time in public. And in Shetland. We were in Mareel, the stunning new arts' centre in Lerwick. This has a setting as arresting as the Sydney Opera House, though perhaps not as grand. There are views of water from the cafe bars, the dressing rooms and even from the ladies loo. The preview screening was a way of thanking Shetlanders for their support and forbearance throughout the filming - and to see what they made of this portrayal of their home. Chris Aird, head of BBC Scotland drama was there and Clova McCallum, script executive for ITV Studios who made the show for the BBC. And so was Steven Robertson, the actor who plays policeman Sandy Wilson. Steven's a Shetlander - you might have heard him as Jimmy Perez in Radio 4's adaptation of White Nights - and his contribution to the piece was outstanding. So there we were, watching SHETLAND on the big screen, anxiously waiting to see what this local audience made of it.
At a previous BAFTA screening in Glasgow the response had been immediate and very positive. The audience had been captivated by the sense of place and by the fact that the BBC had had the courage to make a prime time drama with very few English voices. Now the reaction was harder to judge. The place was nothing special to Shetlanders. They live with that bleak beauty every day. It was only as the questions came that we realised that the story had worked powerfully too. One man demanded in an accent so broad that only Steven caught the sense completely: 'Now will you tell us who killed those two folk?' He'll have to watch episode two on the telly to find out.
And he'll have to wait a little bit longer than we first expected, because we've heard that SHETLAND will be broadcast in January. Just the right time for the fire festival Up Helly Aa and for the publication of my new Shetland novel DEAD WATER. I'll be back in Mareel to celebrate that.