Author Simon Clark discusses with the Survivors: A World Away site how he approached the task of adapting his The Night of the Triffids novel for the forthcoming full-cast audio version from Big Finish.
Since you published The Night of the Triffids in 2001, has the idea of the Triffids universe continued to intrigue you?
SC: Yes, definitely. I first read The Day of the Triffids as a child and the story of people suffering the collapse of civilization fascinated me. I imagined what it would be like to one of those people, foraging for food amongst the ruins while evading the Triffids. I searched for a sequel to The Day of the Triffids for years. Of course, there isn’t one, which is the reason I wanted to write my own so I could re-enter that world where survivors were trying to rebuild civilization.
Has the idea of an audio book version of your Triffids book been germinating for long? Did you approach Big Finish or did they reach out to you?
SC: The idea of an audio version hadn’t been with me that long. I’d been having e-mail chats with the Big Finish producer, John Ainsworth, and it was almost a case of me thinking aloud that an audio version of The Night of the Triffids might work quite well. He agreed, referred it back to Big Finish, and to my surprise – and absolute delight – came back and said ‘yes, we’d like produce an audio drama of the book.’
Had you always ‘heard’ the characters’ voices in your head, or was it a novel experience to think about these words being spoken out loud?
SC: I did hear the characters’ voices in my head when I wrote the novel. It’s odd how it works out. In my mind’s ear one minor character always spoke like Sid James and another like James Stewart. When I realized that the dialogue would be spoken by actors I started to examine each line and speak them aloud myself to make sure they would work in such a dramatic context.
Could you have countenanced the idea of anyone else adapting your words for the audio version?
SC: My first thought when I heard that Big Finish would produce the audio drama was ‘I hope they hire a script writer for the adaptation.’ When they asked me to do it I thought (or cried) ‘Aargh!’. For a nerve-shredding ten minutes I told myself I couldn’t possibly write the script, because I’d never done anything like it before. Then I took a deep breath, walked round the park, calmed down, and then realized that if I approached the adaptation step-by-step I could write the script. Within a few pages I got the hang of what I was doing and it became such a satisfying experience.
How did you approach the adaptation? What brief did Big Finish give you in terms of approach? Was it a lengthy process?
SC: John Ainsworth gave me brilliant advice, and what amounted to a master class of how to write an audio script. As he talked, I jotted down notes, which helped me enormously. The main brief was the length of the audio: approximately two hours, which would be broken into two one hour segments. John also suggested that we focus on the core of the story, beginning with David Masen’s journey from the Isle of Wight to New York, and his adventures along the way. The first draft took around two months to write. I have to admit to defacing one of my own copies of The Night of the Triffids. I went through the book highlighting the scenes that must be in there to make the story work.
How do you feel about the finished audio script? How does it compare to the original novel?
SC: I’m very proud of the finished script. It’s very much faithful to the original novel. Of course, some scenes had to be cut or compressed otherwise the production would run for about twenty hours! I’ve also invented some new scenes that don’t exist in the novel because I saw opportunities to create exciting, and sometimes disturbing events by ‘painting in sound’ as it were.
Have you had the chance to visit the studio to be present for the recording? What was that experience like?
SC: Yes, I was there for the recording. The actors’ performances blew me away. I must have told them all more than once that they made that cold black print on the pages of my script come so vividly alive.
How do you feel about the cast and the approach they’ve taken to the story?
SC: When I knew that Sam Troughton and Nicola Bryant would play the lead roles, I just knew that they’d be perfect. They and the support actors have such an amazing vocal range, and the emotion and the depth they gave to the lines left me holding my breath as I sat in the control room. What struck me was that they really did care about the delivery of their lines. Numerous times an actor would say to the director, “I can do that line better. Can we go again?” Or: “This is a vital section of dialogue, do you mind if we try it in a few different ways?” They cared so much about the script and that meant such a lot to me.
The soundscape of the drama will have to include the ‘sound of the Triffids’ – did you have clear ideas of what that ought to sound like?
SC: There are three main sounds of the Triffids: the sound of their ‘taking’ when they tap their sticks against the trunks, the sound of their sting lashing through the air, and the rustling as they walk. It struck me that the tapping sound they made should sound almost like muttering, and should be ominous and sinister. The lash of the sting should be as dramatic and frightening as possible. The rustling of leaves should suggest predatory movements, like a dangerous creature stalking its victim. I know Big Finish take great care with their sound effects and I’m confident that the soundscape will contribute so much to the listeners’ enjoyment of this drama.
What can Triffids’ fans look forward to from this audio version?
SC: I’m a huge fan of The Day of the Triffids and I wanted my The Night of the Triffids to be faithful to the original, and that the Triffids should be disturbing and ominous and powerful. I think we’ve not only done that with the audio version but that we’ve also evolved the Triffids into being bigger and even more menacing and dangerous to human beings. Fans of the Triffids will, I hope, be in for some pleasant surprises as well as a satisfying adventure.
You must be excited at this new creative avenue opening up. If this is well received, is there any possibility of further audio adventures set in the world of the Triffids?
SC: I am incredibly excited. There were times in the recording studio when I had to ask myself, ‘Am I dreaming this, or am I actually sitting here listening to the recording?’ I wouldn’t rule out anything for the future. All I can say at this moment is ‘Who knows?’ I’d love to continue writing more scripts for audio.
You’ve been a long-time fan of the original Survivors TV series. What, for you, makes the series so compelling?
SC: Survivors works on so many levels: Firstly, it’s a terrific TV drama that tells exciting stories. Terry Nation’s genius flows through that first series especially. He created an extraordinary vision of the collapse of civilization, yet the characters are ordinary enough and ‘real’ enough to make it so believable. We care what happens to these vulnerable people as they try to find food, or keep warm, or even find another human being to talk to. On a deeper level it deals with our own fears that civilization is a fragile thing. After all, we can survive without water for only a couple of days. What happens if the water supplies to our houses fail on a massive scale? How long would bottled juice and water last? Surely we can’t safely drink from ponds and streams? Even more compelling is not only the fear of the end of the world, but what it would be like to rebuild the world after such a disaster as global plague. Nearly all mythologies tell stories where the end isn’t really the end, it is only the beginning of something new. For me the notion of new beginnings is as gripping as the end of the world we’ve grown up in.
Did you watch the 2008-2010 remake of Survivors, and, if you did, what did you think of it?
SC: In a way, I wish it hadn’t been a remake, because I constantly found myself comparing to the original. For me it would have worked better as something completely new with a new title. I thought it had a lot going for it, with interesting plotlines and imaginative locations. If anything, the new Survivors seemed to find its feet and its self-confidence in the last few episodes. Unfortunately another series wasn’t commissioned just as it seemed as if the remake was really starting to take off.
Have you had the chance to check out the new Big Finish audio Survivors adventures? If so, what’s your take on this ‘revival’ of the original premise?
SC: I’ve only just bought it and hadn’t had chance to listen to the stories yet. Though just the sound of the ominous, growling theme music sent shivers of excitement down my backbone.
Two new editions of The Night of the Triffids are being republished, this time in in eBook format.
The Constable and Robinson ebook will be released in the UK in August: http://www.constablerobinson.com/?section=books&book=the_night_of_the_triffids_9781472116260_
The ebook has already been released in the US and Canada by Rosetta:
The new audio adaptation of The Night of the Triffids can be pre-ordered (in either CD or digital download formats) from the Big Finish site.