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THE CHAIN

 

The Chain is a series of one-to-one conversations between authors discussing the business of writing.

 

Veronica Henry and Michael Dobbs talk about the filming of Michael's classic House of Cards for Amewrican TV as well as the best way to 'lure the muse'.


 

 

Hello Michael. You must be terrifically excited that House of Cards is going to be brought to the US screen by Kevin Spacey. How involved will you be in the adaptation of the script, or will you be handing your baby over to someone else? And how do you think it will compare to the British version, which is arguably a classic and some would say couldn’t be bettered? 



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I began writing House of Cards almost exactly twenty-five years ago. It started out as something of a joke, but ended up changing my life – and it’s still doing so. Ian Richardson was so much the perfect British FU (Francis Urquhart) – and I can’t think of anyone better than Kevin Spacey to become the American version. He’s simply brilliant. Typically, British authors are shown a cold shoulder when Hollywood gets its teeth into a project, but the producers are being wonderful. I see every script, get consulted regularly and will be flying off to the studio in a few weeks. But they’re spending $100 million on the project. For that amount, it’s their baby. I’m the proud godfather. 

It’s all so weird because I only started writing by accident, as the result of a bet. What got you going? 


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Never been plagued by the problem of what to write, only how to write it. So when I feel creative constipation coming on, I take myself down to the pond at the bottom of my garden with a good book. Other writers provide much of the inspiration for my own work. So it’s reeds and water lilies. Wine is optional. But the imagination does operate differently after a couple of glasses, don’t you find? 

veronica henry

The Long Weekend

by Veronica Henry

is published by Orion

 

A Sentimental Traitor

by Michael Dobbs

is published by Simon & Schuster

 


michael dobbs



I’ve always been involved in storytelling, from the day I started work on The Archers after leaving university. It was there I learnt the power of creating a fictional world for people to escape to, and how important stories are to us. I was a script editor and a scriptwriter before finally achieving my ambition to write a novel, but television certainly taught me a lot. Especially how to cut to the chase!

Did you have any idea of how to write a book when you started, or did you just plunge straight in? 


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Hah! I had no idea how to write a book, a modesty that one or two critics believe is richly merited. But you really want to know how it started? Well, I’d had a bruising election campaign with Mrs Thatcher in 1987 and I guess I needed to get something out of my system, so I sat down beside a swimming pool with a bottle of wine and a pen. Who was I going to write about? A political character whose initials summed up his personality, and so - FU! Francis Urquhart and House of Cards was born, a new career launched on a set of initials.

But the world of books is changing so fast. Would you recommend to any of your kids that they should become novelists? 



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Well, I don’t know that any of them would rush to follow in my footsteps, having seen me reach for the wine bottle on a regular basis in an attempt to lure the muse my way! And sadly it is becoming more and more difficult to eke out a living as a wordsmith. Even if they did want to, I’d recommend them going out into the world and forging another career first, otherwise what on earth will they have to write about? Most novelists start out as something else, and you definitely need some life experience if you are to write authentically.

I notice we have both mentioned wine, which I definitely turn to when the going gets tough! But do you have any tricks when you hit a brick wall and can’t think what on earth to write next? 


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Never been plagued by the problem of what to write, only how to write it. So when I feel creative constipation coming on, I take myself down to the pond at the bottom of my garden with a good book. Other writers provide much of the inspiration for my own work. So it’s reeds and water lilies. Wine is optional. But the imagination does operate differently after a couple of glasses, don’t you find?

You’ve done so much with radio, television, books and so forth. An extraordinarily rich career. Is there a new mountain you want to climb? 


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I’ve spent several years in the States – but never been to Hollywood! I tend to get stuck on the East Coast amongst all those politicians. The world of politics in which I live provides heaps of inspiration, but an even greater pile of manure and distraction. What did someone say? Politics starts off as a hobby, then becomes an obsession, and soon develops into a mental illness...

So if you weren’t a writer, Ronnie, what would be your distraction, that ‘other life’ you’ve not yet got round to living? 



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Well, good luck in La La Land, Michael – I’m sure they will treat you like royalty.

As for my dream life, I’d love to buy houses that are ‘ripe for renovation’ and do them up. I’m staying in the most wonderful flat in Bath at the moment, trying to finish my book, and I keep going online to see if there is a dear little flat for sale that I could make my own! I love paint charts and fabric samples and antique shops, but I have to make do with decorating my characters’ houses as I can never afford what I really want...

Anyway, it’s been huge fun chatting to you and I can’t wait to see the US version of House of Cards when it makes it over here. And I’ve just read the opening chapter of A Sentimental Traitor. It’s utterly gripping so guess what is top of my holiday reading list! 


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