Pause no more: the ‘real’ Fiona Griffiths

At the Festival a couple of years back, I gave a workshop called “The Art of the … Pause”. The theme was the importance of slowing things down. Not holding the plot up exactly – that’s never a good thing – but the importance of allowing mysteries to settle in the reader’s mind before they’re solved.

One small example I gave that day was this. I wrote Talking to the Dead in the first-person voice of a twenty-something woman. The book was 115,000 words long and the reader had to reach the 100,000 word mark before I revealed what colour Fiona’s hair was. (It’s short and dark.) Three books in, I still don’t know what her eye colour is.

Except maybe I do. Because the book has been televised and is being broadcast next week. The magic dates and times are: Tuesday October 15th and Thursday October 17th at 9.00pm. The broadcaster is Sky Living. And the Fiona of Sky’s drama looks like this:

(The actor, when she’s not being Fiona is Sophie Rundle though obviously, over time, she’ll discard her old SR identity and be swallowed entirely by the new role.) I wasn’t involved in casting the role, but I did once write a brief for the audio-book version of the novel. That brief asked for a Fiona who was:

– Welsh. Obviously.

– intelligent. This is a girl who quotes Shakespeare with ease and naturalness. She’s smart as a whip.

– Tough. But she also needs to be someone who can kick a bad guy in the head and tip him off a cliff. She might be smart, but that doesn’t mean she’s all Radio 4 and Booker shortlists.

– Vulnerable … and yet, though she is also someone who, in social/romantic contexts, can find it quite hard to navigate. FG is genuinely more comfortable waiting to shoot a bad guy than she is going on a date with a guy she likes very much indeed.

– She also has a kind of couldn’t-give-a-fuck quality, especially when it comes to anyone else’s rules. She has things that matter to her (finding bad guys, managing her illness) and things that really don’t (tiresome little regulations about illegal handguns, etc). Anyone voicing Fiona needs to voice that “don’t give a fuck” quality. It’s not that she worries about the rules and goes ahead anyway. It’s that she doesn’t even worry in the first place. It’s not on her radar.

So, hey, it should be easy enough to find that actor, right? Like the ghost of Richard Burton enters Judi Dench and is then dropped into a time machine in order to deliver a twenty-something Welsh ninja. Happy hunting!

Physically, the person-previously-known-as-Sophie-Rundle is a good enough fit with Fiona, but the part was never about physique. What mattered was her ability to gather the character’s opposites and make them cohere. And she really has that, I think. [Also, there’s a way that acting is the ultimate in show-don’t-tell. You just have to evince something, because short of clunky voice overs and the like there’s no direct way to tell the audience anything. Our thoughts on the same thing in writing here.]

You can’t convey acting from a set of stills, but here’s FG in not-totally-sane mode:

Here she is in vulnerable/thoughtful mode:

And here she is making Keith Allen look like a big girl’s blouse.

She also (not pictured) has a lovely developing chemistry with Russell Tovey (Sgt Brydon), which hasn’t yet bloomed into romance but, do you know, I think it really might.

And yet, for all SR’s ability, I don’t feel that she’s the definitive one – nor that any actor could be. Ultimately, the Fiona I like the best will be the one of my books: short dark hair and an eye colour she has yet to reveal …

But do watch the programmes if you can. Tuesday 15th & Thursday 17th Oct on Sky Living at 9.00pm.

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