"THE TIME TREE" film, screen-writing, and sixteenth century fear of witches, by Enid Richemont

Well, the secret I've had to hold back on for two years is now out, as, if you follow me on Facebook, you'll already know. The modest film deal I've referred to from time to time was based on my first children's novel, THE TIME TREE, published by Walker Books in the early Nineties, and a first for them, too, as it was the first time they'd published a children's novel.

The book stayed in print for ages, and seemed to grab people in a very special way. It's a time-slip story - a magical encounter, via an ancient oak tree, between two contemporary eleven year old girls, and a profoundly deaf Elizabethan girl of the same age. It's a book that grabbed a very close friend who works in the media, and who had always seen it as a film (I didn't) so she pushed me into writing a screenplay with a number of plot extensions and developments, which was challenging and exciting. Writing for the screen is SO very different from writing a novel, because the whole story has to be conveyed via dialogue and visuals - in a screenplay, you can't, with words, get inside the heads of your characters - they have to express their feelings through either dialogue or acting. I love doing it, although, frankly, I didn't think it was going anywhere. Then suddenly, two years ago, it did.

Competition is fierce in the film business, so I was sworn to absolute secrecy. Even a hint, without even naming the book, was jumped on. I have, obliquely, mentioned it on here from time to time, just talking about the challenge of writing for film, but no more.

The project started out as a feature length film, but ended (disappointingly for me) as a short film, which nevertheless got it screened recently at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which we're hoping will get it noticed. This is one of the stills. The fierce and unpleasant woman on the left (she's in charge of the equally unpleasant household staff) is played to the hilt by Frances Tomelty, and the child on the right is the Elizabethan girl, Anne. The young actress who played her had to take lessons in how to be profoundly deaf - not easy, but she did it very convincingly. Below (and a very dark shot - sorry) are the two contemporary girls.

It was not only hard, but also dangerous, to be at all 'different' in the sixteenth century, with its total belief in witchcraft. Discussing this with a female writer friend yesterday, we both decided that she'd almost certainly have been classified as a witch - red-haired, female, owns not only one but two cats, and with marks on her skin - freckles and the odd small mole - ticks all the boxes, so ripe for the pricking.

If you're curious, the book isn't available as an ebook (there was too much hanging on it to do that), and is very hard to get hold of second-hand, but you can try. Abe Books is very good. However, the text does seriously need updating, much of which I've already done via the screenplays. Hoping now for a full-length screen offer, followed by a book deal, but maybe that's the wrong way round?


Griselda Heppel said…
Oh wow CONGRATULATIONS! So exciting to find out at last what,your secret project was. And you had to keep stumm for two years!!! I love the sound and look of this film and hope we all get a chance to see it. The dual time narrative, with people building a relationship across the centuries, is exactly my kind of story.

Just one thing... not ALL 16th century women with red hair and freckles can have been thought to be witches, surely? (Note to self: avoid 16th century when time-traveling. *looks around nervously*.) What about the men with that colouring? Elizabeth 1 was a redhead, like her father, Henry VIII. Catholics may well have thought her a witch, but not for her Red hair and freckles.

Susan Price said…
Congratulations, Enid! Here's hoping the film does well.

Will you be putting it out as a paperback and e-book now -- y'know, with a cover line: Now a film, starring Frances Tomelty...

Griselda, I don't think it was that ALL 16th century people with red hair were suspected of being witches. It was when things started to go wrong -- a bit of plague, a touch of famine... Then the search began for someone to blame. And since red hair has always been comparatively rare, red-heads stood out and made an easily visible target. And witch-hunts always stopped in their tracks when they made any approach to wealth and power, so Liz I was always going to be safe. If she'd stood in her palace stirring a cauldron, surrounded by black cats and screaming mandrake roots, she would have been safe.

I also came across an interesting theory that said her hair was actually black, because she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and the musician Mark Smeaton. Mary Tudor always refused to accept Elizabeth's legitimacy and Elizabeth was known to wear a red wig from an early age, even before she went bald. -- It was in a book full of essays that contradicted the accepted narratives of history and I wish I could remember the title or author and track it down.
Sandra Horn said…
Fantastic, Enid! I wish you every success with the film. Have you got the frock for the red carpet saunter? xx
Ann Turnbull said…
I have already congratulated you elsewhere, Enid, but do so again here! I do hope we all get the chance to see the film. If it's shorter now, could it get into schools? My novel Pigeon Summer was made into a film years ago, used in schools, and even got a Sunday afternoon screening on TV. Have you got an agent now? (apologies if you've already answered these questions on your blog - I'm a bit forgetful these days). Must now hunt down the original book. I think I told you I read it in my local library many years ago and would love to read that version again.
Enid Richemont said…
It has been exciting, yes, but at this stage, it does feel like a pot I tried to make when I was an art student (but never a potter), which started out as an impressive Greek-style urn, but ended as an ash tray. However, this is the way the company wanted to go, and it's not my field of expertise, so can't argue. Also the result, which I've seen,is very moving, with Frances Tomelty playing the person who KNOWS they are right and cannot be reasoned with - a jobsworthy with no compassion.

To Susan Price - a fascinating comment on Queen Liz, and yes, money and status did give you some kind of immunity, although neither protected you much from legal decapitation.

To Ann Turnbull - I still do have an agent, but it's complicated. To Sandra re- the red carpet - three sequins should suffice, I think - very economical. I will suggest the schools link to the film people, as they may not have thought of that.
Griselda Heppel said…
Ooh, I'd never heard that theory that Elizabeth 1 was actually a brunette and had to wear a wig to show she was the true daughter of Henry VIII and not Mark Smeaton. I didn't think the dates make that work - is there evidence that Anne Boleyn could have been carrying on with Smeaton as early as that? Why would she, with the king madly in love with her, and when producing a safely legitimate heir was in her own best interests? And why would red hair assure Elizabeth's subjects that she was Henry VIII's daughter, when Mary had black hair - did that make Mary illegitimate? Even at that time, people would have known that redheads don't necessarily breed redheads; equally possible that Smeaton had red hair in his family, so he could still be the father, whether Elizabeth had red hair or not.

Yes, yes, I'm running too far with this particular ball but I am intrigued. What we really need to know is what Elizabeth's skin tone was like. We need an art historian.
Susan Price said…
But Elizabeth painted her skin with white lead! -- In truth, Griselda, I don't take the theory that Elizabeth was Smeaton's daughter very seriously -- I find I'm drawn to ideas that turn things upside down, that argue that it wasn't like that at all. Which is why I enjoyed this book I can no longer track down, which was full of them.
A quick trawl on the internet shows me that one of them -- that the gunpowder plot was organised by the government, like the Babbington plot -- is now being taught in schools.
Brilliant news, Enid! I, too, am starting to get the screenwriting bug, and only today finished reading Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat!' (which has not only opened my eyes to how all my favourite films are put together, but also helped sort out at least three things that were going wrong with my current book).

Oh, and yes - definitely 'the book of the film' out as ebook and POD, assuming you have kept those rights.

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