Ever wonder what it’s like to have your series of books turned into a TV series? No, we aren’t talking financially here. We mean creatively. Cuz…challenges, you know? Case in point:
by Hannah Stephenson
For years Peter Robinson was a teacher who only wrote poetry, but then he created DCI Banks, hero of the hit TV drama. Now he… laughs at the recollections of his first meeting with actor Stephen Tompkinson, who plays his creation DCI Banks in the hit ITV drama.
The actor, he recalls, offered to meet him at his home in Toronto, Canada, where he lives for much of the year with his wife Sheila – but it was winter, and winters in Toronto are pretty cold.
“Stephen wanted to talk about the character and offered to come over to Toronto to see me in the middle of winter. I said, we’re going to Tampa (Florida), so he came over to see us there instead, which was a much sunnier place to do his research.”
The bestselling author, whose 22nd Banks novel, Abattoir Blues, is about to be published, also has a home in Richmond, Yorkshire, which he returns to two or three times a year to help avoid homesickness (he was born in Armley, Leeds) – and to stock up on Yorkshire Gold tea.
During his stay in the UK this summer, he will be appearing at both the Harrogate and Edinburgh book festivals, making the most of the chance to keep connected with fans.
Robinson, now 64, emigrated to Canada in 1974, to continue his studies after doing an English Literature degree at Leeds University. He went on to do an MA in English and creative writing at Canada’s University of Windsor, with American author Joyce Carol Oates as his tutor.
For years, he only wrote poetry. He created Banks to stave off the homesickness he was feeling, imagining himself back in Yorkshire.
“At night, I would write crime just to relax. Before crime fiction I was writing poetry and had a part-time teaching job, which was enough to get by.”
Since he introduced Alan Banks 27 years ago, in his debut novel Gallows View, the character has changed, he says.
“He was a lot more brash in the early books, but he now has less of that youthful brashness and energy and, as he’s got older, there have been changes in his life. He’s moved from the town to the county. He’s become more melancholy. He’s not as excited about getting his teeth into a case as he once was.”
In the latest book, the story begins with what seems like the unexciting theft of a tractor, hardly a job for DCI Banks and his homicide team. But at the same time, police are investigating a mysterious bloodstain in a disused hangar, and two local lads are missing. Soon the officers find themselves branching in all directions in a race against time.
How does Robinson keep his fictional detective fresh?
“I throw a load of crap at him and see how he handles it,” he says wryly. “Banks has unfolded very slowly over the years, which still leaves me plenty to work with.
“Sometimes the situations I give to him make him brood about things, and I don’t know how he’s going to react. I understand him because I have written about him for so long, but I don’t plan the plots of the books.”
Robinson says programme-makers were keen to include him in the process when the series started in 2010, although the TV adaptations are very different from his books, but he even had a Hitchcock-style walk-on part in the first episode, and hopes to be in a future pub scene.
It has been difficult to get Tompkinson out of his head when writing Banks, though.
“I have to put TV out of my mind when I’m writing,” the author explains. “Stephen is taller than the Banks in the books, and my Annie (DS Annie Cabbot) is a brunette, whereas Andrea Lowe plays her as a blonde.
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t expect exact duplication. No actor is going to satisfy everybody’s image of the way a fictional character should look, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t capture that character’s spirit. I think it’s a good TV series.”