Writer in search of literary gold from a TV hit

Sofie Grobel as Sarah Lund in The Killing
Sofie Grobel as Sarah Lund in The Killing
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David Hewson has turned the hit TV series The Killing into a novel. Nick Ahad spoke to him.

David Hewson is clearly no fool.

Yet he appears to have done something really quite foolish and not a little dangerous.

He has taken a television series – a critically lauded, highly respected, much loved, cult television series – and written the story as a novel.

That’s not all. He has taken the character of Sarah Lund, from the Danish TV crime drama The Killing, written her story and changed the ending from the original show. What’s more, he’s not some young writer looking to make it – he has a reputation to maintain and protect.

“I can’t think about what the critics will say, or what the readers who love the TV show will think, I just have to write the best book I can. From what we can tell it’s a unique project – this isn’t a hack, opportunistic job to tie in with the success of the series – it’s an original novel based on the same premise as the show. There have been lots of examples of books based on a TV series, but they are generally just the same story, written as a book. As far as we can tell, this is the first time it’s been done as an entirely stand-alone novel, based on the same story,” he says.

“I can’t sit around worrying about the reviews, I just had to write the book I wanted to and which I thought told the story in the best way as a novel,” says Hewson.

The reason the author is quietly confident is not simply because an early review has already praised his novel as “taking what was television gold and turned it into literary gold”, but because Hewson already has a substantial reputation in the literary world and therefore much to lose. The fact that he was the man asked to turn the story of Soren Sveistrup’s Bafta- winning series into a novel is a feather in his cap and one which he has earned.

Born and raised in Bridlington, he started out life as a journalist on the Scarborough Evening News, before moving to national newspapers and turning to writing full-time in 2005 after a successful debut as an author in the 1990s. His series of crime novels set in Italy are a hit across the world.

“The rights to turn The Killing into a novel were up for auction for a long time and there were lots of publishers bidding for them,” he says.

“Macmillan, my publishers, had come to me and said that it was all top-secret, but that if they won, they wanted me to write the novel. It’s because I have written crime set in foreign countries and my work features strong female characters that they thought I was the right person to write the novel.”

When his publisher won the fierce bidding war, Hewson faced quite a challenge. When The Killing was first screened and the buzz around it began to grow, he was in Italy working on another novel.

“I don’t really watch a lot of television anyway, but if I do watch a series, I like to get the DVD boxset and watch them in my own time. When Macmillan won the rights, they sent me the box set and I watched it, then I went back through the whole series and typed up what happened in each scene,” he says.

With 20 hours of television, the process was painstaking and took the author two months. He also spent time on the set as the third series was made and visited the City Hall setting of the Copenhagen police department. Hewson says: “Soren was really generous and let me tell the story how I though it should work as a novel. I’m quite pleased with the job I’ve done.”

The Killing is published by Macmillan, May 25.