The Slap

A new drama for BBC Four, based on the acclaimed novel

Interview with writer Christos Tsiolkas

The experience of seeing these fictional characters from my imagination, in flesh and blood, was truly awe-inspiring and it felt like the perfect cast."Christos Tsiolkas
Category: BBC Four; Drama
Christos Tsiolkas' first novel, Loaded, was turned into a film, Head On, by Ana Kokkinos in 1988. His third novel Dead Europe won The Age Fiction Book of the Year prize in 2006 and is being adapted as a feature film by producer Emile Sherman.

In 1999 Christos participated with three other writers, Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius and Melissa Reeves, and composer, Irini Vela, on theatrical collaboration Who's Afraid Of The Working Class? The production won the Australian Writers Guild top prize for that year and was later adapted into feature film Blessed, also directed by Ana Kokkinos.

Other plays include Viewing Blue Poles and Elektra AD, and Non Parlo di Salo, written with Spiro Economopoulos. Christos' fourth novel, The Slap was long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker, won the 2009 Commonwealth Writer's Prize, the 2009 Victorian Premier's Fiction Award, ABA Book of the Year, ABIA Literary Fiction and Book of the Year, the Association for the Study of Australian Literature ALS Gold Medal. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Queensland Premier's Literary Award and the Colin Roderick Award.

Did you think about The Slap being made into a movie or TV series, when you were writing the book?

When writing The Slap, very clearly I wanted to write a novel, that was my first priority, that's what I do. It wasn't about the screen, it was about the page. I knew I wanted the experience of my father, as I thought, he had not been reflected on the Australian page and hadn't really been reflected on the Australian screen either, but my first priority was the page and I wanted to write those characters. But it wasn't like you sit down and go: "This is a blueprint for a TV series", because I think if you do that you will have a failed novel.

On deciding who would produce the TV series

There were a lot of people interested in the book, but what Matchbox Pictures, Tony Ayres and Helen Bowden came with, was quite clearly passion and that was a relief as they understood what I was doing. I had seen Tony's work over a period of 15 years and what I love abut Tony is his ethics, he is a true collaborator, the process is just as important as the end result. I've had film experience where my work has been taken and it's been fantastic, and I've had a few experiences where that hasn't happened. Any time you enter a collaboration there must be trust and when that trust is broken it's a horrible experience. I just knew with Matchbox that I could trust them. I thought it could be made into a film, but I knew if it was made into a feature film, a lot would be lost. Tony and Helen approached me with the idea of the television series and I thought it was the right idea, it really fitted the format. I also think that the television series has become the place where really good adult work is done.

On adapting the novel to a TV series

If it was going to work, it had to change, it's a different medium. You have to be faithful to the spirit of the book which I think everyone who has been involved has been, but you don't have to be faithful to what happened on every page, there are more important considerations to make. The fact that where Hector and Aisha holiday is now Byron Bay and not Bali, that's fine. What is really important is what happens to Hector and Aisha at that point, they are away from their lives and they have not been honest or spoken to each other for a very long time, what happens at the moment, that is the really important thing, not the location.

On changing Aisha's nationality

In the book Aisha is strongly Anglo-Indian and it took me a while to get my head around the fact she was going to be Mauritian-Australian in the TV series, but then I saw Sophie Okonedo's work and I felt that I knew this actor can do it and I thought it would be really interesting to see what gets transformed through that piece of casting. I think Sophie as Aisha is exciting and it's good for me to step outside the role of writer of this book and go: "OK, what am I going to see now? What kind of Australia am I going to see through this Aisha's eyes?" And I'm really fascinated by that.

On the cast

My first time on set happened to be at the Alphington house where the slap happens so all the cast were there and to suddenly have the experience of seeing these fictional characters from my imagination, in flesh and blood, was truly awe-inspiring and it felt like the perfect cast. I can't imagine the characters without seeing the faces of the actors and there isn't a wrong note at all.