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The Coral Thief

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Elizabeth Allard Elizabeth Allard 14:48, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Paris quarries

It's in the can! All ten episodes of Rebecca Stott's compelling new novel The Coral Thief, are recorded and edited and ready for broadcast.

When I was searching earlier in the autumn for a Book at Bedtime to fill January's wintry evenings, my editor handed me The Coral Thief to see if it might fit the bill. And it did. A pacey thriller, a passionate and heady love affair, peppered with scientific ideas and historical insights, it seemed just the right combination for an ear-catching listen.

Once I had the green light from Radio 4's commissioning editor, the hardest part began: the abridging process. Because of the complicated nature of the tale, the interweaving of detailed fact and an imaginative, page-turning - but in truth, complicated - plot, a highly experienced abridger was necessary - we were turning the book round quickly too. Despite, or because of the challenges, one of the most interesting parts of my job is to work with the abridger, in this case Viv Beeby, making the tough decisions on what should go and what should stay.

Some of the detail had to be sacrificed - a plot like this lends itself to nail-biting endings but you have to ensure you can mold the episodes so that the characters, ideas and the period atmosphere maintain their substance. There was much illuminating detail we wanted to retain. For instance, the bronze horses taken down from the Arc de Triomphe by Wellingon under pressure from the Venetians who wanted them back speaks volumes about the political machinations in Paris following Napoleon's surrender. Then there are the moving sequences where Lucienne describes the experiences of her family during the worst excesses of the French Revolution which say so much, not least about her personality and what drives her.

Casting is crucial - and this time, unlike some others, the narrator's voice was clear to me from the start. I'd worked with Dan Stevens earlier in the year, reading William Fiennes' The Music Room and I knew he could carry off both the drama and the science entwined in the book. I felt he would bring our narrator, Daniel Connor, a young ambitious and engaging natural scientist, to life brilliantly. I knew that he could also lift Lucienne Bernard off the page and make this beautiful cross dressing thief sound seductive and charismatic, and all with a French accent.

Dan was enticed by the book and subsequently the scripts. Well prepared, once in studio he got stuck into telling the story and recreating the characters. He quickly nailed our English narrator, and Parisian temptress, as well as a sinister French detective, a Scottish professor and a number of brigands and thieves. Once we'd finished, the author, Rebecca Stott, came in to record her fascinating reflections on writing the novel; listen to her describing how she recreated a Paris that would be lost by the mid-nineteenth century when the wide boulevards we know today were built. Paris in the days of The Coral Thief was more akin to our pictures of Dickensian London - and a perfect setting for a novel of intrigue.

Listen to Rebecca's reflections here:


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Elizabeth Allard is producer of The Coral Thief


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