Irena Brignull: How Writing The Hawkweed Prophecy Differed from Screenwriting

Irena Brignull: How Writing The Hawkweed Prophecy Differed from Screenwriting

A couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story – two babies switched at birth becoming two teens searching for identity. There would be magic, love, betrayal and it would be set in two worlds – the one we all know and reside in and another, unknown but out there in the forest where a group of women live, without men, without technology. We call them witches. They call us chaffs. I called this story The Hawkweed Prophecy.

I am a screenwriter so the obvious move was to turn this idea into a sellable script. But I hesitated. I’d just finished working on The Little Prince movie and, for two and half years, I’d collaborated, debated, compromised and written countless drafts. Then I’d handed my work over to the director and his huge team of cast and crew and waited to see what became of it. I’d played my part: my job was done. But with The Hawkweed Prophecy, I wanted it to be different. I want to go it alone.

So I began to write a novel – no deadline, no nice script fee, but also, no notes. It was exciting. I could describe any or every detail I chose. In a screenplay, you set a scene succinctly. The camera does the rest. Take the first line of the first draft of The Little Prince screenplay:

‘A line drawn in pencil by an unseen hand starts to fill the screen. It forms the shape of what looks like a hat.’

With a novel, I could delve into a character’s inner thoughts. In a screenplay, you don’t get that luxury. You have dialogue and you have action and you have actors. You don’t have this…

‘Spells where whirring inside Raven’s head, the kind that bubble with rage and desperation, and she had to use her breath to quell them.’

Most of all, I wasn’t tied to the structure that is so all-important in a screenplay. I felt free! I was heading into unchartered territory, finding my way, finding myself.

By the end of the day, I’d written one page. It was good. It just wasn’t much. By the end of the week, I was lost. Perhaps I needed that structure after all. Soon, I returned to more of my script writing training. Less is more. Don’t tell, show. Come into a scene late, get out early. When to pick up the pace. When to let the story breathe. Thoughts versus action. Dialogue versus motivation. Maybe this stuff was for all writing and not just screenplays? Maybe I didn’t need to find myself after all?

A year and four hundred pages later, I finally finished my solo venture. When the teams at Orchard Books and Weinstein Books arrived, I was overjoyed to join them. They turned The Hawkweed Prophecy into a book. Who knows – perhaps it’ll become a screenplay one day? For now, though, I’m just happy to hold it in my hands, gaze at the cover, flick through the pages and see my words in print.