Kezia Newson explores the different ways in which books can go beyond our favourite TV shows.
Kezia Newson explores the different ways in which books can go beyond our favourite TV shows.
With more than 137 million people signed up to a Netflix subscription to date, there's been a significant shift in how we consume television and film today. Who can honestly say they chose to watch the entirety of Black Mirror in patient, weekly sittings? Audiences today can easily dictate how quickly they consume a series, but the flipside of this is that it can all be over pretty quickly, with viewers left bereft of their favourite show in mere hours.
So how can books take us beyond the experience of purely watching a television series?
From new stories featuring favourite characters, to behind-the-scenes insight from the writers and creators of a show, and books which provide further detail into story arcs that you didn’t quite get first time round – there are so many opportunities for books to go beyond the world of the screen. Television shows have always been linked with books (see: traditional companion pieces for cookery and travel shows). But with cult TV fanbases growing bigger than ever, the originality and breadth of ideas we’re seeing is creating new and exciting spaces in print for superfans across the world.
The Stranger Things phenomenon landed on Netflix in 2016 to instant success, becoming the number one digitally streamed show ever: season 2 in particular has generated record ratings, and is acknowledged by the 2019 Guinness Record Book as the most in-demand digital show in 2017.
But with so many mysteries and stories left untold, and long production gaps between series, viewers are left to ponder unanswered questions post-watch.
Suspicious Minds the Stranger Things prequel is based around the story of Eleven’s mother and her time as a test subject in the MKUltra programme. An exclusive to book form, fans will be able to visualise their own Stranger Things world as they delve into Eleven’s back story.
Becky Millar, Editor at Cornerstone talked to us about the excitement surrounding Suspicious Minds: 'It is a totally original story that looks into the back-story of Eleven’s mother, providing fans with context that builds upon the series and the world.'
'We were at London Comic Con this October, and fans were super excited, with visitors (and booksellers!) dressed up as characters from the series, and other attendees literally running up to the stall when they saw the sign. Our samplers for Suspicious Minds were one of our most popular items on the stall. There is a real appetite for all things Stranger Things and it’s super exciting that we get to be part of that.'
As its fanbase would testify, there’s something special about Stranger Things. Whether its brilliant young actors, storylines, cinematography or 80s throwback setting made you fall in love with the show, there’s a feeling around it that nobody has done dark sci-fi on television quite so well for a long time. In Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, readers are taken back to where it all began, seeing the earliest drafts and pitches to Netflix, references which inspired the show and original commentary from creators Matt and Ross Duffer.
Becky elaborates on the stylistic decisions of the book: 'With Worlds Turned Upside Down the authors wanted to tap into the 80s aesthetic to create a book that explored more of the world of Stranger Things, but also the tropes of that time which inspired the creators. Most significantly though, it was important to create a beautiful object fans could cherish. Worlds Turned Upside Down is based on a ‘found object’, almost as if Dustin got it out of the library – we even handed out Hawkins library cards for our Comic Con event! The dust jacket looks worn and tired, with aged paper and a plastic covering to protect it on the library shelves. Including little extras such as the map of Hawkins and Morse code disk used by Eleven draws readers into the world of Stranger Things which is what they love, feeling that they can be part of their favourite TV show.'
So how do Penguin Random House UK work with Netflix? 'Our colleagues at Del Rey in the US work closely with the Netflix team in California to create content that is true to the show, and also new and what fans want to see. It’s a fantastic way to engage an entirely new readership, as fans of the series soon become fans of the books.'
A series which revived a classic and placed it firmly in the present is Sherlock, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Playing with new interpretations on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics, A Study in Scarlet was turned pink for the first episode. Sherlock has always been a genius but based in today’s setting we’re treated to seeing directly into his ‘mind palace’; how his extraordinary skills of deduction can decipher clues into key information in milliseconds.
And what do the avid fans of Sherlock want? They want to be in his gang at 221b Baker Street of course. As Publishing Director for BBC Books, Albert DePetrillo knows that a fanbase is key in publishing for a television series: 'For starters, it’s the incredibly passionate fanbase. It’s always a pleasure publishing for readers who are so devoted.'
What fans love above anything else about the series is the relationship between Sherlock and John Watson; a tale as old as time, these two best friends both love and hate each other, always pushing for the last word.
In Sherlock: The Case Book, John has written up Sherlock’s cases for us to read. Scattered throughout are post-its from both John and Sherlock to each other, perfectly translating their mockery of each other from the screen to paper. It brings the audience into their world, as if you’re overhearing the conversation in their living room, chuckling away.
And of course, we all want to prove ourselves against Sherlock’s wit. Testing your own skills of deduction comes with Sherlock: The Puzzle Book. Presented with a set of clues, codes, puzzles and logic problems, this brain training book puts you into Sherlock’s shoes (or should we say, deerstalker) to solve cases of your own.
Sherlock’s success in book form shows that when you find what the audience likes best from a television show, you can continue the conversation off screen with the characters voices being just as strong and significant.
When you have a time travelling police box that can visit anywhere in time and space, of course you’re going to want more than what you see on-screen…
With a long history of book tie-ins, Doctor Who has been in book form since 1965 and re-told many classic stories on paper. Since then, the fanbase has not only poured over details they may have missed on screen, but been taken on hundreds of new adventures with the Doctor and companions too.
Expanding on the collaboration between Penguin Random House UK and the BBC production team, Albert from BBC Books talks about how Doctor Who books are made today: 'For Doctor Who, we get a general steer from production at the beginning of a series, and use that information to plan projects. It’s really helpful to know what kinds of stories they’re going to be telling, so we can plan things that fit well – and, just as importantly, avoid things that might overlap or clash with the TV. Our novels tend to be treated as extra episodes, adventures that can be slipped in between the stories you watch on TV.'
At 55 years old, Doctor Who is truly multi-generational, with fans who watched the first episode in 1963 watching Jodie Whittaker’s first series with their grandchildren in 2018.
And this isn’t just down to the longevity of the show; the beauty of time travel is that it can appeal to anyone, at any age. Albert agrees - 'with Doctor Who in particular, it’s also the wide range of ideas you’re able to devise. The premise of Doctor Who allows for an almost infinite amount of story possibilities.'
The Secret in Vault 13 by David Solomons is one of the first novels from the Thirteenth Doctor, and is aimed for children aged 8-12. But, who says it’s just for children? It can be enjoyed by any fan who wants to get to know the Doctor and her new companions better. Equally, with beautiful illustrative imagery comes Doctor Who: One Doctor, Two Hearts for toddlers learning to count through Daleks and Time Lords.
And what about when television fits seamlessly into popular publishing trends? 2018 saw the biggest rise in feminist literature for children, with a wave of titles inspiring young girls and boys with strong female role models. Cue: The Women Who Lived by Christel Dee and Simon Gurrier, a book celebrating 200 women from the world of Doctor Who, both fictional and real, written in perfect bed-time story length.
So, how do BBC Books know what fans will love? Albert explains: 'If we stay true to the spirit of the show, we’re more than likely to strike a chord. And because these fictional worlds are so expansive – because something like Doctor Who can be a thriller one week, a comedy the next, a historical adventure after that – it gives you the license to experiment. Doctor Who can be almost anything, and I love that we can reflect that in the publishing.'
For these books, the small screen is just the start. By linking in with the show’s production teams, listening to what the fans want and working with the best authors, they can, in their own right, become crucial companions for fan communities everywhere.
If you're yearning for more 80s-tinged sci-fi drama, here's our pick of the best books to compliment your binge-watch of Stranger Things from classic horror to modern nightmares. Synth-led background music entirely optional.
Jodie Whittaker made her on-screen debut as the Thirteenth Doctor recently and fans have been beside themselves with excitement ever since. If you are are looking to explore the ‘Whoniverse’ beyond the TV show, these essential reads will help you discover the joy of Doctor Who.