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Q&A: Lesley Crewe on adapting Relative Happiness for screen

Lesley CreweThe adaptation of Lesley Crewe’s first novel, Relative Happiness (Nimbus Publishing), about a plus-sized 30-year-old woman looking for love in Cape Breton, is hitting the big screen at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema on Friday. Crewe hopes that the film’s success in the Maritimes will translate to a bigger city audience.

She spoke to Q&Q about the process of turning her book into a film and what it’s like to meet your characters in the flesh.

How involved were you in the making of the film? I was asked to write the first and second drafts of the screenplay. So that was quite a challenge – I’d never done a screenplay before. It’s a completely different type of writing. Once the second draft was done they brought in other writers and a director. I did get credit for the film – I think I was more excited about that than anything because now I can call myself a screenwriter.

How did the writing process differ from writing a novel? When you’re writing a novel you’re all by yourself. And you don’t have to please anybody but yourself, except maybe your editor, if you get to that point. But writing a screenplay is like writing by committee. You have other people, other voices that need to be heard. I had to distance myself, in one way, from it being my story. I quickly learned that there were going to be a lot of things that they wouldn’t be able to put in the movie.

Were you involved in any other aspect of the film? No. Everything else was turned over to the movie people. The only time I came back in was when they were filming it. They asked me to the set for a couple of days. I ended up in a scene in the movie, and my husband and daughter as well, which is kind of cool.

What was it like to watch it and to be a part of your book becoming a film? It was incredible. These are characters I just made up in my head. All of a sudden they’re walking toward me and giving me hugs. Obviously it feels surreal. Often when I’m writing something I’m so into it I don’t really get to enjoy it – this was a way to take the characters and the story off the page and let me see it almost in 3-D. I learned a lot about writing through screenwriting. It’s like editing to the nth degree. Every word means something.

Does this change the way you approach writing now? Actually it does. I realize there are things that you don’t need, so it was a great experience that way. I tend to go off on a tangent sometimes and now I realize, “OK, I don’t need to do all this extra stuff.” Just do the basic, basic story.

This interview has been edited and condensed.