Some years ago, while I was still writing radio drama, and having already worked on a serial based on a little known Sci Fi novel by Zenna Henderson, called Pilgrimage, I was asked to dramatise some of Ray Bradbury's short stories for a radio series called Tales of the Bizarre. My fellow playwright was Brian Sibley, a fine writer and a friend of Bradbury's who has written his own tribute to the great man here. The series was produced by award winning producer/director Hamish Wilson, with whom I was doing a fair amount of radio work at the time.
There was no prescription about the work. I was simply handed a huge volume of Bradbury's collected stories and asked to pick the ones I liked best. The only difficulty was in choosing, because there were so many wonderful stories - and not all of them 'science fiction'. Some of them could more accurately be classed as 'horror'; some of them were simply bizarre. But all of them were beautifully written and often poetic. I loved them. And fortunately, Brian and I chose different stories, so there was no haggling!
There were two series and my choice included I Sing The Body Electric, Skeleton, The Man Upstairs, The Day It Rained Forever, Have I Got a Chocolate Bar for You and And So Died Riabouchinska. All of them were quite different, but all were a pleasure to dramatise.
I've written plenty of original drama, but when I was working in radio, I was sometimes asked to dramatise classics and contemporary fiction. I've also found myself turning my own radio plays and series into novels and stories, reversing the process. My novel The Curiosity Cabinet began life as a trilogy of radio plays, also directed by Hamish Wilson. The act of dramatising a work of fiction, of finding the drama while staying true to the original, is a peculiar and quite difficult skill, not to be undertaken lightly. It can be especially challenging when the work of fiction is well loved. And - unexpectedly - the dramatist can find a piece of work dissolving in the transformation. It has happened to me on one occasion and it can be disturbing to realise that a widely acclaimed novel seems to be all style and no substance.
This, however, never happened with Bradbury. These stories were all brilliant combinations of style and substance.
Although I enjoyed the whole process, there were two stories which stand out in my memory, perhaps because both of them were uniquely suitable for radio. One was Skeleton, a truly horrific tale of a 'bone specialist' who turns out to be a little more sinister than a simple osteopath. Think vampires, but fixated on something quite different from blood, and you get the drift. It was fun to do from start to finish, including our bone specialist, played by Liam Brennan, crunching on breadstick, to get the sound effects just right. Oh, and there was a bowl of jelly somewhere in the studio. The result was both revolting and riveting.
The other story which worked very well as radio drama was The Day It Rained Forever. This is a magical story about so many things that you can't pin it down. It's about drought and rain, about sterility and fertility, about death and life, about age and youth, about poetry and rejuvenation. I still think about it sometimes, with that little kick of pleasure that a great story gives you, even in retrospect. Oh, and it involves a woman who plays the rain on her harp: a delicate and beautiful tale, quite the opposite of Skeleton. And therein, I think, lies the genius of this writer.
Bradbury introduced each episode of Tales of the Bizarre in his own inimitable and generous way. I remember being very happy that he approved of my dramatisations, and also being touched by the fact that - unusually - he always pronounced my surname accurately, without having to ask! Somehow, that little courtesy seemed to encapsulate the man I knew only from his stories.