Monday, May 21, 2018

Sarah Haywood's "The Cactus"

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.

After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.

Haywood completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.

Here Haywood dreamcasts two versions of an adaptation of her debut novel, The Cactus:
I’ve been weighing up what would work best: a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of The Cactus, or a lower-budget British one. The book is set in the UK - in London and Birmingham - but it’s a universal story that could be transplanted almost anywhere. For this blog, I’ve plumped for a British adaptation, simply because it’s closer to my original vision, but I have my US cast lined up too, should Hollywood come knocking at my door.

The Cactus is a wryly humorous, character-driven story about recognisably flawed, quirky people in a familiar domestic setting. It concerns family relationships and secrets, and the things we do to protect ourselves. Mike Leigh, whose films blend humour and pathos, would have been perfect to direct, if it weren’t for the fact that his plots and characters are crafted through improvisation. Equally perfect would be Andrea Arnold, who has a wonderful talent for making ordinary lives seem extraordinary.

My novel is narrated in the first person through the eyes of Susan Green, a strong, feisty forty-five-year-old woman who believes she’s created the ideal life for herself. She never lets anyone get close to her, so she can never be hurt. The challenge for the actor who plays Susan will be to appear cool and detached whilst hinting at the character’s dry sense of humour and the messy emotions bubbling under the surface. I’d love to see what Maxine Peake, a brilliant British actor who’s equally at home with drama and comedy, would do with the role.

Susan’s younger brother, Edward, with whom she’s battling over their mother’s will, refuses to grow up. He’s never had a ‘proper’ job and dreams of being in a band. We don’t know whether he tricked their mother into favouring him in the will, and it’s unclear whether he’s quite as useless as Susan tells us. James McAvoy would do a great job of portraying this ambiguous character. Rob is Edward’s best friend. Susan thinks he’s a waste of space, just like her brother. Although Rob was rebellious when he was younger, and has his own skeletons in the cupboard, he’s now sorted out his life. Susan feels an inexplicable attraction to him but isn’t about to admit that, even to herself. She certainly doesn’t trust him. Tom Hiddleston is my choice to embody Rob’s long-limbed, easy-going and winning nature.

Aunt Sylvia is an eccentric woman who doesn’t see any bad in anyone (especially not in herself) and is endlessly upbeat and optimistic. She’s a little silly and self-obsessed, but her heart is in the right place; she loves her family and is fiercely loyal to them. Miranda Richardson is someone who can play comical characters whilst signalling their underlying vulnerability and neediness.

The father of Susan’s baby is Richard, a man with whom she had a relationship of convenience, and who is coolly charming and impeccably turned-out. Jude Law would make a great job of personifying him. Kate lives in the flat above Susan’s. At first, Kate is painfully shy, hiding behind her baby when forced to interact with adults. As she and Susan become closer, she begins to open up and engage with people as an equal. Carey Mulligan would be perfect to play someone initially full of self-doubt who, like Susan, blossoms. In fact, I like her so much in the role that I’ve cast her in the Hollywood adaptation of The Cactus too. And here it is:

Director: Greta Gerwig
Susan: Amy Adams
Edward: Jared Leto
Rob: Ethan Hawke
Richard: John Hamm
Aunt Sylvia: Jessica Lange
Kate: Carey Mulligan
Visit Sarah Haywood's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Haywood.

--Marshal Zeringue