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How Wilderness Came to Life – from page to screen.

B. E. Jones discusses the inspiration for her psychological thriller, Wilderness, now a TV series with Amazon Prime, starring Jenna Coleman as Liv and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Will.

As a child I loved poring over books, fantasising about film locations, planning trips to far-flung places and inventing stories I could find myself part of when I arrived there. Yes, I was a kid with an active imagination, just as well since, growing up in the post-industrial South Wales valleys, I thought those journeys were dream trips I’d probably never make.
               When I was old enough to start saving my pennies and finally indulging my passion, it hit me that, even as adults, any chance to travel is more than just a break from the routine of home. It presents the possibility of a break from ourselves, a chance to be better, more interesting, more exciting than the nine-to five week allows us to be – or to be much worse!  At least, that’s what the crime writer in me has always thought, continually looking for the dark currents beneath those picturesque holiday photos, wondering what might happen if a dream holiday turned sour.

           In that way the nubby little kernel of Wilderness was lodged in my brain long before it had a title and a marriage in crisis at its heart. It was a recurring feeling, a nagging image of a character in their holiday best, lost and crying, that hung around the corners of my head for years, travelling with me in my suitcase.

           Slowly it morphed into Olivia’s journey, a working-class girl from Cardiff uprooted to a city (New York) and a wilderness where dreams and nightmares collide with the carnage created by her husband’s affair.  It crystalised into the current form following two (very happy, non-homicidal) American road trips I took with my husband to Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, a road trip becoming the perfect way for Liv to test Will, to see if she can forgive him, as they hit the road together, cooped up in a car, trying desperately to have a good time.     

            Driving through the relentless Arizona desert I’d experienced, first-hand, the scope of a country, and its endless sky, so vast, that, like Olivia, I felt myself shrinking into insignificance before it. Later, arriving on the south rim of the Grand Canyon one late June afternoon, we were astonished that we could walk right up to the edge, like grown-ups with the common sense to stay back from the dizzying drop, which, in a flash, struck me as an ideal alternate reality situation for an accident or even a murder.

              Then, travelling from San Francisco into the high Sierras, climbing the hairpin bends into Yosemite National Park with the forests rising around us, we felt like we were journeying into a wild, fairy-tale world. This was just before social media and smart phones were everywhere, and the sense of isolation was unnerving, even though, in reality, we were rarely more than a mile from a ranger station or sandwich stand.

            Still, while we gasped in wonder at waterfalls and granite cliffs, there was something alarming under the skin of all that beauty, the idea that it might turn on you if you weren’t looking, show you its teeth if you strayed from the path. There’s a reason many fairy tales are set in dark, dark, woods. Believe me real forests are scary, even on a sunny afternoon in good quality hiking gear!

           So, Liv has a choice, as she travels further away from the constraints of society and the clock ticks down with the miles under their wheels – does she give in to the ‘wilder’ instincts surfacing inside her or try to remain a ‘civilised’ human being? It’s not just a question of ‘Will she? Won’t she?’ but ‘Would she? Could she?’ and hopefully, ‘Would you? Could you?’ as the reader shares her journey.

         The journey of Wilderness wasn’t finished when Liv reached the end of her own trip, though. A year after the book was published, I found myself sitting in a swanky restaurant in Fitzrovia, London with a draft script for the TV series in my hand. The novel had been optioned by Firebird Pictures and the girl from the valleys was about to see her novel brought to the screen. There were many milestones along the way, getting that ‘Green Light’ for production to begin when Amazon Prime became involved and invested the massive budget, making the show more glossy and polished than I ever could have hoped for; finding out Jenna Coleman would play Liv and hearing her perfect Welsh accent at an online ‘table read’ with the actors; and, of course, when I saw the rough edits for the first time and was told Taylor Swift had agreed to have her marvellously appropriate Look What You Made Me Do, track for the theme tune that suits Liv so perfectly.    

      Any TV or film adaptation makes changes to the book, but Liv’s dilemma remains the same, despite some surprises in store for anyone who’s read the novel. It’s another step on the Wilderness journey and it’s going to be a wild ride!

Wilderness is streaming on Amazon Prime Video from Sept 15, 2023: https://amzn.to/2Vuzv6Q