Karen Pirie writer reveals major change series made from books

New ITV drama Karen Pirie brings the Val McDermid detective to the small screen for the first time, with the first season adapting the first novel she appears in – The Distant Echo.

However, fans of the book will note that some changes have been made to the plot and characters of this novel. For example, in the original story, Karen only comes into play at the very end, while here she is the focus from the beginning.

The series was adapted by Emer Kenny, who also appears in the series as Karen’s boyfriend, River Wilde. Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Kenny explained why she had to make such major changes when bringing the story to the big screen.

She said: “This show is really different from the book because there’s a lot of stuff that just wouldn’t work on screen. The first half [of the book] is set in the 1970’s, the second half is set in 2004 – so I had to update it to 2022, shifting the past to the 1990’s.

Emer Kenny as River Wilde.

Emer Kenny as River Wilde. itv

“And that changed so much about the story because policing was different between the ’70s and ’90s and the characters change too. If you were 28 or 29 in 2004, you are a different generation than you are 28-29 today.

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“But also in the book I think Karen is only on about 20 pages of a 600 page book, she comes in at the end and she’s quite instrumental but she’s not the protagonist in any way. But then Val takes her on a bigger journey through the rest of the books.”

More like that

Kenny has previously said that it was suggested that she move on to the second book for the show’s first season to more easily draw Karen into the narrative. Here, however, she explained: “I love this book. I think I read it about 8 times over the course of the process.

“I took tons of notes, I figured out what exactly I wanted to keep, what was really essential about the story, which was the two timelines, the central character of Karen, the group of college students – I liked that because I love writing friendships, I love writing relationships – and then a few regulars.

“Those were the core things I wanted to stay true to from Val. But then I just gave it all up and said, ‘Right, now I have to write a TV show,’ because most people coming to a TV show haven’t read the book. So you have to make sure it fits into the TV landscape as a standalone thing.

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Rakhee Thakrar as Bel.

Rakhee Thakrar as Bel. itv

Another major change made for the series was the addition of a new character, Bel Richmond, who creates a podcast about the unsolved case Karen ultimately investigates, the 1996 murder of Rosie Duff. The podcast brings the case back into the conversation and is the reason why he is rolled up again by the police.

Kenny explained that this was included because she was “really concerned that it’s another ‘dead girl show’ because we see a lot of murdered women on screen.”

She continued, “I wanted a way to comment on that and get quite meta with it, in that I could have the podcast comment on the case, I could have Karen comment on the podcast, and it’s just a way for me to overlay that Discourse about what we show and what we do and the issues that are at play.

“True crime podcasts are one such phenomenon. It felt like it was almost odd to do a show about an old case involving a girl who can’t make it home without podcasts coming in because they’re so present in this world in ours time, so it felt good to have that as a device.”

The series also sees a big shift in the group of boys we’ve followed since the 1990s, all of whom become the prime suspects in Rosie’s murder. There are four of them in the book, but only three in the series.

Kenny explained this change: “Two of the characters felt quite similar and had a lot of overlap, and it felt natural to bring them together. Also, one of the characters is moving to America and doesn’t feel as present in the book, so it just made sense to narrow it down to three characters in the end.”

READ ALSO: Emer Kenny: “I definitely had to learn to assert myself”

Karen Pirie is broadcast on ITV and the ITV Hub. You can also get a free 30-day trial of ITV Hub+ on Amazon Prime Video here.

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