As S4C prepares for the launch of a new drama, Dal Y Mellt, Emma Schofield caught up with actor, turned writer and producer, Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts to talk about the process of turning his novel into a TV series.
I wanted to ask you about the writing process for Dal y Mellt, because I know you’ve said before that when you wrote the novel, you found that to be a very visual experience, and I wondered how that translated into creating the script for this as well.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Basically, it was a process of progression from the novel that came quite soon after getting the book published. I had in my mind when I was writing it as a novel that it would also work as a film, or as a visual, because I’ve been in this industry for over thirty five years, writing and performing, so I had a good inkling that it might work. But it wasn’t a goal to start off with; I just wanted to challenge myself and to have a break from the acting and performing and try to sit down and focus on this, rather than working on other people’s scripts. It took me about three or four years of working on it and it was quite well received. Then a couple of companies came to me and said they were interested in developing it into a film or TV series and the rest is history, as they say.
That’s quite a swift turn around then, because the novel was published in 2019. That’s a fairly quick transition from the pages of the novel to our TV screens.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Yes, from when we started from the process of writing six hour episodes, to the shoots and the edits, then the cuts, I think it took us eighteen months. That’s basically because that’s all the time and money we had to play with.
So what we can expect from the series? I’ve seen the first three episodes so far and I have to say that there were definite shades of a kind of Welsh Peaky Blinders for me, which I mean, as a compliment, but I know that you’ve resisted comparisons to other similar dramas.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Yeah, I find it quite frustrating that we always have to look over the border to compare with similar things. Obviously, it’s a natural process that people do; we’re bound to compare to other things that we know. The thing is I was trying to write something original in the Welsh language that was quite multicultural as well, it’s character-led, that’s what’s important to me; I’m writing the second novel now and the characters take my hand and take me with them, it’s all led by that.
I wonder whether this tendency we have to keep comparing to drama outside of Wales is actually quite problematic, but I also wonder whether it’s because we don’t always know what to compare to within Wales, which is maybe where something like this is good because it is different. It’s quite pacey and I felt like it had it had quite a big cast of characters, but he also had a lot of scene changes, and that, for me, made it quite different from some of the drama we’ve seen from S4C recently. I wondered whether that was something you particularly wanted to do with this, or whether that’s taken its cue from the novel.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Well the novel’s a journey into a world that is constantly turning in front of us and yet we never see it. It’s not an underworld, it’s about dysfunctionality and that’s what the premise of the novel was to me, it’s about who they are and the fact they’re all so different from each other, but their stories intertwine. It’s almost like knitting, bringing it all together. It’s also a big learning curve for me as it’s the first time I’ve written a screenplay. Going back to your question on comparisons though, of course we’re going to compare, but my hope is that one day someone will talk about something else and say ‘it’s like Dal y Mellt’, because that’s the biggest compliment that you can have and a sign that you’ve done something right.
I think it has the potential to become that, because it it is different. Although, I have to admit that when I watched the first episode, there was that scene where Carbo and Mici meet in the art gallery in the National Museum and there was just a split second when my heart sank a little bit, just because we’ve seen the museum feature so heavily in S4C productions recently. After that though, the drama starts to move to other places – to North Wales, London and parts of Dublin.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: We had a meeting about that in production about this because the museum had already featured so heavily in other things. It was difficult, but the script does stick very closely to what happens in the novel and that’s where that scene takes place. I didn’t want to change it because it’s part of the story and part of Mici and Carbo’s story, so we decided to keep it in. As you say, it moves to other places then so that felt like that changed the dynamic and opened it up a bit.
In the novel you’ve got that depth to the characters and that’s reflected in the drama. We see things like the fact that Carbo comes across as quite naïve and a bit bumbling in the beginning, but actually as we see his character develop we realise there is more of an edge to him. We also learn things about Mici’s past, with his PTSD and how he’s managing that.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: I’m glad you say that. It’ll be interesting now to see what the reactions are, we’ve got a viewing coming up for it and lots of people who worked on the programme will be joining us. It’s great to see peoples’ responses as they see it come to fruition. Also, I was very lucky in who I got to work with, the cast and crew had that commitment and that bond between them. I was also very lucky that I got to choose who would be involved in it and that we could pick the people that would really bring the characters along and show that journey they have through the novel.
Yes because there are so many different threads here as well. I mean, there’s a lot going on and there are a lot of different elements to this bring together. I imagine if it wouldn’t have worked if you hadn’t had that kind of gel between you all.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Yes, because you’re shooting up to seven and a half minutes a day and you’ve got to get it done and the actors were doing that, they were getting it first time in some scenes because they knew what we had to do. It wasn’t just the actors, it was the whole crew. For me, the stars aligned somewhere because it all came together and worked in that way to enable us to get it done. It was really brilliant to have an opportunity to create a Welsh language drama, in Wales for a Welsh language audience, because some time I feel that they’re not catered for. I was brought up with a lot of literature and that attitude that you should read when you can and at the time I had no real interest in that, but now I’m so glad that I did. It gave me my first stepping stone into literature; I started out writing poetry because I liked the sound of the word really and that still feeds into my writing now. Sometime if you listen to the characters talking, Mici and Les for example, you can hear that beat and that importance that’s there in what’s not been said as well.
I thought that came across. I also really liked the fact fun to watch. I know there are serious elements to it and in places it’s quite dark, but it’s still entertaining to watch.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: I’m really glad that came across, that’s one of the things we wanted to do here. We wanted to make something which was fun and which people could sit down to watch and actually be able to enjoy.
We’re used to seeing you in front of the camera, but you’ve made this transition now to the to the writing side, and the producing, is that where we’re going to find you from now on?
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: Well, hopefully! I’ve got another novel on the go and we’re editing that at the moment. We’re just waiting now for the nod to know whether we can do another series of this. I mean, I’ve got quite a lot of other projects on the go that I’m working on with TV and film, but that’s how I like it to be. People did ask me why I didn’t take a part in Dal y Mellt as well, but do you know what? I’m so glad I didn’t because I’d have gone crackers, there was so much to do on the production and writing side as it was. It’s nice to give other people a chance as well, that’s what this industry is about, sharing and getting the best out of people, even when you’re constantly together and working under pressure.
You’ve answered my final question there, which was going to be whether we we’re likely to see a follow up to Dal y Mellt on S4C.
Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts: We’ll see what happens. It’s a long process and it’s also a challenge to write a second novel which is, hopefully, as good as the first novel, and the same with a second series TV series. We’re quite hopeful about it, but I don’t decide on the money, it all comes down to the people in charge!
Dal y Mellt will be broadcast on S4C, starting on Sunday 2nd October.