John Waters collects novelisations of movies.

John Waters collects novelisations of movies. Photo: Lyn Mills

The filmmaker and writer John Waters collects novelisations of movies and while nobody would seriously argue these are works of great literature, I can understand his fascination with them, which I share.

You might simply want a reminder of a movie you enjoyed or you might, as I sometimes do, have other reasons for indulging in this guilty pleasure. I've always been fascinated by questions of how these things work. Does a novelisation writer work from a script or the finished movie? The former, I suspect, given the respective release dates, the book often preceding the movie, and the fascinating differences that can often be found between them.

Sometimes script ideas get cut out of the final movie or stories have to be altered to fit different media, for example: I wonder how much leeway the writers have to flesh out necessary details; sometimes the clashes are more obvious than others.

I have a novelisation of West Side Story that, obviously, leaves out the musical numbers, but tells the story in a somewhat grittier way than the stage show and movie, in the manner of a 1950s pulp novel: it's an involving piece of work in its own right.

Do these writers get royalties or a lump sum? Why do some authors write novelisations under their own names while others, perhaps a little chagrined, use pen names? Some quite respected authors take on novelisations: Alan Dean Foster ghostwrote the first Star Wars novel for George Lucas (including a lot of background information and such tidbits as the Biggs-Luke Skywalker conversation on Tatooine that didn't make the final cut) and young adult author Todd Strasser has also done his share.

I remember seeing the first two Omen movies on TV as a child but being too young to watch the third, The Final Conflict, at the cinema; I read the novelisation instead. It was, in its way, a scarier experience than the films: perhaps I was more susceptible to the written word - and the Omen series, with all its talk of Revelation and the Devil, was written in a pseudo-serious way that could stick with an over-imaginative child - than the image. Having the book with its icky details on my bookshelf was simply too much; I soon donated it to my school library. But I continued to read other novelisations. And, on occasion, I still do.