Dan Sefton on Adapting Driving Over Lemons for TV

Driving Over Lemons tells the story of ex-Genesis drummer Chris Stewart’s life, following as this outsider from England buys a rundown farm in southern Spain. The journey, from rock star to sheep shearer, endeared readers of Stewart’s novel and is now being brought to television by a team that includes screenwriter Dan Sefton, who counts among his credits Trust Me, The Good Karma Hospital and The Mallorca Files.

When Sefton was approached about the project, he “jumped at it immediately. I had read all the books years ago, actually, and really loved them.” The idea was brought to him through Nick Leese of Tin Hat Film and TV Productions, who was already in touch with Álvaro Alonso of the Spanish production outfit La Pepa Films (which had the rights to the book).

As one of the founders of Seven Seas Films, along with Simon Lupton, Sefton wanted to be involved not just as a writer, but also as a production company. “That seemed to work out really well,” he tells TV Drama Weekly. “They needed somebody with our experience, so the three production companies [Seven Seas, Tin Hat and La Pepa] teamed up.”

The book is “hugely atmospheric and has lots of interesting ideas in it,” Sefton says. “It doesn’t have a huge amount of narrative, but it’s got enough. My philosophy is, people who like the book like the book; they’re not wanting to have it ripped up and started fresh. They want to see what they like. The initial narrative of Chris settling down in southern Spain and all the challenges he had to overcome translate really well to a TV narrative.”

He adds that there’s a scope after that to start to take it in different directions as well, “to develop other characters and explore stories that might not have been in the book straightaway. The initial approach is to be pretty faithful to the story of Chris and his partner trying to make it in southern Spain in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” a period that he says people will be excited to revisit.

Sefton’s experience with shows such as The Good Karma Hospital, Deliciousand The Mallorca Files has served him well on Driving Over Lemons, he says. “Those projects have all hit a type of show that’s always solidly popular but sometimes has gotten a bit lost in the last five or ten years; some of those shows are pushing against the tide. So much other [television] is very narrative-heavy; it’s very serialized, very hook-y, and people love those shows—it’s great stuff! But a lot of people do love shows that are slightly gentler, have a different vibe to them, are escapist with a bit more emotion in them. All of the shows that I’ve done have an element of that.”

This, he says, is also why he liked the books: “It’s very much the stuff I like! Shows like The Durrells, The Larkins, there’s a quality about them that’s escapist, but when it’s done well, there’s a little bit of an edge to it. That’s what this book has: It’s purely escapist in many ways, but there is a little edge to it. When you read the books, you realize he didn’t have a particularly easy time. Some of the characters he met were not always on his side. Those stories are really fascinating. It does give you that escapist sunshine, and it’s a lovely experience, but it also has a little bit more about it; it’s not just wallpaper TV.”

In setting up Seven Seas, the partners were aiming to tell different stories. “We have a broad range of projects, with completely different tones,” Sefton says. “What’s really nice about having that is we don’t have to have a single tone; we just look for good stories, which might be nonfiction as well. We have a wide range of interests, and it’s great to have a company to use to explore all those interests.”

He adds that he’d love Seven Seas to be known for delivering shows that have “a real solid commercial potential, but also have a little bit more about them. The sort of show that when you’re watching, it’s got a bit more about it than you might expect. That’s what I want to try to do with all the shows that I’ve created. The Mallorca Files is a good example of something that’s really fun and is light and accessible, but there are moments in it that make you think a little bit—and that’s great.”