I started writing House of Cards beside a swimming pool after a furious row with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I had no idea that book would change my life so completely. A quarter of a century later, it is still doing that, changing my life, never knowing what to expect.
The BBC made a prize-winning adaptation of House Of Cards with the wonderful Ian Richardson in the role of the Machiavellian Chief Whip Francis Urquhart. It created waves and even a little outrage. At every twist and turn since then, the murderous Francis Urquhart--whom I call FU--has been at my side.
Years later an intern at Media Rights Capital, an independent studio, recommended the series to the studio's co-founder, who optioned the rights to House of Cards, eventually leading to a Netflix deal for two seasons, sight unseen.
The US series is different, of course, but not that different than the book that started it all. It's true to the spirit of the story I wrote so many years ago--a dark tale of greed, corruption and unquenchable ambition.
Here are 6 of the biggest changes between the US series versus the original book:
South Carolina Kid versus Scottish Aristocrat
In the book, Francis Urquhart is a Scottish aristocrat; in the series, Frank Underwood is a kid from the back streets of South Carolina. They're both looking to get out of their situations: Francis is trying to regain his family's social position while Frank is trying to escape his. But getting his hands dirty comes more naturally to Frank than to Francis; he almost finds it fun. Francis would never (spoiler alert) strangle a dog with his bare hands; he'd get his shotgun, inherited from his father, and shoot it.
Washington versus Westminster
The idea for a book about the dark political arts was inspired by Britain's 1987 general election, which Margaret Thatcher won comfortably, while making many enemies. It inspired me to begin work on a plot to get rid of a Prime Minister, where Francis is a conservative who expects to be rewarded for his service. Frank, instead, is a liberal, though he doesn't seem bound to any specific ideology in the end.
Ruthless Journalism versus Conscientious Journalism
The book's Mattie, a reporter at The Daily Telegraph, becomes the series' Zoe, who works for The Washington Herald. Mattie has more of a troubled conscience than the hard-nosed Zoe, who is also more ruthless in using her sexuality. Mattie's conscience is a vulnerability, but also one of her most attractive features; she would have had difficulty in surviving the 21st-century demands on a newspaper journalist.
Robin Wright versus... no Robin Wright
In the series, Frank's wife, Claire, plays a much stronger role than she does in the book - I love it. Their relationship becomes the central spine of the story. It's why Robin Wright so deserved her Golden Globe. Francis could survive without his wife but could Frank survive without Claire? Doubtful.
Big Business versus the Power of the Press
The British version dwells much more on the power of press barons, while the American version concentrates on the power of big business. While there are whips on both sides of the pond, the pork barrel is even bigger in America, with more power, more money, and more interest. This gives a whip even more possibility for manipulation, and makes the American version less about systems than about people and what motivates them and where they go wrong.
1980s versus 2010s
The timescales of the book and movie are totally different - the first before the era of cell phones, the second devastatingly up to date. It also means that new topics had to be added to carry the same emotional and political weight: instead of the challenge of Soviet Union from the book, the series' characters deal with the issue of teachers' unions and reforms.
Michael Dobbs is the author of House of Cards.
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