David Nicholls: 'I'm desperate that the next book shouldn't disappoint people'

 

It's death to think about a perceived demographic when you write a novel. With One Day, I just wrote the book that I wanted to write; I didn't think "I might have to expand on this section to appeal to men" or anything like that. I was anxious that it might only make sense to people aged between 38 and 44, who lived in London and had been to university or had certain political and cultural experiences. Thankfully that turned out not to be the case.

Most of the books and films I love walk a knife edge between romance and cynicism, and I wanted One Day to stay on that line. I wanted it to be moving, but without being manipulative. I wanted it to be quite a big emotional book, funny and sad, and for people to respond out loud. That can be quite a nerve-racking thing to strive for. You don't want to tip over into mawkishness or be unamusing when you're trying to be funny.

One Day has quite a following among 17, 18 and 19-year-olds, which is interesting and unexpected. It obviously sums up people's anxieties about the future: their intentions and idealism. I think a connection with people's own lives is important [in a hit novel]. It's not necessary; some of the most successful books at the moment are fantastical and otherwordly. But the fact that people connected One Day very specifically to their own friendships, relationships, regrets and anxieties about getting older was important.

I've only ever been recognised in the street once. In Sweden, strangely. There's no photograph of me in the book. And as an actor I was uniquely bland and unmemorable.

I'm desperate that the next book shouldn't disappoint people, but there's an expectation that it might not be so well-read, that critics might be a little harsher, that anything which sells less than One Day might be perceived as disappointing. To sit down in the morning and for those to be the first thoughts in your head can make it difficult to write.

The only thing I know about the next book is that it won't be a love story set over 20 years. It may have a romantic element but it won't be primarily a romantic comedy. I'm 45 now and I have a family, so first dates and the awkwardness of relationships in your 20s are quite distant to me. I'm interested in mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. One thing that it will have in common with One Day is a mixture of comedy and dramatic material.

I suppose Dexter still is running his delicatessen. I think he's probably quite happy now. He's the same age as me, so he's probably putting on a little weight and worrying about that. I love the characters in One Day, and it's very hard to shake them off. I still have a slight fear that every line of dialogue I write from now on will sound like Emma or Dexter.

If there's anything I'm keen to get better at in my writing, then it's the writing of prose as opposed to the writing of dialogue. I sit down and read Alice Munro or F. Scott Fitzgerald and I'm in awe of the quality and precision of the prose. I'm much more confident improvising page after page of chat.

I usually write on a computer – unless I get stuck, at which point I switch to write by hand. I think that's common among writers if they get cornered on something. I think there's something more organic and instinctive about writing by hand. It sounds fanciful, but it certainly helped with One Day at times.

If I was thinking of a novel as the pitch for a movie, then I wouldn't write a novel set over 20 years, or set in a British university. They aren't very commercial notions. But, having started as a professional writer in television, I probably think in terms of scenes: where to come into a scene, and where to end a scene. I tend to structure things before I write them. A lot of novelists improvise, and I'm quite envious of that ability. I think if I tried it I'd end up throwing away rather a lot.

[In the film version of Starter For Ten,] James McAvoy was a lot more charming and appealing than the Brian I had in my head, who was a bit of a whiner. My characters have a different life and presence in my head to those of the actors in the films. Any actor brings their ownpersonality to it. I sat and lived with those books day after day for years, so the book version does take precedence in my head.

It's much easier to edit someone else's work than your own. Over the last few years, I've written screenplays for Great Expectations, Far From the Madding Crowd and Tender is the Night, which are three of my favourite books. The process can be painful: you're aware that you're losing things you love, and that readers love. A movie can never be a book read aloud, it will always be a précis. But I think I'm quite reverent. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too reverent. My adaptation of Great Expectations is being filmed now (with Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter) and is pretty faithful. We've condensed some action but there are very few scenes in it that aren't in the book. Adapting is much more akin to editing than it is to writing, and I think for that reason I probably won't do any more adaptations for a while. I need to come up with something of my own instead.

'One Day' is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 6 February.

David Nicholls: The CV

Nicholls graduated from Bristol University in 1988 and went on to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.

A former actor, Nicholls has also written screenplays for the ITV series 'Cold Feet', a BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', and a forthcoming film version of 'Great Expectations'.

His first book, 'Starter for Ten', the story of a young man's attempt to make it on to Bristol University's 'University Challenge' team was published in 2004 and later made into a film starring James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall. His follow up, 'The Understudy', was published in 2006.

'One Day', his biggest success, was published in 2009, and became the UK's bestselling book of 2011. It covers 20 years in the lives of its protagonists, Emma and Dexter, university friends and frustrated romantics. Last year, the novel was made into a film scripted by Nicholls, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links