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
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape