How We Met: Simon Stephens & Mark Haddon

'He laughs a lot for someone who writes about people being bludgeoned to death'

Mark Haddon, 50

Having written children's books for 15 years, Haddon (right in picture) was catapulted to fame by his first adult book, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', in 2003. He has since written several more novels and published a collection of poetry. He lives in Oxford.

I was attached to the National Theatre at the same time as Simon, about five years ago, and we connected over music and our love of moaning: we seemed to share a hatred of the same plays.

After our residencies were over, he sent me his script for [his play] Harper Regan to read over. I was touched, and I started sending him stuff to read too. The art of finding someone to read your work over is getting a person who can tell you what's wrong with it in a way that chimes with your own misgivings.

The theatre is much more supportive than the literary world. You almost never see a playwright review someone else's work – it's seen as an appalling idea as it can generate negativity around a play. Yet novelists are asked to do it all the time.

I'm addicted to reading plays before I see them as often you can get dazzled, confused or misled by a production. I find Simon's plays funnier on paper than in the theatre, and I think we share a black humour. I particularly like the fact that such a positive, warm person produces such nihilistic material.

A few people offered to write musical adaptations of The Curious Incident, but I felt I couldn't risk it, particularly as I knew Simon could do it better as a play. And what he has now done comes across as warm, but avoids sentimentality. When you look at it, you really can't spot the join between my work and his.

Recently, I've spent more time looking at his face on a piece of paper than looking at his actual face as he came to Oxford and I took hundreds of photos of him to paint his portrait. It's hard to get him to sit still as he's very animated; he laughs a lot for someone who writes about being people bludgeoned to death.

The main difference between us is the way we write. I'm very envious of how Simon can spend months thinking, but when he writes, it happens very fast. Whereas everything I write goes through 50 drafts: when I'm on draft 35 I think of Simon with some annoyance, swiftly ploughing his way through.

Simon Stephens, 42

The Olivier-winning playwright is best known for the bleak world views and muscular narratives of his productions, including Iraq War drama 'Motortown', bittersweet family drama 'Harper Regan' and sex-trafficking drama 'Three Kingdoms'. He lives in London.

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time while researching Motortown, as my main character's brother, Lee, has Asperger's syndrome, like Christopher, Mark's main character. It was a startling book and it's clear why it became a bestseller: Christopher sees the world with remarkable clarity and truthfulness. All of us find the nature of human interaction bewildering, but he's just honest about it.

We finally met while I was a resident dramatist at the National Theatre in 2006, when Motortown was being staged and Mark had a residency there. Our defining connection was that we were both grumpy men in our forties with children. We'd sit down over lunch, grumbling about how indie music wasn't as good as when we were teens.

Mark had been given lots of offers to adapt his book for the stage – mainly musicals – but they'd all been rejected. So when he asked me to do it, I was daunted but also excited at integrating those characters in the novel more thoroughly, and for me it was one of the joys of the adaptation. There's a symbiosis between us, something in the way we think and reason that draws us together, while we both share literary ticks such as our use of emphasis and concrete nouns.

I think he's sick of the book to an extent. He's subsequently written two beautiful novels for adults, written a TV drama and a collection of poems, but all he's ever asked about is Curious Incident and I think he feels he's talked it to death.

When it comes to our personalities, I'm less shy than he is – novelists spend so much time in isolation – but I'm always impressed by his capacity to observe the idiosyncrasies of how people walk: he does a brilliant impression of my stride.

I went to see him in "Dog Towers" in Oxford recently. I don't have many friends quite as rich as him – or quite as honest about his commitment to paying more tax. Politically we share a lot.

When we hang out now we don't talk about books or the theatre but about music and our kids – though of course it is flattering to form a friendship with someone who has had such a big impact on the literary landscape.

'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' opens at the Apollo Theatre, London W1, on 1 March (tel: 020 7452 3000, curiousonstage.com)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk