Saturday, August 13, 2011

an interview with David Nicholls

Last week, I had the privilege to join a handful of other book bloggers on a conference call with David Nicholls, who wrote the wonderful novel One Day (my review) and adapted it for the upcoming release of the movie. The film comes out next Friday, and I cannot wait to see it. We each got to ask two questions, and David was remarkably thoughtful and forthcoming with his answers.

Me: David, I'm curious. As you were adapting the screenplay for One Day, was there a particular year or scene that you found to be most challenging in adapting for the film?
David Nicolls: Some, the hardest thing was always just cutting back, cutting, cutting, cutting. That was the hardest thing. The scenes that came most easily were the scenes which were the kind of two-handed confrontations because they're very faithful to the book. For instance, the scene where Dexter goes to see his mother with a hangover and the scene where Emma and Dexter go for the terrible meal and fall out, and the holiday sequence, the sequence in Paris. Those are very, very close to the book, and I found those great fun to do and great to watch as well.

We always thought of the movie not as 20 equal chunks, but as sort of eight or so set pieces surrounded by a series of linking smaller scenes. So, in other words, the longer sequences were easier to write than the linking years. The thing that we found the hardest was in the book letters play a really important role in the growth of their friendship in the early years. Dexter sort of goes traveling and their friendship grows through the written word. And the beginning of the film had to have a certain kind of pace to it. We needed to establish them together again pretty quickly, but we also needed to establish how their relationship had changed and grown. So, finding a kind of equivalent for the letters was the hardest thing. A lot of the text in the letters was dropped and turned into dialog in the early scenes. That was some of the hardest material to lose.

It's much harder to dramatize. Emma spends a lot of the time stuck. She spends a lot of time kind of unsure of herself and unsure of her work and her life and her love life. And that's a much harder thing to put on the screen than activity, than forward movement and change. So, that was the toughest thing, sort of summing up those early years in short busy scenes.

David Nicholls on the One Day set.
Me: David, you've talked a little bit about how you haven't been working on a novel lately because you've been so busy adapting [editor's note: in addition to One Day, David also recently adapted Tess of the d'Urbervilles mini-series and Great Expectations.] When you do return to write a new novel, how will your approach to writing have changed because you've done so many adaptations?
David Nicholls: I have done a lot of adaptations. I've kind of made a resolution with myself not to do anymore. But, I think inevitably you take something from the books you adapt. When I was writing One Day, I was adapting Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles for the BBC. And I think even though Thomas Hardy is a supremely lyrical, poetic writer and a genius and does a lot of things that I would never dream of doing, I think there's a sense of fatalism. Things like letters that don't get delivered, phone calls that don't get made are very Hardy-esque. So, even though I wasn't consciously aping Hardy, I think a little bit has snuck into the book.

With the next book, it's not really a complaint, but I have started to worry about repeating myself, and I do feel like I have to do something different. But I'm also aware that I don't want to suddenly deliver a kind of ultra-violent science fiction novel or a novel about the Second World War. I don't want to be perversely contrary. I want the next book to have some of the qualities of One Day, but I don't want to write another bittersweet epic love story. So I suppose the worst element of it is it's made me a little bit self-conscious. But again, it would be really churlish and mean spirited to complain too much.

I suppose the only I am thinking is I've been working on Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, and I've really loved Great Expectations. The things I've taken from it have been plots, the importance of having a terrific, gripping story, and also very good writing about childhood and growing up and coming of age. I don't know whether the next book will have sort of sucked up some Charles Dickens. I hope so, because he's one of my favorite novelists, but, as I said, I don't know what the next story will be, but it will be about father and sons. It may be a sort of Nicholas Nickleby-esque coming of age story, the story of a young man growing up. I haven't really worked it out yet.

I do feel strongly that I need to write something a little different. There will always be an element of a love story, but I don't think the next book will be primarily a love story. Who knows? I've made some notes towards it, but I'm a long ways from starting writing.

Thank you to Big Honcho Media for inviting me to interview David Nicholls! It was a wonderful experience. I'll be seeing One Day this weekend when it arrives in theaters, so look for my review sometime next week. Remember, you still have a few days to enter my awesome One Day contest.

Want to read the book before you see the movie? Buy One Day from Amazon in paperback or for the Kindle.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I have been wanting to read this, but now, after reading your interview with David, I am even more curious. I always do wonder how authors feel when the movie versions of their books cut so much out.

  2. This is a wonderful interview! I read the book already, but I can't wait to see the movie!

  3. I'm so envious you got to interview him! I read the book last year and am looking forward to the movie.


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