Today's guest is both an author and a screenwriter. Nick Hornby has written several best-selling novels for both adults and young adults, including A Long Way Down, Slam, About A Boy, and High Fidelity. He's also written several screenplays, including the screenplay for the Academy Award nominated films Wild and Brooklyn. He currently lives in London where he smokes a lot and writes in little two-to-three sentence bursts. We're so excited that Nick agreed to join us for an interview today! It's the first time we've got to interview a YA author who's also a screenwriter! It's almost like being on the red carpet.
James: Thank you so much for joining us today! I know that you are a huge fan of pop music. What were some of the songs on your playlist while writing A Long Way Down?
Nick: I can remember playing a long, live version of Bruce Springsteen’s "Prove It All Night" over and over again on my way to my office every morning – it had the kind of energy, anger and redemption that I felt I needed for the book. But I tend not to work in that way. I always have a musical journey running alongside my writing, and they are often running along parallel lives. For example, I’m listening to a lot of modern classical music this week, but it has nothing to do with the work I’m doing.
James: A Long Way Down deals quite frankly with several dark themes-- depression, suicide, and chronic illness among others. What prompted you to write about these difficult issues?
Nick: Simply put, I chose to write about these things because they are a part of life. I wanted to write about four people who have temporarily come off the rails, and I wanted to provide them with a small glimmer of hope. If you look at the way the book is structured, the darkest point is really the opening, because these people have been led to a desperate place. Every step thereafter takes them further away from that dark point. Not a long way away, just enough to keep them going.
James: What would you say to those adults who argue that dark topics should be kept out of young adult literature?
Nick: I’d tell these people to look at what young people are reading. John Green, the Hunger Games books, all the dystopian novels – take the darkness away and there wouldn’t be much young adult literature left. I think teenagers spend quite a lot of time feeling dark and hopeless, and they have a need to see these feeling represented on the page.
James: You wrote from four different perspectives for this book. Which of these characters was your favorite?
Nick: Well, Jess was the easiest to write. A character who has no real respect for social niceties or the rules of conversation means that you can just follow her around describing the chaos she causes. The others, like most people, tend to move through life with a little more caution.
James: A Long Way Down is one of the only books included in our survey that features protagonists who are not teenagers. Why do you think your book is still able to connect with teen readers?
Nick: I think all four characters speak directly and conversationally to the reader – a more formal literary voice sometimes introduces a distance. There is comedy in the book, as well as darkness, so hopefully that makes the book work as a piece of entertainment. And maybe these characters and their problems chime with young people because young people make mistakes that seem catastrophic to them, even though they will almost certainly survive them. These characters have made mistakes that are dramatic, certainly, but even these are not fatal.
James: What message would you share with teens who are reading your book and are struggling with their own depression or suicidal thoughts?
Nick: Things are changing, even if you don’t necessarily notice the changes for a while. The scenery is moving outside the window of your particular train carriage, and eventually – within days or weeks or months – it will have changed enough to allow you a completely different perspective. Medication might help speed things along, or therapy, but I’d stress that the current situation isn’t permanent. The world will turn just enough to move you on.
James: In addition to writing novels, you also write screenplays, including the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated 2015 film Brooklyn. How is writing screenplays different than writing books?
Nick: The big thing for me is that it offers the chance to work with people. I love getting to know what people in other disciplines do, because art, in all its forms, is so important to me. I’m a music fan, so I get to hear what composers do, and I’ve learned a lot about directing and acting. And I’ve formed many close friendships with people who are not writers!
James: In 2014, Wildgaze Films released a film version of A Long Way Down starring Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul. I couldn't help but notice that you didn't write the screenplay. Why was that?
Nick: I don’t like adapting my own stuff. I didn’t write the adaptations of About A Boy or High Fidelity or Juliet, Naked either. It takes a long time to write a book, and when it’s done, I’d really rather move on to something that seems fresh. I’m happy to let the books go: books don’t get ‘turned into’ films, because they stay as books, whatever happens with the movie.
James: Your novel Juliet, Naked is currently being adapted into a film directed by the hilarious Judd Apatow. What about this adaptation excites you the most?
Nick: Well, Judd is exec producing, so he’s not directly involved with the adaptation. At the moment – and these things change all the time – the projected movie has a terrific cast. I can’t say what it is, but the three leads are played by people whose work I really admire.
James: You have to pick: screenwriter or author. Which one do you choose?
Nick: That’s a hard question. At the beginning of my career I would have picked books. Books, in the end, tend to last better than movies. But at this stage of my career, now that I’ve written several books, I’d probably choose movies. I’ve had enough of shouldering the entire credit or blame for the success or failure of a particular piece of work. Plus, I get to hang out with people.
That's it for today's interview with Nick. If you have any questions for Nick or want to let him know how his books and movies have impacted you, be sure to reach out to him on Facebook or check out his website. And be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to the literary bad-ass Aisha Saeed!