In an intriguing premise, One Day, by David Nicholls follows the lives and relationship of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley over the course of twenty years of the date July 15. The two formally meet just as they are graduating from college and as subsequent years track them, they are many things to each other – not speaking, friends, in bad relationships and bad careers or both, and more often than not, never on the same page about their feelings for one another.
One Day is a book that I could easily imagine as the film that it has become, and definitely brings out all the nostalgia and latent emotions surrounding difficult love affairs with people that may or not be the right fit. Dexter may be somewhat charming and good looking, but he is not the best choice for a bosom buddy and an even worse choice for a boyfriend or lover, but of course that doesn’t stop the sensitive and intense Emma for struggling with her feelings for him for twenty years. I am looking forward to seeing this laid out visually because I think film might solve a lot of the issues I had with the execution of the novel. Most of this is communicated through heavy dialogue (which admittedly, I’m not crazy about), and lengthy explanations catching the reader up from the previous year. It was hard to concentrate on the one day.
The movie trailer, however, looks absolutely compelling and I can’t wait to see the film.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with the author and screenwriter, David Nicholls. It proved to be a fascinating look behind the scenes at the novel writing, adaptation and filmmaking processes. I asked a couple of questions about the adaptation process and the books David would like to see his characters reading.
A few of the adaptations that you’ve worked on in film have been of classic literature. How did you find it was to make the transition in working on more modern pieces?
David Nicholls: That’s an interesting question. I’ve been really lucky in adapting. I think if I was to draw up a list of my favorite books, I’ve kind of somehow managed to get myself the gig of adapting them. And that’s been wonderful. And I’ve only ever adapted books that I love passionately like Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Far From the Madding Crowd (by Thomas Hardy).
But, the most contemporary book I’ve adapted was an incredible memoir by Blake Morrison called And When Did You Last See Your Father? And the challenge with adapting that was that it was a memoir, that Blake Morrison was very much alive and very much looking over my shoulder.
And the approach there was really to treat it as a work of fiction and to kind of get Blake’s standing blessing to be able to invent. And that was interesting because it was a more contemporary story and because Blake’s wonderful book didn’t really have a narrative, it didn’t really have a plot. That was part of the challenge, to impose a plot on it whilst keeping faithfully to the book.
With books like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and Tess of the d’Urbervilles andGreat Expectations, the job of writing is a little bit more like editing. I think in my version of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, maybe 15 or 20 percent of the dialogue was entirely made up. The rest of it was a kind of colloquialized, naturalized version of Hardy’s dialogue; likewise with Great Expectations, which I’ve just been writing. Dickens is much more sayable, much more speakable than Hardy. Hardy isn’t a very natural, he isn’t a natural dialogue writer. Dickens actually heightens with wonderful dialogue.
So, those adaptations have all been quite reverent. And consequently, I feel a certain distance between myself and the book. Adapting my own work, which I’ve done twice now, you have to find a balance. You want to fight in your corner on the things that you want to keep hold of, but also accepting that it’s a collaboration and you are going to have to say goodbye to things that you love.
So, when I’ve adapted my own work, there’s always been stuff which I’ve lost that I’ve found quite tough to think about. But, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist, so I was kind of braced and prepared for a certain number of those sacrifices.
Having said that, I’ve really loved doing this and I loved doing Starter for Ten. I think if it ever happened again, then I would probably pass the book on to someone else. If another of my books was picked up for adaptation, I think I’d probably step aside, because I think sometimes it’s useful to have an objective editorial eye, someone with a fresh take to mold the material. But, with One Day, I felt so close to it and so attached to it I would have found it very hard to pass it off to someone else.
I’m sorry. It was a very long answer, but the short answer is, with a classic novel, you have to be reverent but editorial. You have to approach it editorially as much as creatively. And with adapting my own work or book, you have to be a little freer, a little bit tougher, and a little harsher in terms of letting things go and changing things.
I was wondering, Emma is very literary. In fact, she’s very literary and she’s always making recommendations to Dexter on what he should be reading. What would you recommend, based on their characters? What books would you recommend to help them along?
David Nicholls: Help them along? Well, let me think.
I mean, Emma and I have quite similar tastes. I think she likes Emily Brontë and Jane Austen more than I do. And I probably like Dickens and Hardy more than she would. And she loves Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which is a book I’ve never got on with.
But, for Dexter, I think the coming of age novel is important for Dexter. I think books like Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, the books about the travails of youth, the kind of foolishness of youth, the foolishness of young men. I think, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Goodbye, Columbus are the books I’d probably press onto Dexter.
Emma, it’s hard because she’s so well read and her taste is so good. I think apart from Wuthering Heights she has very good literary taste. I think I’d be too scared to tell Emma to read a book, because she’s so well read and smart.
But, yes, what else does she give to Dexter? I think she gives him some Milan Kundera, which were books that were very, very much around in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Everyone was reading those novels. I don’t think I’d presume to give Emma a book. I think she’d probably have read it before me.
I also have a giveaway for those who might be interested. Fill out the form for an opportunity to win the prize below, valued at $30.95 and provided by Focus Features.
One (1) winner will receive:
- Copy of the movie-tie in edition paperback book
- Clear cosmetic case
- Moleskin Journal
I will draw a winner in a couple of day on August 19th, the release day for the film adaptation of One Day.