At the beginning, Nick Hornby established himself as a journalist, with features published in the Sunday Times, Esquire, Elle, Vogue, GQ, Time Out, Time, the Literary Review and the Independent. You’ll likely know Nick’s from his internationally bestselling novels High Fidelity, About A Boy, How To Be Good, A Long Way Down and Juliet, Naked. However, Nick Hornby has also written non-fiction books, including the football memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Slam, which is vintage Hornby for teenagers. Many of Nick’s books have been adapted into successful, and much-loved films, including Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About A Boy and A Long Way Down, starring Colin Firth, John Cusack and Hugh Grant. Nick Hornby has also scripted the adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir ‘An Education’ as well as Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. Find out more here. Nick Hornby has been nominated and won numerous awards, including in 1992 when Fever Pitch won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, and in 2001, How To Be Good was longlisted for the Booker Prize. I grew up looking up to my sister when it came to books, and she has always been a big Nick Hornby fan – so I was excited to talk books with him. Please enjoy my interview with Nick Hornby.
How do you describe your occupation?
Writer. Or if I’m feeling long-winded, novelist and screenwriter.
I have an office about ten minutes’ walk from my home. I get here at 9.30 and then immediately start to waste time – jigsaws, crosswords, emails, YouTube, the gym, coffee-making. All I can say is that by the time I go home, the thing I am working on is a little bit longer.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I’m reading To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine, her forthcoming memoir. I was sent a proof, and I liked her first book very much.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
Janet and John by Mabel O’Donnell, I think.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
Page folder for paperbacks, bookmarker or dust-jacket for hardbacks.
When did you fall in love with reading?
I’m not sure that’s ever what happened. But it became a need at a very young age – I would have been lost without it. There wasn’t enough TV back then, and I hated boredom with a passion.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I didn’t write anything creative until I was in my mid-twenties, not even at school, that I remember. (We did a lot of parsing of sentences.) I wrote a screenplay which went nowhere.
If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?
Sixteen, probably The Commitments by Roddy Doyle, if we are also allowed to pretend that I can gift my sixteen-year-old self-books that didn’t exist when I was sixteen. I wouldn’t have believed that novels could be like that. At 25, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, which I now see came out in the year I turned 25. I might have learned something about my craft more quickly.
Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?
There isn’t much to it, apart from, you know, writing it. I suppose the thing that’s possibly unusual is the length of time I spend walking round and round an idea before I get going. The book I’ve just started, I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. I’ve been doing lots of screenplay work in that period, so I probably couldn’t have begun before now anyway, but I think the longer something brews, the easier it is to write.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, for energy, ambition and minor characters; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, for clarity and soul; This Boy’s Life by Tobias Woolf, for an object lesson in non-fiction writing.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
Vonnegut, Dickens, Ann Patchett, Elizabeth McCracken, Dodie Smith. Two men, three women. Everyone has a sense of humour, and I wouldn’t want the two living writers, two of my favourites, to miss out on the occasion, which, let’s face it, is special.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
Three Daughters Of Eve by Elif Shafak. I met the author a couple of years back, and I liked what she had to say at the panel we did together, so I’m finally following up on that interest.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
That you can never run out of great books, and you can do it everywhere.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is one of the best books I’ve ever read, a huge, unforgettable, Dickensian Western.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
Well, I’m not going to insert myself into a novel. Novels wouldn’t benefit from my presence. So I’d choose a period of time I could visit and a career that I could observe from close up. I’d like to find a niche for myself in the first volume of Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick.
Read every day and write every day. Nothing else to it, really.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, again. Within a few pages I knew I wanted to be a novelist, not a screenwriter, and for the first time, I could see how it might be possible. Now I do both, but I don’t know if I’d have got anywhere with either if it hadn’t been for that book.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Well, hundreds! I love David Kynaston’s social histories, and Lorrie Moore’s short stories, and Larkin’s poems…There’s no end to this answer.
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne, his new novel, because I loved his first two books. And it’s short! Short is good!
If you’d like to learn more about Nick Hornby and his work, you can find him on his website and Twitter.
Image credit: Miriam Douglas