Diving into the annual Writer Symposium by the Sea with Nick Hornby
S1: Welcome. In San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. Nick Hornby , known for best selling novels like High Fidelity and About a Boy , will be in San Diego. We'll talk to him about his writing and how empathy and observation play a big role. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition , where we connect our communities through conversation. Next week , Point Loma Nazarene University will host the 29th Annual Writers Symposium By the sea , where the art of writing will be explored with renowned authors. One of the writers appearing at this year's festival is Nick Hornby , known for bestselling novels like High Fidelity and About a Boy , as well as several screenplays. Along with his masterful storytelling , his writing also evokes a love of pop culture of all kinds , be it music , literature , or even sports. And Nick Hornby joins me now. Nick , welcome to Midday Edition.
S2: Thank you for having me.
S1: Glad to have you here. So let's talk about your most recent work. Your most recent work. It is a nonfiction work called Dickens and Prince. And it takes two well-known cultural figures who are not often associated together the 19th century English writer Charles Dickens and the late musician Prince.
S2: Um , which for comparison is , I think , more than the Eagles recorded during the 1970s. So the Prince had that many extra songs for one album in 1986 , and it turned out he was working on 2 or 3 different albums at once , at the same time , different feel , different voices. He was playing around with things , and I suddenly remembered that Dickens used to write two novels at once , quite often just because of the demands of serialization. And and I thought , well , it's only those two that could keep projects apart in their head like that. Anyone who's tried to write a novel will know that writing two novels at the same time is pretty impossible , especially when there is complicated and long as Dickens novels were. So , I started to think about how hard they worked , how much they wrote and and played and their deaths. You know , they were they neither of them lived to be 60. And I think that work killed both of them. Probably they were superstars right from the very first things that they released. Uh , they both had these poverty wrecked childhoods. And there were all kinds of coincidences that I thought would be interesting to write about in an essay for. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. I mean , the work ethic just was insane. I can't even imagine you say that work really killed them both.
S1: Oh , uh , we're all gonna go. Go at some point , right ? Yeah.
S2: Um , I find them incredibly inspiring. Both of them. I mean , not working until you're dead , but , um , I think just the commitment to the craft , uh , is something that I find incredibly inspiring. And , you know , with Dickens , he wasn't thinking about posterity. Uh , he was thinking about how to fill a magazine. Um , and that's how great expectations were written. You know , it's not always about , um , uh , taking five years to cross half the paragraph. It's sometimes you got to hit your deadlines and hope for the best. And there isn't a single Dickens book that is out of print. Each one of them has survived , uh , in a couple of hundred years to be classics. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. You know , also , several of your novels were adapted as films. Two of those , Fever Pitch and High Fidelity , adapted novels originally set in the UK and changed the setting to the U.S.. So I'm wondering how you feel about your words and characters being changed to an American setting.
S2: Well , something like High Fidelity. It was changed because the people who adapted it completely understood the book , and they felt that it was about them. And one of the reasons that that book has been successful and endured is that lots of people all over the place think that book is about them. People in Germany and people in England and people in Scotland and people in Chicago. And it's really not about the setting , it's about the feelings. It's about those people's relationship with music. Um , it's about break ups. It's really about living in a , uh , I guess , a first world city. And and if you get the right people who feel that the book is about them , then it doesn't matter where they want to set it. It has a better chance of being good. And being good is the most important thing to me. And I think that makes great. Yeah.
S1: And , you know , adapting these , these films , it goes both ways for you. I mean , you've adapted books written by others into screenplays , like An Education in Brooklyn , both of which resulted in Oscar nominations for you.
S2: I've learned something from being adapted , um , which is , um , keep out is what is what I read. Really. There isn't much you can do to control the process when you're an author. I think authors sometimes have fond ideas that they will be able to appoint the director and , and and cast it and , and therefore maintain some element of control over the process. But of course , you know , the movie might require a child actor that you don't know anything about it , and it certainly requires a lighting cameraman. A. It requires an editor , and people are paid a lot of money for these things because they're all responsible for how a movie turns out. So once I realized that I couldn't control the quality , I was happy just to sell the books to people I trusted and let them get on with it. And the authors that I've worked with in that way , they've been pretty much the same , actually. The only thing is , some people can be rude and you don't know what's happened to your book for 3 or 4 years. No one tells you anything. So I've always tried to make sure that the author knows what's going on when I'm adapting.
S1: It's important to get that feedback right.
S3: I mean , yeah , absolutely. I mean.
S2: Most , most things take five years to make. And and , you know , that can be two , three year stretches where you just don't have a clue what's going on. Yeah.
S1: One thing I noticed about the characters in your books is that they all seem to have their quirks and issues. Tell me about those quirks and why you choose to write your characters in that way.
S3: Well , I.
S2: Think mostly what I write about is social comedy with , you know , hopefully has some heart and some seriousness somewhere in it. But you can't write about people who have their lives together. I mean , you know , if if I were to write a novel about a very accomplished hedge fund manager with a happy family , I like to see what what there is to write about. They're my my job is done , you know.
S3: They're perfect.
S2: They have no quirks. They have no failures. They have no nothing. If you aren't going to write about that guy , it has to be the day before something goes catastrophically wrong for him , which might involve his quirks or whatever. But , and I prefer writing about people who have messed up in some way. Yeah.
S2: I don't know anyone who hasn't messed up. So , you know , we've all got our issues , we've all got our relationship failures. We've all got annoying parents or annoying kids or annoying siblings and who might not be annoying anymore , or might be about to get even more annoying when life's life's a struggle. For.
S2: Everyone , I think. Yeah.
S2: So I don't think you can start necessarily with just a character. I think you have to have some kind of narrative idea and put that character in that narrative.
S2: I like writing dialogue , and I like the rhythm of dialogue , and that pretty much comes from just listening. Um , you know , I listen on a bus or on a tray and I'll , I'll turn my music off if I think that there's a juicy conversation going on on the other side of the aisle for me. But the moment your characters are doing something that could only happen in your work , if you saw to me your particular story , then they start to develop a life of their own. And I don't mean they start to write themselves. They don't. But if a character turns left instead of right and then goes up some stairs instead of down some stairs , he's already doing stuff that takes him on his own journey. If he said to me.
S1: You know , I would imagine empathy plays a big role in your character development as well , especially when writing about a character who's completely different from yourself.
S2: Yeah , I think the most important thing for me is that I've. I've walked round and round the characters several times. So , um , I've never written about anyone who's irredeemable. I don't think , because I don't think people are irredeemable. By and large. Even somebody who really gets on your nerves , that person has friends and a spouse , you know , and a life where people do like him or her. And so it's finding those bits as well as the bits that are quirky or offputting that are important.
S3: Um , you know , you.
S1: Use so many different vehicles to write music , film , books.
S2: I enjoy writing in different media. I always prefer the thing I'm not doing at the moment , you know ? Um , so if I'm writing a novel , I. Rather be watching a movie and the other way around. Um , and some things just came into being , you know , like , I've been writing a column for The Believer magazine in San Francisco for a long time , and I really like the discipline of writing a monthly. Well , now it's quarterly column because most things take a long time to finish , and I like getting something completed. But I think my voice is my voice , whether it's in script form or , or nonfiction or fiction , I think I can do a lot about being me , and it doesn't seem to matter what form it takes.
S1: Do you feel like.
S2: The reason that people around about my age. Right. I don't know how old you are , but an awful lot of it comes from , um , having been so bored when we were kids. I mean , England in the 1970s was just a terrible , terrible place , you know , there was nothing. I mean , on a Sunday , there was no television during the day , any day I read because I would have , you know , jumped out the window if I hadn't. But my kids don't really read books. They're literate and they're smart , but they don't read books. And , um , it's because they've had so much to do. There's been so much competition for their time over the years. Um , nor do I think that one kind of book is better for you than another kind of book. I don't think that hard. I always say when when people say that literature is , you know , morally improving or , you know , teaches you empathy. I always say , have you ever met a book critic ? Because those guys , you know , there's not much empathy there. And yet they've been reading fiction all their lives. Same with , uh , same with college professors.
S3: Oh , well , yeah.
S1: Yeah , this is true. This is true.
S2: Are they better people than you and me ? I don't think. So.
S1: Oh , goodness. Well , before we go , I've got to ask a San Diego question.
S2: I think it would be a great place for a culture clash. England versus the US relationship story. Wow.
S1: I'm looking forward to that story. All right. Author and screenwriter Nick Hornby will be appearing at this year's Writers Symposium by the sea on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University on Friday , February 23rd , 7 p.m.. Nick , thank you so much for talking with me today. I appreciate. It.
S3: It. It's a great. Pleasure.
S1: All right. To learn more about the event and see a full list of authors appearing at this year's festival , visit our website at Kpbs. Org.
The 29th annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea is returning to Point Loma Nazarene University. This symposium will bring another year of exploring the art of writing with renowned authors. It is set to run from Feb. 19 through 23.
One of the writers appearing at this year's festival is Nick Hornby. He is known for bestselling novels "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy." Along with his masterful storytelling, his writing also evokes a love of pop culture of all kinds.
- Nick Hornby, author, screenwriter