What better way to mark my centennial blog than with an email interview I carried out with one of my all-time favourite authors, Nick Hornby. For the questions I collaborated with a friend who writes for an anglocentric magazine in Buenos Aires, Ultrabrit, and the interview was arranged at the recent launch of Nick’s latest book, ‘Things I’ve Been Reading’, blogged about a few weeks ago.
Here are the results…(and a track from Nick‘s project with Ben Folds to keep you musical company whilst you read!)
1- If you could live one week in any of the universes you created in
your books, coexist with the characters and hang out with them,
which one would you choose and why?
Well, I’m not sure any of them live in such a great universe, and in any case, all my characters tend to live in a world similar to the one I already inhabit. So maybe I would choose ‘Fever Pitch‘, simply because that world has gone completely now. I’d like to go back and watch another game at Highbury, the old stadium of Arsenal. .
2- Regarding the collaboration CD you released with Ben Folds, would
you consider writing more lyrics? How was the songwriting experience?
Yes, of course – it was a terrific experience, and Ben’s a wonderful songwriter. Coming into work, logging on, and picking up an mp3, a finished song that Ben had produced overnight, was about as much fun as you can have as a writer. I want to collaborate with as many talented people as possible while I have the chance – musicians, actors, directors, artists, whatever. I spend a lot of time on my own at a desk, and any chance I get to do something different I’ll take. I learned a lot, with Ben – mostly, that music is the most important part of a song.
3- You are always passionate in encouraging people to read, whatever
they enjoy and however they can. You are also equally clearly a
bibliophile who loves the thrill of browsing for books. As someone who
has written e-reader specific pieces, where do you stand on the books
vs e-books debate?
Is there a debate? What’s it about? For me, it’s all the same, and writing is writing, in every medium. I was resistant to e-readers for a long time and on balance I’d rather read a book. But I’d also rather pack a very slim device into my carry-on bag, rather than a great big bulky hardback. The interesting thing about e-books is that they can be any length you want. We are beginning to realise that the ‘natural’ length of a book, somewhere between one hundred and fifty and nine hundred pages, isn’t natural at all, but a by-product of the technology. And now new technology means that books can be a million words long, or five thousand words long. .
4- George Orwell wrote a famous essay entitled ‘Books vs Cigarettes‘:
if you were to write one entitled ‘Books vs Albums,’ and had to come
down in favour of one or the other, which would it be and why?
I don’t think I do have to come down in favour of one or the other, so I won’t. But I will say this: our relationship with a piece of music is ongoing. Our relationship with a book is usually over once we’ve read it. So even though I love both equally, I can contemplate losing my books, if I have to, but not my music.
5- Arsenal win the Champions League or Nick Hornby wins the Nobel Prize
for Literature: choose one.
Oh, ask me something difficult! I have no ambition to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I won’t. .
6- You were a high school English teacher: what advice would you give
to English teachers today to get students to read and enjoy more?
As the father of boys who are reluctant readers, I think I’d tell teachers not to worry about it. Literacy is important, and all the studies show that a child’s ability and desire to read for pleasure is an important indicator of future mental health and prosperity. But don’t be prescriptive. Let them find pleasure anywhere – in comics, in the sports pages of newspapers, in Harry Potter, in Dickens, whatever. .
7- Your father was a Sir: would you enjoy the title? What are your views
Being a knight, a ‘Sir,’ isn’t that much to do with the Queen, even though she hands out the honour – it’s recognition for excellence in a particular field. So the former Manchester United player Bobby Charlton is a ‘Sir,’ and Michael Caine, and so on. It always feels to me as though they’re telling you your career is over, so I’d feel a bit uncomfortable, I think. .
8- Your books have incredible cross-over appeal for cinema audiences.
Are you as big a movie fan as you are a literature and music fan? Do
you enjoy watching your books turning into films?
Yes, I watch a lot of movies, although it’s much, much harder to find good movies than it is to find good music or good books. It costs nothing to write a book, and with all the new technology it costs very little to produce an album. But it still costs millions and millions of dollars to make a film, so there has to be some guarantee of revenue before anyone will invest that sort of money. You need franchise movies, big stars, and the biggest audiences are young audiences, (although increasingly film companies are finding out that old people will spend money too.) Movies like An Education, which I thought became a fantastic film, are so hard to make that it takes years and years, and the effort nearly kills you! No big stars, no obvious audience. But I have enjoyed all the films that have been made from my books. I tend not to have a lot to do with them, but I’m happy they exist, and I’ve made good friends through them. I also enjoy adapting. ‘An Education’ was an adaptation, and last year I adapted Cheryl Strayed‘s ‘Wild’. And my script of Colm Toibin‘s ‘Brooklyn’ will go into production in a few weeks.
9 – You are a driving force behind the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
shop: how hands on are you with the after-school writing programme, and
how are the students’ writing skills?
I don’t do any tuition at the moment. My job is to keep the Ministry Of Stories running, and that takes up a lot of time. Last year I was involved with a wonderful album, SHARE MORE AIR – the kids wrote the words, musicians like Emily Barker and Matthew and the Atlas wrote and recorded the music. I’m so proud of it. If I can keep things like that happening, I’m happy.
To play us out, here is my favourite clip from the movie adaptation of one of my favourite novels, High Fidelity, which also happens to be one of my favourite movies, and features one of my favourite bands.