This has been a busy week for new books! Laura and I were lucky to attend this event at Harper Collins in Toronto and meet author David Nicholls. Us has just been released but I have previously read and enjoyed his novel, One Day. The author was visiting from England and the venue was a medium-sized board room with about 40 others in attendance.
He discussed the research that went into his novel and how a baby-sitter had been working on a PhD in fruit fly studies. This piqued his existing interest in science and lead to a family tour of a fruit fly lab. This baby sitter was so eloquent talking about the insects that he decided to write a love scene that took place in the lab.
When speaking of the research done in relation to Us, he spoke of planning a three week tour to check confirm details of the locations in the novel but that his publisher and partner had vetoed that idea. Instead of the tour, he enjoyed a train ride from Paris to Amsterdam and from Munich to Verona to ensure that these scenes were correct. While on the train, he described a customs raid that he had thought of adding to the manuscript but instead he deleted this story line and only used a specific confectionary that he had seen on a train menu. He shared that he was able to utilize Google Maps to ‘virtually’ walk through the streets and ensure accuracy.
Nicholls used some real life situations in his novel. He told of a trip to the Red Light District of Amsterdam when he had borrowed a bicycle from the hotel to go and meet his agent at a restaurant. After the meeting, he found that his bike had been surrounded by fifty other bicycles. In an attempt to unlock and remove the bike, he inadvertently knocked over other bikes and a cascade of vintage motorcycles. The bike owners came out of the bar leading to an interesting discussion. Nicholls said that he used this true scenario in the novel but added creative license relating to the prostitutes.
It was very interesting to learn that the story was originally written about a man and his son going on a journey together. This original draft was written in the third person and was a very slow process to write. After completing 35, 000 words, he had his agent and partner read the draft and they jointly decided to throw it away and start over, restructuring the novel into short chapters which fit the pattern of travel and essence of time. He talked about his writing progress and adding a “hook” in each chapter with the hope making it difficult for readers to put the book down.
Nicholls described how he never writes based on a real person but “uses traits of others mixed up in a blender” also including a little bit of himself. He gets inspiration from other authors and named both Anne Tyler and Canadian author, Alice Munroe along with the 1950s books Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge. These novels, both told the same story, one from the point of view of the husband and the other from the wife, in a series of vignettes.
David Nicholls shared that he “really loves writing”, is really proud of this book and that he is very happy to write for a living. He told the audience that he had been an actor and while he acknowledged that he was “a terrible actor” what he liked about acting was the “words on the page”.
This was a great way to spend an afternoon and we left with an autographed copy of Us, that we are both eager to read, along with a picture with David Nicholls.
Laura, David Nicholls, Susan