An Interview with Nick Hornby
You often write about men who act like children and in your new novel Slam, you write about a boy who must grow up really fast (albeit, a bit reluctantly at first), why the change of pace?
I don’t want only to write about one particular kind of person – I hope that over the course of my career I’ll tackle all ages, and a few different mind-sets. In A Long Way Down, my previous novel, I wrote about a manic young girl, so I’ve been getting there slowly.
With Slam and your chapter in the multi-author novel Click you are reaching out to a younger audience. Was this intentional or did it happen by accident?
Click and Slam were actually written quite a long time apart, although they were published in the same week, almost. But I’d noticed that quite a few younger people had been coming to signings, and writing me letters – a lot of teenagers seem to have read About A Boy. So I already seemed to have a kinship with that age group.
You have written novels from both the male and female perspective, as seen in A Long Way Down. Which do you find to be more difficult?
I think that the moment you’re not writing about yourself, it’s all equally difficult. My first two books, Fever Pitch and High Fidelity, were about me – High Fidelity was a version of me, anyway. And then in About A Boy I wrote about two people who were not me at all. It’s just as hard to write about a boy living in the 1990s as it is to write about a woman of my age. I live with a woman and I grew up in an all-female household, so you’d hope I’d have learned something.
Sam spoke of his uncertainty from the beginning of the relationship about having sex with Alicia. As a boy, do you find that boys are often more unsure about taking that next step than they let on?
Oh, sure. Girls could tell a lot of stories, if they wanted to. Most of them seem to be very discreet, though.
This book deals with single parenthood from the perspective of two different generations. Did you have an inspiration for these scenarios?
I don’t think you need “inspirations” for single parenthood any more. It’s so common. I was brought up by a single mum, and several of my kids’ friends are being brought up similarly. It’s everywhere.
Why did you choose Tony Hawk and skateboarding as Sam’s obsessions? Is considering a celebrity to be a role model desirable and/or normal? Are you a former or current skater?
No, I’m not a skater. At first, I thought Tony Hawk would be a soccer player, because that’s what I know. But the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem right. Kids have a different relationship to soccer than the one I had. It’s really expensive to see games now, so if kids go at all, it’s as a treat, rather than something built into the fabric of their lives. And football (as we call it) is so ubiquitous and Nike-ized now – you couldn’t have a private conversation in the way I wanted. Tony Hawk was perfect, because there’s a real generation gap there. Most people my age don’t know who he is, but he’s actually one of the world’s most famous sportsmen.
How many times did you have to read Tony Hawk’s book to have it accurately and appropriately speak to Sam?
Ha! I reckon I could almost read the audiobook without having to look at the text.
Many young adult novels seem to have parents that are removed from the situation. Why did you choose to have the parents have an active role in Sam’s and Alicia’s decision to have a child?
It just didn’t seem real without the parents, given the kinds of kids they are. Both sets of parents are actually pretty involved in their kids’ lives – how would they not be involved when something this momentous was happening? I notice that the movie Juno took the same decision, and is all the more credible because of it.
Throughout Slam, Alicia’s parents insult Sam’s intelligence and ability. Sam comments on this abuse internally, but never stands up for himself. What caused you to spin him as soft-spoken in this regard when he exhibits courage in so many other instances?
Well, of course most of the time they do it subtly and unconsciously. They’re trying to be kind, but the end up patronizing him, and I think that these kinds of insults are hard for anyone to bite back on, let alone a relatively unconfident teenager. The one time they let their mask slip – when Alicia’s dad (I think) refers to “You people” – is when Sam is at his most vulnerable, when the parents find out that he’s impregnated their daughter.
Do you see Sam as a role model for teens?
I don’t really see anyone as a role model. I just wanted him to be real.
Photo by Stephen Hyde
Well, the U.S. Fever Pitch, not at all, although my wife was one of the producers. There was a UK version that I adapted myself, and that at least kept the soccer, even though I had to make lots of changes. High Fidelity is actually very close to the book, despite the change in setting. Most of the time, the filmmakers have wanted to include me in their decision-making. Despite what you hear, my experience is that they want the approval of the original writers.
Many of your novels combine tragic, life-changing events with laugh-out-loud comedic situations. Do you find yourself attracted to so-called “dark comedy” in literature and film as well? Do you use humor to alleviate tension when times are tough?
It’s not so much that it’s dark comedy, I think – it’s just that, as we all know, life can be dark, but we all still find things to laugh at. So, once again, it just seems more real that way. I suspect that comedy only really works, especially in books, when we know there’s something at stake for the characters. Most purely comic novels start to get titing after a while.
Music often plays a big part in the lives of your characters, most notably Rob in High Fidelity. You also wrote a book about your favorite music called 31 Song. Do you listen to music while you write? Is there a soundtrack to each of your books in your head?
I don’t listen to music while I write, but I need it in order to write. It works as a kind of petrol – I don’t function creatively without it. It gets poured in through the ear, and then I attempt to turn it into something else.
In your essay collection The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, you discuss your own reading habits. As an obvious book-lover, who are some of your favorite and most influential authors? Are there other authors who write for teens whom you admire?
The big influences on me when I was starting out as a writer were Anne Tyler, Lorrie Moore, Roddy Doyle and Tobias Wolff. They all had qualities I badly wanted to steal! I’ve been discovering YA authors since I wrote Slam, and I’ve been knocked out by what I’ve read. MT Anderson’s Feed, for example, seems to me to be a modern classic. And I loved David Almond’s, Skellig and Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat.