An Audience with David Nicholls

There are few more prominent authors and screenwriters in Britain today than Dr David Nicholls, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing him discuss his work and inspirations at an event at the University of Bristol, where he graduated in 1988.

In a bright and atmospheric lecture theatre, Dr Nicholls provided an extremely fascinating insight into what it’s like to collaborate with film directors and actors, and how to adapt a novel for television or the big screen. Most recently the screenwriter for the 2014 film adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd, he told of how lead actress Carey Mulligan had a say in Bathsheba’s dialogue and manner of speaking.

Dr Nicholls guided us through his favourite film sequences and his directorial influences, continually emphasising that the art of converting material from script to screen is a complex one where so many different things have to be taken into consideration, including cost, location filming, timing, and whether a particular scene adds value to the motion picture.

Among the directors whose films we were treated to excerpts from were Preston Sturges (who Dr Nicholls felt was unheralded given his impressive body of work), Billy Wilder (we were shown a scene from The Apartment) and Wes Anderson, who was noted for his comedic and unconventional elements during the opening sequence of Rushmore.

Elsewhere, Dr Nicholls gave frequent indications that he was at something of a crossroads in his screenwriting career. He stated his desire not to do another adaptation for the foreseeable future, instead setting his sights on creating an original screenplay, although a new novel appears to be the first item on the horizon.

His existing literary works have been an unqualified success, having become an author fairly late after ending his career as an actor. Starter for Ten told the story of a University of Bristol student’s life changing after appearing on University Challenge, a tale that was made into a film in 2006.

Even more successful was One Day, which was told in the dual points of view of two young adults over a 20-year period, a unique and heartwarming romantic comedy. Nicholls adapted the book into a film which was released in 2010, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

There is also The Understudy and Us, the second of which is very much one of favourites of many library goers in the UK. It is soon to be adapted into a television series; further recognition of Nicholls’ current popularity and status.

Dr Nicholls was especially informative when it came to explaining the difference in his approach when writing a novel and creating a screenplay. Freely admitting that dialogue was his strong suit rather than descriptive language, he said that writing and developing a film was more rewarding due to the many different processes involved in bringing his words to the screen, and then seeing the finished product.

Just watching and hearing him speak from a few rows back in the theatre, you could sense that his mind was always working, always ticking. Endlessly creative and observant, he displayed all the mannerisms you would associate with a noted author, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak so insightfuly and relay his knowledge to a group of onlooking admirers.

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