David Nicholls’s fourth novel is a tragi-comedy about marriage, parenthood, travel, art and science. Nicholls, 47, lives in North London with his partner, Hanna, and their two children – and cats.
“After going to Bristol University to study English and drama, I was at a bit of a loss. I knew that I wanted to stay involved in storytelling in one form or another, and eventually got a grant to study acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. I was there for about 18 months.
What got me into writing was being homesick in New York – I wrote long letters to all my friends. That was the first time I sat down and tried to entertain people, by telling them stories in writing. Back in England, I failed to get much work as an actor. Eventually, I got a job with BBC Drama, reading the ‘slush pile’, and working with writers – I realised that the latter was what I loved doing.
One Day (Nicholls’s 2009 novel) was a little bit of ‘stealing’ from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and a little bit of my 40th birthday approaching and feeling my era was coming to an end. I was a parent by then and getting to a stage in life where friendship could no longer be a prime obsession… so it was kind of a farewell to that period.
After such a success [with One Day], when it came to writing the next novel, I was a bit frozen and self-conscious. I had worries about writing the same book, or one that was perversely different. I worried there wasn’t enough to say… I had a lot of false starts.
There’s a little more maturity in the characters, the tone, and subject matter of Us. This is partly a response to my own age, partly a response to being a father, and partly a response to being able to travel – which I was lucky to do for the first time, thanks to the publication of One Day. In Us, I thought there was something funny in the idea of a grown man backpacking, trying to keep up with his son.”
Us by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton) is out now.