With Nick Hornby
Author, "How to Be Good"
Tuesday, July 10, 2001; 1:30 p.m. EDT
Nick Hornby is the author of the critically acclaimed books "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy," as well as the memoir "Fever Pitch." His latest book, "How to Be Good," told from the point of view of a middle-aged woman, explores issues surrounding marriage, parenthood and the quest for lasting love.
Hornby was live online on Tuesday, July 10 at 1:30 p.m. EDT to answer questions about his latest book. He'll also be appearing in person at Olsson's Metro Center store Thursday, July 12 at 7 p.m. (Details)
In addition to his novels, Hornby is the editor of the short story collection "Speaking with the Angel" and is the pop music critic for the New Yorker. He lives in North London.
The transcript follows.
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washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon, Mr. Hornby, and welcome. The protagonist of "How to Be Good" is a woman. What inspired you to take that tack? Do you think this story needed to be told from a woman's point of view?
Nick Hornby: That was the thing, really. It did need to be told from a woman's point of view. I knew that I wanted to write about a marriage that was under strain, and for something to happen to one of the partners in that marriage, and for the other to comment on that something. The way it seemed to me, it seemed to make more sense for the woman to comment on the man. But the other thing is, I really like writing in the first person, and there are two genders to choose from. I don't want to be stuck with one for the rest of my life.
Arlington, Va.: I thought the best thing about "High Fidelity" was the way it brought the reader inside the mind of the protagonist (I remember the review that said it was like the dirty secrets of the male mind revealed). My question is whether it was a challenge to narrate your latest work from a female perspective. Is the character modeled on someone you know?
Nick Hornby: No, it's not modeled on anyone I know. But everyone I know who is a woman checked it for accuracy. If anyone has any complaints, take it to them, not me.
Miami, Fla.: Since you and Helen Fielding are friends, and she visited the set of "Fever Pitch" did she pay homage to you in "Bridget Jones's Diary" when Bridget finally loses weight after 18 years of trying to accomplish this? She rants about it like Paul in the movie "Fever Pitch" because no one cares about her achievement. Paul rants about the fact that he's been waiting 18 years for Arsenal to win the title again and Sarah, his girlfriend, doesn't think it's that important, that "it's only a game." Do you think Helen Fielding found a parallel there? Or did you pay homage to her? Which came first?
Nick Hornby: I definitely came first. I think it's part of her ongoing Mr. Darcy obsession.
Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the Sol Campbell controversy?
Nick Hornby: I think the really sad thing for Spurs fans is that it's the first time there's been this kind of gulf between the two clubs. That's why I think they're finding it so hard to take, for the Spurs player has walked out on Spurs for Arsenal in order to further his career. From an Arsenal point of view, I think he's just what we need. And he won't get a hard time from our fans. He always looked like an Arsenal player to me.
Adams Morgan, D.C.: As an expert on surviving years and years of soccer adversity, do you have any advice for us D.C. United supporters enduring a second straight season of unfulfilled potential and dismal play? [Granted, this is after four straight stellar years as champions and contenders. So, we were due for a taste of reality.]
Any particular alcoholic concoctions that help you get through these kind of hard times would be most useful at this point in the season.
Will we actually have to resort to hiring a French coach? Say it ain't so?
Nick Hornby: This is what's wrong with American soccer. Two years and you're already turning to the bottle. Spurs last won the championship in 1961. And not all of them are drunks.
As for the French coach: You should be so lucky.
Arlington, Va.: I really, really enjoyed "High Fidelity" but was a bit disappointed in the movie and frankly, was a bit surprised that the book was made into a movie. Funny thing is that I think "About a Boy" would make a good movie. Nevertheless, I was interested in hearing your views about the movie and how involved you were in the script and production of it. Thanks.
Nick Hornby: I loved the movie. Possibly because so much of it was a really good actor reading my book out to camera, which may prove your point that it wasn't really a movie in the first place. But I thought that it remained true to the spirit and the soul of the book, and it had a fantastic cast -- I don't really think I could've asked for anything more. But movies are never as good as books, if that's how you want to judge things. A properly faithful adaptation would last somewhere between eight and 10 hours. People always complain that this scene is missing, or they hadn't imagined that character to look like that. But there isn't anything that filmmakers can do about either of those things.
"About a Boy" finished shooting last week. It stars Hugh Grant, Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz. And I think it'll be great. Also, while we're on the subject, there are plans to re-make "Fever Pitch" and set it in Boston with the guy as a Red Sox fan. This may be the only example of Hollywood tacking on a downbeat ending to a happy English movie.
Arlington, Va.: Did you like the movie "High Fidelity"? I admit I saw it before I read your book, and in the end thought they were very careful with it. Were you apprehensive about the film being set in America?
Nick Hornby: No, I wasn't at all apprehensive about the movie being set in Chicago. Mostly because I'd met the guys who were adapting the book, and I knew that they wanted to be respectful and not mess it up. Also, they all come from Chicago, and the film became autobiographical for them, which I think really helped the detail and the authenticity of the adaptation.
Alexandria, Va.: Nick --
Love your books, even though as a Liverpool supporter (my wife understands me much better now, thanks to you and "Fever Pitch"), "Fever Pitch" tore out my heart and stomped on it a few times. Regardless, at least we didn't waste our money on Bronklehurst (sp?).
Does anyone talk to you about anything other than Arsenal? Do you hate Seaman's hair as much as I do? Do you think he's as overrated as I do?
Nick Hornby: Yes. I hate Seaman's hair. And his hair, I think, is the reason we just spent a lot of money on a new goalkeeper.
In terms of talking about Arsenal, it's becoming a different kind of readership -- the last couple of books have brought in a different set of people, which sometimes makes readings hard to handle. One lot wanted to talk about Sol Campbell, and the other lot wants to talk about my writing process.
Alexandria Va.: Can you tell us about your work to raise funds for schools for children with autism?
Nick Hornby: Well, so far, I haven't done much more than what you may already know about -- I put together a book (a fantastic book, I think), which contained short stories by a lot of people I mostly knew. It's probably raised $300,000 or $400,000 to date, some of which is going to a school in New York, and some of which is going to my son's school. But they need an awful lot more. So I'm figuring out ways to try and raise millions rather than hundreds of thousands.
Virginia: Which is harder, writing the book or getting it published?
Nick Hornby: I've been very lucky so far. And I haven't had any trouble getting the books published. But I think for everyone, it's much much harder to sit down and write the first line of something that's going to occupy a good couple of years of your life. If people like your book, it takes 10 minutes to sell it.
Takoma Park, Md.: Although your books, in my experience, are enjoyed by both men and women, you strike both as very much a "guy" writer -- obsessions with footy and records being very male, and Will in "About a Boy" being such the man-child. Was writing the newest from a female perspective a deliberate step away from that?
Nick Hornby: I didn't ever intend to be a guy writer. Each book was the book I wanted to write at the time I wanted to write it, and there's no real sense of deliberation. I trust the readers enough not to patronize them by writing the same book over and over. Having said that, the male psyche is not a territory that's the size of Alaska. So maybe it was time to move on anyway.
Washington, D.C.: Hello Nick, I really enjoy your books but I hate to tell you that this season Arsenal will still be the second or third best team in England. Yes, they can compete with Europe's best on Wednesday, but when you can't get a result home to Derby on Saturday, it doesn't really matter now does it?
Nick Hornby: I have every confidence that this season, Arsenal will finish second by about six points, instead of 20. That'll do me. But, actually, secretly, I have a suspicion that Man. United's days are numbered, and that next year maybe three or four teams will be in the running.
Boston, Mass.: What's your background? Did you study writing? What kind of writing dues did you pay? Dreadful jobs? Failed first attempts at publishing a novel/story? Ever write poetry?
Nick Hornby: In the U.K., very few people study writing -- it's a completely different culture. And I only know of one or two writers who have come through a writing program. So yes, I had several years' worth of crappy jobs and rejections. But not for prose, which I turned to relatively late in life. Before that, I was trying to write ... well, I don't know what they were. That awkward cross between a screenplay and radioplay, I think, and not surprisingly, nobody was very interested.
By the way, I have to say that publishing is a much nicer and more forward-thinking industry than the movies. I think that publishers are much more likely to take a chance on a promising writer and nurture a career, whereas filmmakers can't afford to do that. And nor do they seem very interested in monitoring young talent.
Bethesda, Md.: Have you heard from many people about the musical choices in the film version of "High Fidelity?" I found the inconsistencies hard to get past. For example, a Ladybug Transistor poster is conspicuously displayed in the lead character's apartment. But then he asks, "What's this?" when Belle and Sebastian are playing, as if he would like the former well enough to use them to decorate his walls, but not know the far-better-known latter (especially given his profession).
I know, I know, I'm branding myself a geek here. Just curious what other such geeks have communicated to you about this aspect of the movie.
Nick Hornby: I take the view that as John, D.V. and Steve, who adapted the movie, are such music geeks themselves, no such accusation of this kind can be made to stick. Wasn't there a time when you hadn't heard of Belle and Sebastian, or were you born knowing that they would be making records in the late '90s?
One of the complaints that people have made is about the very first scene in the movie, when Laura pulls the headphone socket out of the amp in anger, and we don't hear anything. Somebody told me that they took almost the rest of the movie to recover from this grotesque inaccuracy, but when I checked with D.V., he explained that if you have a really good hi-fi system, this is what happens when you do this. Like I say, in my experience with them, you can't outgeek them, which is very comforting, I think.
Washington, D.C.: Do you choose the records you review for The New Yorker or does the magazine? And if you choose, how do you choose? And any recommendations regarding recently released records?
Nick Hornby: I choose the records. Although occasionally they make suggestions, which I studiously ignore. The thing about The New Yorker is that you know that any album you choose has to sustain 2,000 words of New Yorker prose. And most pop music, I think, isn't going to be able to do that. So usually I'm looking for an artist I like, whose career contains some kind of narrative complexity.
There are lots of new things I love, which I haven't wanted to write about. Recently, I've liked an album by a guy called Bob Schneider, which contains three or four maddeningly memorable songs. Also, I've been playing the India Arie album, the Whiskey Town, and the Pernice Brothers.
That was our last question today -- Nick Hornby had to run to another interview. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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