Pengiun: In what ways are the events in How to be Good based on anything you have witnessed or experienced in real life?
Nick: There are all sorts of things in there that are personal, I suppose, but it’s in no way autobiographical. What tends to happen is that something happens, or you think about something, or feel something, and then you invent a piece of narrative or a character which dramatises that. But some of the questions raised by the book have been things I’ve had to think about over the last couple of years, what with one thing and another.
P: What were the particular challenges you found in writing from a woman’s point of view?
N: Not really different to the challenge set by writing about anyone who has had to be imagined. I don’t think men and women are as different as the glossy magazines would have us believe, and despite the perceived maleness of some of my pursuits, I’ve still spent more time in my life talking to women than men…
P: What has been the reaction of female readers?
N: The female narrator hasn’t been an issue so far, although you can tell from the almost all-female list in the acknowledgments that I actively sought female opinion!
P: How did you come up with the character of DJ GoodNews? Is he based on someone you know?
N: No – never really hung around with anyone like that. He’s really the personification of a smug, spiritual strain that’s been around for the last fifteen years or so.
P: Do you feel that How to be Good is a sad book? In what ways do you think it is realistic in its portrayal of a modern marriage?
N: Yes, I think it’s sad, although I hope it’s got jokes in it. Obviously not all marriages are like this, but most are compromised in some way, and there are more acceptable ways out of a marriage than there have ever been – this puts an awful lot of pressure on.
P: How to be Good has been described as a commentary on the morality of the New Labour programme. Was it a conscious effort on your part to write a novel that can be viewed as political?
N: I suppose the book’s concerns are what a certain strain of politics comes out of – I’m sure the New Labour project was born out of some kind of sense of personal moral responsibility, and it all got lost in Government. But yes, it’s a book about personal politics.
P: You had a part in the movie of Fever Pitch – is there any character from HTBG that you would like to play?
N: I could shout imbecilities during the big party scene, I think.
P: What are you working on next?
N: I’m having a go at co-writing a screenplay, with Emma Thompson. She was shown the first draft of something I’d written, and she was so smart about what was wrong with it that I suggested we do it together. We did a bit of plotting last summer, but we haven’t started the actual writing yet. I’m looking forward to it.
P: What were your hopes/ambitions for Fever Pitch as you wrote it?
N: God knows, now. I hoped the publishers would accept it, initially. And then I suppose I hoped it would chime with people who followed a team seriously. I suspect that anyone who writes a book has two levels of ambition, the modest and the grandiose. I mean, I saw no reason why the book shouldn’t appeal to lots of people, of different ages and genders and class. But of course you never seriously think that they’re actually going to buy it!
P: When did you realise how significant a book it was going to be and how did that make you feel?
N: I’m still not entirely sure what significance it actually had. The trouble is, it’s been ‘blamed’ for all sorts of things, most of which it is innocent of – in the end, I think, it’s just another book, albeit a book that people seem to like, and which at the time – nearly ten years ago now! – got written about a lot. What does that add up to?
P: What do you think it was about High Fidelity that so struck a chord with men?
N: I don’t think there had been too many books about the ‘normal’ domestic male – most books by men turn out to be weighty, or violent, or historical, and sometimes it’s hard to see yourself in books like that. So it’s more that books had stopped striking any sort of chord, I think…I wouldn’t like every book ever written to aim only for that, but we need some…
P: Did you realise/hope that it would be as popular with women as it has turned out to be? Do you think this is a question of ‘Know your enemy?’
N: I think that both Fever Pitch and High Fidelity were written for women, but the response to High Fidelity from women has been increasingly ‘male’ – lots of women see themselves in the book in ways I hadn’t really anticipated. In fact, the female response encouraged me to write How to be Good.
P: What did you think of the film of High Fidelity?
N: I really liked it. What I liked most was that the film was personal to the filmmakers in the same way that the book was personal to its writer: they grew up in Chicago, where the film was set, and they are all music addicts. So it became a film about them, which is the best sort of adaptation. People kept asking me about the transposition to the US, but it meant that the book retained all its best features.