Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down








Originally published November 14, 2005.

 When writing a story, do you always know how you want the ending to be or do you decide as the story goes along?


Nick Hornby: I don't know what's going to happen really in terms of narrative; I do know the kind of tone I want the ending to have. I knew with this book, for example, that I wanted the characters to live; I also wanted to convey the feeling that their decision was a tentative, delicate one - the first tiny buds of optimism, with no guarantee that the first breeze wouldn't blow them off.

 I hear you are a big fan of a USA band from Philly called Marah, what other US bands do you enjoy?


NH: A lot of stuff. I like Rhett Miller and the Old 97s, Ben Folds, the Pernice Brothers, Brendan Benson, Kathleen Edwards, the Eels, Bright Eyes, Shelby Lynne...I like songwriters. And singers. Singer/songwriters.


In your BBC Breakfast interview, you equated writing books to writing music. How much music have you written? Would we know any of the music?


NH: I've written no music. I just meant that it performed the same function form - or rather, as I don't write music, I imagine that it comes from the same place in me as music does from musicians. The words are, I think, supposed to convey feelings rather than ideas.


 When you interviewed Bruce Springsteen for the Guardian you said: "A Long Way Down was fueled by coffee, Silk Cuts and Bruce (specifically, a 1978 live bootleg recording of 'Prove it all Night', which I listened to a lot on the walk to my office as I was finishing the book)."What was it about that piece that helped you finish, or maybe a better phrase would be, what about it put you in the right frame of being to finish "A LONG WAY DOWN"?


NH: For a start it has fantastic, angry energy - the long, long introduction,with the piano and then the ginormous, beastly guitar. And then - and I don't want to be pretentious or over dramatic, but I fear it might be unavoidable - Springsteen's little spoken intro, about saying his prayers is inspirational for me. It's a long job, writing a book. And you really do have to prove it all night, every night. Or in my case, all day. Every day.


 What was the last bit of music you listened to before opening, or while reading this email?


Mr Hornby replies: She Loves You, by the Beatles. My kids....They have to listen to it thirty times a day at the moment.


 Can you please tell us about the song your wrote for William Shatner and how can we hear it?


NH: It's on Shatner's album 'Has-Been', which came out last year. Ben Folds emailed me and asked me if I wanted to contribute anything, and I submitted a couple of lyrics, and they liked one of them. It's about an extremely bad father who's been out of touch with his kids for decades, and wants to meetup - but he doesn't want to talk about any difficult stuff.

 In your job as a teacher, did you have any students like Jess and how did you deal with them? Did you decide what happened to Jess's sister or is it a mystery to you too?


NH: Yeah, I had two or three Jesses.  I didn't deal with them very well. But they went in very deep, and I never forgot them - mostly, I think, because I learned something about writing from them. Wherever they went, things happened, and they could definitely start a fight in an empty room, as we say here. And that, of course, is exactly what you're looking for as a novelist - you need people who you can just follow around and write down everything they do. Jess's sister: nah, I don't know. I know less than Jess knows, and she doesn't know either.


 Are any of the characters in A LONG WAY DOWN modeled after people you know?


NH: Well, Jess, a little - see above. And JJ...Well, he wasn't really modeled on anyone I know. But once I knew various things about him - that he was American, that he read a lot, that his band played kind of rootsy, souly music - I realized he was beginning to resemble a friend of mine. So I warned the friend in question. He was cool about it. That happens sometimes. You imagine a character from nothing, but once you have imagine him fully, you see that he isn't so different from someone you might know. And this isn't because you have unconsciously modeled your character on someone real; it's because many of us correspond to a type, despite our personal idiosyncrasies.

 Did you have an opportunity to discuss your book with Johnny Depp and get his view on it's content?


NH: We've had email exchanges. He's been very nice about it. I think he gets why I wanted to write it.

 Since suicide is such a difficult topic for so many people, what was your goal or mission on writing about these four characters who really, in the end, didn't want to jump?

NH: My goal was to take people with real problems away from the dark and towards the light. The older I get, the more I value books, films and pieces of music that offer consolation to people whose lives might be difficult; for me, there's too much art that goes the other way, wants to tell us that life isn't worth living. I wanted to find realistic reasons why it might be.


 Finally, what's up next for you?


NH: I have a couple of screenplays of my own I'm working on. One's an original screenplay that I've co-written with Emma Thompson; we're looking for a director for that one. The other is an adaptation of someone else's work -it's a short autobiographical essay that the English journalist Lynn Barber wrote for Granta, a literary magazine. And then I'm going to write a book about and possibly for teenagers.




I thank Mr. Hornby for taking the time to answer our questions and for being so flexible!

Mr. Hornby photo source 

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