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Nick Hornby is a little tired. The British author toured the U.S. to promote his latest book, “Juliet, Naked,” last week, then flew home to north London, and is now back in New York City for the premiere of the much-buzzed-about “An Education,” for which he wrote the screenplay. But at least after his dinner at the Waverly Inn, he managed to avoid the late-night karaoke session with cast member Dominic Cooper and Jude Law, who is currently onstage in “Hamlet.”
“No, I went home,” he says, chuckling as he settles into a sofa at the Regency Hotel.
This story first appeared in the October 12, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
For those who think of Hornby as a “guy’s guy” because of works like “High Fidelity,” “Fever Pitch” and “About a Boy,” such sober behavior might seem surprising. But in real life he is 52 years old and has three kids and a lovely wife to go home to: Amanda Posey, who co-executive produced “An Education.” And besides that film, for which he slipped into the persona of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, “Juliet, Naked” features a female protagonist whose struggles with her own childlessness and a dead-end relationship are handled with such empathy that even Doris Lessing would approve.
In any case, Hornby vehemently rejects the “Lad Lit” label with which he has been branded — perhaps because his Everyman characters spend a fair amount of time at the local pub and are obsessed with sports and/or music. “I just try to make things as real as possible,” he counters. “I think the ‘lad’ thing comes from a place of snobbery, because you don’t see a lot of ordinary people in literary fiction. There’s a general sense they don’t belong in books.”
Hornby’s social realism also features extensive use of humor. “I never get why a lot of books and films have zero jokes,” says the Cambridge grad. “There is no point in the day where we don’t joke — someone will say a joke at a funeral. And yet it’s only in ‘serious’ art forms that it’s all agony and horrible.”
“An Education,” which was based on a true story, is “quite painful and funny,” says the author. It was prompted by a snippet of British journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir that he found in an issue of the literary magazine Granta. Her early Sixties tale of her much-older boyfriend, who introduced her to a world of sophisticated dinner parties, trips to Paris, and for whom she nearly gave up her dream of attending Oxford, intrigued Hornby, who took it to his wife as a potential project.
“He heard us discussing who we would put on as a writer and got jealous,” recalls Posey. “He was saying ‘No, no, me, me,’ which was of course what we were hoping.”
It was a better experience for the author than the time he wrote the screenplay for “Fever Pitch” — which was so unpleasant he no longer adapts his own material. “It was two years of sitting in a room, shoving things in a book, and then someone comes along and says, ‘Write it again, but let’s take everything out,’” he remembers with a shudder. “I couldn’t do it [again] after that.”
In contrast, this was enjoyable, he says. “There was a lot of room for creativity. I had a suggestion of characters and a story arc, but I could do a lot of things myself.”
The cast gave his work high marks. “He really understands the tragedy of everyday life,” says the movie’s breakout star, Carey Mulligan. “He doesn’t put ‘movie moments’ in. All the characters are there as real people.”
In addition to his new role as successful screenwriter, Hornby is working on an album with musician Ben Folds. Among the songs they have written together is one about the foibles of former Bristol Palin fiancé Levi Johnston. “It’s about a young man’s bewilderment,” he explains.
Next up will be another novel, as soon as Hornby gets to stay in one place long enough to write. “There is a need,” he says. “It’s an itch that has to be scratched all the time.”