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David Nicholls Talks Adaptations & Why Entrusting Other Writers With Netflix’s ‘One Day’ Series Was A “Happy And Collaborative” Experience — Storyhouse

Esteemed British writer David Nicholls is not precious when it comes to adaptations of his novels and cites Netflix’s recent adaptation of his 2009 novel One Day as being a perfect example of how being open-minded to fresh ideas on established material can result in good work.

Speaking at Dublin’s first ever screenwriting festival Storyhouse, Nicholls sat down for a lengthy discussion with Room and Normal People director Lenny Abrahamson to discuss his process of writing and adapting material. Nicholls credited the writers and directors of series One Day – writer-creator Nicole Taylor, writer Bijan Sheibani and director Molly Manners, among others – of their ability to adapt One Day for a modern television audience.

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“The joy of that was that they were both being very faithful and trying to replicate the feeling of reading the novel while at the same time embellishing and drawing things out,” said Nicholls. “And I know that if I had insisted on doing it myself, I would have been stuck in something I started writing 22 years ago and I would have been stuck in the shape of the novel, the way the novel starts with a two-handed scene that only really takes place in one room and ends before the day really begins.”

“It needed someone like Nicole to say, ‘No, we’re going to need to see them get together, we’re going to need to establish the premise, we’re going to need to see something of their world, we need to meet some of the other characters, we’re going to need to set this up and we’re going to have to invent a whole load of stuff and put this to one side. And that can sometimes, as a novelist, be quite frightening.”

He continued: “The great joy about this last experience has been actually embracing that and accepting change and not saying, ‘No can you make it more like the novel’ but actually doing the opposite and encouraging them to fill out the other characters and invent new situations and write additional dialogue. It’s been a very happy and collaborative experience. But I know that if I’d done it myself, I’d have been stuck in my old ways of telling a story that was told by me when I was 41. It’s much better that other people tell the story in a fresh way and embrace that.”

Nicholls, who has written six novels including his debut Starter for Ten, is also a prolific screenwriter having co-written the adaptation of Simpatico as well as episodes of hit Brit series Cold Feet. He adapted scripts for the big screen of his novels One Day and Starter for Ten and was nominated for an Emmy for his five-part television series adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s novels Patrick Melrose.

Abrahamson commented on how “brutal” the adaptation process can typically be, comparing it to surgery. “It’s a bit like if you think of something delicate like surgery, you assume that every movement is calibrated to within an inch of its life but if you watch one of those medical documentaries, they are hacking and cracking and shifting things and cauterizing – an adaptation is a bit like that, isn’t it?”

Nicholls responded: “It is, and you have to embrace that, but it does depend on the brief.”

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