In the NOBC in-box this morning: author David Nicholls’ answers to your questions about One Day. Big note: There are major plot spoilers discussed below, so we urge you not to read this post without first finishing the book.
From Danielle Virgin, discussion leader:
1. At any point did you consider the possibility of Emma and Dex not being together?
2. Was it difficult to write how these characters evolved, considering we have only a glimpse of their lives from one year to the next?
Well, one of the great benefits of writing fiction is that you can cheat a little. Even though I only show events on one individual day, there’s nothing to stop me passing on snippets of information to the reader—e.g., ‘six months previously, he had fallen in love,’ etc. The novelist can also chart inner transformations (‘She no longer felt…’). Having said that, I tried to keep the action contained in a single day, and planned the novel very carefully, so that each ‘day,’ each set-piece chapter, would move the story and the characters on. In that sense, it was rather like a puzzle, working out not just what happens on the twenty ‘one days’ but also on the 364 days in between.
The Dex at the end of the book—the one who spends a day dreaming on the mountain with Emma (and years later brings his daughter), the one who runs after Emma to invite her to visit his family—is not quite the Dex we got elsewhere in the book. So how do you see his true character? And why didn’t he just rewrite that letter to Emma, since we know at the end that he was quite clearly attracted to her.
Posted by: Maura Fritz| Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Well, like Em, like anyone, he changes from day to day. Moments of extreme selfishness and stupidity alternate with kindness and generosity. Certainly the loss of his mother puts him into a spin for a number of years, and booze plays a part too. But I hope these aren’t inconsistencies, just a reflection of real-life.
As to the letter, it’s written on impulse, an impulse that passes as soon as he meets the next girl. Even as he’s writing the letter (drunk) he’s having second thoughts. The book is partly about how split-second decisions, chance too, can change the course of a life, and I think that’s one example.
My question for the author:
In Part II, where it talks about how Emma is so excited to finally have a place of her own and not have to share a bathroom, where is she living? In one chapter with the location listed as Oxfordshire, it talks about her new place and the large carafe that she keeps by her bed…and the tiny corridor of space between the side of the bed and the walls. But later, in a chapter with the location listed as Leytonstone, it refers to this same apartment. So where was she living and during which time period? Not being from England, I wasn’t sure how close Oxfordshire and Leytonstone were, and if there is a connection somehow.
Posted by: Kelly| Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Apologies—the heading is misleading. Oxfordshire is Dexter’s family home—a rural retreat about two hours from London. At that time, Emma is renting a one-bedroom flat in Earls Court, West London. Leytonstone is a somewhat run-down district of North East London—the flat she mistakenly buys with Ian.
Mr. David Nicholls:
Who inspired Emma’s character?
Is Dexter actually David (You)??
You were spot on regarding life events and dealing with transition in life events, spot on… Bravo!
Posted by: Bella| Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:24 PM
There’s no single prototype. A lot of my own experiences have gone into Emma—the bodged twenties, the terrible jobs—though I’m not nearly as smart and witty and idealistic as she is. Certainly I owe a debt to the personalities and remarks of my female friends. I’ve known a lot of Dexters in my day, but am nothing like that at all, I’m afraid. Not that he’s to be admired, but he does at least have some fun. As usual, the characters are a combination of autobiography, friends and acquaintances and—to quite a large degree—other fictional characters. Emma’s a mixture of Elizabeth Bennett, Beatrice from Much Ado, Annie Hall, Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment—all kinds of influences.
Dex’s downward spiral was so well written that I wonder where David Nicholls got his inspiration…it was incredibly believable and I still remember the quote of how Dex felt like he was on ice and then the ice began to crack and the next thing he knew, he went under…..
Posted by: Carol| Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Thanks, Carol. Very kind. Whilst I’ve not always been a bookish recluse, I suppose I’ve had my shaky moments—I don’t know anyone who reaches their forties entirely intact. But in Dexter’s decline there’s thankfully very little memoir. As usual, a lot is ripped off from better writers. Fitzgerald’s wonderful Tender Is the Night has always been a big influence—the charming man who throws it all away.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading One Day. I could feel all the emotions of Em and Dex. My question…. Did you plan from the start for Em to die? I completely lost it and cried like a baby! Thank you for the story.
Posted by: Stephanie| Friday, January 28, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Yes, Stephanie, always part of the plan. The original idea from the book—stolen from the passage in Tess, which I quote—was to write about a ‘death-day,’ the unknown anniversary that we all have, the date of our future death. The trick then was to keep it from the reader. So it was no whim on my part. It was always what the book was going to be about.
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