12/03/2017 08:56 GMT | Updated 12/03/2017 08:57 GMT

WISE WORDS: 'One Day' Author David Nicholls On The Pain Of Criticism, And Domestic Bliss

'Have a little more confidence in the work.'

For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series - where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way - we’re posing some of the big questions to author and screenwriter DAVID NICHOLLS.

Working first as a television screenwriter, David contributed four episodes of early ‘Cold Feet’, as well as his own series, ‘Rescue Me’, before trying his hand at novel-writing - with spectacular success. 

His debut book, ‘Starter For Ten’ was turned into a film starring James McAvoy, Dominic Cooper and Rebecca Hall. His third novel, ‘One Day’ became a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, and sold five million copies. 

More recently, David has combined novel writing - his latest is ‘Us’ - with screenwriting - adapting ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’. ‘The 7.39’ TV drama starring Sheridan Smith and David Morrissey was his, too. 

Here, as he begins his duties as this year’s ambassador for London Book and Screen Week, he talks to HuffPostUK about some of the big lessons he’s learned along the way… 

Focus Features
David's book 'One Day' sold five million copies and became a film, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess


What do you do to switch off from the world?
I wish I knew. I’m a terrible worrier, fretter and insomniac. Cooking sometimes helps, seeing friends, and reading of course, though I now find even the best books tend to make me drop off into a deep sleep. Getting older, I suppose. 


How do you deal with any negativity that comes your way?
Quite badly. The intention with work is always to come up something that is entirely perfect and universally loved. When, inevitably, this doesn’t happen there’s a terrible sense of failure and regret that can be quite bruising. Criticism is a valuable thing, but only up to a point, and there eventually comes a time when you have to accept your mistakes, learn the lessons, start again. The failures are a gruesome but necessary part of the process, though that doesn’t make them any less painful.  


When and where are you happiest?
It sounds unctuous, but I am frequently extremely happy to be with my family, in the most banal of domestic circumstances. The loss of free time is more than made up for by the stupid jokes and silly conversations. Icky but true.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was once instructed - no, ordered - to have a little more confidence in the work. It’s very easy to watch the success of others and imagine that they have some God-given right to it, some entitlement that you lack. At some point you have to take a deep breath and show your work to someone.


What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learned?
There are definitely times where I’ve felt that something wasn’t quite right with a project, but I’ve carried on for fear of upsetting and offending. It sounds a little hippyish, and I’m almost embarrassed to write it down, but listening to instincts is a hard but valuable lesson. 

RBW/Hal Shinnie
Listen to your instincts, is something David Nicholls has discovered the hard way

 What advice would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Try to have at least some fun. I was very serious as a kid, always trying a little too hard, very earnest and introspective. Once you’ve decided that this is the way you’re going to be, it’s very hard to break out of that pattern. I regret that there wasn’t a little more joy, a little more irresponsibility.  


What three things are at the top of your to-do list?
I’d like 1) to travel more - I didn’t go anywhere in my teens and twenties, and still haven’t travelled very far outside Europe. 2) To find a reliable method for getting a good night’s sleep. 3) And always, always to read more. 


What do you try to bring to your relationships?
I am fantastically, mind-numbingly reliable - paying bills, buying groceries, all that very banal stuff. I wish I could write ‘passion’ or ‘spontaneity’, but the truth is that we never, ever run out of stamps or envelopes.


What keeps you grounded?
The work of other writers. Almost daily I read a passage in a book, or hear a line of dialogue and think ‘My God, how did they do that?’


What was the last act of kindness you received?
The great gift of childcare, which allowed us to get out of London for a few days. 


David Nicholls will champion the specially curated programme of events as the Ambassador of this year’s London Book & Screen Week - a seven-day, citywide celebration of books and the films, TV programmes and virtual worlds they inspire. 


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