Posted Thursday 8 October 2015
Best-selling author Nick Hornby has hailed the power of literature in helping pull people together during a visit to Kingston University as part of its inaugural Big Read project. The novelist and screenwriter praised the University for its foresight in rolling out the initiative, which has seen all new undergraduate and postgraduate students receive a special edition of his critically-acclaimed book, About a Boy.
"The first few weeks of university life can be a time when students can sometimes feel quite vulnerable, and one of the things the book is about is vulnerability and not feeling you belong when everyone else seems to find it effortless," he said. "Everyone reading the same book creates a common bond where one might not have existed, or certainly not so quickly."
The coming-of-age novel, first published 17 years ago and set in 1993, tells the story of 12-year-old misfit Marcus and 36-year-old serial bachelor Will, exploring themes of growing up and learning about the adult world, as well as issues around depression, bullying and divorce.
While the author, who has also penned Fever Pitch and High Fidelity during his prolific career, believes the same issues exist today, he revealed About a Boy would likely revolve around social media were it to be set now. "I probably would've incorporated social media as a kind of backbone of the book. As we know there are some people who find social media as lonely-making and as alienating as anything else," he said.
The 58 year old, who was born in Redhill, Surrey, and now lives in north London, told the audience that, on the whole, he felt changes made to lift his stories from page to screen were done with the best interests of the book at heart - citing the altered ending of the 2002 hit film adaptation of About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant, as an example.
In a lengthy question and answer session covering topics from how he creates his characters to his favourite author Charles Dickens - who he dubbed a "comic genius" - Hornby revealed he only listened to criticism from his agent, editor and his wife. He also gave his own recommendation for further reading for university students who had found themselves engrossed in his book, pointing them to The Circle, by American author Dave Eggers. "It's one of my favourite books and I think it's incredibly relevant to young people - a sort of 1984 for the Facebook generation," he said.
Reflecting on his time studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at Kingston, the author explained why he thought the University was the perfect place to embark on a degree. "Kingston University has a really inclusive atmosphere and I think its proximity to the city makes it ideal if students come from somewhere else. It's located in an incredibly nice area but one that's also very close to the heart of London," he said.
The writer is currently working on his first UK television adaptation - a BBC production of Nina Stibbe's novel Love, Nina starring Helena Bonham Carter. He said it was fantastic to be working for the broadcaster, adding: "In film, the big problem is raising funds, whereas once you're green lit by the BBC that means it's happening. It's been a really pleasant and straightforward process."
Students attending the event were full of praise for the way the Big Read had helped them adjust as they arrived at University for the first time. "I was so excited and couldn't wait to start the book," filmmaking student Eimear Keenan said. "It was a brilliant icebreaker to be able to ask my roommates if they'd read it too." Elsewhere, Jason Reading, who is enrolled on the Creative Writing MA course, told how it had been a real surprise to receive the book, adding that it had made him feel really connected with the University.
Associate Professor Alison Baverstock, a publishing expert who has been spearheading the Big Read project across Kingston University's four campuses, said it had been inspiring for students to have the opportunity to hear from the author himself.
"Having someone of Nick Hornby's stature as the focus of the first Kingston University Big Read has been wonderful and the project has exceeded all our expectations," she added. "Students receiving the book have told us they felt really valued and welcomed by the University and that the project made them feel excited about meeting new people and starting their courses. University staff have grabbed the opportunity to get involved too - we've had many reports of staff reading the book in groups and we even had to reprint it to meet demand."