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One Day Author David Nicholls On How Walks in the Yorkshire Dales Inspired His New Book

One Day Author David Nicholls On How Walks in the Yorkshire Dales Inspired His New Book
April 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

As well as being a bestselling author, David Nicholls is a keen walker. His latest novel, You Are Here, follows two strangers as they take on Wainwright's Coast to Coast and find love en route

Living North spoke to David to find out more.

The premise of You Are Here is wonderfully simple. ‘It’s a love story and it takes place on a long walk,’ says David. ‘I wanted to write the story of two people who get to know each other over a long distance,’ he continues. ‘They join their group of friends for a weekend’s walking. One of them is Michael, he’s a geography teacher from York. He strikes up a friendship with one of the others on the walk called Marni who’s up from London isn’t used to being outdoors.’ While the others cry off early, Marni and Michael decide to press on across the Dales and Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay. 

The novel alternates between the perspectives of its two protagonists and is incredibly, if occasionally excruciatingly, well observed. I particularly loved a chapter describing the discomfiting process of shopping for walking gear in full knowledge that your commitment to the outdoors in no way justifies the breathable, molecularly manipulated, waterproofing innovations that you are about to invest in. The other thing I loved is how plausible it felt. If two (somewhat romantically jaded) adults were going to fall in love in a week, it would be on a walking trip. ‘I think that there’s something very particular about the kind of conversations that you have if you’re with each other for seven, eight, nine hours of the day,’ David says. ‘It’s really easy to fall into open, relaxed conversation.

Robin Hood’s Bay

‘It’s much easier to talk to people like that than sitting opposite each other in a restaurant,’ he continues. ‘There’s something quite freeing about the kind of conversations you have on a long walk.’

In his own life, David primarily treats walking as a solitary pursuit, partly because he uses it as a way to clear his head for writing. ‘I go hiking a lot by myself. Every year I take a long walk,’ he says. His love of walking in Yorkshire began before he had ever been published. ‘I was working in Leeds as an actor and I used to like jumping on the train to Ilkley and walking on the moor,’ he says. ‘The longer walks are something I’ve been doing for about 10 years now.’

Walking was also integral to the writing process for Your Are Here. ‘I did the Coast to Coast myself,’ David confirms. ‘I liked the idea that the different stages of the story take place in very particular landscapes, so that you could point to a bend in the river and say “this is where they argue” and point to a mountain top and say “this is where they make each other laugh”. I liked the idea that you could lay it onto a map.’

Achieving this specificity was a labour of love. ‘I took a lot of photographs, I made a lot of notes,’ David says. ‘You’ve got this wonderful tool now, Google maps, so if you want to know how much you can see from a particular vantage point, how long you have to walk along the coast till you see Robin Hood’s Bay, you can usually find a photograph somewhere online that will remind you. The hotels and B&Bs and cafés along the way are entirely fictional,’ he clarifies, ‘but the landscape is very precise. You could act out the novel in real places.’

Netflix One Day

I ask him if he has a favourite point on the route, but he won’t be confined to one. ‘I think the North York Moors are really, really beautiful. Nine Standards Rigg is the point on the Pennines where Cumbria becomes Yorkshire, and that’s a really haunting and striking part of the country. There’s lots of it that I loved.’

He tells me that it has taken three years to finish the book, with the majority of time taken up by research before he got anywhere near beginning a draft. He was also waylaid by another notable project. ‘There was a big chunk in the middle where I had to stop because of my work on the Netflix series of One Day,’ he says. ‘That was very overwhelming and I had to put [other] work to one side for a little while.’

Alongside his career as a novelist, David also has a successful career as a screenwriter (in 2019 he won a Bafta for his adaptation of Patrick Melrose with Benedict Cumberbatch) so it was unsurprising to see him credited as a writer and executive producer on the much-lauded Netflix series. However, David is quick to qualify his contribution. ‘I only wrote one episode, so I’m very aware that most of the credit goes to Nicole [Taylor] who is the main writer,’ he says. ‘I was very much involved with it, but more in a supervising, advisory way. We had some wonderful directors and an incredible cast and great writers working on it. I got involved in the edit and the casting and the script editing, and that was a really happy way of working. I loved it.’

The Monday following the show’s release, a significant portion of the Living North office (myself included) arrived at work having spent the previous evening sobbing in front of the TV, so I ask if he’s felt the impact of the buzz (or anguish?) surrounding the show. ‘It only affects me if I’m online,’ he says. ‘It’s quite hard to withdraw from that and get back to work, which is what I need to do. That’s another reason why I’m desperate to walk again.

‘Just before the publicity for One Day started, I went for an amazing walk called the Dales High Way which goes all the way from Shipley up to the edge of Cumbria – that was absolutely stunning. I really want to do something like that again.’

You Are Here by David Nicholls, £20 Hodder & Stoughton, on sale 23rd April

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