One Day: Writers Nicole Taylor and David Nicholls on turning his hit novel into an epic TV romantic drama
Scottish screenwriter Nicole Taylor had a quick decision to make over her pledge to take a year off after having a baby – when she was approached only a week after giving birth.
Producer Roanna Benn, a fellow Glaswegian, wanted to gauge her interest in an idea to turn one of Taylor’s favourite novels into a TV series.
It was a tantalising project, but one the Wild Rose writer almost walked away from before having second thoughts.
Despite her initial reluctance, Taylor decided to re-read One Day, David Nicholls’ best-selling story following the lives of two friends who meet for the first time on their graduation day from Edinburgh University.
That convinced her to pursue the TV adaptation, which won the backing of Nicholls, who had already adapted his bittersweet love story for an earlier feature film, before being snapped up by Netflix for a 14-part romantic drama, which has just been released.
Partly shot on location for two weeks in Edinburgh, where the book begins and ends, One Day sees Ambika Mod, who starred in the BBC series This Is Going To Hurt, and White Lotus star Leo Woodall as Dexter and Emma, as the epic story follows their lives and friendship over the course of 20 years.
Taylor and Nicholls visited the Waterstones bookstore on Princes Street in Edinburgh for a sneak preview of the first episode, which is entirely set in the city.
Recalling the initial approach, Taylor said: “I’d made a decision not to do any work for a year, or even look at any work for a year. I thought that was going to be super-easy.
“Then this message came through about One Day. When the book first came out, I was one of the early adopters. When you love something like that, you think it’s your book and is all about you. You become obsessed. It was super-annoying when whole Tube carriages were then filled with people feeling the same thing about the book and the same thing about Emma.
"I just felt: ‘Well, back in the day you were obsessed with One Day, but you couldn’t feel the same way now, it won’t have stood the test of time and, anyway, you’ve got a week-old baby.’
"But I thought I should just check, in case I was turning down something that I shouldn’t be. I stayed up to read it in one sitting while my baby was asleep. Needless to say, I fell in love with it even more and got more out of it.
"I just thought to myself: ‘Wow, I have to, I have to, I have to.’ It was unturndownable. They very kindly waited for about a year, and then we got on with it.”
Taylor, lead writer on the Netflix show, which Nicholls became executive producer on, admitted the task of turning his 2009 book into a TV series proved tougher than anticipated.
She said: “It was so difficult. I thought it was going to be a cut-and-paste job. Here was this magnificent novel, written by a BAFTA-winning screenwriter, with amazing dialogue.
"But oh my god, structuring it was hellacious. I wrote many drafts of every episode I wrote.
"It was amazing to have the opportunity from Netflix to make the episodes whatever length the story demanded, but it was hard to sacrifice things and I tried lots of different things.
“I had so much support from David, who was a sort of mentor and consultant. If I couldn’t find a joke or a solution he was always there. He has written some brilliant material which makes it into the show at key places.
"It was a very difficult job which I wasn’t expecting, but a very happy one because we had an amazing collaboration.”
Nicholls said the Netflix series was a “very faithful adaptation,” but has crucial changes from the structure of the novel, as well as some new specially-written scenes.He said: “Adapting your own book is like cutting your own hair. You can never really see the whole thing and you’re not as radical as you need to be.
"Yet letting someone else do it is frightening and unnerving. I’ve always adapted my own work. It’s very hard to let it go.
"I’ve written episode 13, which is almost entirely new scenarios and dialogue. I had to go back and remember what Emma and Dexter sounded like to create new scenes for characters I hadn't really thought about since 2008. By that stage, we knew who was going to be playing them, so it was about writing something that was a fusion of the novel with these new voices and faces.
“You do need a brilliant, objective, intelligent outside eye sometimes to show you the things that aren’t going to work if you were to just transcribe the book.
"There are characters who have great, long, funny scenes which aren’t in the book. For me, the best scene in the whole series, in the final episode, which just destroys me every time, isn't in the book.
“There are lots of scenes that I'd love to go back to sneak in and pretend they’re mine. It’s a really brilliant piece of adaptation and I’m so proud of the show.”
The original inspiration for One Day came from Nicholls’ experiences of Edinburgh while performing in “an obscure Jacobean tragedy” at the Fringe just after graduating from Bristol University.
He recalled: “My first book did really well, but my second one stumbled a little bit, so there was no real hurry for the third book.
"I took a long time writing it. There was a lot of care and planning involved. It was a real labour of love. I sort of thought it was a good idea, but didn’t expect it to spiral the way it did. It was brilliant and life-changing, but completely unexpected.
"The worst thing I can say about it is that the aftermath was quite disconcerting. I found it very hard to write afterwards for about three years. But I loved it then and I love it now.
“I started writing One Day when I was 39. Coming back to it now, as I approach 60, is bittersweet in all kinds of new and interesting ways, but I’ve never felt anything but affection for it."
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