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Interview: Nicholas Sparks


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American novelist Nicholas Sparks is one of the world’s leading romance writers, with the success of bestsellers-turned-blockbusters such as Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and The Notebook already under his belt. The film adaptation of his 2010 novel Safe Haven was released on 14 February. TNS sat down with Sparks to discuss the novel...

Safe Haven is now a major motion picture starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel

Can you tell us a bit about the novel? Does Safe Haven follow a similar storyline to any of your other novels?

Safe Haven is both the same and different to my previous works and that’s what I set out to do whenever I write a new novel. I want to make the story feel as fresh and new as possible and yet I try to weave some threads of familiarity into the text. So it’s the same with Safe Haven – they’re a couple, you know they’re going to fall in love, it’s set in North Carolina, it’s set in a small town, so all of these are familiar threads but the main theme is different to most of what I’ve written before as we have the theme of love and danger. There is a dangerous element, almost a thriller-esque element, one that I haven’t written about since The Guardian ten years earlier.

Safe Haven handles some very serious topics such as domestic violence. Was that something you aimed to raise awareness about with this novel or would you say that it’s more just strongly focused on romantic love?

No, not really - I don’t set out to write any novels that raise awareness about anything. To be quite frank I just try to write a good and interesting story. So when I was thinking about the theme of danger, I thought danger can come in three forms – you can have a dangerous person, a dangerous place or a dangerous thing, like a fire. And I said OK, I’m going to write about a dangerous person. Previously I’d written about a dangerous stranger so this time I wrote about someone familiar who is dangerous. One thing led to another and I came up with this theme of domestic violence, of Katie on the run from an abusive ex. Yet really the novel’s about second chances. It doesn’t dwell so much on what happened in the marriage and how she escapes.

You’re in quite a unique position as a man writing for a mostly female audience - how does that affect your creative process?          

Not at all. Women make up the majority of readers, period – almost every genre is dominated by women. The goal is to just create characters that males or females will enjoy and give them unique voices so you can really know the character and put them in a story that readers find interesting. It’s not more difficult for me to create a female character than a male character. The characters that are the most challenging to create are the ones that I’ve never been – age-wise, for example.

What tips do you have for any aspiring writers looking to achieve the same level of commercial success as you?

I think the first thing is you have to read a lot. I read over 100 books a year. You have to read a variety of genres because to write something like Safe Haven you can’t just have read me, you will have to have read thrillers in as there are thriller elements in this novel. You have to read with an eye for what authors do well and what they don’t and try to learn from those things. Then you have to sit down and write and you have to be a good objective judge of what you’ve written to know how to edit it. Most of it is self-editing but every sentence is probably gone over eight-ten times prior to a novel coming out. You have to come up with characters with voices that sing of authenticity. For me a good rule is when I sit down to write I always write 2,000 words.

The marketing and branding of this novel has been important to its success. How did you consider your readership when dealing with the business side of the novel’s release?

Well obviously the cover’s always a big issue, often it’s selected prior to the novel even being complete. Every country has different covers for the novels, that’s really important to realize. Often they’ll change the title of the novel. So The Notebook is not called The Notebook in Romania, it’s called Jurnalul – that means ‘the Notebook’. So they will change the titles and then they change the cover itself to appeal to the readership, it’s always very different.

Do you ever see yourself taking a strikingly different direction with your novels? For example would you ever consider doing a straight-out thriller or crime novel?

Probably not in the novels. If at all, in television or film, which I’ve done. But I’m happy with the kind of stories that I write. I’m a love-story kind of guy as long as they’re different every time.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks is published by Sphere, £7.99.

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