ORLikely as it may seem, David Quantick, the writer who once penned comedy sketches for Spitting Image and jokes about paedophiles for Brass Eyeis the very same writer of this year’s most feel-good romantic comedy.
Released in time for Valentine’s Day, Book of Love– not to be confused with the 2016 film of almost the same title, The Book of Lovewhich starred ted lasso ‘s Jason Sudeikis and received a crushing 8 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes –is the charming tale of a man and a woman whose initial enmity for one another ultimately softens, like ice cream in the sun, into gloopy attraction. It concerns a quintessentially uptight man, in this case a British man, Henry (played with maximum cheekbones by Sam Claflin), the author of a rather stodgy novel called The Sensitive Heart which dies an instant death upon its UK publication. When the book is a big hit in Mexico, Henry is surprised; he didn’t even know it had been translated.
He’s duly sent there on a publicity tour, where he is appalled to learn that his book has become, to all intents and purposes, an iteration of 50 Shades of Gray, his translator Maria (Veronica Echegui) having rewritten the boring parts and transformed it into a bonkbuster. A sample line now runs: “They were naked, magnificent. They made love like two dragons exploding in the flames of a volcano.”
in many ways, Book of Lovedoes everything a solid romcom should do. Henry and Maria spend much of the film bickering and squabbling and standing very close to one another. Close your eyes, and it could be Cary Grant stuttering all over Katherine Hepburn inBringing up Baby .
“A good romcom means great dialogue,” says Quantick, on Zoom from his home in Hastings. “It’s part of a long tradition. Ever since Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, or whatever they were called (inMuch Ado About Nothing ), a good romcom is about sparing. Two people who fancy each other and spar is funny. Two people who want to go to bed with each other but don’t get on is funny.”
And Book of Loveis funny.
Before this unexpected turn in his writing career, David Quantick’s stock-in-trade tended towards reliably scabrous barbs. He’s a formerNME journalist whose features dripped with sardonic asides, his primary concern, it always seemed, more to make people laugh than to inform them about the intricacies of the new Ned’s Atomic Dustbin album.
But music journalism was never going to stop him for too long, or at least not exclusively. In a career now into its fifth decade, he has since written television scripts forThe Day Today, bluejam and T.V. Burp . He has collaborated on a play with Mike Batt, the man who made The Wobblessing, and has published writing guides on how to write “everything”.
“I suppose,” he says, “I’ve had a pretty random CV.” A moment later: “I’ve been eclectic.”
In person, or at least via a computer screen, Quantick doesn’t disappoint. He is as manifestly deadpan as his prose de el, a man who speaks in a mostly figurative, rather than literal, arched eyebrow. If eclecticism is the reason for his success, then it’s less surprising he has now turned his hand to romcom than the fact that it’s taken him so long to get here. Turns out he’s always been a fan.
“What I like about them most, I think,” he says, “is that they’re about real relationships, not about people flying through the sky or looking forward to being turned into a range of plastic figures.”
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The idea forBook of Lovefirst came to him a decade ago, while having a drink with a translator. “I started thinking: what if someone wrote a dry book that, once translated, became a sex book? What if the original source became, in its translation, a completely different thing?”
He took the script to a producer, Michael Knowles, with whom he’d collaborated previously on many projects, not all of which reached the screen. “yet,” Quantick corrects, “they haven’t reached the screenyet. No film project is ever finished. They just go on and on until, finally, they do make it.”
Book of Lovemade it, eventually. It was filmed last year by the Mexican director Analeine Cal y Mayor (who is listed as the screenplay’s co-writer). Due to Covid, Quantick was unable to go to Mexico to watch his dream come true, but was sent regular rushes via email. In Hastings, where it was likely to overcast, with threatening rain, he liked what he saw. “I’m sounding like a poster quote now, but some of it brought me to tears,” he says. “It did.”
Perhaps I have experienced a certain relief, too. The romantic comedy genre remains a problematic one. For every shining example (When Harry Met Sally… ), there are many absolute stinkers (Jason Sudeikis’sThe Book of Love, for one). Quantick, an avid student that he is, believed he knew how to avoid a stinker.
“I’ve seen many that seem to suggest, in the way they’re made, that anyone can do this. I won’t name names,” he says, disappointingly, “but, you know, they’ve seen Richard Curtis, and think they can do it, too. But you can’t. You can’t copy Richard Curtis, you can’t copy Nora Ephron, and withBook of LoveI didn’t even try.”
David Quantick was born in 1961, and raised in Plymouth. He wrote for theNMEin his early 20s, but music journalism for him was only ever a stepping stone.
“I was in Paris, on my 30th birthday interviewing [early Nineties indie act] Thousand Yard Stare, and, no offense to them, but I wasn’t interested in what they were saying. I wanted to say myownstuff.”
He’d recently been invited by Armando Iannucci to contribute to Iannucci’s Radio 4 show,on the hourand has been writing for him ever since, most recently on the TV seriesAvenue 5which stars Hugh Laurie in space, andveep for which he won an Emmy in 2019.
Quantick always knew he was funny. He once admitted that, when finding himself in a room alongside Steve Coogan, Stewart Lee and Chris Morris, he considered himself “the most talented person there”. He soon realized otherwise, adding: “I was wrong. I always thought I was mostly composed of fat and gristle, but it seems I am in fact made entirely out of luck.”
A certain humility has been in place ever since. When you’re lastingly successful, you no longer have to crow about it. “By the time you find yourself working in America, for decent money, and writing for someone like Julia Louis Dreyfus,” he says of his time on the mercurialveep, “you can’t quite believe you’re in the same room as her. It’s just such a nice place to be.”
That early bullishness was nevertheless necessary. “You’d be on £30 a day, you’d be fighting for scraps. But later, writing for Armando, and for TV, was far more pleasant, and collaborative. It was no longer about penis waving. It was more like taking your packed lunch to school and sharing it out. ‘What you got?’ ‘I’ve got a banana.’ ‘Ooh. I’ve got a Yorkie…’”
He went on to write for Harry Hill’sT.V. Burp for several years.
“I remember a meeting with Harry once where I pitched something, and he just looked at me and said: ‘Is that it? Is that your joke?’” He pauses. “I felt very bad.”
Book of Loveno “the”, doesn’t necessarily suggest a new direction for Quantick. It’s more continuation for someone not simply content to add strings to his bow, but to get more bows. He lives with his wife and two young children by the sea, and each morning sits before his computer to see where his writing might take him next. I have thought to regulate column inRecord Collectormagazine, and has recently published a “quite” difficult quiz book. He’s just completed a children’s book.
“I’m working on someone else’s horror film, and have my own horror film project,Vampire Monsters and Zombie Rockersthat I still want somebody to make.”
He’s written the second installation ofWhatever Happened to Baby Jane Austen,a radio series for French and Saunders, “a tribute to screwball comedies likeAll About Eve, and also a tribute to the Collins sisters, Jackie and Joan,” he says. “Basically, I wanted to write the bitchiest thing imaginable and, thanks to French and Saunders, it’s happened.” He’s also adapting his 2019 novelAll My Colorsabout a man who remembers a novel that may not exist, into a screenplay for Liberty Films, Duncan Jones’s company (Jones is David Bowie’s son), and later this year, he publishes another novel, his seventh,Ricky’s Hand. It’s not a romantic comedy.
“No, it’s an Elmore Leonard-style story about a man who wakes up with someone else’s hand on the end of his arm.” He says this typically straight-faced, but an eyebrow extends a millimetre or two above the frame of his glasses from him.
“A lot of people explode in it,” he clarifies.
‘Book of Love’ is on Sky Cinema from 12 February
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.