So will Marnie and Michael end up together? Read on in part four of our exclusive extract

Hobbies and Interests

Conrad was telling her how awful the hotel had been.

‘I had to send the towels back because, well, you don’t want to know. And the sheets were nylon, polyester, whatever, so if you moved too much, you got a shock. A substantial shock, like a cattle prod, three or four times in the night. If I’d had sex with someone, we’d have been electrocuted.’

Was this flirting? It seemed like flirting, so she said, ‘Oop,’ calling on her vocabulary of not-quite-words: oop, wah, fum, bah, owa, phla.

‘It’s not what I’m used to. I like a nice hotel, something a bit more . . .’


‘Boutique. Don’t think I’m going to get that here.’

‘But it is beautiful.’

‘Yeah!’ he said, looking a little startled, as if he’d only just noticed. ‘It is!’

‘Look at the view!’ shouted Cleo, from ahead. They looked back to the town.

‘I particularly like the nuclear power station!’ Conrad shouted back. ‘Very picturesque!’

‘Phla,’ mumbled Marnie. She felt moisture forming below her hairline from the effort of the climb or conversation. Why did her voice sound so strange? Perhaps it was the outdoor acoustics. She had not spoken at length to someone in the open air for, what, three, four years? Was that true? He was asking a question. Concentrate.

‘So you came up on the early train?’

‘From London. I did. It was very nice. I had to do some work, but—’

‘And where do you live in London?’

‘I’m in Herne Hill.’

He frowned. ‘Is that even in London?’

‘Hey, you!’ she said, putting a laugh into her voice and hating it. ‘It’s Zone Two borders!’

‘South London, though.’

‘Yes.’ Wasn’t he meant to ask about her work? ‘Why? Where are you?’

‘Kensington,’ he said.

‘By the museums, the Palace . . . ?’

‘More west. Barons Court,’ he said and they both made their private judgements, as Londoners will do, while also working out the route they’d take, should the situation ever arise. A tricky one, overground to Victoria then the District line or was it Piccadilly? Best not worry about that. Best say something.

‘Have you noticed, Barons Court has no apostrophe, but Earl’s Court always does? Why is that?’ It seemed that living there gave him no insight, and so, ‘What do you do, Conrad?’ she said, and thought, My God, why not ask him his National Insurance number?

This was the form-filling part of the conversation, name, address, place of birth, education and employment. Once completed, they could move on to the emotional heft of Hobbies and Interests. Reading, going to the cinema, meeting people. Well, maybe not meeting people.

‘I’m a pharmacist,’ he said. ‘I run a little pharmacy in West Brompton,’ and she had a happy little fantasy of him smiling, handing her a white paper bag, stapled at the top, an ointment perhaps or some delicious sleeping pills.

‘So, uh, you can get your hands on all kinds of good shit,’ she said, with narrowed eyes and a croaky voice. ‘The reeeeal gooood shiiit.’

‘There are systems in place.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say that, but I bet a few pills “fall on the floor”.’

‘No, really,’ he said, stern now, ‘we’re very strict about security.’

One Day author David Nicholls' new romantic novel You Are Here will be published on April 23. Illustration by Andy Ward

One Day author David Nicholls’ new romantic novel You Are Here will be published on April 23. Illustration by Andy Ward

Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod who star as Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley in Netflix's adaptation of David Nicholls' bestselling novel One Day

Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod who star as Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley in Netflix’s adaptation of David Nicholls’ bestselling novel One Day

‘Oh, Okay. Okay. I wasn’t suggesting—’

‘And, anyway, what am I going to do with some old guy’s blood thinners? No, we take stock-keeping very seriously.’

‘Well, good,’ she said emphatically, ‘good for you,’ and she tried to remember where she’d had this experience before, of panicked improvisation, of being scrutinised, assessed and lightly scolded, and recognised that it was from dating, that she was on a date, and that instead of some small plates restaurant in Clapham, she’d been dropped off out of doors with a wardrobe on her back. Her own fault. She’d asked Cleo not to match-make but with the conviction of a toddler demanding not to be tickled and now she was paying the price. She told herself brusquely, Enjoy yourself. Enjoy this real-world interaction. He was, after all, an absurdly attractive man, with his bright eyes and lovely mouth, and pharmacist was a noble and responsible profession, someone who might witness a passport application. He was neat and trim, and easy access to moisturisers had given him extraordinary skin, a smoothness untouched by time and life, as if he were his own action figure. If he’d grabbed his chin, pulled sharply upwards and removed his face, she wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

‘You, okay?’ he said, and she realised she’d been staring.

‘Look, a lighthouse!’ she said. ‘We’re literally going To the Lighthouse!’ and when that didn’t land, ‘I’d be a good lighthouse keeper. When I was a kid, that was my perfect job, hanging out in my little round rooms, with my round tables and round carpets—’

‘You’ve really thought about it, Marnie.’ Using her name, that sounded nice.

‘Little hermit lady, flat cap and a jersey, pipe on the go, checking the weather, keeping the light burning, loads of time to read. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, changing bulbs and reading, but . . .’

‘You read a lot, do you?’

‘That’s practically all I do.’

She was about to add ‘these days’ but it had always been the case. ‘When I was a kid, my parents actually told me to read less. They thought I wasn’t going out enough. You know, the shops, sleepovers, social stuff.’

‘Didn’t you like those things?’

‘I did. But I liked reading more.’

She did not elaborate and they fell into silence once again, but perhaps there had been something a little obsessive about it, the way she’d consumed the shelves of the local library, Blyton to Jansson, C. S. Lewis to P. G. Wodehouse, Christie then du Maurier then the Brontës, reading indiscriminately but always passionately, so that even her dislikes were passionate. Dickens, she thought, was preachy and silly, like a teacher putting on funny voices, but never mind, here were Jane Austen and Sue Townsend, Ursula K. Le Guin and Jean M. Auel, and each Saturday morning she’d return her stack of library books, the maximum permitted, placing them on the counter, like a gambler cashing in chips. Books saw her through the pupal stage of thirteen to sixteen, frowning at Kafka and Woolf, then tearing through John Irving and Maeve Binchy, widely read in the proper sense, making no distinction between Jilly Cooper and Edith Wharton. There were stories on film and TV and, a little later, in the rolling melodrama of the internet, but those were team activities, noisy and social. Private, intimate, a book was something she could pull around and over herself, like a quilt.

Perhaps her parents would have worried less if all that reading had been reflected in her schoolwork, but she was only an average student. English was her best subject, and on an autumn evening that she still recalled, they’d talked about the possibility of university. Yes, she read a lot, but reading was a hobby, not a job, and while there were literature degrees, why spend three years studying something she was already doing for free? In the novels she read, parents might be wild and glamorous, bohemian and complicated, villainous or absent. Her own were steady, cautious, conservative people, nervous of debt, modest in their own aspirations and their aspirations for their child. With only some private tearfulness on her part, it was agreed. For now, best get a job.

She sometimes wondered what might have happened if she’d persisted, stated her case, put her disappointment on display rather than secretly crying in her room. ‘We met at university’ was such a familiar phrase and perhaps that version of her life might have been fuller, more populated. Somewhere in a parallel timeline that story was unspooling but there was no point in dwelling on it. Resenting her parents for not supporting her education felt too much like ‘Why didn’t you buy me a present?’, a small and sour grudge to carry.

After all, it was not an unhappy childhood, not exactly, just steady, suburban, as constant as the thermostat in the hall that she was forbidden to touch, and if she sometimes wished that she was an orphan, it was only for the narrative possibilities. At no point did her parents move house, gamble, use an overdraft, change jobs, have affairs, go abroad, shout in public, park illegally, eat on the street or get drunk, and while they must have had sex at some point, this was covered up as carefully as a past murder. Marnie was the only evidence, and while she always felt sure that her parents loved each other and presumably her too, there was no need to say this out loud. She loved them even as she rolled her eyes at them, and in turn they worried about her and protected her from anything too complicated: illness, sex, unhappiness, the larger human emotions.

A classic only child. Neil, her ex-husband, had used the phrase, though she couldn’t recall the circumstances. Perhaps she’d been too quiet, left a party early, gone to bed to read. Perhaps with a sibling or two there might have been more noise in the house, more friction or affection, though she’d never resented the absence, had quite liked having the back seat of the car to herself, all the presents at Christmas. The three of them fitted on the sofa perfectly well and when she’d had enough, she could slip upstairs with a book.

‘Did you read much as a kid?’ she asked Conrad now.

‘Not really. I was into sport mainly. Football, cricket.’

She didn’t want to talk about that. ‘What about now? Do you read now?’

‘Sure. Business, economics, sports psychology.’

‘Not novels?’

‘I don’t like wasting time on things that are made-up.’

There was a lot she might have said to this, but instead: ‘You know, I’ve not read any sports psychology. How to win, that sort of thing?’

‘Building confidence, stamina, setting goals. Going for it!’

‘It must be hard to get a whole book out of going for it. Anyone ever written anything good on, you know, just doing what you can manage on the day? “Bronze Is Fine!”’ Here she stumbled on one of the piles of earth that dotted the otherwise perfect green . . . sward. Was that the word? ‘Molehills! I’ve only ever seen them in cartoons.’

‘God, you really are a city girl.’

‘Well, Zone Two borders. I always thought, with molehills, that if you knocked the top off quickly enough you’d see a little mole inside. Like taking the top off a boiled egg, except . . .’ and here she gave a little impression, nose to the sky, teeth bared, squinting, fingers waggling at her chin. Go for it!

‘Let’s find out, shall we?’ he said, ran up and gave the nearest molehill a footballer’s kick, sending earth flying. Now that he’d made the effort, it seemed rude not to look. ‘Nope. Just mud,’ he said, brushing the dirt from the trainer’s toe.

‘Another childhood dream shattered,’ she said, and walked on, feeling that it had been a mistake to impersonate a mole.

Extracted from You Are Here by David Nicholls, to be published by Sceptre on April 23, £20. © David Nicholls 2024. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to 27/04/24; UK P&P valid on orders over £25) go to or call 020 3176 2937.

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