Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

Nicholson was born in England in 1948. During Nicholson’s childhood, his father worked as a doctor in Africa, while his mother raised the family (which included two sisters) in Sussex. Raised as a Catholic, Nicholson attended prep schools and public schools, mostly all-male boarding schools, in Great Britain before entering Cambridge University.

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After graduating from Cambridge in the mid- 1970s, Nicholson became a graduate trainee at the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). For the next ten years, he wrote, directed, and produced over fifty documentaries for the network. Nicholson also executive produced several television series.

While working for the BBC, Nicholson pursued his dream to become a novelist. He wrote each morning before going to work, eventually producing eight novels. However, Nicholson could find no publishers and he abandoned this goal. Instead, in the mid-1980s, he turned to writing dramatic scripts for television.

In 1985, he wrote a fifty-three-minute movie, called Shadowlands, about children’s author and religious writer C. S. Lewis’s relationship with American Joy Gresham. The movie, which aired on the BBC, met with positive reviews. Nicholson began writing many biographical dramas, influenced by techniques he learned as a documentarian.

Nicholson began writing screenplays in 1986 with his first feature, New World. He continued to work in television. In 1987, he wrote another drama for British television entitled Life Story, which was later aired in the United States under the titles of Double Helix and The Search for the Double Helix.

In 1989, Nicholson expanded his writing career to the stage. He adapted his television movie Shadowlands into a successful play in 1989. Nicholson would only produce a few more stage plays in his career. They included Map of the Heart and 1999’s Retreat from Moscow, the latter being influenced by the failure of his own parents’ marriage.

Primarily, Nicholson focused on screenplays. In 1993, he adapted his stage play for Shadowlands into a major motion picture. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Other movie scripts that he wrote or adapted include Sarafina! (1992, based on a stage play); Nell (1994, with Mark Handley, a fellow playwright), First Knight (1995), Firelight (1997), and Gladiator (2000, coauthor). Nicholson also tried his hand at directing with the script Firelight.

Much of what Nicholson wrote for television in the 1990s was biographical in nature. For HBO, he wrote A Private Matter (1992) based on the true experiences of a children’s show hostess who traveled to Sweden to get an abortion. In 1996, Nicholson penned Crime of the Century about the Lindburgh baby kidnapping trial for HBO. By 1998, eleven of his nineteen dramatic scripts were based on true stories or people’s lives.

Nicholson never forgot his desire to write books. Influenced in part by his work on C. S. Lewis, Nicholson published his first children’s book, The Wind Singer (2000), part of a planned trilogy called The Wind on Fire Trilogy. Nicholson resides in England with his wife, Virginia Bell, and their three children.

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