Evans, Nicholas 1950–

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Evans, Nicholas 1950–

PERSONAL: Born 1950, in Worcestershire, England; married; wife's name Jennifer; children: three. Education: Oxford University, received law degree (with honors).

ADDRESSES: Home—London and Devon, England. Agent—c/o Penguin Publicity, Penguin UK, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.

CAREER: Journalist, screenwriter, film producer, and writer. In early career, journalist for Evening Chronicle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, for three years; worked as television film producer in the United States and Middle East, as well as on television series Weekend World, c. 1970s; documentary film producer, beginning 1982.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

The Horse Whisperer, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.

The Loop, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.

The Smoke Jumper, Bantam (New York, NY), 2001.

The Divide, Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of screenplays, including Just like a Woman and Murder by the Book.

ADAPTATIONS: A film version of The Horse Whisperer, directed by and starring Robert Redford, and also starring Kristin Scott Thomas, was released by Touchstone, 1998. Audiocassette recordings and numerous foreign-language versions of The Horse Whisperer have also been recorded. The Loop was made into an audiobook by Recorded Books, 1998, and The Smoke Jumper has been made into an audiobook by Bantam, 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: While struggling novelists often turn to screenwriting in search of a bigger pay day, Nicholas Evans took the opposite tack. Though he had enjoyed some success as a screenwriter for such films as Just like a Woman, by the early 1990s work was scarce and Evans was feeling stretched financially. He showed a friend the incomplete manuscript of a novel, The Horse Whisperer, that he had been writing, essentially as a side project. Soon major studios were competing for the movie rights, which went to Robert Redford's production company (Redford would later star in and direct the film) for three million dollars. Then Dell Publishing came up with the even larger sum—unprecedented for a first novel—of 3.15 million dollars for rights to the book in North America. With overseas rights added in, The Horse Whisperer, still unfinished at the time, had earned Evans over eight million dollars.

The Horse Whisperer is a story of emotional healing and self-discovery. Annie Graves, a British-born career woman who publishes a successful magazine in New York, has a daughter, Grace, who in turn has a horse named Pilgrim. When Grace and Pilgrim are both horribly injured in a riding accident, Annie comes to realize that her daughter's psychological recovery is in some way linked to the horse's recovery. Leaving her loyal husband, Robert, in New York, Annie takes Grace and Pilgrim to Montana ranch country, where she seeks the help of Tom Booker, a "horse whisperer" who reputedly cures mental illness in horses by talking to them. The proud and independent Tom reluctantly agrees to work with Pilgrim, and Annie, in the open spaces of Montana, begins to question her frenzied, career-driven lifestyle. As the damaged psyches of Pilgrim and Grace are repaired, Annie and Tom initiate a passionate affair that forces both to reevaluate their lives. Evans uses allusions to the seventeenth-century Christian allegory Pilgrim's Progress to develop his themes.

Horses had been a part of Evans' life growing up in rural Worcestershire in the west of England, and the idea for The Horse Whisperer evolved from a meeting with a blacksmith, who told him about a Gypsy reportedly able to control wild horses. Evans chose an American rather than an English setting for the book, though, partly under the lingering spell of old Western television series and Jack London adventure stories from his childhood, and partly because he felt class issues would make an English version of his love story unconvincing.

The Horse Whisperer justified the huge advances Evans had been paid by quickly becoming a major bestseller. Its critical reception was generally less enthusiastic, however. The book was frequently likened to The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller's novel about an unfulfilled homemaker's liaison with a middle-aged roamer. Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Ruth Coughlin echoed a common grievance when she called the book's dialogue "so wooden you yearn to take an ax to it," but she noted that "Evans' descriptions of Big Sky country are richly detailed, and the knowledge he conveys about horses is both fascinating and oddly moving."

Evans used a virtually identical Montana setting for his follow-up novel, The Loop. When the government's program to reintroduce wolves to the area draws the ire of cattle ranchers, Fish and Wildlife man Dan Prior brings in Helen Ross, a government wolf expert, to monitor and protect the pack. However, the ranchers, led by the redoubtable Buck Calder, bring in their own wolf expert, an exterminator named J.J. Lovelace who kills wolves with a cruel device known as "the loop." Helen has a series of confrontations with the ranchers, but is aided by Buck's overshadowed, alienated son, Luke, who becomes her lover.

Though its locale and focus on animals recalls Evans' first book, The Loop is much more politically charged than The Horse Whisperer. Evans conducted extensive research on wolves, and consulted people on all sides of the real-life debate over the management of America's wolf population. Voices spanning the political spectrum are represented in The Loop, from eco-terrorists to anti-government militias. While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that the novel's topicality made it "more a work of ideology than imagination," critical response on the whole has been relatively favorable. "The Loop is a tighter, cleaner and altogether better story" than its predecessor, wrote Linda Richards in the online January Magazine. "It's a more mature book that will ensure Evans a place among today's top storytellers."

In The Smoke Jumper Evans tells the story of forest fire fighters Connor Ford and Ed Tully, who become caught up in a love triangle with Ed's girlfriend, Julia. Although in love with Connor, who saves Julia from a forest fire, Julia marries Ed anyway. As a result, the disappointed and frustrated Connor leaves to pursue a career as a war photographer. Writing in the New Statesman, Rachel Cooke noted that "Evans knows how to twiddle all the right knobs. As a technician of the human response, he is second to none."

The Divide focuses on Abbie Cooper, a well-off young girl who becomes involved with an eco-terrorist and is found at the beginning of the novel frozen in ice in Montana. In flashbacks, the author recounts Abbie's young life, from her parent's divorce to her life as a terrorist hiding out from the FBI. "The most vivid thing in the book is the wrangling early on over Abbie's remains," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book an "effective, if melancholy portrait."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August, 1995, George Needham, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 1909; July, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 1830; July, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Loop, p. 1828; January 1, 1999, review of The Loop, p. 781; September 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of The Smoke Jumper, p. 3.

Entertainment Weekly, September 8, 1995, L. S. Klepp, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 72; October 11, 1996, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 87; October 9, 1998, Alexandra Jacobs, review of The Loop, p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of The Divide, p. 805.

Library Journal, August, 1998, Nancy Pearl, review of The Loop, p. 130; February 1, 1999, John Hiett, review of The Loop, p. 136; June 15, 1999, Kristin M. Jacobi, review of The Loop, p. 121.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 3, 1995, Ruth Coughlin, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 7.

New Statesman, November 26, 2001, Rachel Cooke, review of The Smoke Jumper, p. 54.

New Statesman & Society, September 29, 1995, Boyd Tonkin, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 57.

Publishers Weekly, June 12, 1995, review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 43; December 18, 1995, Daisy Maryles, "Behind the Bestsellers," review of The Horse Whisperer, p. 14; June 29, 1998, review of The Loop, p. 34; December 21, 1998, Daisy Maryles, "Delacorte's Double Hit," review of The Loop, p. 21; September 3, 2001, Daisy Maryles, "The List Jumper," p. 20; May 20, 2002, John F. Baker, "Evans Goes with Baron," p. 16; July 128, 2005, review of The Divide, p. 179.

Spectator, October 14, 1995, p. 46.

Time, October 16, 1995, p. 99; September 28, 1998, John Skow, review of The Loop, p. 90.

ONLINE

January Magazine, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (October, 1998), Linda Richards, review of The Loop.

Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 7, 2005), author briefly discusses his work.

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