Saturday, 23 June 2012

Graham Hurley talks Backstory with Faraday and Winter

Graham Hurley is the author of the critically acclaimed Portsmouth-set D/I Faraday and D/S Winter series.  Noted for their realistic portrayal of contemporary Britain, the second half of 2012 sees Graham at the start of a new series, this time set in Devon.  However, Graham has also self-published, “Backstory”, which explores and analyses the Portsmouth novels…  Nick Quantrill interviews him.

NQ – Congratulations on a very readable account of the Faraday and Winter series.  Why did you want to write this book?

GH - It came from one of the hundreds of e-mails I started getting after the publication of “Borrowed Light” the penultimate book in the Faraday series.  A lady who lived in California had taken grave exception – grave to the point of near violence – to something that had happened to my principal character, D/I Joe Faraday.  I will not go into the details because I’m not sure it’s my job to offer spoilers but she was really, really upset and came close to threatening a personal visit.  What right had I to do what I’d done to poor Joe?  Wasn’t I aware of the kind of traumatic damage I was inflicting on so many readers?  To be honest, I was bemused.  I wrote her a long reply, trying to point out that characters who work on the page have lives of their own and therefore make their own decisions.  In other words, it wasn’t me who made the key narrative decisions but them.  I explained that this applied in spades to Joe, largely because we’d shared headspace over eleven long years and I like to think that we’d got to know each other a little.  Faraday – and I hope a lot of other characters – do what they do not at my bidding but theirs.  And that – to me – is how certain kinds of fiction work.  To be fair to the lady in question,  she calmed down and wrote me a warm message in response but the sheer force of that first reaction – in common with other stuff I was getting – made me start to wonder exactly where all these characters of mine had really come from.  Before the Faraday books I’d never written series fiction before and that particular journey, with all its challenges, had first surprised and then fascinated me.  I began to talk about this with close friends – guys who knew the books – and it was at that point that I realised an appetite might exist for a kind of post-series supplementary feature:  how the books came about,  where the writing had taken me,  how much importance I placed on getting stuck into the research,  all that.  In a way, it felt like one of those Extra Features you get on movie DVDs.  And I guess that’s what it became.  Am I pleased with it?  Yes.  Has it surprised me?  Very much so.  Might it be of any use to fellow or aspiring writers?  Here’s hoping….

NQ – Reading “Backstory”, one of the most striking things for me was the fact crime fiction was something that found you.  How do you feel about the genre now, twelve novels down the line?

 GH - To be honest, I still don’t read crime fiction.  I try from time to time, largely because I have to talk on various media platforms that are likely to assume a wealth of shared knowledge of the genre, but every time I start a new crime writer, I know my heart’s not in it.  It’s not reading books that is the problem.  I hoover up countless non-fiction stuff – biographies, contemporary political studies, good travel writing, and recent history – and this kind of work gives me a real buzz.  I also like some contemporary and near-contemporary fiction – Justin Cartwright and J.G.Farrell are huge favourites – but the moment I’m plunged back into the world of Scenes of Crime, and DNA printouts, and serial rape, my heart sinks.  Why?  I wish I knew.

NQ – Running alongside efforts to move the series onwards in terms of commercial success is the sense that the publishing world was changing dramatically.  If you were writing book one today, do you think you would have been given the same time to develop and refine your craft?

GH –   I think it’s highly unlikely.  I’ve been publishing one book a year for the last 27 years and I’ve watched the culture of publishing change.  Orion, in many ways, have been very kind to me.  They’ve given the Faraday series space to grow and flourish and while there may have been a sense of disappointment on both sides that the books never really broke through to the top end of bestsellerdom, I think there was a recognition that I’ve been trying to do something slightly different with the genre, and attracted a decent readership in the process.  Towards the end of that journey, I became aware that the cruder commercial pressures were growing exponentially and if I was starting, again with a birdwatching loner and his deaf-mute son I doubt whether I’d get past the first contract.  The pressures on the traditional publishing model are immense.  The retail and digital revolutions – bascially Amazon and Kindle – are turning the books industry on its head.  Publishers and the major specialist retail outlets are naturally talking a good war but I think they know that certain battles are all but lost.  Where this will leave authors, especially new authors, is anyone’s guess.  There are opportunities that simply didn’t exist even a couple of years ago.  But it’s going to be harder and harder to tease a living out of what we do.

NQ – One of the major changes the publishing world is experiencing has to be the rise of self-publishing.  Is that something you’re going to do more of alongside the traditional route?

GH – The answer is yes.  Both publishers and retailers tend not to think outside the genre box.  If they’ve got you nailed as a crime writer, then that’s where you stay – especially if you’ve met with any kind of success.  But I guess it’s in the nature of most writers to make a bid for freedom now and again and in the shape of Kindle – or any of the other e-platforms –, there’s a perfect opportunity to do just that.  There remain all kinds of marketing problems – just how do your books elbow their way to the head of a huge, huge queue?  But if you’re blessed with a decent backlist, an existing readership, plus a website that works, then I guess you’re in with a shout.  The self-publish thing fascinates me.  In days gone by,  publishers would make publication a day to remember - big launch,  huge guest list,  limitless vino – but now it boils down to little you and a couple of pages on the internet.  How long does it take to self-publish on Kindle?  Seventeen and a half minutes.  I know because I’ve timed it. 

NQ – It was interesting to read that there was no overall master plan for the Faraday series and that the characters ultimately decided their own fates.  Do you think you’ll change or refine the process for the forthcoming DS Suttle series?

GH –   Absolutely not.  Twelve books on,  I’m no closer to understanding the mysterious chemistry that converts a gleam in the eye into 450 pages of bang-on crime fiction but I’m a great believer in sticking to what works.  The launch title in the new D/S Jimmy Suttle series – “Western Approaches” – came from a moment out at sea in an offshore rowing boat.  I won’t bother you with too much detail but it involved a joke about a local guy with far too much money and absolutely no conversation.  Everything else flowed from that moment – and I’m glad to report that Orion are genuinely pleased with the results.  Just now, I’m working on the research for Book Two.  This time the seed lay in a story told me by a Somerset clockmaker.  After that, I knew exactly what kind of fictional bones to toss my guys.  The rest, as ever,   is down to them.

NQ – How does it feel to be starting again with a new series after building such a loyal readership with the Faraday series?  What can readers expect?

GH – More of the same?  No.  These are books, which will be far simpler, involve fewer characters, place less emphasis on police procedure, and have a perhaps steadier narrative focus.  One reason for this transition is undoubtedly the setting.  East Devon, where we now live, is emphatically not Portsmouth.  But take the time to watch and listen and all the clues are there.  Is the West of England a paradise scored for thatched cottages and cream teas?  By no means.  Does anything interesting ever happen?  Thank God, yes…


The latest and final book in the DI Faraday and DS Winter series is Happy Days.  A review of Happy Days can be found here.

1 comment:

David Harrison said...

A fascinating interview with a wonderful writer. For my money Graham Hurley's series is one of the best around, and deserves to be much more widely known.