Life is dangerous. No one survives it. Enora Andressen makes a series of mind-blowing discoveries when her friend disappears.
Actress Enora Andressen is catching up with her ex-neighbour, Evelyn Warlock, who’s recently retired to the comely East Devon seaside town of Budleigh Salterton. The peace, the friendship of strangers and the town’s prestigious literary festival . . . Evelyn loves them all.
Until the September evening when her French neighbour, Christianne Beaucarne, disappears. Enora has met this woman. The two of them have bonded. But what Enora discovers over the anguished months to come will put sleepy Budleigh Salterton on the front page of every newspaper in the land
When and where do you prefer to write?
At home, I’m lucky enough to have a study of my own. It nests in what used to be the roof space of a big old Regency house, and when we had the conversion done I insisted on a Velux window that floods my desk with light. The desk itself was a present from Lin, my wife. It comes from Portsmouth Dockyard, and must once have been used by generations of Writers, whose diligence and book-keeping skills kept the Royal Navy honest. It’s physically big enough to comfortably carry everything my kind of scribe would ever need – computer keyboard, screen, racks of stationary, envelopes, and postcards, plus a book stand loaded with correspondence, and an assortment of family photos. Around the desk is a glorious clutter of tables and filing cabinets, plus pile after pile of books, some read and annotated, others awaiting attention. A description this detailed might sound a bit over the top but I’m sure you’ll pardon the indulgence. Writing, for me, means getting into a certain frame of mind. And it helps to be comfortable, both inside and out.
When do I write? So far, I’ve been lucky – or manic – enough to have published over forty books, and they’ve all emerged in exactly the same way. First the idea, that gleam in the eye, that faint buzz of excitement in some remote corner of my brain. Then the research, which can take months. Meeting people. Reading some of those books. Matching one source of information against the other until I’ve constructed that cage of circumstance and event we scribes call plot. Then come the characters, major and minor, the people (or perhaps guides) on which the reader will depend to complete the journey.
By this time, I know a great deal about where the book will be heading but the destination, or denouement, remains a mystery. The key to my kind of writing is pressure. I need to have the confidence to settle at my glorious desk, day after day, never later than eight in the morning, and never for more than ten hours, with a break at ten for exercises and breakfast. This way, with luck, I can sustain at least three thousand words a day, not because I’m counting, but because the story is forever gathering speed, taking me (and my characters) to places neither of us ever anticipated. This sense of momentum, spiced with surprise, is absolutely central to getting the job done. Unless the book quickly develops a life of its own, all is lost.
At six o’clock, I stop. Lin and I share a bottle or two and I cook the evening meal. By half eight, lightly mellow, I go back upstairs and re-read the day’s work. Because the guy at the desk is now slightly different to the daytime wordsmith, I can take a different view. I’m someone else. I can spot things that make little sense, recognise the clumsiness or over-emphasis in a particular passage of description, nail the false note in a line of dialogue, and all of that matters because – in this mood – I’m utterly ruthless. Slashing and burning, I tell myself, is the key to a good night’s sleep.
And you know what? It seems to work…
Do you have a certain ritual?
Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?
A cup of tea mid-afternoon. Apart from that, nothing.
What is your favourite book?
I’m going to be greedy here, and offer two answers. Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms turned me into a writer at a very early age, largely because of the opening paragraph. While John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold taught me everything any writer ever needs to learn about the necessary tightness of plot construction. Oh, and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, for the sadness on every page.
Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
Given the state of the world, and my advancing years, I’m quite attracted to a sub-genre that has been around for a while but seems be attracting more and more writers. Dystopia? Apocalypse? The writing, alas, is on the wall. Before there’s no more world to wake up to, it might be challenging to try and imagine those final days and hours.
Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
From the start, with one exception, I’ve deliberately avoided kidnapping a real person and putting him or her – lightly camouflaged – on the page. This was especially important ahead of the sixteen crime novels I wrote because the sheer weight of research put me in touch with dozens of serving cops, together with some fascinating figures from the Dark Side, and it would have been very easy to take the obvious short cut and spare myself the complications of building characters of my own. Having said that, I often combine elements – appearance, physical tics, dress sense, speech patterns, a particular sense of humour – from a number of individuals, and see how they mesh on the page. The odd thing about Enora Andressen, the lead character in Limelight and the narrator of the entire series, is that I’ve never met anyone like her in my life. Which, for me, makes each successive book even more of a challenge.
Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Yes. It needn’t be a notebook. It could be the back of an envelope or the bottom of a shopping list or whatever comes to hand. And not just ideas, either. I’ve been cursed with nosiness all my life. I watch everything and everyone, and I can still tune into a passing conversation with total recall afterwards. I’ve lost count of novels of mine that have been seeded by two strangers chatting in the supermarket or on the top of a bus. Real life, in other words, never lets you down.
Which genre do you not like at all?
Anything that relies on excessive violence.
If you had the chance to co-write a book, whom would it be with?
Our eldest grandchild is called Dylan. He’s nine years old, he reads two books a week, and he has a scary imagination. Lin is on exactly the same wavelength, and I fancy the three of us could take the bestseller lists by storm.
If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you choose and why?
Lin and I have been lucky enough to do oodles of travelling over the last thirty-five years. We’ve had memorable trips to far-flung locations, often by train, and normally for weeks on end. Memorable destinations include Istanbul (three times), Syria (when it was still intact), deepest France (on countless occasions), and – more recently – Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. But best of all was a scruffy taverna on the extreme western tip of Crete, isolated by terrible roads, ignored by the tour companies. We happened on it by accident and stayed a while. The nearby beach was empty, the sunsets were operatic, and it served rough peasant food – and Retsina – to die for. Settle in for a month or two, and you couldn’t fail to produce the book of your dreams.
Thank you, Graham Hurley and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Graham Hurley is an award-winning TV documentary maker who now writes full time. His Faraday and Winter series won two Theakstons shortlist nominations and was successfully adapted for French TV. He has since written a quartet of novels featuring D/S Jimmy Suttle, and three WW2 novels, the first of which – Finisterre – was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. The first three titles in the Enora Andressen series, Curtain Call, Sight Unseen and Off Script, are also available from Severn House. After thirty years in Portsmouth, Graham now lives in East Devon with his wife, Lin.