Saturday, 10 October 2020

New Book Release Spotlight & Author Guest Post: Limelight by Graham Hurley

Selling Your Babies

The full-time writer is beset by a number of challenges. In the first place you have to find a voice, and then a story, and then a cast of characters to make the thing work on the page. None of this stuff is easy but the tricky business of getting 100,000 words in roughly the right order is simplicity itself compared to what follows. Your baby is in rude health. You’re still friends with your editor. You’re delighted with the cover. All you have to do next is sell the bloody thing.

Publicity and publishing have never been natural friends. No writer I’ve ever met is ever happy with his share of a publicity budget that seems to be constantly shrinking, and Covid has made that situation worse. The spread and reach of social media has certainly handed the published writer new cost-free opportunities, but not every scribe takes naturally to the soapy bath that is Facebook and Twitter, least of all – alas – me. And so – in the absence of top billing on Arena – there has to be another way.

I’ve always been OK on my feet, and I enjoy making people laugh. This has led to invitations to all kinds of audiences, from an entire year of primary school kids (ninety ten-year-olds) to a sizeable hall packed with book lovers from the University of the Third Age. These events offer multiple benefits. In the first place, readers can put a face to the name on the cover. Likewise, especially afterwards when we get into conversation, I can begin to understand what works on the page with certain people and what doesn’t. That kind of more intimate rapport is invaluable, as are the book sales that go with it, and it’s very rare to leave events like this without feeling just a little bit wiser.

More recently, thanks to word of mouth, I’ve been invited to audition for the Women’s Institute speaker list. You get exactly fifteen minutes to make an impact – not a second more, not a second less – but if you make it through, then you’re guaranteed regular invitations. Devon, where we live, has numberless branches, and so far – after a couple of years driving to the far corners of God’s county – I’ve enjoyed them all.

Mention of WI audiences raises eyebrows with certain scribes, but I suspect they’re missing a trick. Over seventy percent of books in this country are borrowed, or shop-lifted, or even bought by women, and that single stat is represented in all the many audiences I’ve had the pleasure of addressing. Like it or not (and I do), few writers could make a living without female readers, and the WI offer a rich cross-section from retired professional folk to village stalwarts.

Which makes the post-speech questions from the audience all the more important. Just before lockdown, in a village hall on the edge of Dartmoor, I got a corker from a woman three rows from the front whom I’d noticed from the start. She looked a little like I remember my gran – ancient cardigan, wild hair – and she was knitting. After I was done with speaking, she was one of the hands that went up when the Chair asked for questions. She’d read a couple of the Enora Andressen books, all of them narrated in the first person, and she wanted to know what gave me the right to pretend I was a woman.

To be honest, I’ve faced questions like this before. The proper answer, I suspect, is to point out that all works of fiction are acts of trespass. That it is the business of the writer to get into the hearts and minds of other people, male or female, and try and figure out what life must be like for them. In my experience, this demands a degree of empathy, or perhaps nosiness, that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the fact remains that the credibility of any book can only be sustained if the writer has taken a long hard look at the folk who cross his (or her) path.

I sensed at once that none of this stuff washed with the lady who looked like my gran.

But you’re a man,’ she pointed out. ‘How can you possibly know what it’s like to be one of us?’ Her gesture took in the entire hall, probably seventy women. Heads began to nod. Not a good sign. I was in trouble, and I suspect they knew it, and so – foolish boy – I went for the nuclear option.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Let’s pretend for a moment that I write science fiction, and I’ve just published a book about Martians. To tell you the truth, I’ve never met a Martian in my life, but why shouldn’t I have the right to invent one?’

My tormentor nodded. She had a lovely smile, all the sweeter because she recognised at once the hole that I’d just dug for myself.

‘You think we’re creatures from outer space, young man?’ She picked up her knitting again. ‘I rest my case.’

The hall erupted. She even won a round of applause. But the WI breeds a kindliness I’d never suspected, and the queue for my books once I’d answered the rest of the questions was longer than ever and included the woman with the knitting. She bought the latest Enora, and said yes to a personal dedication.

‘To Nina,’ I wrote, ‘who spared me a trip to Mars.’

Limelight by Graham Hurley

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

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.