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APOCALYPSE WOW

Set in a not-too-distant future, in which the Earth has stopped spinning, QI scriptwrit­er Andrew Hunter Murray’s bestsellin­g novel, The Last Day, has set the literary world alight.

- INTERVIEW EDWIN MCFEE

Last month, Andrew Hunter Murray released his debut novel The Last Day. Best known as a scriptwrit­er/fact hunter for TV show QI, a co-host of the mega-successful spinoff podcast No Such Thing As Fish, and a journalist/joke wielder for Private Eye, his book is a page-turner that taps into the current thirst for dystopian dramas. Telling a tale set 40 years in the future, of an isolationi­st Britain and a broken world that has literally stopped turning, the apocalypti­c subject matter marks a change of pace for the polymath. While he didn’t expect his debut to be as dark as it is, he’s happy to show another side of himself. “I always wanted to write a book, but I was convinced it was going to be a funny one,” says the indefatiga­ble Londoner, who also co-founded the

Jane Austen improv show Austentati­ous. “Then when I had the thought of the Earth hanging in space with its rotation ground to a halt, I felt I needed to know what happened in that world, and here we are. When I was growing up, I read a lot of sci-fi books, thrillers and stuff set in other worlds. So there’s always been that other side to my interests, I just hadn’t found a way of expressing it.”

Though Andrew’s novel is set four decades in the future, the plot about political machinatio­ns and Blighty pulling up the drawbridge is informed by current concerns.

“It’s really a book about now in many ways,” he notes, “but told through this device of the world’s rotation stopping. I think writers can’t help but be influenced by the times they’re living in – especially in science fiction. That’s the job of sci-fi, in some respects – not to show the future, but to show the here and now in a different way.”

The past few years have seen a huge increase in demand for dystopian tales. Is this current climate of uncertaint­y the cause of it?

“I think so,” he nods. “At the moment, individual­s feel very powerless in front of these huge forces and upheavals around them. That means stories like mine are appealing, because they reflect that disparity between what any individual can do, and the massive changes that seem to be happening.

“There’ll always be a fascinatio­n with the end of the world, and every generation will probably like to think that the end of the world is nigh. But for ours it’s especially significan­t, because we now have lots of

“The effect we’re having on all the other species on the planet is extraordin­ary.”

good data to back that fear up! Basically, if the apocalypse isn’t soon, it’s closer than it was a few years ago. The effect we’re having on all the other species on the planet is extraordin­ary.”

Currently receiving rave reviews and featuring in many bestseller lists, it’s no surprise to learn that the screen rights for

The Last Day have been snapped up. Andrew tells us he’s happy to hand his baby over to someone else. He’s also excited about what the filmmakers might do with the concept of corrupt government­s and a decimated world, where one half is constantly in darkness and the other always in light.

“Am I comfortabl­e letting someone else tell my story?” he muses. “Well, at some point, your baby has to go to school and make its way out into the big wide world. So I’m thrilled about it really. The process of publishing involves a lot of letting go, and I have to remind myself it’s no longer my little project. It genuinely also belongs to people who are reading it and imagining it from the other side. I’ll be intrigued to see what they come up with.”

And how about the casting of main character Ellen Hopper? We can see Kelly Macdonald killing it as the thorn in the side of Richard Davenport’s regime…

“I don’t know Kelly’s work that well but I think she’d be great,” says Hunter Murray. “Someone suggested Alicia Vikander as a potential Hopper to me, which I thought was a really good shout. I’m happy for anyone to take the role and make it their own.”

Andrew reveals that he’d love to revisit the world he’s built (or should that be broken?) for a sequel to The Last Day.

“There’s plenty of scope for stories set in this world,” he reckons. “I’d really like to write a sequel, but I can’t say what it would involve for fear of spoilers. I’ve another book I’m working on right now. Some of the themes of The Last Day are in this one, but it’s slightly different. I now just have to keep my head down and struggle with it.

“I’ve also always wanted to turn my short stories into podcasts, but haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he adds. “They’re just sitting there waiting for when I have a free moment. I’d love to get them out into the world. They’re a bit funny, but now that I’m ‘a serious dystopian writer’, I don’t know if people would be into them (laughs).” The Last Day is out now, published by Hutchinson.

“It’s no surprise to learn that the screen rights for The Last Day have been snapped up.”

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