NO MORE WILD NIGHTS
Drunk against a lampost is just not pretty at 55, says Graham Norton. He talks to Andrew Billen about singledom, his latest novel and keeping a lid on his hard-partying ways.
After Graham Norton’s publishers received the early chapters of his first novel in 2016, they began to refer to it as Graham Norton’s darkly comic tale. “And then by the time it was finished there was no mention of comic at all,” says the chat show host, DJ, comedian, actor and now, obviously, novelist.
Holding was not, then, the sarcastic, sexy, romp through media London we had been expecting (and would, frankly, have been fine). This is his world, after all, and we are sitting this afternoon in a corner of it, celebrity-rich Shoreditch House, where he is carefully positioned on a sofa next to a glass of wine, which, as on The Graham Norton Show, he barely touches. He could tell a few tales. The problem was that, in two frank and funny memoirs, he already had. Instead, Holding was a melancholy detective story set in rural Ireland in the 70s. The still-greater shock was that it was very good, indeed prizewinning good (the Irish Book Awards popular fiction category).
“I think this time the publisher’s concern was, ‘Is it going to be science fiction?’” Norton says of his new novel, A Keeper, which has justifiably been called “atmospheric, creepy and impossible to put down” by The Times’ reviewer. “At least this one won’t scare the horses. If people enjoyed Holding, the chances are they will like this story.
“They say, ‘Write about what you know.’ Once I had decided not to write again about the media or London or gay life, I was back in rural Ireland in the 70s. It’s a world I know really well, but people don’t associate me with it.”
A Keeper concerns Elizabeth, an academic living in America who returns to her small Irish home town after her mother’s death only to plough into a pile of disturbing family secrets. Her mother’s story is convincingly terrifying about the glum Ireland in which Norton grew up and, he tells me, the basics of the plot came from a true story that his mother, Rhoda, told him about the daughter of a friend of hers.
“It’s quite bleak, my version of those places. What’s good is that we can enjoy it now, in an almost Southern gothic way, because, oddly, while the rest of the world seems to be going to hell in a handcart, Ireland is this sort of beacon of hope.”