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.

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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.”

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