Published by drpladm on Sun, 05/29/2011 - 14:53
Graham Hurley has a great affection for Portsmouth. He loved living here for 30 years while working as a director and producer with Southern TV and the city has featured as a major character in his best-selling crime novels.
Hurley feels he owes Portsmouth a huge debt and is happy to repay it in any way he can. We meet just hours before he hosts an evening at the Historic Dockyard in support of the Mary Rose Trust and obviously this warm relationship with Pompey is reciprocated – three years ago, to his surprise and delight, the University of Portsmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate.
As seen on TV
It’s been a colourful journey from Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, where he was born 64 years ago, via a scholarship to a London boarding school and Cambridge University, to his present success as creator of decent, bird-watching DI Joe Faraday and maverick, disgraced cop Paul Winter, who is keener on ‘birds’ of the non-feathered sort.
Intending always to be a novelist, Hurley eventually changed direction in the face of mounting rejection slips and turned to television, where he swiftly rose through Southern TV to become director of many highly successful and networked ITV documentaries, including the unforgettable Better Dead, about the effects of drugs.
“ I thought Southsea was wonderful and in 1977 we spotted an old house for sale on the seafront, with views out over Southsea Common, the Solent and the Isle of Wight. It was gorgeous and we stayed in Portsmouth for the best part of 30 years,” he says as he snatches a quick lunch at Portsmouth City Museum.
“ It’s amazing how abrupt the divide between country and city is. Go to the top of Portsdown Hill and look one way and there’s the story writ large about exactly how Pompey came into being – the geography, Portsmouth Harbour, Langstone Harbour, Old Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, the Solent and the Channel.
“ Look the other way and you’d be astonished to think you’ve got a city of 350,000 behind you. I can’t think of any other city in the country like that.
“ There are some staggeringly beautiful pieces of Hampshire and my wife, Lin, and I love walking in the countryside and visiting the New Forest where probably my best buddy, Anthony Howard, known for the Country Ways series, lives.”
The write time
When TVS lost its franchise, Hurley decided it was the ideal opportunity to give being a full-time author another chance.
He found success with international thrillers but, while lunching with his publishers, Orion, to discuss his third book for them, they gave him the shattering news that they were not planning to publish it. Instead the company, which has enjoyed enormous international success with Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh-set Rebus novels, suggested he do the same for Portsmouth and Hurley found himself agreeing to produce a series of three.
Unfamiliar with the genre and determined to produce original work, he decided against reading other crime novelists and instead drew on his documentary-making experience with real life issues. It was all down, he thought, to meticulous research.
“ Portsmouth is a gift for the working novelist,” he says. “It’s an island, it’s insular, it’s very busy, very crowded and very inward-looking. It is un-cursed by money, there are wealthier enclaves like Craneswater and Old Portsmouth, but they are never more than a stone’s throw from areas of serious deprivation.”
He had a weekly opinion column in the Portsmouth News, a widening range of contacts and, after the publication of the first Faraday novel, Turnstone, was invited by a senior CID officer to shadow a murder case. So developed a close relationship with the police, which has reflected changes in their methods and culture over the 10 years since the series began.
Gary Cable, a DS on the drugs squad, was one of his most helpful contacts, while Roly Dumont, a former uniformed superintendent in charge of the north of the city, provided Faraday’s birding expertise.
“ If in 30 years’ time you want to find out what life was like in the first decade of the 21st century then I think these books reflect it,” Hurley explains. “I’ve always made a case from my own point of view that Pompey is a small island within the larger island of the UK and to that degree it is a microcosm.”
“ Faraday is a good cop, but he is slowly filling with despair as the series goes on and its a despair that’s at once about his own relationships, about the loss of his son, about what he sees around him, about a growing disgust for people’s motivations and the holes they dig for themselves and how needy they are and how graceless. It is a turning into himself, so here is a man in an insular city who is turning in on himself. He’s twice isolated. The question is did Pompey make Faraday what he is? You could make a case for saying ‘yes it did.’”
While Faraday has touched the hearts of readers (he’s particularly loved in France), Paul Winter, Faraday’s former colleague who has gone over to the ‘dark side’ as fixer for Portsmouth drug baron and would-be politician Bazza Mackenzie, has won his own following as the series has developed.
“ There’s even a ‘Spare Paul Winter’ club in Queensland, Australia,” chuckles Hurley. “After each book I get emails from these guys saying ‘if you let that man fall under a bus we’ll come back to haunt you’.”
The 11th in the series, Borrowed Light, which was published in November, came out of a visit Hurley and Lin made at Christmas 2008 to Damascus.
“ The 12th and final book of the series, Happy Days, is already written and finished. Lin and I went to the Balkans to do research. Not until I was 30 pages from the end did I realise what the ending would be.”
Those of us who fear withdrawal symptoms from the Faraday and Winter novels will be delighted to know that DS Jimmy Suttle will be moving with his family to his creator’s new stamping ground, to join the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.
“ That is why he has acquired more and more importance as the series has gone on,” beams Hurley. “I was commissioned last week to do a two-book contract, the first book is called Western Approaches and it is already plotted.”
Borrowed Light is published by Orion Books at £12.99.