Graham Hurley on writing crime


Interview with Top Crime Writer Graham Hurley by Carole Hastings


Your books are perfectly balanced with action and fact.  How do you sift and decide what research to include and cull?

Balance is the key.  At the start of the Faraday series,  after a period of intense (and very fruitful) research into how – exactly – the CID machine functions,  I tended to overload the narrative with procedural clutter.  Too many acronyms.  Too great an emphasis on getting everything as realistic as possible.  In the end,  my guess is that readers want two things:  they want to be absorbed by the story,  and they want to feel that this stuff rings true.  Truth comes in all kinds of guises.  And most of the more important truths have nothing to do with procedure. But get a single detail wrong,  and you risk losing your readers.


What would your advice be to a novice writer who might be considering crime writing as a genre?

Get alongside working cops, both CID and uniform.  Get inside their heads.  Clamber into their hearts.  Try and figure out what sharp end (and back-room) policing really feels like.


Getting a publisher is a tough prospect for aspiring writers.  Are they necessary and how would you go about catching yourself one if you were new to the game now?

Approaching a publisher,  and getting your work a guaranteed read,  is certainly easier if you’ve gone through an agent first.  Publishers,  alas,  are under the cosh.  They’re running out of time – and bodies.  Not enough in-house people to sift through all those unsolicited MSS.  And not enough money to fund outside readers.  So the agent now acts as a kind of quality controller because the publisher knows he (or she) won’t be wasting their time.  Agents are increasingly becoming editors of first resort.  Is this healthy?  Maybe not,  but I guess it’s inevitable.


How much time does a writer have to spend promoting their books?

How long is a ball of string?  Two rules here: (1)  no amount of self-promotion will shift significant copies of a book that is no good.  And (2) self-promotion is rapidly becoming the default setting for most published writers because publishers – once again – are loath to chuck serious money at anything except a handful of guaranteed top sellers.  Speaking personally,  I never go out of my way to court publicity or promotional opportunities.  But neither have I ever turned down an invitation to speak.


Do you find your characters live with you whilst you're writing?  Was it tough to kill off Faraday?

Yes.  Oddly enough,  it wasn’t until I was two thirds of the way through writing “Borrowed Light” that I realised I was dealing with a guy going barmy.  The fact was that life – in pretty much every respect – had ganged up on Joe Faraday,  and once he made that clear to me then my sole responsibility was to shepherd him to an end of his choosing.  His,  not mine.  And the end – as happens in real life – came infinitely more quickly than I’d ever anticipated.  Easing back from the PC,  once he’d gone,  was deeply shocking.  I couldn’t believe what had happened.  And neither,  as it turned out,  could hundreds of fans.  Yuk.  Do my characters live with me during the writing?  Yes.  And I’m in deep,  deep trouble if they don’t.


Have you had a reaction from the Devon and Cornwall force to DS Jimmy Suttle's first tale Western Approaches?  Would you say that policing and the challenges of policing are similar to Portsmouth's?

To date,  mercifully,  some great reactions.  Partly because I’ve bothered to get the facts and the atmospherics right,  and partly because the background of the story – an offshore rowing club – is a bit of a novelty.  Maybe even the cops get tired of desperately black fantasies about serial killers…


Faraday and Winter have hit TV screens in France.  Might we see something in the UK too before too long?

To date,  the French have screened four adaptations from the Faraday series – and the next two movies start shooting (in Le Havre) next week.  The viewing figures – at 4m per episode – have been great and the series seems to have survived the journey across the Channel unharmed.  In terms of scripting,  casting,  direction,  performance and a quite wonderful use of locations,  I count myself a very lucky guy.  The series has also stirred lots of interest over here,  and as we speak I’m putting the finishing touches to a two-episode adaptation of “The Take” for submission to the BBC.  There’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll commission but I’ve gone into partnership with some talented film-makers and so far the omens are excellent.


Have you found that research you did as a documentary maker has filtered into your fiction writing?

Yes,  in two key ways.  The first is a huge respect for the documentary feel of what I’m trying to do.  This means lots and lots of on-going research.  The second is more stylistic.  A lot of readers have commented on the slightly filmic quality of the writing – brisk episodic exchanges,  sharp dialogue,  plus an emphasis on the look of things.  I guess that comes from telly,  too.


What has been your toughest assignment?

Getting alongside working cops.  Before I put pen to paper,  they just wouldn’t open up.  But once they’d read the series opener – “Turnstone” – they realised that I had been listening and watching in the CID office over all those weeks,  and after that there wasn’t a problem.  In fact anything but….


Can you write anywhere or have you a fixed routine/place?

I had a brief fantasy recently about journeying abroad with Lin,  settling down somewhere hot,  cheap,  and mysterious,  and then putting pen to paper.  This sounds wonderful in theory but I’d hate to spoil all that heat and cheap wine with something as demanding as another 130,000 words.  Thus it is that October will find me once again lashed to the PC,  way up in my glorious eyrie at the very top of the house,  hammering away at the keyword.  5000 words a day.  Never fails.


What will we see next from you?

“Touching Distance”,  book two in the D/S Jimmy Suttle series.  Enjoy…I hope..