Actress Enora Andresson has a brain tumour that could kill her, she’s struggling with the wreckage of her marriage and has a strained relationship with her son. When investigative journalist Mitch Culligan appears on her doorstep, asking for her help, she is thrown into danger . . . and must confront her past while facing an uncertain future.
CURTAIN CALL introduces us to a tough and intriguing new heroine – actress Enora Andresson. It’s an interesting departure for author Graham Hurley, but what led to the creation of this strong new female voice and his determination to bring her to readers’ attention?
As a politics nerd, I’ve followed the Tory party’s obsession with Europe for years. When David Cameron foolishly offered an In-Out referendum, and Tory navel-gazing warmed into something more interesting, I made it my business to explore the manifestos and funding sources on both sides of the debate. What I discovered – plus the eventual result – shocked me into pondering fictional ways of putting the seemingly inconceivable on the page.
The above plants the seed. It’s the summer of 2017. We’re in Normandy for yours truly to address the good folk of Caen on the D-Day anniversary. The theme of mon petit discours?The ups and downs of the Entente quelquefois Cordiale.
That night, in the hastily called UK election, Jezza nearly unseats Theresa May. To the Tory government’s astonishment, the prospects for Brexit have suddenly darkened.
Two months later, still in France, I awake in the middle of the night with a single sentence on my lips. My memory isn’t all it was. I slip out of bed and grope my way to pen and paper. The neurosurgeon has an affection for metaphor. Present tense. Female voice. Hours later, conscious again, I re-read the sentence and know that I’d found the key to an important fictional door.
In a thirty-six-book writing career, I’ve adopted the voice of a female protagonist on a number of occasions and have always found it oddly liberating (see Thunder in the Blood, Nocturne, and Permissible Limits). I try and tell my wife not to be alarmed – the gender re-assignment classes are going really well – but the female voice on the page seems to offer fictional freedoms denied the male characters I write. And so it proves.
That morning, sitting in the bright Touraine sunshine, I ponder where that opening sentence might lead. Whose lips might have shaped it. Why, in the first place, she’d ever have the need to consult a neurosurgeon. And what surprises her life, to date, might have held. By nightfall, I’m on speaking terms with actress Enora Andressen. And by the end of that week we’re enjoying a relationship of some intimacy . . . and a great deal of trust.
The book takes less than a month to write. It’s a joy to accompany Enora on her journey and – more importantly – every word on the page feels both fresh and true. This isn’t as common for a writer as you might imagine but my pride on giving Enora a voice is matched only by my determination to get her published.
This isn’t as simple as you might imagine. Agents, publishers, libraries, bookshops – all the key players who bring the writer to the marketplace – prefer scribes who behave themselves, who chose a genre and stick to it, who – in short – know their assigned place on the bookshelf.
For my part, I started by writing so-called international thrillers. These were big, fat one-off airport books, your fave holiday read, each new title scored for a different set of characters. Then came sixteen cri-fis, or perhaps police procedurals, a long series of gritty books set in Portsmouth with recurring characters that attempted to grapple with a society in free-fall. After that, a very different series of novels set in World War Two, loosely linked in terms of character and treatment, under the rubric The Wars Within. Very different to the Pompey books but a huge pleasure to research and write.
Maybe you begin to get the picture here . . . yours truly periodically straying off the reservation, twice hopping from one genre to another, but always offering a plea in mitigation. These are story-driven books, I always insisted, and they seem to work on the page. Boys’ books? Probably. But lots of room, too, for strong female voices.
So far, so good. I think I got away with it. But now, Houston, we have a real problem. Publishing’s patience with yours truly – the serial genre-hopper – may be coming to an end. In the shape of Enora Andressen I’m convinced that I’ve unearthed an undeniably strong female voice with the potential to attract a significant readership. Might my agent be able to find a publisher with the vision to make this leap of faith?
The answer, thankfully, is yes. And Curtain Call, with Sight Unseen to come, is the result.
CURTAIN CALL is available now in the UK and from 1 May in the US. Read more here.