"I know everywhere has stories, but there’s such a rich vein of them in Ireland"
The Irish TV personality Graham Norton has had a long and varied in the UK, from sitcom star to stand-up. Now considered the best in the business when it comes to his BBC One chat show, a long-held desire to write a novel has finally come to fruition with the publication of Holding, his debut.
“Even as I heard the words ‘Graham Norton’s debut novel’, my heart sank,” Norton told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny, as he came into studio to talk about a new chapter in his career. Having leafed his way through many novels written by celebrity guests on his chat and radio shows, Norton said that when it came to his approach to writing he wasn’t too concerned about producing great literature.
“When I approached it, and this is a terrible thing to admit, I approached it another way. People asked me what novelists I aspired to be as good as, I never thought that. In my head, there were some celebrity novels I’d read, and as long as it’s better than those. In the course of duty I’ve read a few, so the bar is set very low.”
As a comedian, language is the tool of the trade, but Norton admits that he had to pull some strings in order to find a publisher to take on his novel, signing a deal with a house that was willing to print his memoirs – only if they would also agree to publish his novel, sight unseen.
“I think they assumed it was going to be a funny book,” the 53-year-old said. “And this book, there might be a wry smile every now and again, but it’s not a funny book. And when they got the first 10,000 words it began to dawn on them that it wasn’t a funny book, so they started to use the phrase darkly comic. ‘Graham Norton’s darkly comic novel.’ But by the time we got to 90,000 words, they’d dropped that. And now it is just ‘Graham Norton’s debut novel.’”
Norton revealed that he revelled in the writing experience, drawing great pleasure from time spent alone at a keyboard, creating a new world out of words. But taking on a new challenge means opening yourself to new critics. How did he prepare himself for the possibility of bad press?
“You gird your loins and think, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ The worst that could happen is I wrote this thing and everyone says: ‘That stinks! You thought you could write a novel, you were wrong.’ And my ego would have been a bit bruised, it would have been a bit humiliating. But the truth is, the vast majority of people who listen to my radio show or watch my television programme wouldn’t even know it happened. They’re just tuning into TV and radio, the world of books isn’t for them. Personally, it would have been a bit bruising, but I’d’ve been fine.”
The novel, set in Norton’s native West Cork, revolves around three unmarried daughters, their alcoholic mother, and a local Garda who must solve the mystery when a dead body turns up. For Norton, it was an exercise in localised fantasy.
“Most debut novels are thinly veiled autobiographies or coming of age stories. I couldn’t do that, because I’d used all of those in my memoirs and also I didn’t want to be in it. My life is so odd that by the time I got back to something that I knew would have mainstream appeal, I was back in West Cork in a rural community.”
As to how the West Cork communities will respond to the novel set around their homes, Norton told Pat: “It’ll be good for sales, people will buy it to see if they’re in it! There’s a kind of vanity about people that people will assume ‘Well, you know who that is. You know who that is!’ And they’re not in it. You’re safe, people of west Cork. I stole the geography, but the people are makey-uppy.”
Holding is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to buy now. You can listen back to the full interview with Graham Norton from this morning’s Pat Kenny Show below: