Northern Gothic

Award-winning author, Andrew Michael Hurley, soon to be headlining Chorlton Book Festival, talks to Deborah Grace about the inspiration behind The Loney, his haunting debut novel.

The first question Andrew Michael Hurley asks audiences at book reading events is how many of them have heard of Morecambe Bay.

“The further south you go, the fewer people put their hands up,” says the Preston-based author. “But I love the fact that it’s become known, although maybe that’s a double-edged sword in a way. It’s no longer a secret kind of place.”

To have put a neglected stretch of the Lancashire coast on the literary map is certainly no mean feat, given the London-centric character of the UK publishing industry. It may be a cliché to describe landscape as principal ‘character’ in a novel, but it is precisely this inhospitable, seaside setting with its treacherous tides and quicksands that gives The Loney – a creepy tale of Catholicism colliding with paganism – its sinister power.

Daytrips to Morecambe Bay were a familiar part of Hurley’s childhood, growing up in the North West. Revisiting the coast in all its seasons, as he started work on his novel, six years ago, Hurley says he fell in love with the area. “The landscape seems oddly unchanging, as if it might have been the same 100 or 200 years ago. Ironically, though, it’s changing all the time, with the tide coming in and the sands always shifting. It’s bleak, desolate and lonely, but there’s something else I can’t put my finger on. I think that, in a way, is what The Loney was exploring – just what that otherness might be.”

A former teacher and librarian, who spent years juggling the demands of a day job with the rigours of writing, Hurley still appears bemused at having become, arguably, the biggest publishing sensation of the year. Winner of the 2015 Costa First Novel Award and the British Book Awards Book Of The Year 2016, The Loney has been hailed as modern, gothic masterpiece and has garnered plaudits from the great and good. Particularly gratifying is a tribute from Hurley’s boyhood role model, Stephen King, who described The Loney as ‘an amazing piece of fiction.’

“The last year’s been full of surreal moments and that’s been the strangest! That Stephen King had even heard of the book was good enough, but to have read it and said that about it was just incredible, really.”

With plans for a film version of The Loney and a second novel under way, Hurley is disarmingly modest about his new-found fame. His two sons, he says, have yet to read The Loney and he’ll have to sell a few more books before he can move to LA! “You spend a number of years just scribbling away and trying to get published. Finally getting to the point where I can make a living doing what I love is the best thing about all this. It’s just really nice to get to where I want to be.”

Andrew Michael Hurley visits Chorlton Book Festival, 7pm, Saturday 26 November, Chorlton Central Church Tickets £5 from 0161 227 3700