Graham Hurley talks to Nick Quantrill

Graham Hurley is an award-winning TV documentary maker who now writes full time. He lived in Portsmouth for over 20 years and bases his crime series there. His novels feature two detectives, D.I Joe Faraday, a methodical, reflective cop who as the series moves on can see society breaking down in to chaos and D.C Paul Winter, a detective from the old school of policing who flouts police procedure when possible. Despite their differences the two detectives complement each other and make for entertaining plots.

What seems to differentiate the DI Faraday series is the realism in the way police work is portrayed. How do you approach that, given it’s a constantly changing environment? Would you say your background making documentaries has been useful in this respect?

Trying to draw a bead on the working world of the sharp end detective is like nailing water to the wall. These guys are under siege. They have to cope with constant changes in working practise, in procedure, in legislation, in Home Office and local priorities, plus a million other things, and it drives quite of a lot of them barmy. This in itself becomes a pressure with obvious fictional potential and so I’d be mad as a writer not to try and update myself each time I set out on a new book. Each of the books is dated, which helps, and the very fact that I do the procedural groundwork helps even more because it opens doors inside the Job. I learned early on that cops resent trespassers who help themselves to the sexier bits of their trade and get the rest wrong because they can’t be arsed to do the research. The research, in my view, is key…because once these guys trust you, and then the relationship often goes a lot further than procedural accuracy. You’re getting it right in small but important ways, and that matters to them. Has a background in documentary films helped? Definitely. Not least because it taught me a great deal about the virtues of patience: how to get alongside people, how to listen, how to think yourself into someone else’s head, how to understand ways in which their working world shapes pretty much everything else.

Faraday is markedly different to the likes of Rebus. How do you approach the challenge of writing a policeman who (largely) plays by the rules? Was it a deliberate decision when the series was first conceived?

To be honest, I was pretty clueless about the kind of cop I wanted at the heart of the series. I made Faraday the way he is – straight, committed, shrewd, solitary, emotional, frequently bewildered – because I felt easy with him in my head. In a strange sense he was good, if challenging, company and I suspected that this might be important if his first outing – in Turnstone – was to stretch into a series. In that respect the relationship (between him and me) has worked to our mutual advantage but I discovered very early that Faraday alone would never sustain even a single book and so I offered Paul Winter a role and – being Winter – he quickly became the co-star. Why? Because the devil always gets the best tunes.

The city of Portsmouth looms large in the series and the sense of place is vivid. How has the city reacted to having a mirror held up to itself?

A lot of people believe that Portsmouth has become a major character in the series and that gladdens me. I lived in the city for the best part of thirty years and – like Winter – it began to elbow its way into the stand-alone thrillers I wrote pre-Faraday. It’s an immensely distinctive place – rough, insular, spirited – and I owe it the same kind of duty of care I’ve described with respect to working detectives. You have to get it right. You have to get people who live in the city, who know its funny little ways, to trust you. And a single false note can wreck that trust. But there’s a problem here, too, because this isn’t just Pompey, it’s a cop’s Pompey, a scrote’s Pompey, a villain’s Pompey, and that kind of focus doesn’t marry easily with other agendas. If you were looking to pitch Portsmouth as an upmarket tourist venue, I suspect you’d do your best to bury the Faraday series.

In your latest novel, ‘No Lovelier Death’, DC Paul Winter’s decision to leave the Job to work for gangster-turned-business man, Bazza Mackenzie is central. Was it a deliberate move to take the series in a different direction, or was it something which developed more organically?

Organic is the word. Living with characters over a series certainly has its challenges and one of them is the moment when a particular character develops ideas of his own. This is exactly what happened with Paul Winter. Increasingly at odds with the new CID culture, there was no way he’d simply settle into the squeaky-clean world of booze-free policing and 24/7 accountability. Apart from anything else, he’d probably die of boredom. And so I had to take him aside, pour Stella down his throat, and explain the fictional options. A transfer to the Dark Side was one of those options and he leapt at it. Typical.

I read that when your agent suggested you write a crime series featuring a detective, you weren’t familiar with the genre. Has that changed, and if so, which crime writers do you admire?

It’s true that my little adventures in the crime game were at someone else’s invitation but it was the publisher (Orion), not my agent (because I don’t have one). In many respects I’m more than grateful. Robbed of the freedoms that come with writing so-called International Thrillers, I had deep misgivings about ending up in this claustrophobic little genre box but police procedurals – rooted in a real city - in fact offer more scope than I’d ever imagined. You can do all kinds of stuff with these books – and if you’re looking for a preview of what awaits this society of ours then there’s no better place to be than Pompey. Do I read crime fiction any more than I ever did? I’m afraid not.

Given that the series stretches to nine books (and counting), what is it about the crime genre that appeals to you as a writer?

This is a tricky question. Like I say, I don’t read crime fiction. On the other hand, in crude marketing terms, the word “crime” (with its implicit promise of story and some kind of resolution) is a major hook. That hook was absolutely the basis of the original Orion invitation and to their great credit they’ve stood by the series and made it work. From my point of view, that’s a comfort as well as a relief because no one wants to be dumped overboard in mid-voyage, but more important are the fictional doors that Faraday and Winter, between them, have opened. A decade in their company has taught me a great deal about the development of character and the importance of the relationships they establish and thanks to both these guys, we’re now in very different territory. For a writer, that’s both strange and exciting: a responsibility as well as a challenge.

NO LOVELIER DEATH, Orion Hbk £9.99 Feb 2009

Read SHOTS’ review of No Lovelier Death



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