Andrew Michael Hurley is a critically-acclaimed, prize-winning author – his debut novel The Loney was originally published by Tartarus Press (a small independent publisher based in Yorkshire) as a 300-copy limited edition, before being republished by John Murray in 2015. It went on to win the Costa First Novel Award and Book of the Year at the British Book Industry Awards in 2016. His latest book Starve Acre was featured in five parts on BBC Radio 4.
We’re thrilled that Andrew will be the tutor on our upcoming Three-Month Online Novel-Writing course.
Here Andrew talks us through his initial journey to publication, what the term ‘folk horror’ means, and his approach to teaching creative writing.
Your debut novel The Loney was initially published by the small independent Tartarus Press before being published by John Murray and going on the win the Costa First Novel Award in 2016. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey to publication?
My route into being a published novelist was quite unorthodox and quite unexpected. I finished writing The Loney in about 2013 and sent out the manuscript to various agents and small publishers but didn’t get much of a response. I think that one of the problems was that I wasn’t all that confident at explaining what the novel actually was – whether it was gothic horror, folk horror, literary fiction or just a story about faith. Being slightly odd in terms of its genre (if it belongs to one at all) it was eventually picked up by Tartarus Press who specialise in publishing ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ fiction. They produced a short run of three hundred hardback editions in the autumn of 2014 and the following year I was approached by one of the editors at John Murray who had read The Loney, was looking for new authors, and wanted to republish the novel for a larger audience. So, there was a little luck involved too!
Your writing has been categorised as ‘Folk Horror’, a newly defined sub-genre of horror films and literature. What does ‘Folk Horror’ mean to you and your work?
As you say, ‘Folk Horror’ is a recently coined term that’s been largely attributed to Mark Gattis who used it in his BBC documentary A History of Horror back in 2010, so quite what delineates the edges of the sub-genre is still up for debate. The best definition, I think, is in Adam Scovell’s book Hours Dreadful and Things Strange in which he proposes a ‘Folk Horror’ ‘chain’, or a set of ideas which often crop up in ‘Folk Horror’: isolation, a warped belief system, a summoning of something usually malevolent. They’re quite loose links and so what might be considered ‘Folk Horror’ can range from something like Ben Wheatley’s film, Kill List, to Alan Garner’s children’s book, The Owl Service.
For me, ‘Folk Horror’ is about what lies under the surface of a particular (often rural) place and how the ‘ghosts’ of the past manifest themselves. What I like about ‘Folk Horror’ is that it demands we look at the British countryside in an unsentimental way and see it not as something picturesque but the stage on which our (sometimes violent) pre-industrial past was played out. The hills were places of execution, the fields battlegrounds, the woods rife with stories of the supernatural. That darkness lingers in the rural; quite how is what all three novels have tried to explore.
Which writers have influenced your work?
I’m never sure how much other writers influence my work, as such; I think it’s more that I’m inspired by the way other writers show what it’s possible to do in fiction. That being the case, I admire different authors for different reasons: Thomas Hardy, say, for the way in which he renders landscape on the page; Jim Crace, because of the way he uses language so precisely; Cormac McCarthy, for his pared back prose. In terms of ‘horror’, it would have to be Shirley Jackson, though, who manages to unsettle me as a reader in a way no one else can.
Your most recent book Starve Acre is set in a fictionalised town in the Yorkshire dales and draws on inspiration from real places in that part of the England. Nature and rural life are a huge part of the book, how much of a crucial role does setting play for you when you’re writing a story?
Place has been the starting point of all my novels so far and I always try to make landscape a living element in the story – another character, as it is in Wuthering Heights and in much of Thomas Hardy’s work too. In The Loney, Devil’s Day and Starve Acre, the peculiarities of the settings shape the characters. All three novels discuss similar questions about what our relationship is with the natural world and why particular places produce particular stories.
We’re thrilled to have you on board as a co-tutor on our upcoming six-month online novel-writing course. What’s your favourite part of teaching creative writing?
By far, the best thing about teaching creative writing is working closely with students on projects they are passionate about and seeing them progress into serious, confident writers. It’s a genuine privilege to watch a novel and its author grow.
Could you share your top three tips for writers who are at the start of their writing journey?
Read widely, write every day and never feel that time spent doing either is wasted.