Graham Norton’s newest work of fiction, Home Stretch, was released on October 1 by Coronet Books. The novel begins with the story of a terrible car accident near a small Irish town and its far reaching impacts. Connor, the driver, ultimately leaves town and travels to Liverpool, London, and New York before having to face his past again.
A celebrated television and radio personality, Norton recently spoke with RTÉ broadcaster Rick O’Shea to promote the new book and discuss his career. The online event was streamed through Crowdcast on Sunday, October 4, as part of the Dublin Book Festival Autumn Series. I was really looking forward to the interview because Norton’s last book, A Keeper, was an absolute page-turner.
As with other programs, COVID-19 brought some changes to his popular Graham Norton Show, which airs on BBC One and BBC America. In spite of the lockdown and restrictions earlier this year, Norton and his crew were able to develop new episodes with him hosting from home. “The first show, I think it took about 8 hours to make [which] was mostly my fault! It took a long time. I was shell shocked at the end of it,” he said, relieved that episodes eventually took only 2 hours to make.
For the most part, Norton spent much of early 2020 at his home in West Cork. However, recently he has ventured back to Dublin and London for book events and a new season of his show. He told O’Shea, “It’s been great coming to Dublin and realizing it’s okay. It’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be. Life in some sort of form does go on.”
One other recent project from Norton is a comedy on Netflix called Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The film stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as a singing duo trying to win the Eurovision contest, a program that Norton hosts in real-life. Norton recalled that Ferrell would attend Eurovision for years as part of research for the film. He weighed in about the outcome, saying, “I thought they did a very good job in that film, in that it’s sort of sweet. I think it’s very respectful to Eurovision. I think Eurovision fans were expecting to hate that film, and they ended up quite liking it.”
As for Home Stretch, Norton expected to set the ending in the year 2020, but he had second thoughts. He remarked, “I just can’t bring in global pandemic as a curveball plot twist in the last chapter. I stopped in 2019, but that’s the only effect it had on writing the book.”
Looking back to his first work of fiction, Holding, Norton admitted his initial nervousness about writing a book set in Ireland and how authentic Irish readers would rate it. “I felt I knew those people and that world, that village, but I hadn’t lived [in Ireland] since 1984. What if I’m so off track here? I was working with British editors and British publishers,” he confessed.
As with his previous books, Home Stretch alternates with moments of drama and comedy. Norton’s preference to write that way stems from his longtime interest in how films are constructed. He explained that after periods of drama and gloom, “I need to set a scene in some sunshine. There needs to be light. … Life is never all one thing. Even in the midst of tragedy, there are ridiculous things.”
As I mentioned earlier in the article, Connor leaves Ireland and goes to Liverpool, London, and New York. Those particular locations in the book were intentional by Norton as an author. “You want to create an authentic world. I’m lazy, so I wasn’t bothering to go anywhere to find out what they were like. I would choose places I know already,” he shared.
Norton relishes the experience of writing novels, but will he venture to the genre of writing his own short story anthologies? He answered, “I do enjoy the long form and seeing how a story can develop over 300 pages. Doing snapshots of things would be interesting but I can’t imagine sitting down to do it.”
Aside from writing his books, Norton also does the audiobook releases himself. He joked that the accents can be a challenge and sometimes, as in the case of the Liverpool chapters, he needed practice. Nonetheless, he sounded amused about the positive reaction he’s received from his audience. “People seem to enjoy the audiobooks, which is great but I’m just mortified. Three books in, I still forget I’m going to have to do the audiobook,” Norton said with a smile.
Just a few days since its release, Home Stretch has already hit number one on the Irish chart. The novel has also claimed a spot on the Sunday Times hardback fiction bestseller list. Fiction readers and Graham Norton fans alike should grab a copy of Home Stretch and check it out.