Far from a Lone ranger

Far from a Lone ranger

Andrew Michael Hurley (third from right) with (from right) The British Book Industry Awards’ host Mariella Frostrup, John Murray pair Yassine Belkacemi and Mark Richards, head of the Book of the Year judges Cathy Rentzenbrink and the Sunday Times’ Andrew Holgate.

At the end of 2014, there were just 300 copies of The Loney in existence and it had been reviewed just once by a major publication.

Fast forward to today, and The Loney has sold 40,415 copies, been reviewed positively across the media and its author is the recipient of a number of awards, the latest being the British Book Industry Awards Début Fiction Book of the Year and overall Book of the Year trophies.

It has, says Andrew Michael Hurley, “been a year of constant surprises for me”. The “ideas for The Loney have been swirling around my head for quite some time”, says Hurley, who worked as a librarian over the three or four years it took to write the book.

When he finished, he sent it to a number of literary agents and small publishers, but “didn’t get any great responses”. “I suppose the problem was that when I finished writing, I wasn’t sure what it was,” says Hurley over Skype from hishome in Lancashire. “I’d written this book and I wasn’t sure whether it was literary fiction or whether it was horror or whether it was a family story. I wasn’t entirely sure how to classify it or how to pitch it to people. I thought for a long time it was a bit of a drawback.

“You’re always told when trying to get something published that publishers and agents like to categorise things and it becomes internalised, and you think you have to write books that are easy to pitch. I think if it’s a good book, a good story, I don’t think it matters.”

And in the end it didn’t matter for The Loney, not when Tartarus Press published those first 300 copies in a limited edition, or when John Murray took it on after then-editorial director (now publisher) Mark Richards read the book after seeing one of his authors tweet about it. In fact, it became one of the book’s strengths.

Since receiving the email from Richards, Hurley says “it’s just been crazy”.

One of the first pieces of advice Richards gave to Hurley was to get an agent, with Hurley finding Lucy Luck from Aitken Alexander Associates. “My agent is absolutely fantastic, very supportive and interested in a career long-term,” says Hurley. “The Loney had already been written, published, edited [when I got an agent so] she didn’t really need to do a lot of advising on the manuscript. With the novel I’m in the throes of trying to get finished at the moment, I think her role will definitely change and she will become more of an advisor.

“She’s been very helpful in explaining what is quite a bewildering world for someone who’s never been part of it before. It’s great to have that person on your side and working for you.”

Hurley and his agent, Lucy Luck from Alexander Aitken Associates, with their two trophies at the British Book Industry Awards.

The Book of the Year awards are not just for Hurley; they are for the entire team behind The Loney, including Richards, publicist Yassine Belkacemi and Luck, as well as others who worked on the book, something Hurley is keen to acknowledge. “One thing I have become more aware of over the past year is that publishing is a business, it is an industry and there are certain bits of machinery that have to work if you’re going to be successful,” says Hurley.

“There is that artistic, creative side to it but there’s also the business side of it as well. I am beginning to understand how those two things meet in the middle.”

Hurley is currently working on the second book in a series of novels set in rural Lancashire. While not a sequel to The Loney, it will again be “dark and unsettling”, focusing this time on a farming community at the edge of a moorland and how it changes and manipulates folklore and myths to suit its purposes.

It will also be a novel about the relationships between fathers and daughters and fathers and sons, and the idea of authority, says Hurley. A pause, and then: “It’s probably a little bit vague, that, isn’t it?”

Hurley is still writing at home, but the experience is a little different to when he was writing The Loney. “It is kind of odd, knowing the words that I am typing in this little room in my house, people will be reading at some point,” he says. “With The Loney I had no expectations. I wanted it to be published but I didn’t have any expectations that it would be successful.”

Is there more pressure? “Maybe it does make you a little bit more conscious of what you’re writing,” says Hurley.

“You are more aware of an audience and a relationship than with the first [book]. But it’s only pressure that I put on myself. I want to produce the best thing I can produce.”