In the shrewdly competitive world of publishing and publicity, the story behind a novel is often as important as the story between its covers. Like superheroes, modern writers stalk through the media trailing their origin myths behind them: think of JK Rowling scribbling away in an Edinburgh café at the Harry Potter books, or EL James bashing out the Twilight fan fictions that became 50 Shades of Grey. We love these it-could-be-you stories; publishers know this and strategise accordingly. As in so many other areas, it’s human interest that sinks the hook.
The latest of these stories belongs to Andrew Michael Hurley, whose novel The Loney has a strong claim to being the greatest British publishing success of the past few years. In January, The Loney – a spooky tale of extreme Catholicism and pagan practices, set near Morecambe Bay in the Seventies – won the Costa prize for the year’s best first novel. On Monday this week, it scooped not only the award for best debut novel but also the overall prize, Book of the Year, at the British Book Industry Awards.