The Independent Archive: `You get in the writer's sea and swim with him'

24 September 1987 Richard Ingrams interviews the novelist Brian Moore, whose thriller of church and state, `The Colour of Blood', has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize

THE WEEK in which the Booker Prize shortlist is announced focuses our attention on novelists. But it is a melancholy fact about the prize that the novels selected are seldom of the type likely to attract the general reader.

Good to report then, in this literary week, that a book is published which is a real novel and not some kind of literary tease. Its author is the Irishman Brian (pronounced Bree-an) Moore, and it is a thriller - a new departure for him. Its hero is a Roman Catholic cardinal presiding over the Church in an imaginary Iron Curtain country - the obvious parallel is Poland. In paragraph three of the book Cardinal Bem is the victim of an assassination attempt and from that moment finds himself caught up, along with the reader, in a conspiracy and thrown towards a thrilling climax.

It is impossible to put the book down, but it is more than just a good yarn in the Buchan or Ambler tradition. The Colour of Blood is an unfashionable argument, in a world increasingly dominated by fanatics of left and right, for the man in the middle, a good man "trying to save souls and keep the schools open".

Though Brian Moore writes here, as he has done before so sympathetically, about a Catholic priest, he is himself an agnostic. But he grew up in a devout Catholic household. "There were a lot of prayers, a lot of Mass, family rosary and all kinds of stuff. People thought always about the next world. The next world was the important one." The family also had a strong involvement in Republican politics. His father was rumoured to have helped Roger Casement run guns.

Moore has never been a best-seller. His first book, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, was rejected by 12 American publishers and all his early books were banned in Ireland, being deemed "anti-clerical and dirty".

Since the beginning, he has had a powerful supporter in the person of Graham Greene, who praised his first book and has since described Moore on every possible occasion as his favourite living author, though he was horrified when he learnt of his intention to live in America, which he regards as worse than Siberia. A word of approval for The Doctor's Wife (1976) resulted in a sale of 37,000 in South America. The same book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but shot down by one of the judges, Mrs Wilson, who objected to the "dirty bits".

Moore has never sought Greene's company and in fact they have met briefly only twice. "I never wanted to see him," he says. "If someone praises your books, you don't want to put them off by going round and talking to them." But when thinking about his new book he re-read Greene's early thrillers and realised that he must have been influenced by something Greene had written apropos The Thirty Nine Steps - "this idea of a Minister of the Crown being pursued through the streets of London in the middle of the afternoon, with nowhere to turn".

"There is a quality of realism," Graham Greene has written of Moore's novels, "which gives the reader a kind of absolute confidence - there will be no intrusion of the author, no character will ever put a foot wrong." Another critic used the rather hackneyed expression "he writes like a dream" of Moore. It has always seemed to me an inappropriate analogy, as there is nothing in the least bit dreamlike about good writing.

"It's great fun," he says, "to go back to those old narratives. There's a conciseness and a power about them. They impose their own rules which say, for example, this book can't be any longer." For this reason the form of the thriller appeals to him as a framework in which the reader sees things at the same time as the protagonist. His greatest excitement when writing is the sudden realisation of what he is working towards: "I love it. Something happens to me - not always - I'm just sitting down writing and I'm not near the end and I suddenly say, `That's going to be the end!'

"You're going to get into the writer's sea and swim with him and then you're not going to jump out. And that's a great feeling of liberation."

From the Books pages of `The Independent', Thursday 24 September 1987

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all