Graham Norton: 'Ireland is a nation of leavers. I am in awe of the people who stayed and changed minds'

As his third novel is published, the television presenter talks about growing older, Eurovision and resuming his talk show in a pandemic

Graham Norton is chipper as we chat in West Cork, where he spends much of his time when his eponymous BBC TV show is not on air, and to which he has repaired during lockdown. Despite the disappointing weather – Storm Ellen is about to wreak havoc on the west, and the following week will bring flooded roads and power outages across the area – and the daily waves of worse and worse news, he’s been quietly getting on with his other career, and the publication of his third novel, Home Stretch. “You know,” he says, “when I was rereading the proofs, it was in lockdown, Black Lives Matter and the world going to hell in a handcart, and I sort of thought, I’ve written an incredibly Pollyanna version of the world. But even if I have it’s a version of the world I like.”

It’s a lighthearted characterisation of his writing, but not entirely accurate. Although his novels are undoubtedly story-based, plot-driven and warmly entertaining – he described his first, Holding, as a “yarn” – they are not without darkness. His second, A Keeper, described the lengths that those in rural isolation will go to in the search for a partner, and Home Stretch is centred on the devastation visited on a small town after a fatal car crash. Beginning in 1987 and bringing us up to the present day, it focuses on an abiding theme of Irish life and literature – the relationship between those who remain and those who leave their families and communities – and also contains a vivid portrait of the evolution of gay life in Ireland.

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