Sir John Hurt (1940 – 2017)

I was saddened to hear today about the death of Sir John Hurt. I don’t usually write about individual actors on this site, but his impact was such that I couldn’t let his passing go unnoticed. He was one of those rare actors who, to me, seemed both recognisable and unrecognisable at the exact same time. His face (and voice) was immediately familiar and yet he completely inhabited the roles he played to such an extent that any familiarity quickly disappeared. When I see Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp on screen (something I try my best to avoid doing), I know I’m watching Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp, albeit in a different setting and with a different haircut. With John Hurt, however, I was only ever watching the character he was portraying. Does that make sense?

There are three particular roles he played I wanted to mention. When I was nine and was rapidly discovering my love for all things horror, ALIEN was released. I’m assuming anyone reading this will know that his character, Kane, has one of the most famous death scenes in movie history. Of course, as a bloodthirsty kid, all I was initially interested in was the chest-burst and the gore. It was only when I later learned more about how the scene was filmed – how he knew what was going to happen but the rest of the cast didn’t – and when I watched the film again (and again and again) did I realise how smart and clever Sir John’s performance was.

A couple of years later he starred as the titular ELEPHANT MAN in David Lynch’s adaptation of the life of the hideously deformed John Merrick. I rewatched the film recently and was again spellbound by his performance. Despite being unrecognisable and with limited movement under Christopher Tucker’s ground-breaking makeup, he succeeded in playing Merrick in such a way that the character’s pain and suffering was abundantly clear.

But my favourite John Hurt performance is as Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. I’ve already written about the film here so I won’t go into much more detail, other than to say that the physical and mental transformation of Smith is remarkable. It’s a superb adaptation of a book which in these days of ‘alternate facts’ and the like, continues to feel increasingly relevant.

So goodbye Sir John, and thanks for the many magnificent performances. I’ve barely scratched the surface: V FOR VENDETTA, HELLBOY, HARRY POTTER, DOCTOR WHO, SNOWPIERCER… I could go on and on. Instead, I thought I’d post this compilation clip instead:

The Next Big Thing

If you visit many other authors’ blogs, chances are you’ll have come across The Next Big Thing blog chain. Here’s how it works – an author answers ten questions about their next piece of work, then they tag five other authors to answer the same questions one week later. Adam Nevill tagged me last week (here’s Adam’s post), and here are my answers.

What is the working title of your next book?
17 DAYS

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s a concept I’ve been toying with on and off since the mid-nineties. It occurred to me that if we knew the precise date of our own death, it would affect absolutely everything we do in the time which remains. But would that necessarily be a bad thing?

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s probably a little more mainstream than anything I’ve written before, but there are definite dystopian overtones.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Complete unknowns. That’s essential.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Mark Thane is going to die in seventeen days time. Probably. (Sorry, that’s two sentences).

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented (by Scott Miller at Trident Media, New York).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Excluding the fifteen years I’d been messing with the idea on and off, about six weeks.

What other books/films would you compare this story to within your genre?
There are very definite shades of NETWORK, the 1976 Sidney Lumet movie. I guess there’s also a V FOR VENDETTA influence in there too.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The initial inspiration came so long ago now it’s hard to remember. I’m fascinated by our attitudes to death. I’ve always thought it fantastically liberating how animals live without fear because they don’t know they’re going to die. They assume they’ll just keep on going. We, on the other hand, seem to have either an unhealthy preoccupation with (or an equally unhealthy ignorance of) our own mortality. What happens if the rules change? How would you react if you knew exactly how long you had left?

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think it’s a really original book which takes the story in very unexpected directions. In seventeen days the main character goes on a remarkable journey. Oh, and there’s loads of sex. Move over ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, Moody’s gone all soft-porn.

More news about 17 DAYS coming soon. Here are the chaps I’ve tagged for next week:

ADAM BAKER
CRAIG DILOUIE
IAIN MCKINNON
ADAM MILLARD
SEAN T PAGE