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Into the fire 9

A maverick peroxide bombshell that exploded onto The nibe fifteen years ago, MURIEL GRAY is now a bestselling author. Her second book takes the horror genre by the balls.

Words: Deirdre Molloy

After a decade spent toiling in the heady world of broadcasting, with bountiful results, Muriel Gray finally got round to fulfilling her original ambition. Six months spent scribbling in the study saw her fiction come off the back burner and turned in the shape of her I994 debut novel The Trickster - into a global bestselling blast.

Even Ms Gray, at 39 still the picture of peroxide rebellion, was taken aback. ‘The Trickster sold a quarter of a million copies in America. Yikes!’ Gray exclaims. ‘But my proudest moment in Britain was when it got into Safeway’s top ten. I loved the idea of housewives buying it in the supermarket, it was so groovy.’

Hopes that her second novel Furnace will make such a splash are reigned in by the author, but as her first foray into the compulsive genre of suspense driven horror. she is certainly enthusiastic.

Gray’s love of horror was fostered by her father who fed her the classic works of the supernatural masters Edgar Allen Poe and HG. Wells. Her passion was cemented by Clive Barker and Stephen King’s 70s blockbusters. which she lapped up as a teenager, although not to the exclusion of other genres.

This democratic streak is born out in Furnace as much a satire of small town paranoia as a spine-chilling journey into the macabre. The story centres on long distance truck driver Josh Spiller, whose marital problems seem trifling when he veers off the beaten track into Furnace, Virginia where a gruesome accident causes him to question his sanity and unleashes terrible demons.

The forces gathering against Josh are revealed gradually through a number of ghoulish twists and it’s fair to say that the lunching ladies of Furnace get little sympathy from Gray.

‘With the character of councillor Nelly McFarlane l was thinking about the witch hunt against working mothers,’ she says. ‘I saw a piece in The Herald by John McLeod supporting that, so it’s an amusing sub

Muriel Gray

every seventh child she has.’ Gray herself is a working mother of some renown. Her personal life hit the Scottish headlines earlier this

'The film producers paid me a shedload which is embarrassing considering how long it took to do,’ she says. 'Now I’m going, "bugger novels if this is what you get for a screenplay".’

text with Nelly that her work requires the sacrifice of

Muriel Gray's second thriller Furnace is hot property. with a screenplay already

in the bag

year when her little girl was hospitalised briefly after falling into a pond. And Gray has continued to make, in front of and behind the cameras, top rated TV programmes such as The Munro Show, Nick Naim’s Wild Harvest and the forthcoming Robbie Coltrane documentary series Coltrane’s Planes And Automobiles.

But mention her three-year stint co-presenting The Tube in the 803, in particular her interview with chart~ toppers Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and her peculiar powers of recollection kick-in. ‘They smelled really bad, that’s what impressed me,’ she giggles. ‘An odour 0f stale tobacco, sweat and something else i don’t care to identify. Not necessarily a bad thing it made them memorable in an olfactory sense.’

The icing on today’s cake, however, is more celluloid than sensory: Working Titile, UK producers of hit movie Four Weddings And A Funeral, have bought the rights to Furnace, with Gray’s screenplay adaptation already complete.

‘lt’s a bit weird but they paid me a shedload which is embarrassing considering how long it took to do,’ she says. ‘Now l’m going: “Bugger novels if this is what you get for a screenplay.” But it will disappear into development hell presumably.’

Better development hell then the sacrificial hell of Furnace, my dears.

Furnace by Muriel Gray is published by HarperCollins, £16.99. Gray is at Castlemilk Writers' Festival, Castlemilk Library, Glasgow, Fri 10, 7.30pm: Waterstone‘s, 153 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Wed 22, 8pm and Waterstone’s, 13 Princes Street, Edinburgh, Wed 22, 7pm. See book events.

The write stuff

As broadcaster Jonathan King prepares to lift the lid off London: literary establishment in his latest novel, he reveals a few home truths.

NAME: Jonathan King. That much I do know before I fade into Alzheimer's.

AGE: 52. If I could get away with less, I would try.

PREVIOUS JOBS: I'm a man who has never had a job. I've only ever done things for fun.

ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: Writing has always been one of my great loves. I recently came across a short novel called Susan The Wise I wrote when I was seven. I don't think it would have won the Booker Prize. These days there are no longer writers, there are communicators.

DAILY ROUTINE: When I wrote The Book“ Prize Winner, I was in Tunisia on holiday and it was pouring with rain so there was nothing to do except write, so when I write, it's the whole day, really.

INFLUENCES: Dickens and Shakespeare. I tend to love thrillers - I love John Le Carré and Graham Greene and I'm big fan of Gerald Seymour who wrote Harry’s Game. I think he is sensational in covering topical news things in a very entertaining way.

AMBITIONS: I'm only half way through my life so I'd like to do as much in the next 50 as I did in the last. Though all different, please. I don't want to make 'Una Paloma Blanca‘ again, thank you.

FEARS: My fears are that the world will end before I do from health problems due to pollution. I'm not an ecologist but I look at it and think I can't see any way that the world will survive for more than a few more years.

INCOME: Very cheeky. Income large. Expenditure almost equally large. Trust a bloody Scot to ask about income. When I’m up for In The City I'm bringing one of those electronic axe things to divide England from Scotland and then I‘m going to kick you off to Iceland where you will float off in pleasant happiness. (Brian Donaldson)

l The Book* * Prize Winner by Jonathan King is published by Blake at f 70

10 Oct—23 Oct 1997 TIIE LIST 95