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Andrew Hunter Murray on his new book

Andrew Hunter Murray is a writer, broadcaster and comedian who works at Private Eye and on the hit podcast No Such Thing as a Fish. His third novel, A Beginner’s Guide to Breaking and Entering, has just been published by Hutchinson Heinemann. It touches on major contemporary issues – inequality in the housing market, tax havens, secret police stations, atomisation in society, corruption – but with a delightful lightness of touch that leaves you chuckling through the chaos.

Rob Orchard: Tell us about A Beginner’s Guide
It’s a book about a young man, Al, who lives in lovely, empty second homes. When the real owners are away, he has a wonderful time. He’s never been caught, and it’s all going fantastically for him until chapter three. When he breaks into the wrong house on the wrong day, someone ends up dead. And then he’s just in huge amounts of trouble from that point on.

RO: This book has a different feel from your last novel, The Sanctuary. It’s lighter, it’s funnier. It’s more of a romp. It doesn’t have an immediately bleak backdrop…
It was a conscious shift. I decided that I had done the end of the world twice and I didn’t want to do it a third time. So I switched to something much more cheerful, the British property market! It was lovely to write a main character who was really funny. I had said to myself at the start of 2023, when I wrote this, that the word of the year is ‘fun’. Everything I do is going to be fun. And this book was a huge part of that.

RO: We’ve been trying to lighten up a bit at Delayed Gratification as well. The news is often bleak, but without some levity everyone switches off and disengages.
Exactly. I think that there is a sense if you read the news regularly that you feel like you’re responsible for it, and it’s nice to be reminded that you’re not. You are allowed to have fun, despite the fact that the world is full of awful things. You’re not the manager.

I think that every author worth their salt has a kind of worldview which ends up being expressed, and mine is genuinely quite cheerful. I think there is a great deal of corruption, of wickedness, but that most people are effectively good. And so the story was an attempt to show that these things are going on in the world today, but that they’re not the whole story. I wanted a story which touched on things like money laundering without coming across as a rant, and through the eyes of this fun, slightly Robin Hood-style character

RO: What did you want to say about the UK’s property market?
It’s a really tiny number of people who are treated well by the property system in this country. And it is a scandal because the conditions in which you are housed have an overwhelmingly big effect on the rest of your life. If you are insecurely housed, if you’re in temporary accommodation, if you’re homeless, if you’re just spending half your income on rent every month, it soaks up time, energy, money, it creates health issues. It’s impossible to read about the housing conditions we’re expected to put up with and not be angry about it. So our hero’s solution, living in empty second homes, is partly a purely selfish thing, but also an attempt to point out just how bad things have got. The spell in which people could reliably buy a home of their own feels like it might turn out to have been a historical aberration in this country and we seem to be slipping back to a situation where people are going to be renting into their old age.

RO: The novel also features tax havens, and at one point Al flies to the Caribbean island of Nevis and gets a crash course in how people launder money. How did you research this?
I started by speaking to my colleague at Private Eye, Richard Brooks, who is a huge authority on overseas property and on the overseas structures which can own British property by dodgy means and by money laundering. We also discussed the sheer amount of London prime property which is owned through opaque overseas structures, even after attempts have been made to fix it.

I feel reasonably confident I could launder money now through British property, not because I think I’m a genius, but because I think it’s actually not that hard. Until there’s true world agreement on addressing the problem, which seems very unlikely, those loopholes and exclaves and mysterious little structures will exist because someone is able to make a bit of money out of them.

RO: Breaking and Entering is also a bit of a love story…
It is! All my books, in some way or another end up being about someone who has not fully engaged with the world starting to re-engage. I think that’s because I’m a fundamentally chilly, reserved person. This is wish fulfilment for me.

RO: Which authors influenced you in writing this book?
I grew up reading a lot of people like PG Wodehouse. His books are, in a sense, crime novels, but the crime is always completely nonsensical. But they all do feature an element of someone getting in trouble and that trouble escalating, there is that same feeling of someone getting in over their head.

I actually just wrote an introduction to a new collection of short stories by Wodehouse, called Fine Weather, Jeeves. And I got to read some of Wodehouse’s letters to a friend, and it’s a fascinating insight into the creative process because even in his mid-sixties or seventies, he is sweating over plots and he is working out how to make everything move like clockwork. He does all the work so the readers doesn’t have to. I think those are wonderful books, where the author is making it look easy, yet it conceals a huge amount of labour under the surface. That’s the kind of book I want to write – where the reader has an absolutely fantastic time, but you don’t notice that the rollercoaster is actually structurally sound.

RO: Do you have plans for where Al might go next?
I would very much like to continue having adventures with him. I don’t know if he’s going to be still living in other people’s houses the next time we see him. But he will be up to no good and he will be in places he shouldn’t. Wherever he goes, trouble follows. He’s like Jack Reacher – if Jack Reacher was a coward and also not interested in doing the right thing.

A Beginner’s Guide to Breaking and Entering by Andrew Hunter-Murray is published by Hutchinson Heinemann and available now


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