Graham Norton on his novel ‘A Keeper’ @ Manchester Literature Festival

As Graham Norton settles into an interview with host Alex Clark to talk about his new book, A Keeper, something feels cosmically correct. Synonymous with the craft of storytelling, whether through radio or the scores of famous faces who have appeared on his TV show, Norton has made a name for himself unearthing surprising and hilarious fragments from peoples’ lives.

Image of book cover for 'A Keeper' by Graham Norton

Credit: Hodder & Stoughton

Published a couple of days prior the event, A Keeper follows Norton’s debut novel, Holding. To avoid being reprimanded by the “spoiler police” there is a limited amount that can be discussed about the novel. Instead the conversation focuses on the book’s broader themes and how they interlink with our social consciousness. The novel is set in rural Ireland, and Norton talks concisely and eloquently about the country’s difficulties changing its attitudes in the 21st century. “We need to fashion an Ireland that’s fit for purpose,” he states, with such passion that a rallying cheer is roused from the audience. The recent abortion referendum, gay marriage and religious sectarianism are topics that at first seem so astutely political that it takes a moment to register that it’s the sarcastic, glitzy TV star discussing them with such vigour. This side to Norton is refreshing to see, to watch him so confidently expose his views while retaining his warmth and accessibility.

Aside from liberal politics, Graham Norton has wise words to impart for creatives or those seeking a new lease of life. “I learnt you are never too old to reinvent yourself,” he says when queried about his decision to start writing fiction. When the floor is opened up for questions, a young student asks how Norton tackles procrastination, claiming she spent an entire morning looking at images of baby penguins rather than writing an essay. She is reassured that you have to allow yourself to indulge in your distractions, it’s also part of his process. Throughout the Q&A Norton facilitates the room with ease, balancing clear, well-rounded responses with incredibly sharp humour. This never feels forced, despite it possibly being rehearsed for continuity. He remains sublimely humble, an admirable blend of familiarity and otherness.

This series of talks for the Manchester Literature Festival need not simply be for avid readers. Aside from the obvious appeal of seeing a celebrity with such acclaim as Graham Norton, we were witness to an important dialogue about stories, heritage, communication and growing up, executed with the charm and wit myself and the 300 middle-aged women in the audience were hoping for.

Manchester Literature Festival runs until 21 October