Anyway, Seamus Scanlon was in Listowel for the week that was in it, and was kind enough to ask if I’d like to take a report on Squire Hughes’ workshop. To wit:
This year’s Listowel Writers’ Week, May 27- May 31st, included a very accomplished workshop on crime fiction run by Declan Hughes. Declan traced the origin of crime fiction (noir version) from the writing of Dashiell Hammett (1896-1961) and Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) to Ross Macdonald (1915- 1983) and beyond. Macdonald is regarded as a near perfect stylist by many including Declan Hughes who lists him as his biggest influence. Other noir crime fiction authors discussed included Richard Stark, George V. Higgins and David Peace. Many other crime novelists were mentioned for various reasons including John Buchan, John Connolly, Elmore Leonard, Cornell Woolrich and Lawrence Block.
We discussed the police procedural novel versus the PI novel, the criminal as the protagonist versus the orthodox police/PI investigator, point of view, research, whether back-stories are necessary, the concept of series versus one off novels, finding your authentic voice, sense of place and prologues.
Declan, although a relatively recent arrival to writing crime fiction, has made a big impact to date with his Ed Loy series, winning a Shamus award for his first novel THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD and a 2009 Edgar nomination for THE PRICE OF BLOOD. THE COLOUR OF BLOOD is currently on the shortlist for the 2009 Crime Novel of the Year at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, July 23rd-26th. His current offering is ALL THE DEAD VOICES.
Declan was an intense reader and analyst of crime fiction since his teens and this long term immersion shone through during the workshop. As an accomplished playwright, producer and director since he founded Rough Magic Theatre Company 20 years ago, perhaps his writing ability is not a surprise. This theatrical tradition may also explain his strong regard for dialogue in crime fiction which he demonstrated to us from selected readings of various authors.
Apart from his knowledge and writing he has a more subtle skill which lies in hosting and directing a workshop – this involves the ability to build rapport with the participants, lead the discussion and impart knowledge. He listened closely to the crime writing exercises he assigned us (we read them aloud), provided direction and encouragement and did it with a great sense of humour.
Many of the ideas from the workshop participants were innovative and arresting. The crime fiction plots they developed were well thought out and good enough to be commercial successes.
Declan’s spontaneous high energy laughter and genuine interest in our attempts to shape our sometimes macabre stories convinced us all he was a natural born teacher. At the end of the workshop he was surrounded by almost every participant getting books signed – the ultimate accolade for any writer!
Kudos are due to the fifteen workshop participants who are essential for the success of any workshop. Thanks also to the Listowel Writers’ Festival for including a crime fiction workshop along with the more traditional workshops on memoir, short stories, drama, the novel and song writing. The prose of Chandler and Hammett is now recognized as work of great literary merit (published by the Library of America for example). In time, other crime fiction writers will join that category.
Special thanks also to Eilish Wren and her team for coordinating the workshop schedules. – Seamus Scanlon