It’s a very nice line-up indeed, and the best of luck to the Festival. Here’s hoping it’s the start of many a fine year’s skirling and, well, whatever it is the Scots do when there’s no one around to keep manners on them.
A similar, Irish-themed event was run in Dublin a few years back, featuring the cream of Irish crime authors plus some interesting international guests, but it was pretty much a bust. It didn’t help that the event coincided with what turned out to be the only weekend of sunshine that summer, but even beforehand the advance sales had been sluggish. Is there an appetite among Irish readers to sit down and listen to writers talk about writing and books? Is it simply the case that Irish crime writers aren’t interesting enough to Irish readers to draw the crowds?
There are two literary festivals taking place in Ireland in the next couple of weeks. The Listowel festival kicks off on May 31st, while the Dublin Writers Festival begins a week later, on June 4th. Unless you’re prepared to consider Aifric Campbell and Kevin Power crime writers - and I don’t think either author considers themselves a crime writer - then there isn’t so much as a whiff of cordite to be had at either festival.
That’s a pity, because there’s some very interesting Irish crime writers publishing novels roundabout now: Conor Fitzgerald, Jane Casey, Tana French, Brian McGilloway, Niamh O’Connor, Conor Brady, Michael Clifford … But there’s more - or rather, less. Because the Dalkey Book Festival runs from June 15th to 17th, and crime writers are again conspicuous by their absence. Yes, the excellent Eoin McNamee will be in attendance, but running the eye over all the other contributors suggests that the organisers would be horrified to discover that McNamee is considered a crime writer in less than salubrious places; and Derek Landy is taking part, but I’d imagine that that’s on the strength of his success as a children’s author, as opposed to Skulduggery Pleasant being a wise-crackin’ undead private eye-type.
And then there’s the West Cork Literary Festival, which runs July 8th to 14th and which is entirely devoid of Irish crime writers. It does, however, feature husband-and-wife team Nicci French, and another husband-and-wife team, Edward Marston and Judith Cutler. A pity there was no room for the Irish husband-and-wife writing team Kevin and Melissa Hill, but there you go, there’s no sense in being parochial about such things, is there?
Meanwhile, and back to the Listowel Writers Festival, where there is a panel discussion on Thursday night, May 31st, titled (koff) ‘Towards a National Strategy on Literature’. To wit:
A panel discussion with The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, author Colm Tóibín, Sinéad MacAodha, The Irish Literature Exchange and Sean Lyons, Chairman of Writers’ Week. It is time that we develop a national literary and strategic policy in Ireland. We will take a step forward, evoke ideas, delve into where we are and where we are going … ask controversial but fundamental questions …‘Delve into where we are and where we are going …’
I could be very, very crude about where literary Ireland is right now, and cruder still about where it’s going. But that won’t solve anything.
The knee-jerk reaction is to suggest that Irish crime writers should hold and host their own festival next year, along the lines of Bloody Scotland, or Harrogate or Crimefest in England, or the Bouchercon in the US; but Ireland is a small place, and there’s the very real danger of confirming the status quo, of reinforcing a ghetto mentality; like the standalone Crime Fiction category at the Irish Book Awards, it suggests that Irish crime writers need to be corralled off from real books, from proper fiction, and given a special award and a pat on the head.
The irony is that it’s Irish crime writers who are ‘delving into where we are and where we are going’ as a nation, but it’s a real Catch 22 scenario right now for Irish crime writers: if you demand attention, you’re accused of special pleading; if you shrug and grit your teeth, you’re ignored.
So what to do?
Over to you, people. I’m all ears …