Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Irish Crime Writing, Unicorns And Other Mythical Beasts

It’s been a funny old week, folks. I posted a couple of pieces in relation to the absence of Irish crime writers at various Irish literary festivals this summer (I use ‘summer’ in the loosest definition of the term, obviously), the gist of said pieces being that Irish crime writers are under-represented at such events, and up with this we shall not put, etc.
  As a result of the modest but positive feedback to the posts, I took myself off to make inquiries (for the most part funding-related) as to how this situation might be rectified next year, this on the basis that if you want something done, you’re best off doing it yourself. Said inquiries were well received, I have to say, and I’d be pretty hopeful, even at this early stage, that there’ll be more Irish writers represented at the various festivals next year.
  But all along, and even while engaging with this process, I was wondering if it’s the right tack to pursue.
  Are Irish crime writers entitled to believe that they have a right to be taking their place at said literary festivals?
  I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll be saying it again: there are many very good Irish crime novels being published right now. Given the size of our population, which is roughly that of Greater Chicago, the quantity of quality Irish crime novels is very impressive indeed. And this in itself, surely, says something about the culture from which this relatively new phenomenon springs.
  Are they sufficient reasons to have Irish crime writing represented at literary festivals?
  The glib and self-serving answer is, Yes, of course.
  The honest answer is, I really don’t know.
  It probably goes without saying that I’m hopelessly compromised when it comes to answering this question, given that this blog was initially set up to celebrate the fact that a number of Irish crime writers were producing world-class work.
  I still believe that. But even taking that bias on board, what I’m wondering now, and have been wondering for quite some time, is whether it’s reasonable and / or logical to attempt to encapsulate the work of a number of very good Irish crime writers in the phrase ‘Irish crime writing’.
  Personally, I think I’ve been trying to stuff a lot of square pegs into a single round hole.
  Yes, there are a lot of writers who are Irish who are publishing novels that can be considered crime or mystery fiction, or thrillers, or noir, or a half-dozen variations on all of those terms. That doesn’t automatically equate with ‘a phenomena of Irish crime writing’.
  That suggests to me that I’ve been coming at this idea of literary festivals all wrong - believing, essentially, that ‘Irish crime writing’ should be represented at such festivals by one or more of its practitioners.
  I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t been blundering up a very long blind alley. I’ve discovered some fantastic writers in the process, and read some great books, and made some good friends.
  But a blind alley is a blind alley.
  Meanwhile, out in the meritocracy of the real world, and particularly in the US and the UK, individual Irish crime writers are critically acclaimed best-sellers. This, obviously, is because of their own worth, and not because they are in the vanguard of some notional ‘Irish crime writing’ scene.
  I suppose what I’m asking myself at the moment is whether it’s worth it to continue on doing what I’ve been doing, which can very often feel like banging my head against the brick wall at the end of that blind alley.
  Those funding-related inquiries I mentioned seem as if they’ll pay dividends in a year or so - but the number of hoops I’d have to jump through to make it happen are many and complicated. I’m talking about drawing up mission statements, drafting proposals, arranging for and taking meetings - all of which are a massive drain on time and resources that I really can’t afford.
  My head says that following through on my initial inquiries is probably the smart thing to do. My heart says that it’s a good thing to do.
  My gut says, No.
  My gut is telling me that Crime Always Pays has been running for five years and more at this stage, and that with the best will in the world it delivers very little by way of real worth to the writers I mention here.
  My gut is telling me that the law of diminishing returns is at work here.
  My gut is also very aware that I’ll be starting into a new novel in the very near future, a tricky one that will be very difficult to get right. What I’ll need is time; what I won’t need is distractions.
  So I think I’m going to let the funding-related inquiries slide. The possibilities are there; if anyone is interested in taking the idea(s) further, and wants to contact me privately, I’m more than happy to pass on the contact details.
  In the meantime, I’m off on my holidays. See you back here in a couple of weeks ...


Gerard Brennan said...

You've done more than enough for the scene, mate. If the hoop-jumping is going to steal too much of your time, I don't think anybody could blame you for letting them slide. Enjoy your holiday.


Louise said...

For what its worth my general feelings on the subject matter are, (and I hasten to add I'm no expert) that a discrimination against the crime genre certainly does exist. Perhaps this is one of the downsides of being put into a genre in the first place. The work done by blogs like Crime Always Pays do a lot to open an awareness to the variety and quality of writings within crime fiction, afterall, it is through ignorance that discrimination flourishes. Sorry, but you've got me on a hobby horse now. I was shocked by some reactions I received from writer friends when they heard I'd written a crime novel. Things like, so that's what you're into now, or whispering things like, I love crime, as if it was some form of dirty secret. I don't know about the whole idea of Irish Crime Writing as a movement, but again, I'm no expert. I think if there is an aim worth pushing for, its the promotion of great writing, and to endeavour to eradicate any negative bias which gets in the way of readers reading good books. Now off to make a cup of tea. Have a brill holiday Declan - hope its somewhere sunny:)

Dana King said...

If anyone has earned the right to question the status quo on this question, it is you, thourgh your wok here and other of your endeavors.

I do question one comment in this post. To wit:

This, obviously, is because of their own worth, and not because they are in the vanguard of some notional ‘Irish crime writing’ scene.

Any nation's "scene" of anything is made up of piling individuals on individuals. Memphis became a blues hotbed because a lot of great musicians came form there. Those individuals created that "scene." It's just that no one is aware there even is a scene in a specific location until enough individuals have risen to make it obvious, then people start to have "come from it."

Ireland right now has a disproportionate number of excellent crime writers. Why? Who knows. But if it keeps up, they will indeed be the vanguard of what comes after, if only because they will inspire others to follow their path.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Enjoy your holidays, slacker.

seana said...

There is a phenomenon called Irish crime writing, but it's not your job to telegraph the fact to the world at large.

Just keep writing. That's sufficient.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, every Irish crime writer whose work I know, with one possible exception, I know directly or indirectly through you.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Richard L. Pangburn said...

Heck, you just need to keep on keeping on. Stay authentic.

The "scene" is a fickle thing. McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the 1950s made society stifling, severely conformist.

The beats created the scene in Greenwich Village--socialist, jazzy, poetic, anti-establishment. Along came folk music, a new scene, but the beats stayed where they were and didn't participate.

Then folk music divided. The purists stuck to traditional songs and the new scene, with Bob Dylan, started writing their own music, contemporary and socially aware.

The anti-establishment then went mainstream. Folk music became pop, the Kingston Trio, the Brothers Four, Dylan and others. Thomaa Frank, in his book THE CONQUEST of COOL, showed how the mainstream commercial media took the appearance of being cool and sold it to the masses.

Ushering in a new scene of conformity to what was perceived as cool. When the appearance of maverickism became fashionable, the real mavericks in the population again became outcasts and invisible.

We don't want to read about the conformists; we want to read about the alienated, the outcasts, the smothered rebels. People like our true repressed selves.

Bob Dylan, in THE CHRONICLES, volume one, writes of the scene in New York, and says that what attracted him was not protest songs, but "songs of rebellion," Oedipal perhaps, but still songs of the disenfranchised, the dispossessed.

Dylan says he started going to the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street, which was mainly an Irish bar.

"All through the night they would sing drinking songs, country ballads and rousing rebel songs that would lift the roof. The rebellion songs were a really serious thing."

"The language was flashy and provocative--a lot of action in the words, all sung with great gusto. The Irish singer always had a merry light in his eye--had to have it. I loved these songs...even in a simple, melodic wooing ballad there'd be rebellion waiting around the corner. You couldn't escape it."

That spirit of rebellion is there in spades in ABSOLUTE COOL ZERO, and I would like to see it in every thriller. It doesn't have to be concrete; in fact, it is better when it is an ambiguous enough peg to allow the reader to hang his own rebellious hat upon it and twirl it around.

And at the end, we need to hear either "Olde Lang Syne" (if it isn't noir) or Dave Van Ronk's "Last Call" (if it is).

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