I headed to Smock Alley Theatre last Thursday, for Inspiring Crime Writers (part of the 5th Dublin Book Festival which showcases a host of Ireland’s emerging and established authors), to hear some of Ireland’s top crime writers discuss their work.
Inspiring Crime Writers was chaired by Louise Phillips, author of Red Ribbons, and her guests on the night were Niamh O’Connor and Conor Brady.
Niamh is the author of three crime novels; her latest, Too Close for Comfort. She is also the true crime editor for the Sunday World.
Conor published his debut crime novel, A June of Ordinary Murders, earlier this year. He was formerly editor of The Irish Times.
And just in case you were not already aware – Too Close for Comfort and Red Ribbons are two of the six nominated books shortlisted, under Crime Fiction, for the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2012.
Louise introduced Conor and Niamh and this fabulous night kicked off.
After more than forty years writing only the truth, Conor began writing his first novel, pushing the boundaries to see just how creative he could be. With his interest in history, it was no surprise that his novel is set in a turbulent time in Irish history – Dublin in June 1887. An extraordinary time of change; the Land War at their height and the Parnell split, producing an Ireland of divided loyalties.
What started out as an historical novel eventually developed into crime fiction and Conor delighted the audience by reading an extract from A June of Ordinary Murders.
Niamh, on the other hand, writes about contemporary Ireland. Her novels reflecting a modern Ireland, where her characters, both villains and victims, reflect the crimes we read about every day and portray the effect on society. Niamh draws on real-life for her fiction. A world where it can be hard to get to the truth and how far should we go to get that truth? There is a balance, but some are of the opinion that the pendulum has now swung back too far the other way. She suggests that boundaries must be set to achieve balance, but where exactly do you draw the line?
Niamh read an extract from her latest novel, Too Close for Comfort, to an enraptured audience.
Louise asked each writer about research for their books and whether there was such a thing as too much research.
Conor felt that, as a journalist, you are taught to gather as much information as you can, store it all up and then only use a fraction of it – the tyranny of facts!
Niamh was of a similar opinion, but also felt, that this may be why so many journalists used their background as a vehicle for crime fiction.
It seems impossible to pinpoint exactly where our interest in crime fiction comes from. Is it to learn from the past? Conor felt that history was in a way safer to write, looking at things from the distance of years, while Niamh also believed that showing the history of our time, writing about modern Ireland – the here and now was what intrigued her.
Louise noted that both writers had chosen a gender neutral name for their main character. Conor’s main character is Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow while Niamh’s main character is Detective Superintendent Jo Birmingham. She asked if either writer could see themselves ever writing as the opposite gender.
Conor jested that it might be too hard to get inside the mind of a female character, while Niamh is planning to get into the head of her male character, Gavin Sexton, for her next novel.
Writing A June of Ordinary Murders, was for Conor, a liberating experience after years of factual journalism – being able to draw creatures out of the air and embellish them.
Niamh loves being able to let off steam in fiction, noting that truth is often stranger – it would be impossible to make this stuff up!
Finishing off the night with questions from the audience, the age old question of writing routine raised its head.
Conor as a journalist wrote whenever and wherever he could find a space – even a phone box! But for his novel he tended to aim for a couple of hours in the morning, between 9am and 12pm with another hour in the evening. Niamh writes between 5am and 7am and whatever time she can manage to claw back throughout her busy day. Whilst Louise writes between 6am and 9am daily.
So, as well as talent of course, early morning writing appears to be the key to success. I’ve taken note!
Smock Alley Theatre has quite a history; opening in 1662, it was the first Theatre Royal built in Dublin – and it was actually the first theatre outside London to receive the title. But over the years, it has had many incarnations. In the mid-1700’s, it was on this stage that David Garrick (known as the greatest actor of the 18th century) first played Hamlet. Smock Alley closed as a theatre in 1787 and was, for a time, used as a whiskey store. Later it became a church. In 1811 when its bell tolled – it was the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly three hundred years. In 1989, due to falling numbers of parishioners, it was deconsecrated and spent time as part of the ‘Viking Adventure’ before closing down in 2002. Eventually returning to its roots, in May 2012, after a six year renovation, Smock Alley Theatre reopened its doors as Dublin’s oldest newest theatre.
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, is currently editing her debut novel – a crime fiction thriller set in New York City. Awards include First Prize for her short story in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards, 2012 and Long Listed in the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition, 2012. Publications include Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology, 2012; www.fivestopstory.com and South of the County: New Myths and Tales.
Blog Link: http://susancondon.wordpress.com