Yes, it’s true. Book Nanny is basking in a crime-writerly glow following a fantastic day-and-a-bit of Irish crime fiction discussions at Trinity College, Dublin last weekend. On offer was a veritable feast of top-class, bestselling Irish crime writers spanning a wide range of crime fiction. The Friday evening panel discussed how and why we write and read crime fiction and provided a taster of some of the topics to come. There was a lot of talk about ‘justice’ and ‘law’ (surprisingly little about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, I thought) and the allure of the outsider or maverick battling against a corrupt system.
First up on Saturday was the historical crime fiction panel. Conor Brady told us how he set out to write a historical novel and wrote crime fiction instead (at least according to his publisher). Stuart Neville was less concerned about being boxed in by genres by pointing out that most readers don’t limit themselves to one genre, and that despite his publisher’s fears, his latest crime novel set in 1963 had won him both crime and historical fiction readers – a win-win by all standards. The panellists also discussed how crime fiction can get at the ‘underbelly’ of an society, why they were drawn to certain historical periods and places, how they generally set their novels in places they either know or have a connection to and how research is the key to confident characterisation.
In the Irish crime fiction abroad discussion, while Jane Casey declared herself inspired primarily by the traditions UK crime fiction, John Connolly spoke passionately about how American crime fiction had inspired him to write his US-based supernatural crime fiction as an escape from the drabness and limitations of 1980’s Ireland. Arlene Hunt gave a more practical explanation for the setting of her US-based novel – the necessity of finding a geographical location that would leave her killer undisturbed by hikers and dog walkers as he goes about his murderous business. This panel also spoke about the Irish sense and use of language and what part this plays in their identity as Irish writers even when their novels are set in another country – a topic also discussed by the historical crime fiction authors. But then as one of the writers pointed out – the past is another country.
The crime fiction and contemporary Ireland panel talked about the relationship between the crime fiction writer and true crime in Ireland, and, in this context, elaborated on the discussion begun in the Friday evening session: did the shadow of the Troubles in Northern Ireland keep Irish authors away from crime fiction in the past? Louise Phillips explained that she had set her novel in Ireland despite being told it wasn’t ‘sexy’, and how her first novel was inspired by her fears for her daughters, thereby providing a possible answer to the question from the earlier panel as to why women write about such horrible things being done to women. Are they perhaps exploring their own darkest fears?
Then to the highlight of the evening – John Connolly’s interview with US crime author, Michael Connelly, creator of the Harry Bosch crime series. Michael talked about how he had progressed long-standing characters over a period of more than 20 years, how he had given is lawyer character, Mickey Haller a connection to Harry Bosch because he liked character and wanted to keep him. He spoke about choosing the actor to play Harry Bosch in the TV pilot, which had just finished filming, and how his decision to age Harry Bosch in real time impacted on the novels. As Harry is nearing retirement in the books, they changed his age and other background stuff for the TV pilot, but the good news is that Michael Connelly intends writing as much about him before he (Harry) retires, so fans like myself can hopefully look forward to one or two more Bosch novels in the next year or so. Can’t wait.
Congratulations to Trinity College and all involved (sponsors included Glucksman Irish House at New York University and the Gathering) for organising this festival, which, by the way was free of charge for all discussions, apart from the Michael Connelly interview, where a small fee was charged. Hopefully this will be the first of many such festivals to come.
Full list of panellists: Conor Brady, Declan Burke, Jane Casey, Paul Charles, John Connolly, Conor Fitzgerald, Alan Glynn, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Gene Kerrigan, Kevin McCarthy, Brian McGilloway, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Niamh O’Connor, Louise Phillips and Michael Russell.