On Wednesday I was a guest at an event organised by Queen’s University Belfast, as an Irish crime writer. '"Thinking Forward Through the Past", a day of events across Belfast profiling the impact of research within the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.' They mentioned me in the flier and everything, which was quite cool.
My invitation to this event came from Dr Dominique Jeannerod, a French guy with incredibly good taste in Irish crime fiction. I say this with modesty intact; he hasn’t read my books. Yet. The good Dr Jeannerod kicked off the proceedings with a fascinating presentation on the impact of Irish crime fiction in France. Ken Bruen was described as the most famous among this exclusive set of aficionados who have had their work translated and published in France. Stuart Neville is also a prominent diplomat for the genre, and fair play to the Armagh lad for representing the latest generation of Northern Irish crime writers in such a discerning country. I feel qualified to describe French readers as discerning as I paid very close attention to the presentation. It held my interest despite knowing that I was soon to be interviewed by somebody with an impressive and intimidating wealth of knowledge in Irish crime fiction.
And rather than warm me up with a few easy questions, he hit me with this tricky one-two:
Are you comfortable with the description, Irish crime writer?
Are you equally comfortable with being included in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME or is that a contradiction?
Can of worms, meet chainsaw.
I can't remember what I said, word for word, but I'll rehash the gist of it...
I think it took me longer to get comfortable with calling myself a writer than it did to figure out my national identity. It was after the publication of THE POINT, actually, in October 2011. I'd achieved a decent amount before then, short story publications, co-editing a crime fiction anthology and Arts Council funding – I'd come excruciatingly close to publication with my novel WEE ROCKETS a couple of times as well. But it wasn't until I had the pleasure of signing paperback copies of my novella at No Alibis that I could look somebody in the eye and say, “Aye, I'm a writer, so I am.”
The Irish thing? Well, when it comes to ticking boxes on an application form, I'll pick Northern Irish if it's there, Irish if it's not. I was born south of the border but have lived in the North since I was six years old. I say Derry, not Londonderry. It 's a habit that comes from growing up Catholic. But I don't practice the faith I inherited except to go to christenings, weddings and funerals. But, yes, I'm comfortable with calling myself an Irish crime writer. And I'll not turn my nose up at the sub-categorisation of Northern Irish crime writer either.
Do I belong in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME?
Well, I have a British passport. A couple of years ago, I needed one fast and couldn't be arsed going to Dublin for it. How's that for swallowing your cultural heritage? A past version of myself might have been appalled at my lack of Irish pride. Nowadays, I'm not that bothered. It's just a wee red book. And TMBBBC is a big read book. I was honoured to have my story in a collection with some of the biggest names in British crime fiction (and a couple of great Irish writers who were also happy with the contradiction). In fact, I'd probably have been pissed off if being Irish had disqualified me. That British passport entitles me, you know!
The event lasted an hour and a half, but Dr Jeannerod (he may prefer Dominique, but I really like the look of Dr Jeannerod) didn't get through all of his questions. I got a copy of them from him and over the next week I'm going to select a handful and basically interview myself... with somebody else's questions. If that seems horribly self-indulgent to you, consider this post fair warning and avoid the blog for a week two.