Saturday 20 April 2013

#QUBimpact Bonus Material

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.


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.


Stuart Neville said...

Very interesting post, Gerard. Your sense of national identity, in that it doesn't conform to the either/or dogma, is becoming more the norm in Norn Iron of recent surveys and census results are anything to go by. As someone from Protestant background, I have no problem with being Irish, Northern Irish, British, or any combination of the three. Like you, I'd tick the Northern Irish box before anything else.

I think most people here have moved beyond the cultural and political ghettos of unionism and nationalism. The shame of it is the politicians haven't. While most ordinary voters are primarily concerned with keeping food on their tables, the education and health of their children, their prospects of holding on to their jobs - you know, the sort of thing most people in the developed world are preoccupied with - our political system is still organised around a constitutional question that few people are really asking these days. We've made a lot of progress here, but still our elections are essentially sectarian head counts. I may do a more detailed blog post about that myself over the coming weeks.

It's also interesting that a French interviewer cuts straight to the politics. It's been my experience of touring in France that journalists there are far more interested in the politics of my writing than anything else. It gets a little awkward when they expect me to have detailed insights into our past, present and future. Which I don't.

Gerard Brennan said...

Thanks for dropping by, Stuart. Your thoughtful insights are always welcome here, sir.

Ah, the politicians. I look forward to your post. No doubt I'll nick the phrase, "sectarian head counts" in the near future too. There's a ring (of truth) to it.

I've pitched the idea of a new NI political party to friends more than once after a few pints. It hasn't taken off yet. Probably because I end up making it sound more like a weird hippy cult than anything else. The idea could use some refinement, by somebody who's less of an eejit than me.

Dominique mentioned to me more than once that it's the potential for political insight that attracts French readers to NI crime fiction books. He was talking about you and Eoin McNamee at the time, interestingly enough. And although it's not set in Belfast, I'd love to know what your French fans make of Ratlines when it's translated.