Monday 6 October 2008

An Interview - Ruth Dudley Edwards

Born in Dublin in 1944 and educated in University College Dublin, Ruth Dudley Edwards has worked in England as a teacher, postgraduate student, marketing executive and senior civil servant, before becoming in 1979 a full-time biographer, historian, freelance journalist and broadcaster. Her non-fiction includes biographies of Patrick Pearse and James Connolly and The Faithful Tribe: an intimate portrait of the loyal institutions.

The targets of her eleven satirical crime novels include the civil service, gentlemen’s clubs, a Cambridge college, the House of Lords, the Church of England, and a literary prize and an Indiana campus. The Anglo-Irish Murders is set in Ireland and is a satire on the peace process.

Favourite review extract: ‘This blithe series puts itself on the side of the angels by merrily, and staunchly, subverting every tenet of political correctness.’ Patricia Craig

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

Since early 2000 I’ve been involved with victims who decided to take a civil case against the Real IRA and five men they allege bombed Omagh. At first I helped raise money and then I became the chronicler of the case, which after innumerable delays went to court in April. Aftermath: the Omagh bombing and the families’ pursuit of justice will tell the story of ordinary people who took on not only terrorists but all those powerful figures who wanted them just to shut up.

I’m also writing Killing the Emperors, a crime novel about the lunatic world of contemporary art.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

As my journalism, non-fiction and fiction all feed upon each other, I have enough ideas to keep me writing for decades: my major frustration is not having time to see more than a few of them through.

Once upon a time I could write a book and do nothing else: my first crime novel was written in fourteen days. Now, owing to my having three jobs, an excellent book-writing day would be when I’m not in court in Belfast or Dublin watching legal squabbles, spend only three hours or so answering emails and reading newspapers on and off the net, have no more than an hour or so on the phone, do no socialising and don’t have to write an article. Then I might manage four or five hours on the main project.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Mostly carouse with my many delightful friends, or, when I’m beyond doing anything useful, watch brain-rot reality tv: Big Brother or Celebrity Big Brother are my favourites and have been a great inspiration for my next crime novel

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

Life and the publishing world is unfair, so avoid exaggerated expectations; sit down and get on with it; and get to know crime writers, whom you should find a constant source of encouragement and diversion. More importantly, just because it was Ernest Hemingway who said it, don’t ignore the truth that you should write what you know. What’s more, unless you have an exceptional imagination, you need to live in order to have anything to write about.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

I have almost no time to read for pleasure and when I do I often head for comedy. I recently particularly enjoyed the mordant Suzette Hill (A Load of Old Bones), the hilarious Donna Moore, whose Go to Helena Handbasket is a parody of the whole crime-writing genre, and the old master, Reginald Hill (The Roar of the Butterflies).

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I’ve just finished and hugely enjoyed Christopher Marsh’s A Year in the Province, which is brutally funny about Belfast academics and paramilitaries.

Q7. Plans for the future?

When I’ve finished being rude about contemporary artists and critics and gallery owners, I’ll be going after lawyers. Yes, yes, I know it’s been done often, and yes, yes, I have some very good friends in that line of business, however……………

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I like adventure and variety, so I’ve much enjoyed the unexpected twists and turns my writing career has taken and wouldn’t change anything.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Getting repetitive strain injury while working on the history of The Economist. I hit the deadline of the 150th anniversary with about five minutes to spare.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

After a quarter-of-a-century on the crime scene it’s a joy to see the explosion of Irish talent. I’ve met John Connolly in Indiana, Declan Hughes in Alaska, Declan Burke in Bristol, Brian McGilloway in Bangor and the same crew and several more in Dublin. For years I’ve been on Brit panels in the US (I regard myself as British and Irish, so that doesn’t bother me), but next July I’ll be chairing an Irish panel at the Harrogate festival. The Irish are on a roll: go for it, lads and ladettes, and put two fingers up to the pretentious literati who despise us (see Carnage on the Committee - where I give contemporary literary fiction a good kicking).

Thank you, Ruth Dudley Edwards!

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