Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Obligation to Tell the Truth

Hi folks

Just wanted to stir up some pre-release publicity for Gallows Lane and the Pan paperback of Borderlands, which will be on sale from 4th April.
Crime Always Pays has posted the first review of Gallows Lane here.

In addition Shots Magazine are running a feature on the books here.

Finally, Declan at Crime Always Pays has allowed me to guest blog. My first posting follows and deals with the obligation to tell the truth in crime fiction. I’m interested to know what non-crime writers think about this? Do you feel a similar obligation in your particular genre (if you are a genre writer) to tell the ‘truth’?

‘The Obligation to Tell the Truth’
This past week in Strabane, a twenty seven year old man was abducted, taken just over the border, shot twice in the chest, and left to die outside a small Catholic church. The man’s murder caused outrage and rumour in equal measure in the local area.
Twenty miles away, a man having served eight years of a sixteen year sentence for the rape of a 91 year old woman who died two weeks later of a heart attack perhaps precipitated by her ordeal, was released from prison and moved into a small farmhouse near a community with a number of lone, aged females. Those in the surrounding area have no control over who has moved into their midst. Some argue that the man has served his sentence. Others argue that his seeming lack of remorse and refusal to comply with police procedures make him unsafe in such a community.
These two events have unsurprisingly featured highly in our local media this past week. However, on a more personal level, in recent days, over a dozen of my colleagues have smiled knowingly at me and said; ‘That’s the plot of your next book taken care of then, eh?’
Whilst the comment was, for the most part, intended in a good-humoured way, and I’m not in the least egotistical enough to see a link between the two things, it did set me thinking. Firstly, I found the recent shooting both shocking and deeply frightening. Strabane/Lifford is a small, fairly tight-knit community. Murders happening in large cities are somehow more anonymous, though none the less horrible for that. In a small community though, it’s perfectly possible that the man who pulled the trigger that killed the 27 year old Strabane man, or who raped a 91 year old spinster, could be standing behind my wife and children in the corner shop, could be the person who drives the bus into town, offers you the Sign of Peace in Church. Someone who thought little of taking another person’s life in such a brutal and violent manner.
Secondly, the quip about the Devlin books also gave me pause for thought. As I started drafting book 4, The Rising, I found myself questioning the use of violence and crime in the books I write and those I read. In a time when Hollywood seems preoccupied with violence as the new pornography, is there something deeply flawed in using crime for entertainment?
But that, to my mind, disregards the purpose of crime fiction. I wrote my first novel around the time of the birth of my first son. I am convinced that that event was at least a catalyst in my writing. Nothing creates an awareness of the threats of the world quite as much as a new-born child. Particularly in post-Troubles Ireland, where a mixture of the Ceasefire and increased affluence has, paradoxically, seemed to create more criminal activity. And as the cases of this week show, all too often justice is not done, or those who commit crimes not necessarily brought to justice in a manner most people would like.
Yet crime fiction allows that to happen, imposing some form of morality and order on a world that seems increasingly lacking in both. Our detectives in books achieve clearance rates massively above the average in Ireland. And perhaps offer us some vicarious hope that good will always triumph. The books themselves allow us to safely face our fears, safe in the knowledge that some form of resolution will be imposed in a manner unlike real life, much as the ancient Greeks experienced catharsis watching dramatic tragedies.
Whilst I wouldn’t claim that crime fiction necessarily matches Greek Tragedy, its purpose and its appeal in raising difficult issues to a wide reading public far outstrips most literary novels. James Lee Burke argues that it is the artist’s obligation to ‘tell the truth about the period he lives in and to expose those who exploit their fellow man.’ I believe few genres are as well placed to do this in modern Ireland than the crime novel and so, as I started writing The Rising today, I did so, not with a voyeuristic use of violence, but a dedication to deal truthfully with issues that affect myself, my children, and those who live in Ireland in 2008. In this I believe I am no different from any other writer named in this blog over the past year.
And I am proud to be among their ranks.


Ellie said...

One of the reasons I like reading your books, Brian, is because they show a country at such an interesting point in its history. We don't get much in the media now about post-Troubles Northern Ireland. I often wonder what happens to, say, the gunmen. Do they hand in their guns and take up evening classes instead? What happens when prisoners are released and return to their communities?

I can't wait to read the next book and see what your characters make of it all.

Unknown said...

That's interesting, Brian - I, too, started writing crime fiction at the time my daughter was born. In a strange way, it helped me to deal with the anxieties I had about the world she was coming into. In a move that made more sense I also adopted a rhino because I wanted to make sure there would be rhinos when she grew up. Parenthood does strange things to a person.

Obviously we're trying to express and understand some deep fears when we write crime fiction. I wonder if readers of crime fiction are trying to achieve the same thing?

David Isaak said...

I usually write as a way of thinking about something that bothers me.

I'm not sure I solve much this way, nor am I sure how much truth I tell, but it's a more concrete way of grappling with uncomfortable issues than simply sighing and moving on.

Brian McGilloway said...

Hi all and thanks for your comments.

Eliza - thanks for your kind words about the books. It's a strange time to be living in over here, as reflected perhaps in the sheer volume of crime fiction coming from Ireland.

Aliya - I think parenthood has a profound impact on the way you view the world. We've planted trees to mark the birth of both our children - sponsoring a rhino seems really cool though. Something to bear in mind for the future...

David - it must be fairly difficult not to write about what's going on in terms of the US foreign policy at the minute, even if implicitly rather than explicitly. Is writing then a way to put into some type of order that which has no order or sense in the real world? Or to simply highlight the lack of order? I'm not sure we have to solve things - simply raising the issues and asking the questions is enough from a writer's view point, I suspect.