The unweekly herding: never cross swords with crime writers

Eureka! I’ve finally stumbled on the perfect title for my not-so-regular news round-up – one that reflects the proudly ad hoc nature of my information sharing. Say hello to the annoyingly tweaked The Unweekly Herding…

The passion of crime

‘There’s been a literary bloodbath, Lewis’

As literary spats go, a highly entertaining one has been raging in this country over the past week or so. It all started with a throwaway comment by an American academic in an Irish Times article. In a rather odd feature, Professor William O’Rourke wrote at length of the struggles faced by his former protégé, Irish-born author Michael Collins. Collins, according to Professor O’Rourke, has always been slightly out of step, a “literary outsider” despite being an extremely talented writer. So far, so empathetic. But the quote that got people riled was in reference to Collins’ recent attempt to write a crime novel, seemingly with the hope of attracting readers to his other, more high-brow work:

‘Michael, unfortunately, had, has, too much talent to succeed as a crime writer. He doesn’t possess the fatal lack of talent required. He asks too much of a reader.’

Twitter was soon, well, atwitter and then no fewer than 13 well-known Irish crime writers subsequently responded , also in the Irish Times, to this “fatal lack of talent” comment. Their views ranged from William Ryan’s dignified:

‘There are excellent crime novels and there are bad ones, depending on one’s point of view – but that applies to every category into which we divide fiction, including literary fiction.’

to John Banville’s feisty observation:

‘Lack of talent? Georges Simenon; Margery Allingham; Raymond Chandler; Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark; James M Cain; Dashiell Hammett; Ngaio Marsh; Jim Thompson; Edmund Crispin . . . and that’s only a handful of the dead ones. I rest my case.’

…to Steve Cavanagh’s witty conclusion:

‘William O’Rourke’s comments that crime writers lack talent and that white males get a raw deal in publishing were a little surprising. I look forward to his next piece focusing on his experience being amongst the one-hundred-and-eleventy million people who attended Donald Trump’s inauguration.’

The comment certainly hit a nerve, namely an awareness of the literary elite’s breezy dismissal of genre fiction. It’s something that crime writers in this instance were not willing to take lying down – and good for them.

And the debate still hasn’t ended, with O’Rourke doing what a cynic might describe as damage limitation in yesterday’s Irish Times to clarify his comments, and Michael Collins himself pitching in with another opinion piece on why he decided to write a crime novel. If the goal was to increase Collins’ profile, it has certainly achieved that. However, at the moment, the PR machine calls to mind nothing more than the Tunnel of Goats scenes in Fr Ted.

Short story competition

000a31f0-642The Seán Ó Faoláin International Short Story Prize 2017 is now open for entries. The generous first prize for this prestigious Cork-based competition is €2,000, as well as a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat on the Beara Peninsula, west Cork, and publication in the Southword literary journal. And if the winner comes to Cork for the prize-giving, the Munster Literature Centre will provide hotel accommodation, meals, drinks and VIP access to the Cork International Short Story Festival (which runs September 13-16, 2017).

Second prize is €500 and publication in Southword. Four shortlisted stories will also be selected for publication in Southword and receive a publication fee of €120.

Stories should be a maximum of 3,000 words and there is no theme. The entry fee is €15 (US $20 or £15). The closing date for entries is July 31. All of last year’s finalists are available to read online here if you care to have a look, including Shauna Mackay’s winning story The Idyllic Land of the 6’s.


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