Belfast

Belfast-Munich-Dublin: An Interview with Ellen Dunne

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Interview with Ellen Dunne

Ellen Dunne. Wie Du PNG

 

 

[Dominique Jeannerod] What made you decide to set your first novel (Wie Du mir, 2011) in Belfast ?

[Ellen Dunne] I became interested in the Northern Irish Conflict aged 17, when I watched the movie “In the Name of the Father” by Jim Sheridan, in early 1994. The story of the Guildford Four upset me so much, I wanted to understand the real background. So I endlessly read articles and books and watched TV documentaries. I always have been writing, and after a while, a story formed in my head, and intuitively I chose Belfast as location.

How would you introduce your protagonist, Patsy Logan? Why does she work in Munich ?

Patsy Logan is Irish-German, lives in Munich but has an Irish father with whom she spent many summers in Dublin. Her stories are set in Munich and also in Dublin. Why? I have been living in Dublin for 13 years and lived in Munich for a year, and to me, the two cities have almost nothing in common, apart their size. Munich is a very affluent, balanced, well-groomed and orderly city, with often grumpy inhabitants. To me, Dublin is much rougher, with a lot more social differences (and thus problems) and a somewhat chaotic setup. A contrast that mirrors Patsys inner conflict and intrigued me.

How would you describe the genre of Crime Fiction to which your novels belong? And do you see an evolution between the first and the most recent ones?

 I always was more interested in characters and their motifs than in plot twists. I guess it is fair to say that my stories are mixtures between crime and contemporary literature.

 

Who are the top ten main International Crime Fiction writers in your personal Pantheon?

I read mainly British/Irish as well as German speaking crime writers, so here goes, without a particular ranking: English speaking: Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Kate Atkinson, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, Eoin McNamee German speaking: Simone Buchholz, Friedrich Ani, Oliver Bottini, Jan Costin Wagner            

How did you discover Irish Crime Fiction?

Initially, through my interest in the Northern Irish conflict.  

Who are the Irish Crime authors who might have influenced you?

I hope I developed my own voice by now, but I guess it’s hard to not be influenced by writers you enjoy. For example, I adore Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series and also Tana French’s novels, but also like Stuart Neville’s thrillers. Also enjoyed Eoin McNamees Resurrection Man and The Ultras a lot. As I do read a lot of non-crime fiction, it is a short (but growing) list, sorry.

Had you heard of them before settling in Dublin?

 Eoin McNamee, yes – all the rest I only found out about while living here.

 Have you contacts with other writers of Irish Crime Fiction?

Much less than I would want to; mainly due to the fact that I write in German.

What is Irish Crime Fiction all about, according to you? And Northern Irish Noir, as you arguably write both?

 I haven’t read enough of Irish Crime fiction to comprehensively comment on this. Coming from abroad, to me there is this two-faced quality to Ireland, with so many friendly and easy-going people, which makes its social problems and organised crime underbelly all the more jarring – and a good source for stories. There a lots of stories about the crisis and its fallout still. And for Northern Ireland especially the conflict, which writers only in recent years start to really explore. I am excited to see that it gets more attention internationally, too.

Could you tell us a bit about Eire Verlag? Is there a market for Irish Crime Fiction abroad?

Eire Verlag is a very small German press; the publisher has a personal interest in Ireland and we got in touch over private connections.
In general, there is definitely a market for Irish Crime fiction in the German speaking market. Many writers are translated into German, there is a big interest in Ireland as a country.

Do you go to Crime Festivals and meet many authors?

I do attend literary and crime writing festivals regularly. It is a great way to get in touch with authors and network. It is important to network among writers, it’s a lonely job.

Did you write Cigarette Break – A Short Belfast Story directly in English?

There was a German version first, so the English version was between a rewrite and a translation. I did it all myself, with an Irish proofreader to check.

What made you decide to set this story in Belfast (again)? And did you feel the need for a prequel to your first novel?

As it is not a real prequel but a short story that gives background to my first novel, Belfast had to be the logical location. I wrote the story as part of a World Book Day promotion.

To what extent was the timeline important? Will there be other Belfast or Troubles novels?

 There is nothing planned yet, but who knows? I have never stopped being interested in the topic, and the recent tragic events around Lyra McKee’s murder show that the Troubles still effect the whole island.

How much reading/documentation does it take you to write novels set during the Troubles?

 I’d say a lot, it is a complex set-up. It’s hard to tell for me though, as I first got interested in the topic and the story developed naturally out of it. So I guess I did much more “research” than necessary.

 Who are you readers? Where do you meet them? Do you interact with them online? Do they comment on your stories?

My readers are usually people that read a lot and are ready for “something different”; often not the typical crime readers. I meet them often online in book groups or at book fairs, or they write to me after reading the book and tell me how they liked it. Mostly these interactions are great, I enjoy them.

What are the languages in which your books are translated?

I have one of them translated in English, “The Lost Son”

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What are the four Crime Fiction novels you recommend to your friends?

Available in English:

The Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty
The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
The Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz
Light in a dark house by Jan Costin Wagner

 

Is there any question you would have liked me to ask? Sorry for not mentioning it…. Please do now…

This was a very comprehensive interview, it was fun. Thank you!

 

Thank you, and looking forward to your next book! To be followed

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Nordy Noir

milkman
Nordy Noir Knocks at the Door
by
Sharon Dempsey
Northern Irish crime writers have been exploring issues relating to the landscape of the Troubles for decades within the confines of a genre that is well-placed to provide close examination of social, economic and character-driven concerns. The success of Anna Burns’s Milkman has brought attention to Northern Irish writing, with some saying now is the time, post-Good Friday Agreement, to explore the complex issues.
When Milkman won the Man Booker prize it was heralded as a win for Northern Irish literature. Yet the attention the novel’s success has brought to the Northern Irish literary scene has been met with partial disdain. After all, the Northern Irish crime-writing fraternity has been producing work that explores the complexities of social unrest and political division for decades. Writers like Adrian McKinty, Anthony Quinn, Stuart Neville, Claire McGowan, Gerard Brennan and Brian McGilloway have made great use of writing about life in a trigger-happy society, with the inherent socio-economic problems providing plentiful material for their work. However, there was something different in Milkman, something that touched a nerve and suggested that now, post-conflict, we were ready to explore our violent past in a new imaginative form.
If ever a place needed retelling, then Belfast is that place. Like most writers, I don’t fully understand anything until I have written an account of it for myself. I feel that it is only now, with time providing distance from the realities of living amidst conflict that we can examine the nuances of how the incendiary atmosphere and ongoing violence has shaped us.

Continue reading

An interview with Richard O’Rawe.

By Daniel Magennis. PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast.

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A Northern Celtic Tiger, Northern Heist (Merrion Press, 2018)

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

I meet Ricky O’Rawe in the lobby of a hotel close to Queen’s University in Belfast. It is an uncommonly warm and sunny afternoon for an Irish autumn. The university is preparing for the arrival of Hilary Clinton, who has been awarded an honorary degree. As I wait, foreign voices – tourists – drift across the space. People seem calm and happy. Belfast is not what it once was.

O’Rawe arrives. He has a pleasing lilt that marks him out as someone from the West of the city. His previous works, all nonfiction, have dealt with divisive and emotive issues such as the 1981 IRA Hunger Strikes and a biography of Gerry Conlon, whom O’Rawe had known since childhood. He tells me that, unlike his earlier books, he found Northern Heist, a work of fiction, liberating.

“Fiction can be whatever you want it to be … There’s nothing sacrosanct. There’s no sacred principle you have to stand behind and that’s the beauty of fiction – you can take it anywhere you want.

“Compared to my other works, I found dealing with Mr Ructions [Northern Heist’s honourable thief protagonist] … incredible. I enjoyed him, I enjoyed writing about him and I enjoyed shaping him and shaping his world… love the freedom of fiction.” It may be a form that permits greater imagination, but it is one that requires its own sort of rigour. “That’s not to say it was easier to write as opposed, let’s say, to the Gerry Conlon book. There, there was a narrative from A to Z … so I knew where the book was starting, and I knew basically where it was going to end.”

Northern Heist has long been a labour of love for O’Rawe. The novel, in one form or another, has been gestating for many years.

“I had a whole different ending prior to starting the Gerry Conlon book. I’ve been footering with Northern Heist for about eight years. I had other major projects that I was doing… so in the end I had to set it aside. But I always sort of drifted back to it.”

A substantial revision saw O’Rawe rewrite the second half of the book entirely and his maverick protagonist, Ructions, did not survive his momentous heist.

“In the first edition, Tiny kills Ructions, up on the farm and it was a dramatic ending, but it was the wrong ending. And now we have Ructions alive – and everybody likes him, everybody I’ve spoken to loves him. And not only that, but it leaves it open for a sequel. There’s a tremendous sequel in there. It’s in my head and all..”

In the end it was O’Rawe’s daughter Bernadette who had proposed a solution. ”You know what – you can’t kill Ructions” – and so Ructions was saved. At least, that is, for the moment…

‘I’m hanging up my guns, I’m going to burn my balaclava.’ But, all of a sudden, he might have to knit a new balaclava. And he’s to get the guns down again.

“But that’s the question – will he get away with it in the sequel? Because everybody comes out of this alive. Tiny is still alive at the end of it, the cop’s still alive at the end of it – the chief inspector – Ructions is still alive. There’s a variety of interests there and Tiny is a force to be reckoned with, he’s far from gone… he [Ructions] wouldn’t be the first criminal to say, ‘I’m hanging up my guns, I’m going to burn my balaclava.’ But, all of a sudden, he might have to knit a new balaclava. And he’s to get the guns down again.”

What was it about the Northern Bank robbery of 2004, on which Northern Heist is based, that sparked O’Rawe’s imagination?

“It was actually three robberies. There were three robberies that caught my attention. There was the Makro robbery …and there was a huge robbery down at the docks where £1 million of cigarettes was taken and then there was the Northern Bank robbery. So even at the time, before I was thinking of writing this, I looked at this and said to myself, ‘this is the work of a certain gang of guys, this is not different gangs running around doing different tiger kidnappings. These things are too well thought-out. It’s either the work of some genius thief, or it’s the work of the IRA. In which case, again, it would be a small cabal of people.’

“So that was my original thoughts on it and then when the Northern Bank robbery occurred you had different people saying different things. You had the two governments saying it was the IRA. The Garda commissioner, the Chief Constable said it was the IRA, and you had the IRA saying, ‘It wasn’t us.’ And therein lay the contradiction for the writer and the writer in me said ‘you know what, I’ll tell you who done it – Ructions.’

“So that leaves a question mark; and in steps Ructions and Ructions does it. So that’s how the Northern Bank etc. came into play. And the thing about the Northern Bank was, it was a very interesting tiger kidnapping… It was timed so precisely. If it hadn’t been done on the day that it was done, it would never have been done because the next day all the keys were being taken off all of the keyholders.”

Northern Ireland is a place where you can certainly write thrillers… It’s just a matter of imagination.

The robbery in question, the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery at the bank’s Belfast city centre headquarters, threatened the then fragile peace process. Over the years, the Troubles in Northern Ireland have provided material for hundreds of novels. “I think Northern Ireland is a place where you can certainly write thrillers… It’s just a matter of imagination and looking for it.”

O’Rawe’s past may have afforded him a sense of how the Irish underworld works and it is perhaps unsurprising that many of Northern Heist’s characters are inspired by real life.

“I had certain characters in my head, who I envisaged, who were real-life characters to a point… I had a vision and I always try to pick someone with an interesting face and, say, ‘this is who it was and this is his traits, and what makes this guy unique?’ … I always try to do that, so the reader has an idea of the type of person you’re talking about. But a lot of the stuff that’s in Northern Heist… it’s a wee bit real life. The characters are not far away from real people.”

I ask him about the distinctive gangland speech of many of the characters of Northern Heist; “I think that sort of subterranean world, that underworld, where moves are made and if you don’t play the game you’ll get shot very easily. I think they do have a lingo of their own. They talk about moves, they talk about clipping people. They talk in a sort of vernacular that is virtually unique – but they also speak the same way in Dublin. If you watch Nidge [the lead character in the RTÉ drama ‘Love/Hate’] – gangsters in Dublin have the same way. They have the same sort of way of communicating. If you fuckin’ mess about you will get shot and they need to know it. A guy needs to say it to you and you need to listen to him. Don’t open your mouth or he’ll take a needle and he will prick you and that’s the sort of stuff that comes across in the book. But that’s natural in that sort of world.”

It is a world that O’Rawe’s honourable thief manages to navigate remarkably unscathed to pull off Ireland’s largest ever Bank heist. While the reader may find themselves admiring, even liking, Ructions, there is of course a darker edge to him. “The thing about Ructions is this; you never know whether or not he would have carried out his threat to hurt the families…”

Nevertheless, O’Rawe does not see Northern Heist as part of Northern Ireland’s prime literary export of recent years; Noir.

“I don’t class myself as a noir writer. I actually don’t particularly like that stuff. That’s not a reflection on any of the writers. I like stories to be… sort of vibrant, and light, and enjoyable. I don’t really get it with three guys and they’ve just emerged from some fuckin’ pathway to hell, and they’re up to be a scourge on the world. That doesn’t work for me – just me personally.

“I’m not running anybody down – there’s a huge market for it – I just think that, sometimes, what you write reflects your personality. Not all the time, but sometimes, and I’ve a fairly… upbeat personality, if I do say so myself [he laughs]”

Reluctant to be pigeonholed as an author of Noir, O’Rawe is equally keen to avoid the broader classification of crime fiction author.

“I don’t want to get into detective stories, where the detective always catches the bad guy. Bad guys rarely ever get caught. Cops only clear up about 6% of all crimes. So I have a penchant for the underdog, for Ructions. Not that I particularly want to get into crime… I have other stuff I want to get on with. I’ve a number of projects… But I don’t necessarily want to be in that genre. And I don’t really want to be known as someone who writes about cop stories. Do you know what I mean? And I like the unpredictability of the likes of Ructions, using him as an example. But I don’t like reading a book where I know what the end is. And the ending, invariably, in all of these things is that the cop catches the bad guy. I like stories to be absolutely different.

The wages of sin is death” and he’s saying “Fuck – I don’t get any of that. The wages of sin is great.

“I’m at my happiest when I’m writing well. I like humour, I like writing anecdotes in the middle of something very serious. Like, for example, Ambrose was coming out of the street and him and Billy and they’ve eight million quid in the back of the truck and the preacher is standing there with the bible and he’s saying “The wages of sin is death” and he’s saying “Fuck – I don’t get any of that. The wages of sin is great. I love sinning. I love that sort of craic in the middle of it. That’s just me.”

At one stage in Northern Heist, Ructions says to his boss and uncle, Panzer, ‘… after this, we’re all out. Nothing will be the same again. It’s over. Our day has come and gone – and I’m glad’ (p. 99). I ask O’Rawe if his book describes a world where the old ways are being left behind; that is quickly changing?

“Yes. The thing is for Ructions and Panzer, they pulled off what all criminals want – the big Pay Day. The payday that means they don’t have to do it anymore. They don’t have to take the risk. So for them’uns it’s the end of an era; Panzer’s bowing out anyway. But he has achieved his lifetime ambition, of pulling off the massive heist that they’ve always dreamed of.

“But in relative terms, the Northern Bank heist was actually at a point in time when things changed. There wasn’t too many tiger kidnappings and banks [being robbed] afterwards. The banks adjusted; brought in security firms … there’s no bank robberies at all now, bank robberies are done on the stock market.”

O’Rawe’s own life has seen pages of history turn. Having been the IRA’s second in command in HMP Maze/Long Kesh during the Hunger Strikes in 1981, his 2005 book Blanketmen, saw him present a very different version of events from that of Sinn Fein’s.

“As you know, I was an IRA volunteer. I would say that I am a pacifist now. I have absolutely no time for armed struggle. In any shape or form. I actually look back on all that and I see it as a huge negative. An awful loss of life, dreadful loss of life and I don’t think the outcome, the political outcome in terms of Republicanism, was worth one life or worth one minute in prison. So I’m very disillusioned with the whole thing.

“Demonstrably, those who were advocating a different way were right. You, politically, ended up in the same place with the Good Friday Agreement as we were in 1974 with the Sunningdale Agreement, the only difference is 2,000 people died and tens of thousands of people done years in jail.”

Does violence work? Not in Ireland. Never has.

A cliché it may well be, but is the pen mightier than the sword?

“The pen is mightier than the sword. The other way of asking that question is, does violence work? Not in Ireland. Never has.”

O’Rawe’s journey has seen him go from militant Republican to self-professed pacifist. He has since been strongly and publicly critical of Republican political leadership. Does he feel he has a duty to write about the events he witnessed and had a part in?

“From my point of view, I had a duty to write about the Hunger Strike. I felt I had. But that’s because I was a player. I was very involved in it. Ordinary writers have no imperative to write about anything other than what they want to.”

Responding, during a recent radio interview, to the calls of some that he should not be writing – and profiting – at all from his past, O’Rawe notes, “Those who would shout at their radios are the very same people who would love to censor writers. I will not be censored by no one. I am a free thinker and a free writer, and I will not be censored by no one … the same question was put to me [during an interview on American radio] and I said “those who would scream at radios are the same people who would burn books. Once you go down this road of saying “this writer’s alright and that writer’s not alright” then you’re in real deep trouble.”

 

Northern Heist, published by Merrion Press, is available online, in eBook and Paperback, and in bookshops.

“Very close to the bone”

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Northern Heist

– Richard O’Rawe –

Book Launch

September 28 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

No Alibis Bookstore, 82, Botanic Avenue, Belfast

FREE

In association with The Merrion Press, No Alibis Bookstore invites you to the launch of this stunning new thriller by Richard O’Rawe

When James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare put together a crack team to rob the National Bank in Belfast in December 2004, even he didn’t realise he was about to carry off one of the biggest bank heists in British and Irish history.

And he’ll be damned if the Provos are getting a slice of it.

In Richard O’Rawe’s stunning debut novel, as audacious and well executed as Ructions’ plan to rob the National Bank itself, a new voice in Irish fiction has been unleashed that will shock, surprise and thrill as he takes you on a white-knuckle ride through Belfast’s criminal underbelly. Enter the deadly world of tiger kidnappings, kangaroo courts, money laundering, drug deals and double-crosses.

Northern Heist is a roller-coaster bank robbery thriller with twists and turns from beginning to end.

Source: No Alibis : http://noalibis.com/event/northern-heist-richard-orawe-book-launch/
Richard O’Rawe is a former Irish republican prisoner and IRA bank robber, and was a leading figure in the 1981 Hunger Strike. He is the author of the best-selling non-fiction books Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike; Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History, and In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story (source : googlebooks)

 

Still Silver’s city? Maurice Leitch’s 1981 prize-winning novel re-released.

A review by Daniel Magennis. PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast.

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Front cover of the May 2017 reissue of ‘Silver’s City’ by Turnpike Books.

A German once said the Irish always reminded him of a pack of hounds pulling down a stag, but, Nan, we only drag down our own kind. Or try to. (107-8)[1] Continue reading

No Alibis : An Interview with David Torrans

No Alibis

 

 by Annika Breinig (with thanks to Portia Ellis-Woods and Dominique Jeannerod)

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No Alibis : a  Bookshop to die for (83, Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BTL7 1 JL) Continue reading

San-Antonio’s International Connections

San-Antonio Belfast pics Finland Daniel Panel 5

The San-Antonio International conference took place last week end  at Queen’s University, Belfast, under the aegis of the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities and the School of Modern Languages. It gathered specialists, scholars, collectors and members of the public from around the world. They came to discuss (in French, mostly) the immense body of work left by one of France’s most famous popular writers, Frédéric Dard, aka San-Antonio.  Joséphine Dard, his daugther, attended the conference and took part in the discussions. People came together who don’t normally get to talk together.  Genuinely multidisciplinary, the conference relied on  expertise from various fields (from American Studies to Linguistics, from Cultural History to Literature studies),   on  public and private collections, and on new digital tools.  The multiplicity of approaches and expertise allowed to  tackle precise research questions on a defined and contained (if vast) corpus of texts Continue reading

Troubles Thrillers, made in France

shannon(With thanks to François Rivière)

The  “Troubles Thriller” is an international genre. Albeit  peripheral,  and taking place in a small country,  the conflict in Northern Ireland has generated a flurry of crime novels set there during the Troubles.  In addition to the several hundreds Crime and spy novels written in Britain and in America on the ” Troubles” in Northern Ireland, there have been a number of novels written on this subject by European Crime authors and published in their own countries. These works have very rarely been translated into English (nor, as a rule in many other languages), as they primarily targeted their  own domestic market, and sought to offer there a similar fare to the Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins and others who dominated the genre. They might be derivative, but this in itself does not make them redundant.  Their take on the conflict is often highly idiosyncratic. They are controversial, but they were read by hundred thousands, if not by millions of readers.   The political views they display and the representations of Ireland which they carry are of interest, making the books  precious sources  for a cultural history  of European responses to the situation in  Ireland. Continue reading