Cormac Millar Transcript
Published on 25th November 2011
Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode author Cormac Millar reads from his novel 'An Irish Solution' and comments on the nature of crime and crime writing, the paradoxes raised when society attempts to control criminal activities and the failings of the political establishment. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Central Library in September 2011 as part of its 'Crime and the City' series.
I work in a university which is not that place because King’s College Dublin is very badly run. It has its own website but it’s a bit out of date now. King’s College Dublin is a very questionable type of institution. The plot concerns the horrible murder of the president and I must say my own colleagues were very warm in their reactions (laughter) whether it was the loss of our boss of whether it was just the literary qualities of the book I couldn’t say. So today I’m mostly going to draw on An Irish Solution, which Penguin published in 2004 and basically I’m talking about crime and the city and drugs. Well I think that the city has got something to do with crime. City has a whole as being suspect places every since the prophets in the Old Testament said that Sodom and Gomorrah were bad places or the City of Nineveh had to do penance or be destroyed by God or even Jerusalem on occasion is given fairly bad press. When St. Augustine went to Carthage he described it as a cauldron of unholy loves and he would have known. So the idea of the city is a great exciting place, it’s where all things are possible but it includes some disreputable, less admirable activities and therefore cities in general have got this sort of negative image. However, what’s that got to do ... well it’s nothing got to do with crime but it’s also got to do with I suppose the nature of crime and especially a capital city. A crime is in one sense a private thing, you know, I injure you, you suffer but in another sense it’s a very public thing because society has to try to protect itself and protect its members, even its dead members, and this is one of the strange paradoxes. I mean the ultimate crime in crime fiction is murder and society is very, very interested in investigating murder. In fact a society that didn’t try to do justice to its own members who had been wiped out wouldn’t be a society at all, to quote Michael Connolly the American crime writer ‘it’s a city that is lost if it doesn’t care for its dead citizens’. So in one sense it’s the public, it’s the community, it’s the State that has to take notice of crime and not just the victim. Say in murder there is no victim, there was a victim but the victim has been taken out of the equation and yet society needs to react. So really the State comes in, the State which has the monopoly of violence, the State which has to have policies that protect us and ways of putting things right when they go wrong and in English at any rate policy and politics and police all sound very similar and I think for a good reason. We depend on the police to enforce the laws and protect us, guardians of the peace as we call them in Ireland. But there’s always that very old question who is going to guard the guards, who is going to police the police, who is going to keep an eye on those people who keep an eye on us? So there’s a possibility for a crime story. All stories arise in a gap, a gap between what should be and what is. So once you have that possibility of a mismatch, fiction but also the criminal can find a way to flourish. For example, if you ban betting on horses but people still bet on horses now you’ve got a lovely illegal business. If you ban alcohol people still drink alcohol you’ve got a possibility of wonderful business. And prohibition, people actually drank more during prohibition in American than they drank ever before or since and it certainly did wonders for organised crime. So once you’ve got a mismatch and all societies have got a bit of double take, stuff that they say they don’t do but they really do a bit, that’s the opening both for the criminal and for the writer. So crime and society and the State and the police and so on, they’re all mixed up in some sort of ... they’re locked together in some sort of necessary relationship. We’ve heard from great talks in the last 2 weeks really of a factual kind and you’d wonder what right has anybody got to write fiction when you see people like Johnny Connolly and John Lonergan actually telling you the facts about what goes on and how you would know whether you were doing right or doing wrong. And, you know, I’m a quiet citizen living in Blackrock, I don’t get involved in an awful lot of crime on a daily basis and yet I can write about it. But how? And what does the author, a person of authority, do when they’re writing about something they don’t know that much about? Well you read the papers and you imagine what might be. You ask what if? What if the guards weren’t really protecting you all that well all the time, you know, if you came from Donegal this could be a problem on occasion. What if the courts didn’t ensure justice? What if some criminals had good sides to them as well as bad sides to them and were more interesting characters? There’s all kinds of what ifs that you can ask. Fiction then will personalise, it will individualise some of these questions. There’ s a very powerful Dublin based writer Gene Kerrigan whose novel, The Midnight Choir, does this very well and rather painfully. He has a guard who is basically a good man but he does have the unfortunate habit of making up evidence and although he normally does this in a good cause and he thinks he’s doing right eventually his credibility is destroyed to the extent that he cannot protect those who has to protect and a horrible, horrible tragedy ensues. So I mean that kind of paradox is gold dust to the writer. It may not be very nice for society but the idea of the sinful preacher, the wounded surgeon, the corrupt judge, I mean as a fiction writer you’re really winning when you’ve got a character like that particularly if they’re not just one dimensional. So what drives people to write crime fiction? I mean you can have all kinds of ideas, most people will have an idea for a good story once a week. My latest one involves a car wash with a bank robber going very slowly through the car wash and wondering if he’s really lost the police who were following his car (laughter) and he’ll know when he gets to the far end. That could be a good story, if it was well told it could be a good story. But what actually drove me to my first novel, An Irish Solution, was really a sort of a public type question, a policy type question. I have to say I understand nothing about politics, policy, society – anything like that. I’ve got friends who do so it becomes painfully obvious if I say something factual they kind of smile. But at the same time even as an ignorant citizen you can ask yourself whether it was right for Mr John O’Donoghue, a great fighter against crime, to launch a policy saying that anybody caught with drugs worth more than £10,000, as it then was, would be given a minimum sentence of 10 years, okay. That’s £10,000 worth of something in a bag and of course you immediately think what if, supposing I’m a guard and I’ve got this person and he’s got a bag with something in it and it could be worth 10,000, it could be worth 11,000 or it could get valued at 9,500 which wouldn’t be so bad ‘So now would you like to tell me whether your aunt was involved in that bank robbery last week?’ you see immediately that you’ve altered the scales of justice, you’ve corrupted the level playing field of investigation. For some reason this law, which has now been struck down, made me completely furious. I have to say the judges generally speaking found some reason why it couldn’t, in this particular case, be applied but it was an extremely bad law. And that is enough to get some people writing because they think what if, what if the State were not doing what the State should do? What if there were guardians of the peace who were no more saintly than the rest of us? What if there were bureaucracies like FÁS or the HSE or in my case the Irish Drugs Enforcement Agency, IDEA, and these were more concerned with protecting their own positions and buttering their own toast than actually doing the job that you’re supposed to do? So I invented this special agency. That saved me a lot of research because if you want to write a police procedure well you have to know what the police actually do. I set up a special agency so that I wouldn’t have to know what anybody does, you know, these people have their own procedures, I can make them up as I go along, that was one big advantage. I also put in a civil servant to run it, Mr Séamus Joyce, who is a very unlikely hero of a crime story because he’s a rather timid, quiet creature who is more interested in administration than in the pursuit of wrong doers but his other half is Billy O’Rourke and Billy in this book is a violent man who, as it turns out, has got one powerful obsession which is the protection of children. You find out at the end of the book some of the reasons why that should be so. But he will do anything to prevent people from abusing or maltreating children. So that is his sort of good side which as in all fiction doesn’t necessarily always lead him to do good things and the other side of him is that he is a violent man who believes in settling things via the direct method, he doesn’t wish to involve himself always in the niceties of procedure. So here he is talking to a journalist, Trixie Gill, who is interviewing him off the record and asking him why is Séamus Joyce, a quiet, dull civil servant who has been working in Europe for years, been put in charge of this anti drugs agency whereas a handsome fellow like yourself would be much more appropriate. So that’s the sort of implicit question that she has asked him. I’ll read a little bit of a scene there.
“Frankly he’s a joke”, said Billy O’Rourke. “So why did Fry appoint him?” Trixie repeated. “Don’t think of Joyce as a human being, think of him as a bespoke suit.” “But why should Fry appoint him over you”,[ that’s the Minister for Justice], she insisted, “Why aren’t you the head of the IDEA? And was it Joyce who chose that poncy name?”. “God knows” said Billy, “That was the Minister himself, wanted the Yankee effect. Drugs Enforcement Agency with a small little ‘i’ for Ireland. Our people on the switchboard have instructions not to pronounce it idea but to spell out all four letters ‘I-D-E-A how can we help?’ it’s all part of the image.” Billy was such a hunk, big rough but with a touch of gentleness, one of those sources you want to be close to. “And the head of the agency” Trixie asked “Why was it Joyce?”. He considered her question “Okay, this is how it went, Paddy Goldsborough has his heart attack, Finance as usual were trying to shut the agency down. Fry wants me but I’m an animal plus I’m too young, only a boy, a bit of a thug, I couldn’t be director so he parachutes in Séamus Joyce, committee star, performing seal, fresh from Europe to be our bishop and sit on his arse in the back office drafting policy documents with fancy titles like ‘ Europe Without Drugs’ while I’m out in the rain playing action man.” Trixie refilled his glass “And the sole purpose of the IDEA is to hoist Richard Fry into the European Union Narcotics Directorate?”, Billy nodded, “We’re here to line up photo ops, preferably heroin because who cares about hash, and cocaine is for yuppies but heroin rots your teeth and makes gougers from council flats come and clean out your des res to feed the habit so we capture a few working class heroes, one or two big pushers, the odd dago master criminal and Fry is winning all the way, at last a Minister who is hitting the drug barons, meting out Dublin justice to the godfathers. “If we screw up it’s all Séamus Joyce’s fault. If Joyce personally screws up bad enough he doesn’t even get confirmed as head of the IDEA but if he’s a really, really good boy Fry brings him back to Europe and Joyce knows his way around Brussels. He’s well regarded. Half of them think he wrote Ulysses and if he does get back his stint with the IDEA will stand him in good stead because when that European juggernaut finally hits the road it’s going to be run by diplomats, negotiating with greasy foreign governments over drug supplies without sending in the marines because Europe won’t be doing marines.”
So that’s the sort of set up then of how it comes that this agency exists, it’s set up by the Minister for Justice in order to create good publicity and to show that we’re making progress against crime and he actually is making progress against crime on the ground. So the little story at the centre of the big story concerns an out of work – not out of work – but an intermittently working language teacher who is a nice respectable man, the sort who would wear a tweed suit or a tweed jacket, and he is, however, not very successful. He’s been dismissed from one job and he’s not getting very many teaching hours in his job in London and he’s asked if he would ever deliver an envelope over to Amsterdam in connection with a planning application. And it all seems fairly respectable but not quite because they’re paying him far too much to do this. They have a story as to why they need him to bring this envelope over to Amsterdam but really if you were applying your critical faculties you wouldn’t believe it. But this poor man, Jerome Fennessy, does believe it. He goes over to Amsterdam and is given another envelope to bring back and in the other envelope we have a little package which contains a plastic bag with something white and powdery inside it. The object of the exercise, which it later turns out that some people in the IDEA are concerned, is to trap a much bigger drug dealer because the idea is that Mr. Fennessy, when he is arrested, will be offered a better deal and a lower valuation on his drugs if he will just name the person who sent him to Amsterdam. And he’s been told that this person is in fact this drug dealer. And he’s being difficult about doing it, however, at the same time and coincidentally, it’s a very coincidental novel, Mr Joyce, the Director of the agency, has been to see his Minister and the Minister is getting frightened because he’s being asked why they’re getting no convictions out of their grand new policy of mandatory sentencing. So after a rather testing interview the Minister says to Joyce ...
“I know we’ll crack this legal problem. We will show the judges who is in charge here. And we’ll strike a blow against the proliferation of stinking plague rats who infest my country and contaminate it with their little doses of poison and drag out good name down with their internecine feuds”. Such emotion was surprising in this disciplined man.
So Séamus leaves this interview in which he’s being threatened with non confirmation in his job, because he’s not a very effective person basically, he leaves this interview and goes to the headquarters of his organisation where the drug courier, ‘the mule’ Jerome Fennessy is being interrogated. So I’ll read a little bit from that scene as well.
In his smooth grey suit and sober patterned silk tie the new arrival [ that’s Séamus Joyce] made a meek impression. He was carrying a walkman and wearing a large headset around his plump neck. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” he asked in a mild voice. “Mr Jerome Fennessy, language teacher and occasional drug smuggler” Billy asked, “Mr Séamus Joyce, Director of the Irish Drugs Enforcement Agency. I am negotiating with Mr Fennessy here to see if we might be able to get him off the hook. We want to follow up his contacts with the people who sent him. If he plays ball we might be in a position to help.” Joyce sat down heavily on a chair beside the prisoner. “They call me Director” he confided “but I’m just the Acting Director, a civil servant by the by, not a policeman. Apart from the enforcement side we look after legislation, policies, schools – all sorts of stuff. I see you’re wearing a wedding ring.” Oh, oh. Jerome clasped his hands hiding the ring, “she wants to remarry.” “My wife is seriously ill” Séamus Joyce said. “I’m sorry” Jerome said “What’s wrong with her?”. Before Joyce could answer Billy O’Rourke got into this exchange, “I’m trying to get this man probation Séamus, he could nail one of Dublin’s ...” Séamus Joyce held up a soft hand, “Sorry Billy, I’m afraid there’s no probation”. Billy was incredulous “Not even if he can snaffle the snowman for us? Jerome would make a lovely witness, not your average gangster.” Joyce looked embarrassed “No, no deals. The agency is fighting an all out war on drugs, that’s what the Minister wants. We must fight every case. On what evidence did you arrest Mr. Fennessy?” Billy looked blank for a second then he stepped out of the room returning almost at once, like a magician at a children’s party he shook Jerome’s overnight bag upside down on the table. Out tumbled the padded envelope, Jerome’s pyjamas, his toothpaste and toothbrush, his postcards and catalogue from the Rijksmuseum, the tin of cigarillos and a second padded envelope that Jerome had not seen before. Billy opened the second envelope, drew out its contents, another plastic wallet of white powder and a glossy magazine showing a naked child, perhaps 2 years old, holding a toy alligator.
Well now they’ve got him in serious trouble, you’ve just noticed that the value of his drugs has increased by 100% and moreover there’s an association with child pornography which I think if you were heading into court to defend yourself against some crime would not be a welcome addition to your image. However, we know that even if his name is blackened in this way, and by the way he’s totally innocent on this – both the drugs and the pornography have been planted in his bag – we know that when it comes to court, you know, there is a court system here which carefully tests all allegations against anybody and if a case is not properly made it gets thrown out and I’m sure this does happen nearly all the time. I actually happen to know some very nice judges myself and I wouldn’t quite trust them with my life but I think I would stand a chance. So eventually Jerome’s case, after many other vicissitudes and two deaths so far comes to court and he’s prosecuted by a scrupulous and nice old gentleman who is anxious not to whip up emotions against the man in the dock, he says in fact we should be sympathetic to anyone who finds himself in this type of position but he does of course have to present the facts.
Mr McEnespy [this is the Senior Counsel for the Prosecution] Mr McEnespy’s outline of the prosecution took almost until lunchtime. He lingered scrupulously over the arrest at Dublin Airport, over Jerome Fennessy’s verbal and written confessions, over the laboratory analysis of the substance he had imported, the two sachets being identical in their degree of purity and chemical composition must have come from the same batch, and over the distasteful character of the magazine that had been discovered in the Defendant’s overnight bag. Mr Senan Roche’s [this is the man for the Defence] opening rebuttal was considerably shorter and more robust. “Here we had ...”, he roared “one of the most savage and unprincipled frame ups in the history of the State”. His client, an honourable man, a teacher who had fallen on hard times, had been cynically picked out as a sacrificial victim, had be tricked into going to a foreign land as a favour to an old school chum, had had heinous drugs and the most filthy pornography placed in his luggage, had been improperly detained and mercilessly interrogated, had been forced to confess to a crime he’d never committed and had seen his words twisted in a way that made him appear like the blackest of criminals. And for why? To bolster the reputation of a wasteful and unconstitutional quango, the so called Irish Drugs Enforcement Agency, which was designed for no other purpose than to flatter the vanity of an ambitious politician, the Minister for Justice, Mr Richard Fry. The Defendant had been thrown to the IDEA by the drug barons like a piece of fish bait in furtherance of their own sinister aims and the IDEA had gratefully accepted this early Christmas present from the criminal confraternity. If colluding with drug barons to frame innocent citizens was the best they could do the IDEA should shut up shop. Mr Gerald McEnespy, Senior Counsel for the Prosecution, sighed, cast his eyes to heaven and was moving to call his first witness when Mr Justice McQueen intervened adjourning the court until 2 o’clock.
Well when I come to be tried I will of course hope to get a very good impartial judge who will do his best or her best to give me a fair trial and we will get a correct verdict of, in my case, not guilty and everything will be quite alright. But in this case Mr Justice McQueen is an unfair judge. He doesn’t go too far but he slightly calls any dubious decisions in favour of the Prosecution and against the Defence. He rejects all of the Defence Motions to have a case thrown out and so on. And eventually he having carefully summed up in the most neutral but damning of language against the Defendant the Jury come back.
The Jury were back within an hour, guilty on both counts, importing drugs and importing pornography. Mr Justice McQueen thanked them profusely for their patience in sitting through more than a week of this distasteful case. It had been prolonged far beyond what was necessary by the tactics of wild accusation and unreasonable cross-examination adopted by the Defence. He had allowed Mr Roche a broad level of flexibility in running those tactics lest it be thought that an already weak Defence Brief might be further cramped by heavy handed umpiring. Now that the verdict was in, however, he could safely say that the Defence line had been grossly irresponsible and injurious to a number of dedicated public servants. Mr Fennessy had not merely degraded himself by working for peddlers of drugs and pornography but had sought, through his Counsel, to besmirch the reputations of the men and women who strive on behalf of all of us to stem those twin ties of filth. Mr Fennessy had been caught red handed on this occasion but how often in past had he escaped scot-free? There was a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment to be imposed for the crimes of which Mr Fennessy stood convicted but normally judges tend to be restive about statutory minimum sentences feeling, perhaps rightly, that these cut across the discretionary consideration of individual circumstances which out to inform and enlighten sentencing policy. On this occasion, however, he was happy to impose the statutory sentence in the knowledge that it fitted the depravity of the crimes committed.
So there you are, an unfair trial leading to a tragic conviction, the book is over, the case is lost. Well this is where we are in the book and as you know from reading books when things look lost, when all is lost, when we have been defeated, when disaster looms, something is bound to happen to sort things out differently. And indeed things by the end of the book do get sorted out very differently owing to a concatenation of circumstances involving a small dangerous nun and a schoolgirl with a sense of justice. Eventually Séamus Joyce is forced to recognise that his own agency and some of the people that he believes in, people that he is responsible for, have been acting in an unjust way and he goes and confronts his Minister about this. Now he first takes the precaution of putting a small recording device up the sleeve of his jacket. Because did I mention, like any heroes of crime fiction, he is a jazz enthusiast and likes to record jazz concerts surreptitiously so he happens to have a little microphone. You should always have ... it is actually on the back of one of the covers ... anyway you should always have this little small device or ability that the hero can call on in moments of distress. So he confronts his Minister and he explains that as a good public servant he’s got responsibilities and he has to ensure that the agency he is in charge of is discharging his functions and so on and the Minister puts a very different point of view. But what I’ve tried to do is to give the Minister some good lines, some proper arguments of his own, because it’s no use to have a villain in a book who just says “I’m a villain ah-ha” I mean that would do for children’s stories but in adult fiction there has to be I think more dimension than just badness and wrongness to an effective villain. So I tried to give him so valid lines some of which I actually happen to agree with myself, so if ever I become Minister of Justice it would be quite dangerous. So he comes to visit the Minister, he happens to meet him in Buswell’s Hotel during the start of an election campaign and he starts off in his boring ... one of the things about Séamus Joyce is I tried to make him very boring and I think I’ve succeeded.
“I have to tell you Minister that certain doubts have arisen about our conduct in the Fennessy case” [I mean how is that for a boring first sentence]. A moment’s chilly silence, “The Fennessy case has been tried in a court of law has it not? The Defences objections were swept aside, that’s good enough for me M. Joyce”. “There is evidence of the possible intimidation of witnesses Minister.” “Who is making these complaints?” “I am not at liberty to say.” “You must, I am your Minister.” “Only when I have completed my review of the case, with respect.” “My dear Séamus, one meets these cranks and busy bodies, we cannot have Government held up to ransom.” “There may be nothing in it” Séamus said “ but if something was done wrong I’ll have to put it right, if something was done, that’s why I prefer to keep quiet for the moment.” “You? You? You will have to put it right? We have a court system in this great little island, perhaps you prefer some other system? Let the Defendant appeal if he thinks he was hard done by, it’s not for you, Mr Joyce, to undo the work of our judiciary.” “His legal team was entitled to be informed.” “Your position will become untenable if you start to unpick the work of the agency which you nominally lead.” “I’m not unpicking anything, I will investigate the matter carefully and discretely and keep you informed.” “Mr Joyce you will be out on your ear if you even start down this road. I will not tolerate it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” “The legislation establishing the IDEA gives me a statutory responsibility which I cannot legally evade and for which I’m answerable to Dáil Éireann.” “How are the feeble risen, I took pity on you, I rescued your so-called career from the doldrums, I’m still protecting you against allegations of impropriety from an earlier stage in your career. Do not be a complete idiot.” Séamus continued, “Among the matters which have come to light, Minister, is an attempt to compromise me by paying money into a bank account in my name from an unknown source.” Richard Fry whinnied, “You don’t mean to say Mr Joyce that you’ve been accepting bribes in your exulted position?”. “I’ve accepted nothing. These funds may be coming from a source of the drug business.” “And why would anyone want to do that? Are you such a king pin?” “It has been alleged to me, Minister, that somebody within the police or within my own organisation is working to shut down certain drug dealers while building up others, especially one larger importer who is poised to take over the Dublin heroin market.” The Minister turned to Séamus [I’ve left out a bit in the middle] “This is amusing, Mr Joyce, to hear a desk bound bureaucrat such as yourself pronounce with such confidence on the ins and outs of crime. You might be better off leaving such operational matters in the hands of your capable lieutenant Mr O’Rourke. Let us suppose for a moment that there is some truth in what you’re saying, let us suppose that you’re not speaking complete nonsense. Now which is better Mr Joyce one large importer or a dozen small competing ones importing material of dubious or dangerous quality flooding the market with cheap and unreliable supplies killing each other in unseemly disputes?”
Well it eventually becomes clear from this rather entrapping conversation because one of the characters has got the microphone and the other one doesn’t know that the Minister is in fact trying to create a single importer situation to take away the competing criminal groups and to ensure that the passage of drugs through Ireland does not involve bad publicity for the country because his theory is that you cannot suppress drugs, he says the IDEA cannot prevent drugs from being used all it can do is to limit the side effects. And I think in the end that’s a real question because people will take drugs, I take drugs myself. Alcohol every day, coffee, every day. I’m not an addict, I could give up at any time. (laughter) If, however, the alcohol were made illegal what effect would it have? Would I still consume it? Maybe not, one of the reasons why I wouldn’t take drugs is I don’t wish to support the drug industry. I don’t like those people. But I had a sister who smoked 40 a day, she lived to be 46, so when it comes to drug pushers I have some extremely strong views on quite respectable companies, good people listed on the Stock Exchange, who it seems to me do a fair amount of damage in their daily work. So what I’m trying to say is that the situation is genuinely more complicated, yes. Well what should politics do? Should you ban things that are bad? If you do what price do you pay? And whereas there may be all kinds of good answers to those questions which you’ll hear from people who know something about the situation and whereas, you know, if you come back next week and hear Paul O’Mahony you’ll know an awful lot about penal policy, the punishment of wrong doers and the amount of damage that we do trying to do that. But those are policy questions and what the fiction writer tries to do is to put a face on it, to personalise it, to make it something emotional. To take some ordinary boring individual, like Séamus Joyce, and put him in a situation where he has to make a decision, has to stand up for one thing or the other. So is that a proper function for fiction to be talking about crime and life and death? I’d suggest that there’s a fair amount of fiction goes on in ordinary life as well. For example, last night in the State of Georgia they executed a man for shooting a policeman. Not only do they more or less know that he didn’t do it but they’ve got a pretty good idea who did do it, it was one of his accusers. If you look up the Amnesty International coverage on the web you’ll find there’s lots of Affidavits there from witnesses who were coerced and intimidated into naming the wrong person as it appears for this crime and does it bother the establishment? Not at all because a good crime story should end with somebody’s death preferably the guilty person but if you can’t get the guilty person somebody else will do. So at this stage maybe I will stop talking for a bit and invite questions or would you like to ...
Questions & Answers
Facilitator: Okay, so now we’ll invite questions from the audience.
Participant 1: Yeah, could you give me some examples of how you develop the cop in your novel, you said you needed to have a multi dimensional character.
Participant 1: What is the reason for that? Because you didn’t read much from him.
Cormac: I didn’t, no. The idea is he’s a very brave man and extremely ... he’s willing to put himself at enormous risk, that’s one of the things about him. I find that admirable. And the reason for that particular trait is I once stood in Duke Street going about my business in a respectable area and watched a big man walking up towards the door of a bank, he was a plain clothes policeman holding a very large gun down by his side, and I was thinking I wouldn’t do that and the next thought that came to me was well if I did do that, if I was willing to do that, would I be willing to be told what to do and what not to do by some boring fellow behind a desk? Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t. So he’s brave, that’s one of the things about him. I can tell you ... I mean I can you something, it will ruin the book in a way but give you the big motivation which is that he has a high dependency child who needs constant nursing and he’s not living with the mother of the child but he is making a lot of money on the side and all of which passes through to the mother of his child so that the child can be looked after. It’s also the case, we learn near the beginning of the book, that he almost got himself killed quite wrongly by opening fire on a group of gangsters who had a child and he couldn’t let them take the child away so out of fear of that he killed them and almost got himself killed, he got himself very badly wounded. So in some ways he’s heroic. In some ways he’s altruistic but as we know your good qualities can lead you to do bad, just as much as your bad qualities. Okay.
Participant 2: I haven’t read your books but I’m very interested in crime writing and I just read an article yesterday in The Sunday Times about the murder of a child, there was an article about murdered children.
Participant 2: And it was awful, it really disturbed me as her uncle did it and I just wondered how you deal with that, the disturbing elements of maybe writing about it?
Participant 2: Because obviously you must have to go into the mind of criminals and, you know, so that’s…
Cormac: Yeah. Okay. I mostly deal with that sort of thing by not writing about it (laughter) because I’m extremely queasy. Yeah there was a very interesting quote I came across once “in real life good people are lovely and interesting and bad people are limited and boring” but in fiction it’s the other way around, you know, so (laughs) sometimes you get inside the mind of somebody but you don’t necessarily ... I mean there are these novels that say, you know, is the train going to come along and run over the heroine who is strapped to the railway lines, well that’s a variant of suspense writing that I don’t particularly enjoy myself. However, yes if you’re a writer you have to be on both sides of the equation and you have to be able to say, yeah, if I was in this position, if I had to do it I might do a thing like that. Now the murder of a child is particularly hard to rationalise because it’s just, as you say, awful and unending pain for all involved and so on. But that’s probably the extreme case. But there are cases where you could imagine, for example, if you got into terrible debt and you were about to lose everything I think people will do bad things for fear of loss whereas they wouldn’t necessarily do the same things for hope of gain. I wouldn’t wipe out somebody in the street just because I knew that they had a winning lotto ticket in their pocket but if somebody was coming after my family to reclaim my house and put me out on the side of the street and I had some other reason maybe I’d do it. You have to be able to imagine yourself to have the possibility of doing anything that is depicted in your book. Okay.
Participant 2: Thank you.
Participant 3: I was just going to say is there a danger of glamorising like we see in Mexico even just reading the daily paper sometimes, they had a series a month or two ago about gangsters and stuff, it was almost like they were movie stars, they were in their own world.
Participant 3: And I’m thinking of ... I mean I love the whole [inaudible] and it’s really funny I’d love to get involved and is there a danger that it also can make that they could glamorise those things whereas maybe well I’d be affected by a drug addict, this is being sold, buys these things, and people have been mugged around my area.
Participant 3: These people are desperate for money so it’s not a safe place at this point in time. Is it a danger that you can actually glamorise that and how does an author cope with the balances of that?
Participant 3: Do you know, is there any suggestion because this could make it ...?
Cormac: It’s a very big question. I mean if you look at the Godfather Part I it presents lovable people with very strong family values and all kinds of big tragedies in their life, somebody kills one of them and they kill some of the other, brave in their own way as they call themselves mean of honour. The Mafia call themselves men of honour and even a very realistic and sometimes horrifying film at that doesn’t really show you the kind of down the line misery that is created by large parts of their business. So yeah I mean crime is boring and awful and especially I mean I would find it really hard to write about, you know, on Saturday nights in Ireland people get drunk and they stab each other with kitchen knives, that’s a true fact and a large part of the murders that are committed in Ireland are done by people who probably wouldn’t even remember it the following morning. So you wouldn’t glamorise that and yet if you even wrote about it it would be so depressing (laughs) just that, you know, why would anybody read you? The older style of detective story set in a village about who stole the knitting needle that was used to stab the victim that sort of thing is actually comforting to read. You could read one of those late at night and sleep well. (laughter) And it’s not glamorising but it’s sanitising in a sense something that is awful. But we do live in a society where you’re famous and you could be famous for being a great footballer like Mr Beckham or famous for being married to a good footballer like Mrs Beckham but I think she has other talents as well. But of course we have all these people that we admire or we know about merely because they’re in the papers and gangsters almost fit into that. Because I mean in Ireland we glamorise terrorists quite a lot. I mean some of us don’t but it is a fact that if you are prepared to go out and kill somebody for their religion or your beliefs or whatever it might be but there’s a kind of a grudging feeling, oh yeah well I mean after all he didn’t do it for himself and he did go to jail for it and so yeah I admire him really. Very difficult to balance up the different feelings in that way. To make a bad person glamorous I mean just from a totally different line of business years ago when they used to execute criminals in public squares all over Europe and it was one of the big – before television – entertainments and the idea was you’d say how bad this person was and everyone would hate them but then the exact opposite sensation came in, here is this poor man who is about to be put to a horrible death and look there beside him is the priest hearing his last confession and even as he dies he’s sorry for his sins now and he’s going to go to heaven and people actually started admiring the person they were supposed to hate. And I think there’s something in human nature that whenever you think of one thing you also think the opposite and our rational mind makes us cancel out the bit that doesn’t make sense but that doesn’t really mean that it’s gone from your feelings. Your feelings are still there. Yeah.
Participant 3: Thank you .
Facilitator: Very interesting. I have a question. You are an Associate Professor in Italian.
Facilitator: And your novel was translated into Italian.
Facilitator: It must be like a strange experience having somebody else translate your own novel.
Cormac: Yes. It was a wonderful experience. To find the words that you've written are no longer there, it's still in a way your book but if you happen to know the other language to see that somebody else has made a completely new text out of the same thing. And it was very nice because I got to meet the translator. I got to correct some of her mistakes. She's a woman who lives in Italy but she has friends in Bray and therefore she was able to get most of the local speech in the book which is quite difficult but even her friend in Bray wasn't able to catch everything so there was a few little points where I was able to tell her that it should have been different. But I mean what every writer wants is readers, that's the basic deal. And to think that there’s people in a language you don't even know necessarily, and I do happen to know Italian, but to feel that there's people – somebody – you know even when you're 50 years dead somebody will come to a library and take out a book and open it and put it back on the shelf or maybe stay and read it. That's a nice feeling and I think translation adds a whole dimension to that.
Facilitator: Okay thank you.
Cormac: Well can I thank you all for your patience and thank you for coming and there's a much better speaker next week I’m sure Beata will tell you.
Facilitator: So thanks very much for this interesting and insightful talk. We really enjoyed it all.
Participants: Yes. (clapping)
Cormac: Thank you. Thank you very much. (clapping)
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