Really, real fiction... and Welsh detectives

The new blog I've started with fellow crime writers Christopher G. Moore, Colin Cotterill and Barbara Nadel has a new post from me today. It's about why I came to write so-called genre fiction. It starts like this:

Writers have it all wrong. They think they need to learn about other writers. I studied English literature at Oxford University and I read all I could find of the sort of literary criticism that makes a novel seem like a piece of East German economic analysis. Three years later, I hadn’t learned a thing — except that it was
fine to have a room you could take a girl to without having to sneak past your mother, Guinness isn’t good for you, and the deputy bank manager at Lloyd’s on Broad Street with the goatee and the bald head didn’t just /look/ like Ming the Merciless.

Then I read Dashiell Hammett. Before he published novels, Hammett was a Pinkerton detective. What he wrote was real. I could smell the places he’d been for the Pinkertons, feel the punches he’d taken, think the way he’d had to think to outwit true criminals. I’d been reading Marxist critical theorists on Daniel Defoe and French deconstructionists whose scribblings about the “stereographic plurality of significances” were intended to tell me that whatever I thought a book was about was, indeed, what it was about–except that it wasn’t, was it. Or was it?

Read the rest on International Crime Authors Reality Check.

The excellent UK crime fiction blog It's a Crime features me in a post about the growing number of Welsh crime writers. Tartan crime (Scottish writers like Ian Rankin) has long been big and It's a Crime notes the recent wave of Irish crime writers--I'm a fan of Gene Kerrigen, Bob Burke, Declan Burke and Stuart Neville. Now she says it's time for the Welsh, noting some other up-and-comers.

Let's hear it for the Taffia!

(Perhaps I should explain that to my American readers: the English slang for a Welsh person is "Taff," because the river through Cardiff the capital is called the Taff and few English ever venture further into Wales than that. Therefore a Welsh mafia would be a Taffia...Amaze your friends with that one.)

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Comment by John McFetridge on July 17, 2009 at 5:00am
I wouldn't go so far as to say literary criticism is artificial. Remember, literary criticism isn't about writing, it's about reading. It's about how the existing stories have been constructed and how they work.

If you're a writer you can take that understanding and use it to construct new stories. Literary criticism won't help you pick which stories to tell, but it can help you tell the ones you pick better. Or at least have a better understanding of how those stories are being read.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on July 17, 2009 at 3:58am
Ah. . . the thing about college profs is their intense desire to impress upon you their brilliance. And Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and others who knew about the 'streets' pass them up every time. Literature criticism is so artificial it's laughable.
Comment by John McFetridge on July 17, 2009 at 2:11am
Great post. Very well said. "... freedom from the
strictures of journalism. I had found the best way to tell the truth."

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