01 May 2007

Author Answers with Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes, this week's author, was a playwright before becoming a novelist. He was a co-founder of Rough Magic, an independent theatre company in Ireland. His second novel, The Color of Blood, was recently published.

WN: What got you interested in writing crime novels? What kind of detective is Ed Loy?
HUGHES: I always loved the genre, read Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald in my teens, and kept up with newer writers while working as a playwright and theatre director with the company I co-founded in Dublin, Rough Magic. My first play, I Can’t Get Started, was about Dashiell Hammett, and I wrote another play, Twenty Grand, about gangsters that was produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. And Dublin had such a huge economic boom, with a rising level of gangland violence. The conditions were right for the kind of crime novel that looked, not just at individuals and their crimes, but how it all connects together, how the kid who’s shot in an alley for a €200 drug debt is connected to the upscale dinner party guest sniffing cocaine after their meal. Ed Loy is a hard boiled detective in the classic Philip Marlowe/Lew Archer tradition – he’s divorced, he drinks too much, he’s fiercely moral but a little messy, he has an eye for the ladies, he leads with his chin. He doesn’t like drug dealers or pornographers, but he’s not too keen on those who’ve come by their riches more respectably.

WN: What's different about writing novels and writing plays? Is one format harder or easier?
HUGHES: They each present their difficulties. Writing a play is more precise. With a novel, you can take more time, and describe places and characters, in a play you have to suggest everything from what the characters say to each other. All you have is the dialogue – and through that, you have to present the action. I think a play is more difficult. Certainly it’s more demanding of an audience. We’ve all read novels we haven’t been totally convinced by, but nonetheless enjoyed. But a dull play? You want to put your own eyes out.

WN: How does your work with theater help with writing novels?
HUGHES: Firstly, I see a story in units, in scenes, so I’m inclined to dramatise, to show, rather than tell. Secondly, I understand dialogue is about the action, not just about the characters. And I enjoy it, it’s fun tot write, and should be fun to read. Thirdly, from Shakespeare, the impulse to depict a cross section of society, from high to low, showing how we’re all connected. Fourthly, the whole 17th Jacobean tradition of revenge tragedy – plays by writers like Webster, Ford, Tourneur and Middleton – is a huge influence on the way I see the world. These delirious plays are like a forerunner of noir: they depict a world drenched in illicit sex, violence, conspiracy and jealousy, told in a beautiful, decadent gutter poetry. They inspire me to do what I do. What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?The best part is having total control. And that’s the most challenging part. Because you’ve really got no-one else to blame but yourself if it doesn’t com out the way you wanted.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
HUGHES: The next Ed Loy book, The Price of Blood. In the run-up to Christmas, Father Vincent Tyrrell, a Catholic priest hires Loy but will only give him a man’s name, claiming he cannot say more, because what he knows was told to him in confession, and he cannot divulge it to anyone. Loy finds the case embraces the priest’s brother, FX Tyrrell, a horse trainer, and their sister Regina, two murders, and, as Christmas dawns, the truth of what happened in a stable thirty years ago.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
HUGHES: The Great Gatsby-- in its own way, a mystery – it’s the crucial book about how a dream can animate your life, and how it can destroy it. In our attempt to build a new life for ourselves, the past is always waiting around the corner. It is the great American novel, beautifully written, perfect in its way.

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