Crime writers: a “fatal lack of talent”?

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Last week, William O’Rourke, emeritus professor of English at Notre Dame, wrote an essay for the Irish Times about the Irish writer Michael Collins, his former student. Things kicked off from there. O’Rourke wrote:

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.

And from crime writers came laughter, and spit-takes, and the rolling of eyes. Until the Books Editor of the Irish Times, Martin Doyle, invited us to respond. Thirteen of us did: ‘Untalented’ crime writers respond to their No 1 critic.

My contribution:

I had a drop of talent once. I got rid of it. Sold it out of the boot of my car so I could write a crime novel.

My main point is this:

There’s a damaging belief that talent is binary. You either have it – gifted by genetics, the Almighty, a lotto scratch card – or not. You’ve got it? Off you go to Hogwarts. You don’t? Muggle. Give up. Don’t waste our time.

But as a writer, a teacher, and above all as a parent, I’ve come to regard talent as a false god.

Read on for the rest of my response, and for replies from Sarah Hilary, John Banville, Declan Hughes, and a host of other fine crime writers.

2 responses to “Crime writers: a “fatal lack of talent”?

  1. I followed the link and read it. There were many well-thought out responses, including yours. And you did a great job sliding in a little humor, too. I hope readers see that there’s a great deal of work that goes into the talent of writing a crime novel. And as a reader, I appreciate that work. For me, when reading the book, if the craft is invisible, if all that hard work writing the book doesn’t pull me out of the story world, then I recognize talent. If that makes sense. And that’s what keeps me coming back to favorite authors like yourself.

  2. Thanks, Lisa. Keeping the craft — the nuts and bolts — invisible so the reader stays immersed in the book is a great way to put it.

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