Irish writer Sam Blake on why more women are turning to crime

What makes Irish women writers so good at crime writing? Small Bones writer Sam Blake explains to Joanne Sweeney

Crime writer Sam Blake, otherwise known as Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin
Joanne Sweeney

IF YOU have ever wondered why women can't get enough of crime novels, then an event at the Open House Festival in Bangor next week may provide the answer.

Irish crime writers Alex Barclay and Sam Blake will be in conversation with David Torrans, the owner of top independent Belfast book shop No Alibis, for an event intriguingly entitled The Ladykillers.

Torrans is to interrogate the two writers as to what makes a deadly read, how they created their crime-fighting heroines and if the female is always deadlier than the male.

And both will likely have plenty to say as Cork writer Barclay has been arguably the queen of the Irish female crime writers since her debut novel Darkhouse in 2005, which turned out to be an international and Sunday Times best seller. She now has eight books to her credit, including last year's The Drowning Child.

Blake is better known to her nearest and dearest as Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin, from Co Wicklow, who also works as a literary scout as founder of the Inkwell Group and runs the writers' resource website

She launched her debut novel Little Bones, featuring Garda detective and champion kick boxer Cat Connolly, last year and followed up with the second of a trilogy, In Deep Water, in April.

In Little Bones, a routine break-in takes on a disturbing turn when the detective finds an old dress with bones sewn into the hem. And In Deep Water, Cat Connolly comes face to face with a professional contract killer when she tries to track down a missing friend. Little Bones was an Irish best seller and was shortlisted Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

And as the vast majority of people who buy book these days are women, Fox O'Loughlin told me that the crime genre is one that naturally appeals to female readers, even though women are mostly the victims.

"I think that a lot of women read crime as it's a way of dealing with your fears within a safe environment," she says. "Within a crime novel all sorts of horrible things can happen that you might be personally frightened off but which can be dealt with in a safe environment by reading it.

"There’s a huge surge in Irish crime writing at the moment but I don't think people write books because they are commercial, because everybody writes because they want to tell a story.

"I think women write crime because they are interested in puzzles and motivation and what goes on behind that. Well, I’m certainly interested in what goes on behind closed doors and I'm fascinated by secrets and puzzles and all those types of things.

"I think women like to be challenged by their books and I think crime does this."

Fox O'Loughlin believes that Barclay's success has been instrumental in encouraging other female crime writers like herself.

"Alex Barclay was the first Irish woman crime writer and I think her success has helped other women believe that they can write crime and to put out what they may have been working on for years. I've always written crime and have only written one romance book too but it still had intrigue and darkness in it as well," she adds.

She ensures that her writing is authentic with the help of her retired Garda husband and some other police colleagues.

"My husband has a colleague who is a retired member of Special Branch who reads everything for me and there are a couple of guys who also read for me,” she says. “It's just to get the sense and all the right detail as I want a police officer to be able to sit down and be able to read it and for it to seem real. The process and investigation is correct and dynamics within the police unit have to be right and that's very important to me."

Fox O'Loughlin is currently working on the third Cat Connolly novel, which should be out early next year. She believes that the series may have life beyond the forthcoming book, which her fans will be applauding.

"In the new book, Cat is left in a very interesting place and so I do think that there's more life in the series," she adds.

:: Tickets to The Ladykillers with No Alibis at the Open House Festival, Wednesday, August 16 at 7.30pm cost £9 and are available from Sam Blake's two Cat Connolly novels, Little Bones and In Deep Water (Bonnie Zaffre) are available online from Amazon and from Eason and No Alibis.

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