Tyrone crime writer Anthony J Quinn on new book Trespass
As author Anthony J Quinn's new crime book Trespass hits the shelves this week, he tells Gail Bell why the landscape of Co Tyrone remains his much-loved muse
INSPECTOR Celcius Daly is on the prowl again, in ''lawless" border country, and this time it is the abduction of a boy, supposedly by a group of travellers, which is keeping him awake at night.
Under internal investigation himself – and being both something of a person on the margins and reduced to sleeping in a caravan – the insomniac detective soon empathises with the community under suspicion.
Harrowing truths about the past treatment of travellers and "present day lawlessness" in Northern Ireland's border country loom large in Anthony J Quinn's fourth crime novel which has already been hailed by critics, despite having only been launched last week.
Trespass, published by Head of Zeus, was unveiled at No Alibis independent book store in Belfast on Friday by special guest, the critically acclaimed London-based Irish writer, William Ryan.
But Quinn, who twice won a place on the shortlist for the Hennessy Literary Awards for New Irish Writing and whose debut novel Disappeared was selected as one of the books of the year by The Times and Daily Mail, still keeps his feet firmly planted on terra firma – at his home near Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Modest and refreshingly unaffected by his rising star in the notoriously fickle milieu of the literati, his day job in a local newspaper and sharing school runs for four children help keep him grounded – along with the readers he met during a recent 21-date library tour as writer-in-residence for Libraries Northern Ireland.
"You never know quite who is going to be in the crowd and there were certainly a few surprises – fireworks, even – in what was quite an exhaustive tour across the region," he reveals.
"I discovered parts of Tyrone I never knew existed and many interesting people along the way. During a visit to Draperstown, for instance, I was accused of sounding like an American" and not talking like "a real Tyrone man" which threw me a bit.
"My accuser – a woman – was deadly serious and believed me to be an imposter, but, as with literary criticism, you have to take it on the chin. But I will, obviously, have to work on my accent."
Americans, generally, are actually big fans of his writing, with the Daly books finding a welcoming home, not just among the Irish diaspora, but in crime-reading households across the States.
"The Daly books have had a real platform in the US and I like to think I am also unofficially marketing Tyrone as a tourist destination," Quinn jests.
"On social media, an American reader said he wanted to rent a cottage by Lough Neagh on the strength of a description in one of my books, so I like to think I am helping sell the county for Tourism Ireland."
On another occasion on the library tour, he met with an outpouring of emotion from one tearful reading group whose members, some still hurting from individual experiences of the Troubles, identified with various references in one of the Daly mysteries, which they found "uplifting".
"All sorts of feelings can rise to the surface in the question-and-answer sessions and I sometimes go through the door with a certain amount of trepidation," Quinn says. "But being writer-in-residence has taught me the therapeutic benefits of people reading and sharing together.
"For me, reading was always a solitary thing, but it has been fantastic to see the interaction among reading groups in libraries across Northern Ireland."
Speaking to groups in this capacity was never something the Queen's English graduate had envisaged, being an "introvert at heart" and suffering from extreme shyness as a child.
Quinn could read and write before starting school, but he needed a speech therapist to help him communicate verbally.
"I still am prone to enjoy my own company too much and writing can be a solitary existence, so I love to go into the newspaper office, talk to other adults, and use the analytical part of my brain for journalism," he says.
"Early in the morning, or late at night, when I'm closer to that dream-like state, I hide myself away and write from the creative, poetic part of the brain.
"I always say I'm a thwarted poet and I could have written 8,000 words just on the landscape and the weather alone. I enjoy using the connection between inner and outer landscapes to predict and reflect moods but, for all my love of poetry, it never has a good plot so, for me, writing crime novels is a way to combine both."
A former social worker, Quinn recalls a childhood full of stories which inspired; Irish folk stories with ghosts and fairies and, ever present as a backdrop, the silent, beguiling Tyrone landscape, dotted with ditches, brooks and blackthorns hiding in the shadows.
"I grew up in this community and I grew up listening to stories, so a sense of place and belonging is central to my writing," he says. "In Trespass, Co Tyrone is still my muse and I don't think I'll ever wander far away from it.
"Sometimes the most unexplored landscape is the terrain closest to home."
:: Trespass by Anthony J Quinn is published by Head of Zeus and is the fourth in a series which includes 'Disappeared', 'Border Angels' and 'Silence'.