Irish-born crime writer John Connolly went on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke to discuss his new novel in the detective Charlie Parker series, A Song Of Shadows.
Mr Connolly, a former journalist whose fiction is often graphically violent, was asked about his thoughts on the coverage of the Graham Dwyer trial.
Sean O’Rourke: “John, when you were here, I think the last time but one, I was saying to you that I found the first, I think the first, of the Charlie Parker series fairly gruesome and you were talking about he had developed and how you had developed as well in your own treatment of his activities and maybe now more than previously you left gory details to the readers’ imagination, does that apply in this book as well?”
John Connolly: “Yes, this is very much, there’s very little detail, when you’re dealing with something like the aftermath of the Holocaust you have to be very careful I think, and because you know, people, as you’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, people can read things in the newspaper that I simply wouldn’t put in a book.
I could not have written a book based around the Graham Dwyer trial, I would not have written and I couldn’t write one of the, you know, I think over the next couple of months we’re going to see very rapidly produced, cash-in books about the Graham Dwyer trial, written, a lot of them, by people with kind of moral compasses of lizards, I think, and she’ll be dragged through the dirt again. I simply wouldn’t want to write one of those books and I simply wouldn’t want to put that level of detail in.”
O’Rourke: “Are you entirely fair to people with, as you put it so graphically, the the moral compasses of lizards, in the sense that, em, you know, they will just see it as an act of reporting, that there’s a moral in this, that people will want to get a sense of the great work the guards did, how the case was run and how the system, if you like, there was, justice was seen to be administered.”
Connolly: “I think that’s only a very small part of the fascination with that case. Em, I think, you know, I used to write for the Irish Times, I was quite astonished when I opened the Irish Times at the weekend to find seven broadsheet pages devoted to this case. if there had not been the sexual component to that case, the Irish Times would not have devoted seven pages to it.
If Graham Dwyer had not been this middle class man whom they could explore, and whose nature they could attempt to explore, I don’t think there would have been the interest. The danger when we come to, and look, there’s a historical aspect to this, the danger in those cases is that there is an aspect of titillation to it.
If you read Kathy Sheridan’s piece, which I think is one of the best pieces written about it, she was in the courtroom with people who were viewing it as cinema, the equivalent of going to the pictures, they were bringing in their crisps and they were sitting in the public gallery, they were not going it because they were concerned about Elaine O’Hara and they wanted to see justice done for her, they wanted as much explicit details as possible and we’ve been conditioned for that for quite some time… We’re not that far from our Victorian forbears in that way, our fascination with sex and violence, our fascination with somebody who’s apparently respectable leading this double life, this very unpleasant double life. Those things don’t go away.”
O’Rourke: But do you not think a paper like the Times, and again, like you, I was quite struck by the, the, I thought it was six pages, you say seven…”
Connolly: “There was a feature page as well, I think, in the weekend.”
O’Rourke: “But do you not think they were giving their readers what they wanted on Saturday?”
Connolly: “I … don’t believe that it merited seven pages. I think you can give your readers… you can… well, is that the duty of newspapers, is the duty of newspapers to actually to some degree, and I use the word in some degree slightly cautiously, to maybe pander to some of our worst instincts? While I accept that people wanted to see justice done, and feel that justice was being done in this case, the level of media interest was not because someone had been murdered by a man with whom she had been having an affair, the level of media interest was because we had never been presented with such graphic sexual detail before, and that’s a very, and we’re all curious about it, I’m not pretending to be saintly ,you know…”
O’Rourke: “The man in the office upstairs, before coming down, said that it out-Indoed the Indo. on Saturday.”
Connolly: “It really did. And the giveaway was there was a whole 1000 word section on people who lead sado-masochistic lifestyles. At that point, that was when you knew that was the focus interest of the piece. You can add all the other stuff round it about the police investigation and that it was meticulous and the coverage of that was very very good. The fascination for most people was not the police investigation the fascination for a lot of people was the detail that went with it.”
O’Rourke: “And do you think if he came from a different postal address and if he worked as a tradesman or whatever or was, you know, somebody would not be described as a professional, the level of interest and the level of reporting would be…”
Connolly: “I think the same association would not have been made. I don’t think people’s fascination would have been quite as extreme.”
Listen here (at 1.26)