Bloody Words

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Louise Penny

Louise Penny delivered this speech at the “Bloody Words IX” Conference in Ottawa on June 6th, 2009 at the Marriott Hotel, after receiving the Canadian Guest of Honour Award before a gathering of 250 writers, critics, media types, and mystery enthusiasts who included police, forensic scientists, academics, and publishers, as well as dedicated readers.

I wonder if you know how grateful I am—not simply for this honour, but to belong to such a fabulous community of readers and writers. It’s an exciting, a thrilling, time to be a Canadian crime writer. Our Golden Age. When you look at the company. At Giles Blunt, Andrew Pyper, Gail Bowen…at Peter Robinson and Linwood Barclay and Barbara Fradkin and Mary Jane Maffini, and so many more. From a modest number creating Canadian crime fiction two decades ago we have blossomed into a rich and complex body of works. So many styles, so many approaches. Not all writing about Canada specifically, but whose words were formed by the Canadian experience. By the landscape, the sensibility, the culture and community.

Some shout Canadian, some whisper it…but the most glorious thing is that our voices are raised and being heard and being recognized world wide.

The only question I get tired of being asked, by interviewers or critics or other writers is whether I might try my hand at literary fiction. As though crime fiction cannot possibly be that. And as though I’m just practicing and the goal is something finer. More worthy and worthwhile.

There seems a perception that crime fiction is a lesser voice and duller art. Because there’s a structure. A formula to it.

There’s a formula for the ‘three minute mile’ too. You do a third of a mile every minute. Perhaps you’d like to try.

Haiku has a rigid form and structure and no one suggests maybe one day the Japanese haiku masters might be good enough to write an epic.

Sonnets have a strict structure—and that’s the challenge. That’s the demand. To be creative, to both occupy and transcend the form.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state.

Would anyone suggest Shakespeare’s Sonnets are lesser creations because they follow a form?

When people ask if maybe I’d like to write something more serious I look them in the eye and gently tell them I haven’t yet begun to explore the complexities of writing mysteries. They allow me to look into my community, into my beliefs, into my heart. They allow me to write about characters I love in a country I love.

And they allow me to belong to this community. I am so proud of being a Canadian crime writer. So grateful to the organizers of Bloody Words for inviting me. So inspired by the words and works of other Canadian writers. So excited that people around the world are discovering what we already know.

Canadians excel at crime.

I scorn to change my state with kings’.