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Written by Laura Skippen

Andrew Hughes is an archivist from County Wexford, Ireland. Whilst researching his non-fiction work, a social history of the Georgian houses in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, he discovered the story of John Delahunt. The Convictions of John Delahunt is his first novel. Laura Skippen has reviewed the novel [here] and met the author on his recent visit to London.

LAURA SKIPPEN: What attracted you to this particular story during your research as opposed to all the other interesting ones you discovered?

ANDREW HUGHES: Whilst I was researching my non-fiction work I came across a reference to the murder of the Italian boy which was clearly a notorious story at the time. The crown witness in the case was John Delahunt and from there I found numerous newspaper reports that revealed the rest of his story. It was an unusual enough story that when I was searching for inspiration for a piece of work to take to my writing group it stuck in my mind and I began to write about him.  

LS: Are you planning on using any of these other stories in future books?

AH: I often check through old reports looking for the scandals of the time as possible inspiration, but John Delahunt was such a strong story I felt he could carry a whole novel. Many of the other stories are useful additions to give the ring of truth to other stories but I haven’t planned any future work solely around them yet.

LS: What made you decide to use Delahunt’s voice rather than the third person?

AH: It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I like the first person as a way of really getting into a character. He is very self-aware and makes a lot of wry comments on his behaviour so I could still take him a step away from his actions. I also admire a lot of works written in that style, such as Notes from the Underground so it just came naturally.

LS: Delahunt has some redeeming features but essentially is a pretty amoral character. How would you defend him?

AH: The real-life Delahunt was a child-killer and it is pretty difficult to defend that. It was a challenge to make him a sympathetic enough character that people would want to read about him. I invented the character of Helen to show his more human side. I suppose in his defence in the way I have written him he is a man who could have gone in another direction, he is a victim of circumstance and the brawl with the policeman is the first in a series of steps which traps him in a downhill spiral. He finds himself in situations where he does the most expedient thing at the time which isn’t always the most moral!

Helen has also divided opinion. Although I originally thought of her as a purely sympathetic character several people have commented that she has her dark side and that the two characters together drag each other down. She became a strong character in her own right.

LS: You manage to keep a lot of suspense in the book despite the fact that the reader knows what happens from the very beginning. How did you ensure this happened?

AH: I was writing with my fiction workshop at the time and we had to bring work to the group each week to talk about. This was how the book came about in the end. Writing in this way forces you to make sure that there is something happening in every chapter as the group only gets to read a few pages each week. I found writing like this and getting the views of the workshop really helpful. I still meet with the group now.

LS: Are you a crime fiction lover? Were you on the lookout for this type of inspiration?

AH: I didn’t originally think of this book as crime fiction and with my background as an archivist I’d always thought of it as an historical novel. I’ve not read much crime fiction but was inspired by John Banville’s The Book of Evidence and of course Crime and Punishment. So I suppose I went more along the lines of a study of a sociopath rather than a classic whodunit. However I seem to be getting drawn into the crime fiction world as my next novel is also features historical crime.

LS: You’ve actually had some flattering comparisons with John Banville. However he has said that he hates all his books as they are all an embarrassment! How do you feel about your book?

AH: I’m not sure I’ve reached that stage yet! Receiving constant feedback throughout the process meant that by the time it was finished I actually felt like the book was complete. I don’t feel that I need to go back to it now; I’m ready for the next one.

LS: Talking of the next one….

AH: It is set in Dublin again but this time earlier, in 1816, which was known as the year without a summer. There was a volcanic explosion in south-east Asia which led to devastating environmental effects and widespread famine in Ireland as crops failed. The freakish events give the story a kind of noir setting. I’ve gone with a female central character this time called Abigail Lawless, and it has been quite nice to write a more uncomplicated sympathetic character.

LS: With your background as an archivist and all the research you have done on Dublin’s historywill you be trying to use all this in your future books?

AH: I did do a lot of research for this book and I do feel more comfortable writing with that element of knowledge as I think the details are very important. I also like the way you can look at attitudes during the time and the limitations these put on the characters. This has been really true writing with a lady sleuth at the moment. On the other hand I definitely think I could go further afield and not just stick in Dublin, maybe for my third?

LS: We are looking forward to it!


Doubleday Ireland
RRP: £12.99 Trade Pbk
Released: 13th March 2014

Photos © Mike Ripley

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