Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive
- 08 Jun 2018
at Aula Maxima, UCC
OLLSCOIL na hÉIREANN
THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND
TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY:
Professor CLAIRE CONNOLLY FLSW MRIA, School of English in University College Cork, on 8 June 2018, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, on MARTINA COLE
Chancellor, President, Registrar, colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Martina Cole was born in Dagenham (or “Little Cork”) to Irish parents and grew up in East London as the youngest of five, part of a close knit Irish Catholic community. In her youth, such infamous gangsters as the Kray brothers were familiar faces. Her gripping novels continue to offer graphic and uncompromising depiction of a dangerous criminal world.
A promising career in crime began with Martina Cole’s expulsion from her convent school aged five. A nun threw a textbook at her and she had the temerity to throw it back. Among her other offences was possession of Harold Robbins’s racy novel The Carpetbaggers. At 21, she began work on the book that would become her record-breaking debut novel Dangerous Lady. Ten years later, she had gained in experience and confidence enough to send the manuscript to the agent Darley Anderson, who in turn sold the book to Headline and opened the path to the astonishing career we are here to celebrate today.
With a mother who was a nurse was from Dublin and a merchant seaman father from Shandon in Cork, Martina Cole grew up in an all-embracing London Irish world. The long summer holiday was often spent in Ireland and she continues to be a regular visitor to Cork, where she has many family and friends. The strong women characters that people her distinctive novels surely owe something to the Irish women with whom she grew up, in London and in Cork. DCI Anne Carr, DI Kate Burrows and the remarkable Maura Ryan: these are women’s voices and lives that ring with honesty and experience.
Among Martina Cole’s memories of school is her first encounter with accents other than Irish ones. Even as a child she had an ear closely attuned to voices: an early sign of her talents can be found in her father’s willingness to pay her to do imitations of her own mother’s Dublin accent. It is a special pleasure when reading Cole to listen out for characteristic Irish phrases and turns of speech that are at once every day and highly coloured. Never clichéd nor set apart from the flow of contemporary life, her language is born of a lifetime of listening to stories and reading books. “You’re never alone with a book”, her grandmother told her. One of Martina Cole’s earliest memories, she says, is of her father’s return from sea one Christmas with a toy cardboard stage as gift. “When you opened the curtains it had loads of tiny books behind it. That was it for me."
Martina Cole’s commitment to women’s voices and experiences does not stop at her novels. She supports many charities, including the Young Women’s Trust, the only UK charity dedicated to supporting and representing disadvantaged young women who are unemployed or trapped in low paid work. She is a patron of the domestic violence charity Women’s Aid and the single parent’s charity Gingerbread. A single parent herself, at the centre of a large loving family, Cole advocates for literacy and aids disadvantaged communities such as the one she herself grew up in.
As Patron of Pen to Print, a creative writing project sponsored by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, she helps aspiring writers in disadvantaged areas to tell their stories. Her own novels have stayed true to the East London and Essex she knows so well. They present us with astonishing images and stories that somehow always stay close to a real, known world. Her writing is hard-hitting, uncompromising and compelling. She writes within the genre of crime fiction but also transcends conventional boundaries in novels that tackle that gangland executions, domestic violence, child prostitution, torture and murder alongside politics and property development. Worth noting especially is her ability to give voice to the point of view of the criminal and her uncanny ability to draw readers into threatening, violent worlds.
In a densely crowded and competitive publishing world, Martina Cole’s sales are a phenomenon. Across her career to date, her books have sold in excess of sixteen million copies. In 2011 Martina surpassed the £50 million sales mark since records began and was the first British female novelist for adult audiences to achieve this distinction. Her work has been garlanded with praise and awards including British Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year with The Take. Many of the novels have been adapted for stage and TV where they have found eager new audiences.
Why do her books sell so well and how do they achieve their remarkable readership? I recently discussed favourite books with a writer friend who, like millions of others, is a fan of Martina Cole. Her books, my friend said, are ideal reading “if you are pregnant. Or bereaved”. That just about sums it up I think – read Martina Cole’s gripping novels if you are interested in life or in death. The closer she brings her characters to a world of shocking and violent deaths, the more her books ring with animation, energy and life.
Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque universitas!
Praesento vobis hanc meam filiam, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneam esse quae admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Litteris, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae