By the time I get to Phoenix…

Next month I will visit the USA to attend the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at the Arizona State University in Phoenix. As the conference website blurb says, Desert Nights, Rising Stars ‘brings together writers, readers, and lovers of literature for three days of instruction, inspiration, and community. By creating an intimate and accessible space where conference-goers can make real, personal connections with award-winning authors, industry experts, and the larger community of peers, attendees gain practical tools to develop their craft, professional knowledge to further their careers, and determination and purpose to move their writing forward.’

dnrs-title-banner_2This amazing opportunity came about through my PhD supervisor, Dr Chandani Lokugé, and when it did, I felt the urge to grab it with both hands. I mean, just look at the conference logo (left) — how could anyone resist? And it’s called Desert Nights, Rising Stars for heaven’s sake (no pun intended).

As part of the conference program, I will be taking a one hour class I’m calling ‘Never Just Description: How Setting Can Enhance Your Story’. To give potential participants a taster, I wrote a blog post for the conference website:

My novels are set in Thailand, and readers often comment on their strong sense of place. But this wasn’t always the case. In a rejection letter for an early draft of my manuscript, later published as Behind the Night Bazaar, the reader commented, “I didn’t really feel that I had been taken to Thailand… I think there needs to be more of a sense of the sights and smells of Thailand, of being taken to a different land.”

At the time, I was writing straight off the back of six years in Southeast Asia, including 18 months in Thailand. In retrospect, I realise I was too close to the environment I was writing about. I had to take a step back, remember what it was like when I first arrived, try to conjure the little things that made the place unique…

Read the rest of the article here.

I’ll also be appearing on a panel with crime writer Kwei Quartey to discuss ‘Writing Culture for Other Cultures’. I’m currently reading the first in Quartey’s Darko Dawson series, Wife of the Gods, set in Ghana — not only a great read, but it’s taking me to a country I know nothing about.

As a conference participant, I’m looking forward to attending sessions with Malinda Lo (Writing with Diversity: How to & Why Not), Goldie Goldbloom, Dominic Smith, Adrienne Celt, Alissa Nutting, Elizabeth Evans and Benjamin Percy — to name a few. My biggest task will be choosing which of the great sessions on offer to attend.

This will also be my first ever trip to the USA; somehow, I’ve managed to visit Central and South America, but never the United States. As it’s taken me 50 years to get there, I plan to make the most of it and stay on for a week afterwards to do some sight-seeing. I will visit the town of Sedona, in addition to Phoenix. And weather permitting, I hope to get to both Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon — or ‘Thelma and Louise country’, as I like to think of it (though I intend to avoid going over any cliffs for the duration of my stay).

thelma-louise_36

In addition to Kwei Quartey’s novels, I’m also planning to read Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series in preparation for my trip.

What about you? Have you ever been to Arizona? Do you have any tips or recommendations for my trip? Pre-reading for me? Songs for my playlist?

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The Reading Bingo Challenge 2016

I was alerted to the Reading Bingo Challenge by a blog post from the fabulous FictionFan and figured this would make a fun alternative to the usual ‘best of’ lists to broadcast some reading highlights of 2016. So here goes…

reading-bingo-smallMore than 500 pages
Off to a bad start, I’m afraid. Nothing I’ve read this year qualifies. And I suspect I won’t be reading anything of more than 500 pages until after I’ve finished my PhD.

turtle-beachA forgotten classic
Turtle Beach by Blanche D’Alpuget is a multi-award winning novel that proved remarkably difficult to source, even at the library, which makes me think it qualifies as ‘forgotten classic’ (I have Jo at Blarney Books to thank for my copy). The novel is set in Malaysia in 1979 and deals with the international refugee crisis following the Vietnam War. I’m a few chapters in and it’s an intriguing read.

Became a movie
goodmuslimboycover1I had the great fun of interviewing Osamah Sami at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, which alerted me to his astonishing memoir, Good Muslim Boy. Osamah is an Iraqi, born in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, ‘so I’ve always been at war with myself’, he writes in the opening chapter. Good Muslim Boy is a moving, alternately tragic and hilarious account of Osamah’s struggles to reconcile the demands and desires in a life lived across borders and cultures. An episode in his memoir inspired the film Ali’s Wedding (on general release in March 2017), billed as Australia’s first Muslim rom-com. Osamah stars in the film and won an AWGIE award with Andrew Knight for most outstanding script for an Original Feature Film. A prodigious talent.

the_permanent_resident_coverPublished this year
I read 16 books published in 2016, but the one I’m going to highlight here is The Permanent Resident, a collection of short stories by Roanna Gonsalves. I was fortunate to be at the Canberra launch of the collection and hearing Ro read from the collection was enough to make me buy it on the spot. These bittersweet, at times breath-taking stories are beautifully written, especially at their most confronting.

Number in the title
scarlet-stiletto-8th-cut-2016Scarlet Stiletto: The Eighth Cut is the latest in a series of anthologies published by Clan Destine Press, featuring the short stories that have won the Sisters in Crime Australia Scarlet Stiletto Awards. I had the pleasure of launching Cuts 3-8 at the SheKilda one-day crime spree in November. The Eighth Cut contains the 2016 prize winning stories, including Ruth Wykes’s first prize winner ‘Stone Cold’, and Jacqui Horwood’s ‘Diving for Pearls’, which won a special Silver Stiletto award to mark 25 years of the Sisters in Crime.

Written by someone under 30
Memory Artist
The Vogel Prize is an Australian literary award for unpublished manuscripts by writers under the age of 35. I know for a fact that this year’s winner is under 30 because it was won by my friend and PhD study buddy Katherine (Kate) Brabon for her stunning novel, The Memory Artist. Also making ABC TV’s First Tuesday Book Club’s Top 10 Books for 2016, The Memory Artist is a sad and beautiful meditation on memory, trauma and the place of art in Soviet Russia.

Non-human characters
the-island-will-sink
Thank heavens for Pow-Wow the Power Saving Panda in Briohny’s Doyle’s debut The Island Will Sink or I wouldn’t have been able to tick this bingo box. An apocalyptic novel bursting with questions about climate change, cultural homogeneity and how we define real-life in a screen-saturated culture, The Island Will Sink is the first novel to be published by The Lifted Brow.

Funny book
indexRobert Gott’s Will Power series features a character whom Shane Maloney once described as ‘Australia’s first dickhead detective’. I was sharing a hotel room with my mother in Hobart while reading the latest installment, The Serpent’s Sting, and had to put it aside because I was laughing so much, I was keeping her awake. Recommended as the perfect read for a happy festive season.

Female author
when-michael-met-minaHow is this even a bingo category?! Sixty-eight per cent of the books I read this year were by female authors, including most of the academic ones. The book I’m highlighting here is When Michael Met Mina by Sydney author Randa Abdel-Fattah. Pitched at a YA audience, it’s a terrific story Romeo and Juliet story for our times. Michael’s father is a founding member of anti-immigration group  ‘Aussie Values’. Mina’s family came to Australia as refugees from Afghanistan. In lesser hands, this could have been a ‘heavy’, didactic read. Instead, it’s a vibrant and engaging story, peopled with credible teenage characters.

With a mystery
cover_rules-of-backyard-cricketI read fewer crime novels than usual this year (11 out of 50 books, 15 if you count short story anthologies), although a number of the literary novels I read used crime as a plot device, including Miles Franklin winner, AS Patric’s beautiful and brutal Black Rock, White City; Stella Prize winner, Charlotte Wood’s unsettling, The Natural Way of Things; and one of my favourite literary reads of 2016, Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm. But my bingo pick is Jock Serong’s The Rules of Backyard Cricket. The novel opens with Darren Keefe in the boot of a car, tied up and shot through the knee, watching the white lines of the Geelong Road through a hole in the tail-light. He can feel a shovel and a bag of lime next to him. How the hell did he get there? What the hell happens next? Shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, this is one to keep you awake at night.

avalancheOne-word title
I read more memoirs than usual in 2016 (8 out of 50 books), one of which was Julia Leigh’s Avalanche, about her experience of IVF and her decision to stop treatment. Leigh writes beautifully about the liminality of infertility and the grief of letting go. Deeply personal and also generous, this small book was one of my favourite reads of 2016.

Short Stories
cracking-the-spineI’ve become evangelical about Cracking the Spine, one of six short story books I read this year. Published in 2012 by Spineless Wonders and edited by Julie Chevalier and Browyn Mehan, the anthology features ten stories by outstanding Australian writers — including Ryan O’Neill, Maria Takolander and Tony Birch — each accompanied by an essay on how the story was written. Compelling and illuminating, Cracking the Spine is an invaluable resource for anyone writing short stories and/or teaching short story writing.

gunshine-state-paperback-wraparoundFree Square
I’m allocating my free square to Gunshine State, the second novel by my partner in life and crime fiction, Andrew Nette. Queensland’s Gold Coast is just one of the settings vividly evoked in this classic heist novel, described by Jock Serong as ‘gruesome, visceral fun’ that ‘never lets up for a second’. The perfect summer holiday read.

ruinsSet on a different continent
This is another one of those ‘duh?’ bingo squares for me. In 2016, I read 17 novels set in Australia and 11 set elsewhere. One of the most compelling was Rajith Savanadasa’s debut Ruins, set in Sri Lanka. Ruins took me to places I could never imagine, an intimate portrayal of a troubled family and country, with a denouement that took my breath away.

reckoningNon-fiction
I had the honour and pleasure of interviewing Magda Szubanski as part of the Schools Program at Melbourne Writers Festival this year, about her extraordinary book Reckoning. Both a biography of her father, a member of the Polish resistance, and a memoir of Szubanski’s own life, Reckoning is an intriguing, often poetic exploration of how history and trauma in one generation impacts on the next.

First book by a favourite author
harmony-silk-factoryI discovered Malaysian novelist Tash Aw while in Thailand this time last year, stumbling upon his Map of the Invisible World in a secondhand bookshop on Koh Chang. I subsequently tracked down his multi-award winning first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory. The epic tale of Johnny Lim — ‘textile merchant, petty crook and inventor of the Amazing Toddy Machine’ — told through the eyes of his son, his wife Snow Soong, and expatriate Englishman Peter Wormwood, is also the story of Malaysia from the 1940s to the present. Simply stunning.

Heard about it online
giant-octopus-momentWhen I started writing my PhD, a Google search for novels about surrogacy brought up the oddly titled Her Giant Octopus Moment by Kay Langdale. Set in the UK, the story centres on the relationship between eleven-year-old Scout and her mother Joanie, a surrogate mother who had a change of heart about relinquishing the baby she’d agreed to carry. As a result, Joanie and Scout had been living on the run. A mediation on what makes a parent, the novel turned out to be an unexpected delight, due largely to wonderful characterisations. The ‘giant octopus moment’, when it came, was genuinely moving.

Best seller
last-painting-of-sara-de-vosMy bingo pick for this category is New York Times bestseller, The Last Paining of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. A rare seventeenth century painting links three lives on three continents over three centuries in this absorbing and ingenious book. I was subsequently thrilled to learn that Smith, an Australian writer now based in the US, will be at guest at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference I’ll be attending in Phoenix, Arizona in February 2017.

Based on a true story
FerrisRiskFleur Ferris’s Risk was inspired by true stories of online predators and love gone wrong, derived from the author’s experiences as a former police officer and paramedic. As the mother of a ten-year-old girl, I found Risk genuinely frightening and something of a wake-up call. The thriller element is enhanced by the characters’ experiences of guilt and grief. A worthy winner of the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards for Best Young Adult Novel 2016 and joint winner of Best Debut Book 2016.

Bottom of the TBR pile
flynn_tigerinedenGiven our proximity to and engagement with Asia, there is comparatively scant fiction published in Australia that is set in Asia, even less Asian-Australian authored fiction, and Asian fiction published in Australia. Whenever I come across Australian novels set in Thailand in particular, I try to read them, and this year I finally got to Tiger in Eden by Chris Flynn, published in 2012. It’s hard to know how to describe this novel. The central character, Belfast-born Billy Montgomery, is a criminal, but it’s not a crime novel. Billy is unlikeable, but you can’t help liking him. The Thai setting is filtered through Billy’s voice, which is rough and sweary, alternating between hilarious and excruciating.

cosmopolitanismYour friend loves…
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah was recommended to me as a wonderful read by my PhD supervisor, academic and novelist Chandani Lokuge. It is not only a wonderful read, it is the first theoretic text I’ve read that makes sense of my experience. This one’s for life, not just for Christmas the PhD.

Scared me
golden-childIn preparation for our panel together at SheKilda 3 on domestic noir, I got to read an advance copy of Wendy James’s new novel, The Golden Child. Not only was it a compulsive read, it was so scary, it gave me nightmares. It’s Mildred Pierce meets The Bad Seed in the digital age. They* don’t call James Australia’s Queen of Domestic Suspense for nothing.

* It may have actually been me who first called Wendy James Australia’s Queen of Domestic Suspense, but the title has certainly stuck.

More than 10 years old
julia-paradiseIn preparation for interviewing Rod Jones at the Newcastle Writers Festival (are you starting to see a pattern here?), I read not only his poignant latest novel, The Mothers, but his award-winning debut Julia Paradise, first published in 1986, and re-published as part of the Text Classics series. Set in Shanghai in 1927, Julia Paradise is like no other book I’ve ever read. Erotic, unsettling, and entirely transporting. A hell of a find.

Second book in a series
Dead Men Don't Order FlakeI had the great pleasure of launching Sue Williams’s Dead Men Don’t Order Flake, the second novel in her cosy crime fiction series featuring takeaway owner-operator cum private investigator Cass Tuplin. With its vivid small town setting, colourful cast of characters, cracking pace and laugh out loud humour, I had no hesitation recommending Dead Men Don’t Order Flake for the Sisters in Crime Hot Reads for Summer.

Book with a blue cover
skylarkingStrangely, quite a few of the books I read in 2016 fit this description, making me think I must be subliminally attracted to blue covers. The one I’m allocating to this final bingo square is actually on the top of my summer reading pile for 2017: Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall. I had the great pleasure of hearing Kate speak about the book at a symposium on ‘biofiction’ (fiction based on the lives of real people) and rushed straight out to buy it.

What were your reading highlights for 2016? And what’s on the top of your summer reading pile?

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SheKilda 3…where a criminally good time was had by all

This post is based on an article that appeared on the Sisters in Crime Australia website, with editorial comments as noted.

Sisters in Crime celebrated its 25th birthday in style at SheKilda3: One-day Crime Spree at St Kilda Town Hall on 19 November.

The verdict has been unanimous: SheKilda3 was outstanding – top level panels and discussion, a great Great Debate, inspiring Scarlet Stiletto Awards, a warm and inclusive atmosphere, productive networking, fabulous food, and marvellous fun…

sue-williams-leigh-redhead-robert-gott-jock-serong-angela-savage-andrew-nette-vikki-petraitis-1

The Great Debaters: (L-R) Sue Williams, Leigh Redhead, Robert Gott, Jock Serong, Angela Savage, Andrew Nette & Vikki Petraitis

Sisters in Crime President, Vivienne Colmer, said SheKilda3 had exceeded the wildest expectation of the organisers.

“Authors and crime buffs came all over the country – from Cairns to Hobart, Sydney to Perth – with everyone commenting on the stimulating debates, both on stage and elsewhere. The authors and other speakers raved about how inspiring it was to get together with their peers – on both a professional and social level. One author declared it was ‘life-changing’.

“Authors talked eloquently about their books and their works-in-progress and even ideas for new projects they got just from attending. It was exciting to see how many professional connections between writers, editors, publishers and producers were forged,” she said.

“The hall looked amazing with scarlet stilettos big and small everywhere we looked. Everyone felt welcomed, whether they were veterans or newbies.”

Participants complimented Sisters in Crime on the excellent organisation and “top-class” panels. Author Maryanne Ross described SheKilda 3 as “the absolute best writers’ event I have been to for many years… great value for a writer (other writers’ festivals are really for readers) – eight high quality panels very insightful re writing process, with deep discussions about challenges and how they were overcome, as well as exploring personal courage. Also, great networking with other writers at all stages of their careers.”

[Ed’s note: I had the great pleasure of chairing a panel on Domestic Noir, featuring three of my favourite local writers of the sub-genre: Wendy James, Honey Brown and Anna George. As well as discussing its antecedents, we also speculated on the current popularity of domestic noir, which Anna linked to women’s ambivalence about power and the gains we have and haven’t made in recent decades. Other memorable lines: “Domestic violence is the underbelly of romantic love” (Anna George); “To be a creative person you need to have a dodgy moral compass” (Honey Brown); and Wendy James on why she struggles to see her work as ‘noir’ in the classic sense: “I’m writing about women in dressing gowns that aren’t see-through!”]

Back: Wendy James & me; front: Anna George & Honey Brown after talking Domestic Noir

Back: Wendy James & me; front: Anna George & Honey Brown after talking Domestic Noir

SheKilda3 was actually a day and a bit with crime writing workshops run by Ellie Marney and Professor Christina Lee at St Kilda Library on Friday afternoon. Everyone got into the mood for the convention with an engrossing session early Friday evening with Melina Marchetta, the YA author who has just turned to (adult) crime. (Catch up with Sue Turnbull’s review if you missed the session).

The pitching sessions to the publishers were a popular addition with 21 women and two men pitching to five publishers. The pitching session to the producers was also great fun and allowed everyone to dream bigger than their novel. All sorts of possibilities may ensue. One producer pitched to two authors during a smoko on the Town Hall lawn. Another producer has asked for a list of all the ‘pitchees’.

In her opening address, Vivienne acknowledged Janelle Colquhoun, Sisters in Crime’s Queensland convenor, who travelled from Brisbane, and Rose Stone (below), a founding member who turns 95 in March and until recently rarely missed an event. As Vivienne said, “Clearly having a criminally good time keeps the ageing process at bay.” (Click shekilda3-welcome-vivienne-colmer for the full speech.) [Ed’s note: I was delighted to meet and talk with Rose, whose main tip for a long life was to have fun].

angela-savage-rose-stone-raffle-winner-1

Me with my new nonagenarian role model Rose Stone.

Professor Sue Turnbull presented the keynote address about the state of Australian women’s crime writing (click shekilda3-keynote-address-sue-turnbull to read) and, to her surprise, was presented with a Life Membership and also made Sisters in Crime’s inaugural ambassador. Sue’s colleagues at the University of Wollongong are apparently now referring to her as ‘your excellency’.

One of the highlights of the day was the Great Debate where the Dames – Vikki Petraitis, Leigh Redhead and Sue Williams – argued the toss with the Dicks – Robert Gott, Andrew Nette and Jock Serong – on the topic, Dicks should stick to writing hardboiled and dames should stick to writing cozies.

Leigh Redhead took issue with Dicks’ Team Leader Robert Gott whom, she said, had claimed that Leigh had won previous debates by wearing low cut frocks and flashing her breasts. She donned a nun’s habit and then quoted Seneca! Robert almost brought the house down when he told Leigh he had attended a Christian Brothers’ College, with the implication that the nun’s habit wasn’t so much a turn-off, as a turn-on…

The Dicks’ team was the best ever assembled for a Sisters in Crime event but the Dames narrowly won when it came to the clapometer. Now everyone wants to buy Andrew Nette’s hard-boiled cookbook!

[Ed’s note: As compere of the debate, I’m sorry in retrospect that I didn’t call it a draw; definitely the best Dicks this Sister has ever seen. Just look at the audience reaction in the photos below.] audience-10

audience-4SheKilda3 climaxed in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards for short stories. Nicole da Silva (Frankie in Wentworth) won everyone’s hearts with her honesty, charm and commitment to stories told by women for women. She has recently set up a production company to get more women’s stories to the screen.

The Scarlet Stiletto Awards reminded us again how crucial they have been in providing a springboard for emerging women writers. It was particularly inspiring to hear how Year 12 student Jenny Chen [Youth Award Runner Up] decided to enter after a school visit from Cate Kennedy, the doyen Australian short story writers, who got her start by winning the first – and then the second – Scarlet Stiletto Awards back in 1994 and 1995.

All panels were videoed by long-time Sisters in Crime member Leslie-Falkiner-Rose and her daughter Zarah. Filmmaker Pippa Wischer interviewed a number authors for her film project, A Murder of Crime Writers [Ed’s note: I was thrilled to be part of this and can’t wait to see the finished project]. Her colleague Nick did vox pops with convention-goers about Sisters in Crime. Videos and podcasts will available in the New Year.

Many thanks to SheKilda3 sponsors:
Criminal Accomplices: Bonnier Publishing; Harper Collins Australia
Criminal Associates: Text Publishing
Criminal Line-Up: Blarney Books & Art
Criminal Reputation: Clan Destine Press; Dennis Jones & Associates; Sun Bookshop

To our sixteen criminal consorts who kindly made donations to help with the cost of the event: Maggie Baron, Suzanne Bozorth-Baines, Tony Berry, Ann Byrne, Mirna Cicioni, Aoife Clifford, Vivienne Colmer, Ayala Deasey, Caroline de Costa, Annie Hauxwell, Claire Hill, Anne Holmes, Editors Victoria, Vicki Skidmore, Jaz Stutley and Ann Turner.

To the SheKilda3 committee: Carmel Shute, Michaela Lobb, Lindy Cameron. Caz Brown, Sandra Nicholson, Vivienne Colmer and Robyn Byrne, and to all the volunteers.

A reliable source informs us that the last SheKilda3 attendees standing were still laughing and singing at 4am… [Alas, I was not among them: after teaching in Geelong the day before, and being at SheKilda to chair a panel, compere the Great Debate, and launch the Scarlet Stiletto e-books, I crashed early.]

See here for my Scarlet Stiletto e-book launch speech; and here to buy the books.

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Review: Gunshine State

I’ve been keen to post a review of Andrew Nette’s latest novel, Gunshine State, on this blog. But seeing as how Andrew is not only a great crime writer but also my life partner, I could hardly be the one to do the review. Instead, it’s my pleasure to welcome crime writer and guest reviewer Jock Serong to the blog, with his review of Gunshine State. Read on…

gunshine-state-paperback-wraparoundGunshine State by Andrew Nette
280 Steps
Review by Jock Serong

There’s a fine line to negotiate when you’re making fiction of the pulp kind. From Raymond Chandler to Frank Miller, if you’re going to do pulp you have to bow to certain conventions, without ever allowing yourself to wallow in cliché. For this and so many other reasons, Andrew Nette’s second novel Gunshine State is a triumph.

Gary Chance, the dark and deeply compromised hero of Gunshine State, takes us on a wild ride from industrial Port Pirie in South Aus, to Surfers Paradise, then down to Yass, away to Thailand and finally to Melbourne, on a whirlwind journey out of the clutches of various bad guys and into heaps more trouble besides. The other location that figures heavily – though the action never goes there – is Afghanistan; functioning as a kind of netherworld from whence all the bad guys emerge; and where they learn their evil trades. There’s levels of badness involved here (the nearest thing to a good guy winds up shooting someone at point blank range), but the deepest circles of evil depicted by Nette spiral inevitably back to Kabul.

The tropes of pulp fiction, as I was saying, are masterfully deployed. The hideout in the grotty rural motel. The hooker with a heart of gold, dabbing the hero’s wounds while he grimaces. The coffee and stakeouts in parked cars. And guns: guns everywhere. Snub-noses, automatics, sawn-offs…in the streets of Nette’s imagination there was never an amnesty, or if there was, these shadowy figures have ignored it. I fear there’s some truth in that notion.

Surfers Paradise in particular looms large in this tale of double crossing and heists gone wrong. The gangsters there, Costello and Dennis Curry, are survivors of the Vietnam War, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the halcyon days of the city itself. There’s a sense that the corruption and its rewards have passed into younger hands and they’ve been left tending the ferns on their high rise balconies, old and embittered. The book’s title hints at the old aphorism about the Gold Coast being a sunny place for shady people: this is a masterful depiction of a metropolis gone to seed.

The plot hurtles forward, aided by the constant motion of the characters – no-one sits still for long in this tale, and we’re treated to perilous car rides, motorbikes and even, memorably, a boat. All of this racing around helps to underscore the fact that mistakes are being made: misjudgements born of haste and fatigue that will have bloody consequences. Very few of these shiftless hustlers have the luxury of reclining in their lair and thinking out their next move.

Gunshine State is gruesome, visceral fun and it never lets up for a second. What a quantum leap it is for Australian crime to see the mean streets of Philadelphia or Chicago seamlessly overlaid onto the bistros of our eastern seaboard. If you’ve got the eye – and Nette certainly does – noir is everywhere you look.

 

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Crime writing & Festivals Part 2

The third weekend in November presents me with an embarrassment of riches. Friday, I’m in Geelong for the annual Word For Word Non-Fiction Festival, and Saturday in St Kilda for the Sisters in Crime Australia SheKilda 3: One Day Crime Spree.

As paword-for-word-logort of the Word for Word Festival, I’m running a workshop on ‘Showing and Telling’ as follows:

Showing and Telling
Friday 18 Nov, 10.00AM – 1.00PM, Waurn Ponds Library
Writers are often told, ‘show, don’t tell’.  While ‘telling’ is useful, even necessary, most people don’t realize how vital ‘showing’ is. Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment and experience it as though they are present. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and engaging. In this workshop, award-winning writer Angela Savage will take you through a series of exercises designed to make your writing more vivid and alive.

Cost: $50 adult / $40 conc. Bookings here. The whole program is worth checking out.

shek3-bookmark-bannerI have a couple of enviable tasks at SheKilda 3, chairing a fabulous panel in the morning and, in the afternoon, compering The Great Debate, which features some of my favourite people crime fiction writers.

Domestic Noir: Ambivalent mothers, disappearing daughters, murderous marriages
Sat 19 Nov, 11.30AM-12.30PM, St Kilda Town Hall
Compere: Angela Savage
Panel: Honey Brown, Anna George, Wendy James

The Great Debate… Dames vs Dicks: Men should stick to hardboiled; women should stick to cozies
Sat 19 Nov, 4.00PM-5.00PM, St Kilda Town Hall

Compere: Angela Savage
Dames (Affirmative): Vikki Petraitis, Leigh Redhead and Sue Williams
Dicks (Negative): Robert Gott, Andrew Nette and Jock Serong

I’ll be participating all day Saturday at SheKilda, from Prof Sue Turnbull’s keynote address on the state of women’s crime writing at 9.30AM, to the 23rd Annual Stiletto Awards at 6.15PM, when Sue will be in conversation with Nicole da Silva, star of Wentworth and Rush. Nicole will present the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, after which Kerry Greenwood will present a special Silver Stiletto to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Sisters in Crime Australia. The Silver Stiletto short story competition was open only to previous Scarlet Stiletto winners–all 17 of us.

The complete, action-packed SheKilda 3 program is here.

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Crime writing & Festivals Part 1

When people ask, ‘How are you?’ I try not to respond with, ‘Busy.’ For me, ‘busy’ is what American novelist and teacher John Gardner calls a ‘feeble abstraction’ that ‘says almost nothing’. Gardner exhorts us to tell our stories in concrete terms.

So, how am I on this first day of November?

darebin-picI’m preparing for a full-on month of writing classes, crime fiction festivals, academic conferences and family celebrations.

First up is a Crime Writing Workshop for Darebin Libraries, next Sat 5 November, 1.00PM – 4.00PM at Northcote Library, as part of Nanowrimo, aka National Novel Writing Month. As always, I’ll be putting the ‘work’ into ‘workshop’ with an action-packed afternoon of input, group discussion and writing exercises. The workshop is looking pretty full, but bookings are still open for a few more days. See here for details.

The following weekend is the 10th Reader’s Feast Bookstore Crime and Justice Festival. I’ve been involved in this festival for many years and I’m looking forward to being part of the tenth anniversary celebrations. Although I’m not personally involved in the Saturday morning session, since I helped put it together, and as it features some of my favourite people crime writers, I figured I can give it a plug here:

cj-festivalSaturday, November 12, 10.00AM-11.00AM
The Metropolitan Hotel, 263 William St. Melbourne

Aussie Noir
Home grown crime fiction is experiencing something of a golden age at the moment with some remarkable books currently available – join Andrew Nette (Gunshine State), Zane Lovitt (Black Teeth) and Jock Serong (The Rules of Backyard Cricket) as they discuss this phenomenon under the watchful eye of writer and panel chair crime writer
Leigh Redhead (Thrill City) who is also currently undertaking a PhD thesis on this very topic.

Saturday, November 12, 2.30PM-3.30PM
The Metropolitan Hotel, 263 William St. Melbourne

Asia Noir
In a festival that has looked at bodies in snow in Scandi Noir and home grown villains in Aussie Noir, we finish with a look at what is fast becoming ‘the next big thing’ in crime fiction – Asia Noir. Join Andrew Nette (Gunshine State), Cath Ferla (Ghost Girls) and, as participating chair, Angela Savage (The Dying Beach).

Tickets and full program here.

On the third weekend in November, I’ll be running a workshop on ‘Showing and Telling’ as part of the Word For Word Non-Fiction Festival in Geelong, and participating in the Sisters in Crime Australia SheKilda 3: One Day Crime Spree. Stay tuned for more details…

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Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket

cover_rules-of-backyard-cricketIt’s been a while since I’ve read a crime novel, let alone reviewed one. But I can’t let Jock Serong’s new book, The Rules of Backyard Cricket, go through to the keeper without singing its praises.

The Rules of Backyard Cricket had me in its grip from the first bounce. No amount of sledging from my opponents (read ‘family members demanding my time and attention’) could distract me from its thrall. Even for someone as disinterested as me in the actual sport of cricket, this novel is an absolute winner.

Okay, enough with the bad cricket puns.

The story is narrated in the first person by Darren Keefe, who along with his older brother Wally, is a star cricketer, until an injury ends his playing career. The novel opens with Darren bound and gagged in the boot of a car, a bullet-hole in one knee, watching the broken white lines of the Geelong Road ‘recede into the blackness’. But it wasn’t this dramatic premise alone that got me hooked. Darren has clearly behaved badly — he considers being abducted and stuffed in a car boot ‘a moral counterweight to the things I’ve done’ — but there is something endearing, almost poetic in his voice. I desperately wanted to know how in the hell he ended up where he did, and what the hell was going to happen to him.

Each subsequent chapter opens with Daz in the car boot, reflecting on his past. He traces his life from childhood, when he and Wally established their rules of backyard cricket, through his stellar though short career as a professional sportsman, his subsequent stint as a television commentator and former-celebrity-for-hire, to his ignominious (apparent) end. What transpires makes for an utterly engrossing read.

Serong won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel for his debut Quota, but as he explained at a recent event, he eschewed the ‘obvious choice’ of writing a sequel. Instead, he took a phrase he described as ‘the stone in my shoe: the rules of backyard cricket’ and turned it into a story about what siblings can do to each other and be forgiven. And not forgiven.

A second source of inspiration was the tedious trips Serong regularly took along the Geelong Road from his home on Victoria’s southwest coast to Melbourne. To liven up the drive, he started imagining what might be involved if someone was travelling the same stretch in the boot of a car. Darren Keefe tells us, ‘To my sad surprise, whether you’re crawling home from Christmas with the aunts, or waiting to be shot dead and incinerated by gangsters, the Geelong Road turns out to be just as boring.’ However, Serong makes the journey anything but.

Serong admitted to being obsessed with cricket and books as a kid. But while cricket is the context, the themes he explores in the novel in terms of corruption, accountability and transparency are universal. The book is underpinned with questions about who can get away with what and why, though these questions are character driven, never didactic. As one character says towards the end of the novel,

‘Do you know I heard the Pope the other day going on about corruption in sport. The fucking Pope. Goes to show, doesn’t it? Sport goes to the heart of everything. If you can reach inside it and fuck with its innards, you’re actually messing with society, Daz. How ’bout that. Bigger than drugs. Bigger than hookers and porn, because people shy away. They can smell the desperation. But the same people will go on consuming sport long after they know it’s rotten to the core…’

I’d go on, but I don’t want to risk putting off potential readers by gushing. Suffice it to say the back cover blurb that draws a parallel between The Rules of Backyard Cricket and Peter Temple’s best work is no exaggeration. Serong pulls off what I consider an Australian crime writer’s most sought-after Quinella (to use a metaphor from another sport): a literary crime novel that qualifies as genuine Australian noir.

Read it.

 

 

 

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