I had a great time as a presenter and participant at last weekend’s inaugural Reader’s Feast Crime and Justice Festival at the old Abbotsford Convent.
A First Offence: The first panel I participated in was at 10am on a chilly Saturday morning, where Fiona McIntosh (aka Lauren Crow) and I talked with Lenny Bartulin about being a first-time crime writer. Lenny joked that being ‘participating chair’ gave him license to redirect the subject on to himself if it veered too far away. In fact, the three of us had a ball sharing experiences. We all had different approaches to our writing: for example, Fiona blocked her ears and sang ‘la la la’ when I described how, if I hit a bump in the narrative, I would step outside the chronology and leap ahead to write a scene I felt more enthusiastic about. For Fiona it was all about spinning a good yarn from start to finish. She swears there are no ideas in her books, but I’m suspending disbelief until I read one. I liked Lenny talking about walking Sydney in the steps of his character Jack Susko, though he was glad to be in Melbourne to escape the ‘inspirational music’ drifting across the harbour in honour of World Youth Day/the Pope’s visit. Our small audience gave us great feedback on the session and I left on a high.
Colonel Mustard in the Library: Later in the day I caught up with my friend Stephanie and we saw Shirley Hardy-Rix interview Jennifer Kloester, Kerry Greenwood and Robert Gott about the enduring popularity of ‘cosies’ and the pre-DNA/serial killer world of crime fiction. Like any good Sister in Crime, I am familiar with Kerry’s work, and it wasn’t until I saw Robert interviewed that I remembered reading a review of his book, Good Murder, which sounded terrific. Robert swears that while he wanted to write a crime novel, he couldn’t be bothered with the research required for a police procedural, court-room drama or anything forensic. So he invented a character, amateur actor-turned-sleuth William Power, who knows nothing and set his books in 1942. Shane Maloney describes Power as Australia’s first ‘dickhead hero’. It was a real pleasure meeting Robert, who is also author of children’s educational books, two of which – on Cambodia and Laos – he kindly gave me for my daughter.
Steph’s and my next stop was Crime and Humour panel with Lenny Bartulin, Robert Gott and Leigh Redhead chaired by Russ Radcliffe. As well as the pleasure of hearing more from Lenny and Robert, the highlight of this session for me was Leigh describing her experience of a stakeout (part of her PI training course) and trying to piss in a car through a funnel into a bottle. It was hilarious – and informed a scene in her first novel Peepshow.
My last appearance for the day was at 6pm on a panel called Just the Facts, Ma’am! with Marshall Browne and Gabrielle Lord, chaired by Liz Porter. I was starting to feel the jetlag kicking in by then so can’t remember a great deal. I was nervous speaking on a panel called Just the Facts, M’am when I’ve never been one to let the facts stand in the way of a good story, but on reflection, I realise I take for granted just how much research went into my first novel Behind the Night Bazaar. I think that’s what I talked about. Gabrielle had scrapbooks for each of her novels; one included a crime scene photograph obtained by ‘sleeping with a cop’. Novel idea. Don’t think I’ll try it. After the talk, Marshall’s wife Merell told me they’d travelled to Laos in 1975, just before the Lao revolution; they’d actually won the trip – couldn’t have been first prize, given the instability of the country at the time – and taken their nine-year-old daughter. I’d love to interview them some time for material.
Sunday afternoon I joined Dorothy Johnston and Leigh Redhead on a panel chaired by Beth Driscoll called Writing from Life. This was a great session from my perspective, interesting discussion and well attended by an engaged audience. It turned out Dorothy, Leigh and I all had more than a passing interest in the sex industry: Dorothy had worked in an illegal brothel in Melbourne in the 1970s and sets some of her work in Canberra’s sex industry; Leigh worked for years as a stripper, as does her PI character, Simone Kirsh; and of course I have an ongoing interest in the sex industry in Southeast Asia through my work in HIV/AIDS prevention and sexual health. Perhaps we’ll get the chance to speak on the politics of writing about the sex industry on another panel some time.
On the plus side, the festival had great speakers, a good program, excellent coffee and proximity to good food and wine. On the down side, being almost without heating anywhere in- or outside the buildings was a bit hard on some people (visiting the ladies toilets at the convent was an exercise in mortification of the flesh!) though in my case it helped keep me awake.
I enjoyed the chance to catch up with writers I’ve met before like Garry Disher and Jarad Henry, and to get to know other writers for the first time. It was also a great pleasure to meet Karen and Sunnie from the Australasian Crime website. Here’s their take on the Crime and Humour session, and on Writing from Life (Karen and Sunnie).
For childcare and/or transport, thanks to Steph, Christos, Melissa and Tiia, Georgia and especially Mary.