The past two weeks of furious swotting, email volleys and coffee meetings paid off on Saturday when both panels I chaired at the Crime & Justice Festival went off without a hitch. Sadly, Peter Temple was not so lucky, forced to cancel his appearance due to ill health. In his absence, Felicity Young, Adrian Hyland, Sulari Gentill used the time to get to know each other better over coffee at the Convent Bakery, which I think helped everyone to relax and enjoy our panel, ‘New (Crime) Wave’.
It was great to see a decent crowd turn up to support a group of authors billed as “promising new kids on the block”. We started off by talking about what lead each of them to a life of crime.
Felicity was inspired by a tree change from Perth to a small rural town which, unbeknownst to her, was a hub for bikie gangs. She told a funny story about one of her sons coming home from a play date with a friend on a neighbouring property, excited about the great game of hide-and-seek they’d had amongst some “really tall tomato plants”. Felicity’s family later hid this friend when his parents — who later went into witness protection — went on the run to escape a rival bikie gang. With this rich material and a brother-in-law in the police force, crime writing seemed like the logical thing to do.
Adrian’s story is similar to mine. He stumbled into crime when his first attempt at writing a book resulted in a draft heavy on autobiography and textual detail but light on plot. Crime gave him the structure he needed to get his book finished.
Sulari chose to write crime out of consideration for her husband. Given that writing can be such an isolating pursuit, she figured writing in a genre he liked and setting the story in a period of history that interested him would help bring them closer together. Plus she could use him as a research assistant.
Felicity and Sulari discovered a shared love of writing in their pyjamas and as both of them live on rural properties, they had little to fear from people dropping in on them unexpectedly. Adrian is subject to distractions and reckons he “chops more wood” than put words to paper.
Sulari’s output is prolific: she has completed the first draft of the second Roland Sinclair novel, and the first novel in a trilogy based on Greek mythology, Chasing Odysseus. She credits this to her legal background, which trained her to turn documents around quickly.
Asked what advice they would give aspiring writers based on their experiences of finding a publisher, Sulari recommended “a kooky job” as something to help you stand out in a crowd of good manuscripts. Felicity advised persistence, echoed later that day in my interview with Garry Disher. Adrian advised reading. He said he has students who write more than they read and it shows.
Felicity’s new novels are set in Edwardian England; she’s taken a rest from writing police procedurals as her cop friends had stopped answering her emails when pressed for information. Sulari has more Roland Sinclair novels planned, plus the stories from ancient Greek myth. Adrian is working on a book about the Black Saturday bushfires in collaboration with a friend who was the police officer in charge of Kinglake on the day. Happily, he also has plans for a couple more Emily Tempest outings.
I asked all three about the most memorable thing someone had said or written about one of their books. Felicity described how whilst signing books at the local show, she’d been abused by a local man as responsible for the “crime wave” that had swamped their community. This same man came from a feuding family known to dangle effigies of each other from their fruit trees.
Sulari said a pregnant woman stood up at a launch dinner and declared herself to be “in love with Rowland Sinclair”, the main character in Sulari’s debut novel, prompting her husband to ask if he “should be worried”.
Adrian said his most memorable feedback came from an Indigenous woman in prison who described his first novel Diamond Dove as “like a beam of light” in her time of incarceration.
It doesn’t get much better than that.