Last night I had a wonderful dream that my short story ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ won the Sisters in Crime 18th Scarlet Stiletto Awards.
Then I woke up and found on my kitchen table a scarlet stiletto mounted on a perspex stand. It looked like some kind of trophy. Not only that, on my phone was a photo of me, holding said trophy with a winning grin on my face. For a moment I toyed with the idea I was the victim of some cruel plot: the trophy a fake, the photo staged. Then I noticed the small plaque, inscribed with my name and the name of my story and realised…
I WON FIRST PRIZE IN THE 2011 SCARLET STILETTO AWARDS LAST NIGHT!
Winning ‘the big shoe’, as former winner Eleanor Marney referred to it, topped off a wonderful night at the 18th Scarlet Stiletto Awards in South Melbourne. Undaunted by the last-minute cancellation of the scheduled guest speaker, the Sisters in Crime organised a panel of previous big shoe winners to talk about the art of the criminally good short story. Chaired by Lindy Cameron, the panel comprised Eleanor Marney (2010 winner); Amanda Wrangles (2009); Evelyn Tsitas (2008); and Liz Filleul (2004).
Lindy kicked off by posing the question, ‘Why short stories?’ ‘As a mother…’ Evelyn began. Turns out all four panellists are mothers and all found the short story form more compatible with parenting — notwithstanding Lindy’s observation that fictional detectives rarely have children ‘because they have to get a babysitter before they can follow a lead’.
Following the panel Sisters in Crime Co-Convenor Phyllis King presented the Judges Report. Though entries come from all over Australia, she noted two common themes in the 2011 entries. On the one hand, ‘Several story titles this year included numbers – could this be due to some strange psychic phenomena or just to the popularity of the SBS television program, Letters and Numbers?’ On the other was the ‘seriously disturbing’ and ‘unacceptable… gratuitous killing of animals – particularly cats. We ask that authors stick to killing humans in future,’ Phyllis said. ‘The judges love animals.’
More helpful advice from the judges for aspiring short story writers: ‘If you are to have a beginning, a middle and an end to your story – and we judges tend to be a bit pedantic in requiring all of these – use your 5000 words judiciously. Avoid unnecessary complications and extraneous characters.
‘Adjectives in the short story are a bit like spices in cooking. When used judiciously and sparingly, they can make a good dish great. However, too much and it becomes inedible.’
The awards were announced by Lindy Cameron and presented by author PD (Philippa) Martin as follows:
Special Commendations: Suzanne Gaskell (Vic), Amanda Carmen-Cromer (Tas), Robin Story (QLD), Marian Cox (NT), Kerry James (Vic), Amanda Wrangles (Vic).
Allen & Unwin Young Writers Award: co-winners Mary Evans (WA) and Sarah Robinson-Hatch (Vic)
Judges Award (donated by Christine Leppert): Kim Westwood (ACT)
Scriptworks Great Film Idea Award: Fiona Drury (Vic)
Pulp Fiction Award for Funniest Crime Story: Sarah Evans (WA) (and mother of Mary Evans, Young Writers Award co-winner)
Benn’s Books Best Investigative Award: Anne Cost (Vic)
Clandestine Press Award for Cross Genre: Liz Filleul (Vic)
Cate Kennedy Award for Best New Talent: Marguerite Johnson (NSW)
Olvar Wood Late Starters Award: Anne Cost
Kerry Greenwood Malice Domestic Award: Vicky Daddo (Vic)
Third Prize: Carmela Salomon (NSW)
Second Prize: Liz Filleul (Vic)
First Prize – Scarlet Stiletto trophy: Angela Savage (Vic)
I was genuinely surprised and delighted to win, as Carmel Shute’s photos from the night show. In an impromptu speech, I thanked the Sisters in Crime for being ‘the midwives of my writing career.’ I pointed out to Carmela Salomon, who won third prize with her first ever short story, that the same thing happened to me in 1998 and I went on to publish two novels (so far).
Thanks to my beloved partner Andrew Nette whose feedback on an early draft of ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ made it a much better story, and also for staying home to look after our daughter on the awards night when all other babysitting options fell through.
Thanks to Lil Topic for being my date and Tweet Adviser on the awards night (see what we came up with via #ScarletStilettos).
I wrote in a previous post that the plot of ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ was inadvertently topical: ‘An anonymous narrator is released from prison into public housing near a child care centre in Melbourne’s inner north. When she receives a complaint about her dog, a restricted breed, she blames a mother whose infant attends the child care centre. Acquiring disguises from the local op shop, she stalks the mother and sets about plotting a terrible revenge for the loss of her dog.’
‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ is the first story I’ve written that is not set in Asia. I’m grateful to the Sisters in Crime for giving me the opportunity to try out a change of pace — or at least place — through the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. To have this experiment rewarded with the top honours exceeds my wildest dreams.
Finally, thanks to my daughter Natasha for keeping it all in perspective: when I told her this morning that I had won first prize and showed her my trophy, she said, ‘Yes, but your biggest prize is your little girl.’ Tru dat.
Now I’m going to listen one more time to Tom Waits singing ‘Red Shoes by the Drugstore’…