Further to Part 1 of my debrief on the Crime & Justice Festival 2012, on Saturday afternoon Rochelle Jackson interviewed Ian Rankin, Shane Maloney and Stuart Littlemore about their protagonists, John Rebus, Murray Whelan and Harry Curry respectively, on a panel called The Main Man.
The often hilarious discussion focused on the inspiration for these characters and the relationship between the author and the character they created — notwithstanding Ian Rankin’s comment that, ‘I sometimes feel as though I didn’t create John Rebus. John Rebus created me.’
Rebus jumped fully formed into Rankin’s head. Rankin admits to cramming too much backstory into his first book ‘because I thought it would also be my last.’ This from a writer who has just released the eighteenth novel in the series, Standing in Another Man’s Grave.
Shane Maloney quipped that his character Murray Whelan was a mistake. Nor did Maloney think he was writing crime fiction when he first penned Stiff in 1994, ‘just chucking in a murder to get things moving along.’ Maloney’s greatest challenge in creating Murray Whelan, he said, was ‘to write a hero who is also a member of the Australian Labor Party.’
Stuart Littlemore QC created his character Harry Curry as a conduit for his dinner party stories. Littlemore describes the Sydney barrister hero of his debut novel Harry Curry Counsel of Choice as ‘a class traitor…with a self-indulgent need to win for the poor.’
Rankin says ‘characters need to flawed to be engaging and interesting.’ For the writer, ‘it is therapeutic to give your heroes attributes you don’t have, a kind of wish fulfilment.’
On the subject of wish fulfilment — which had come up in the previous panel on Women and Crime as a key reason why women read and write crime — Rankin told a very funny story of how a crime writing friend asked for her ex- to be the victim in her colleagues’ next books. Rankin said over the following two years, the woman collected copies of the subsequent novels, marking with post-it notes the pages where her ex- had been tortured, garrotted and killed in a variety of creative ways. I can only imagine how therapeutic that must have been for her.
Asked about their rapport with their characters, Rankin said John Rebus probably wouldn’t like him, would find him too liberal. Rankin says he has more in common with Rebus’ colleague Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke. Rankin maintains he is ‘not as interesting nor as conflicted’ as his crime fiction character.
Littlemore says his ambition is ‘to be as rude to judges as Harry Curry is.’ Of the relationship between the author and his character, Littlemore says of Curry, ‘he’s a lot braver and just as bigoted as I am.’
Maloney says he wrote the ending of what was supposed to be the sequel to his 2007 novel Sucked In some time ago, in which Murray Whelan, now elected to Federal Parliament, put a bullet in former Prime Minister John Howard. However, Maloney says, ‘It turns out Canberra is beyond my imaginative reach.’
He then went on what can best be described as a rave, albeit an articulate one, about corruption in Melbourne, concluding with, ‘We have legalized our vices. It’s very hard to dramatise that.’
‘Good thing we don’t have anything like that in Sydney,’ Stuart Littlemore quipped.
Kudos to Rochelle Jackson, who did an excellent job of chairing such a feisty panel.
My last task at the Crime & Justice Festival was to participate on a panel on Sunday afternoon with Leigh Redhead and Robert Gott, chaired by Andrew Nette, called Hard Labour, to discuss the current state of crime fiction.
Hard Labour is, of course, also the title of a recent anthology of Australian crime fiction, which includes stories from Redhead and myself, as well as Garry Disher who was a last-minute apology for the panel.
Under Nette’s chairing, the panel discussion didn’t go over the usual ground covered at writers’ festivals but considered questions about the changing metabolism of the publishing industry, the impact of epublishing, inward versus outward looking Australian crime fiction, and book reviewing culture in Australia. We also discussed the increasing demands for writers to promote their work and while Gott said, quite rightly, that it is a privilege to participate on panels and speak to audiences of people who love books and ideas, we all expressed the frustration at the tasks that eat into the time we might otherwise spend writing.
Even Ian Rankin lamented this when we met briefly after the festival launch. No one wants to sound precious because we are grateful to be published, especially in such a volatile market. But writers love to write. Everything else is noise.
Congratulations to Reader’s Feast on a terrific Crime and Justice Festival 2012. I look forward to more.