Secrets from the Crime Scene – Unsavoury Delights

This year, I avoided the poetry bashing workshops at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and attended a couple of interesting panel talks, one of which—Secrets from the Crime Scene—I reviewed, and I thought I’d share it here.

Crime, it seems, pays handsomely for crime writers, not necessarily in hard cash but in endless material on the peculiar machinations of the criminal psyche. And mid-morning on this glare-bright winter’s day at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival, The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf is packed to the raw, high rafters with an eclectic audience, from school-goers to retirees, dying to know more about what the panel facilitator, Tom Wright, refers to as “life as they imagine it might actually be led away from their fairly safe existences”.

Competing with the hiss of the venue’s overworked espresso machine, the conversation nevertheless flows easily amongst the Secrets from the Crime Scene panel: Kate McClymont, Fairfax investigative journalist, known most recently for He Who Must Be Obeid, an exposé on Sydney businessman Eddie Obeid’s corrupt dealings; Sarah Hopkins, criminal lawyer and fiction-crime author, her most recent novel being This Picture of You; and Michael Robotham, Australian journalist turned successful international crime writer, his latest book being Life or Death.

Kate, with her permanently quizzical left eyebrow, is an expert on the depths of Sydney’s criminal undercurrents, from the murderous mentality of organised crime and bikie gangs to the sociopathic undertow of white-collar crime. The audience roars when she says, “One of the things I really love about Sydney’s criminals is they are so stupid”. And vain: one of her regular informants, who was jailed for abducting Terry Falconer (subsequently murdered), whined to her that the actor portraying him in TV’s Underbelly: Badness “makes me look like a gay porn star”.

Michael says his books “tap into everyday fears” and that he often has to tone “down the truth to make it palatable, because people will not believe it in a book of fiction”, even though “truth always, always proves to be stranger”. Tom remarks on the frequent prescience in Michael’s novels as is exemplified by the story Michael tells of The Wreckage, a novel that was based on the idea “that $250billion of drug cartel money was laundered through major western banks, because during the Global Financial Crisis, banks were so short of funds, they waived all money-laundering laws simply to stay afloat”. The novel was reviewed by an incredulous Joe Nocera, financial writer for The New York Times, who said that no major Western bank would launder money for a drug cartel; it simply wouldn’t happen. With a larrikin air of perpetual amusement, Michael says that now every time there’s a factual report of such events, he sends Joe a tweet: “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so”.

Sarah, who has the demeanour of a meditating monk, rather than someone professionally mired in the mess of criminality and the constipated bureaucracy of social institutions, is more serious than the other panellists, but no less interesting. Through her creative writing, she questions who in our society gets to define what a crime is and the fact that, until recently, “criminal law wouldn’t reach its arm into the home” because “a crime, traditionally, has been about transgressions in the public realm”.  As Tom notes, her books are now very much focused on the notion that “the place where your body and mental health is most likely to be at risk is in the home”, an unsettling thought.

In response to a question from the audience, Sarah says she’s never been threatened by a reader, but Michael’s tells of his stalker and many “angry emails” from Americans who objected to this line in an early novel: “something didn’t quite look right, like seeing Bill Gates in board-shorts or George W. Bush in the White House”. And then there is the intrepid Kate, who has had her fair share of legal action and life-threatening phone calls in the middle of the night.

Crime writing—it’s a dangerous but thrilling life.

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Tom Wright, Michael Robotham, Kate McClymont, Sarah Hopkins

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

One of the most gripping and well-written books I’ve read is The Proving Ground by G. Bruce Knecht. It’s about the disastrous events of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which were brought about by a powerful storm in the Bass Strait.

Bass Strait, Australia

Bass Strait, Australia

When the Strait puts on such beautiful displays, it’s hard to believe that it can be so treacherous.

For more entries to this week’s WPC, see The Daily Post.

My top five picks from this week:

Kill Your Darlings Not Your Editor

Given the grammar and punctuation transgressions on this blog, you’ll probably find it hard to believe that I qualified as a book editor over a decade ago. *Sharp intakes of breath around the Blogosphere* Yes, you know who you are. 😀 Breathe easy; I’ve yet to give up my day job.

What I do know is that editing is critical to the writing process and essential for, at the very least, published works and professional documents. And what I did learn in studying for my editing qualification is the need for tact when dealing with authors and their work, no matter how awful either.

At work, I edit my own writing before and after I get someone else to edit it. Even so, when I do the final edit, I’m often bemused to find a number of errors remaining. When it comes to prose, I know my weak areas: omission of functions words, homonym misuse and comma confusion, to name but a few, so I know what to look for. But, poetry? I really have no idea.

So it is with heartfelt gratitude, appreciation and admiration that I thank Linda Cosgriff (a.k.a. The Laughing Housewife) for the gift of her editing expertise on my first poetry collection.

Linda is what the publishing industry (if she were to put herself out there) would consider an exceptional editor: she knows her stuff, and she is unafraid to say what needs to be said on both form and style but does so in an encouraging, tactful and respectful manner. And she sends gifts. 😀

I’ve taken most of her advice…
..OK, I admit I’ve granted clemency to some of my poor darlings.

Any errors remaining in the book are purely mine.

You have done me an immense favour, Linda dear. Thank you for the gift of your friendship, your valued input and the Olympic Games bookmark with the inspiring quote. ♥♥♥

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A Week in Reflection

bb-wirThere was a time, when I was much younger, when I was afraid to fly.

No more.

I’m not sure why the change, but since a few decades ago, no longer do I sit white-knuckled in the belly of those big mechanical birds as they defy gravity. Perhaps it’s something to do with my attitude to death. I’m no nihilist, but I don’t necessarily view death in a negative light. My death, that is. The death of others is quite another matter.

The morning after MH17 was shot down, I flew long-haul. I thought not of plane crashes but of the shocking consequences of war, its terrible futility and the immense trauma and devastation that it invariably causes to human lives; of those people left behind, forever suffering the reality of the obliteration of their loved ones. And how this suffering so often leads to an ongoing cycle of violence.

In my hotel room, on the BBC News channel, night after night, images of the crash site alternated with sickening images of Gaza. How to make sense of the human that strolls casually amongst the mutilated dead, picking through aircraft wreckage and strewn personal belongings as if he were evaluating fruit at the local market. And of the human that bombs sleeping children as if crop-spraying pests. How do we get to this?

A week later, on my way to Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport for my flight home, my hosts, who insisted on accompanying me in the taxi to the airport, chatted with the taxi-driver in Vietnamese. I heard the word “Malaysia” and asked if they were talking about plane crashes. They were. And they expressed their alarm that there had been three in one week. I thanked them for their tact, and we all laughed.

Once boarded, I started reading The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, and thoughts of the taxi conversation were forgotten as the book caused me to reflect on how human memory and the subconscious mind work both for and against us in life: the need for revenge versus the need for peace; how we dehumanize “the other side” to make ourselves feel better about what we do and about humanity as a whole; and how memories play a role in our undoing.

Eventually I slept but was bedeviled by catastrophic dreams – we ditched in the South China Sea, a flotilla of boats waiting to rescue us; we made an emergency landing in a busy city street, the fuel-laden left wing barely missing an advertising bollard; I rescued long-dead loved ones from a burning wreckage in a field of sunflowers..
.. the subconscious mind doing its best to exert control over that over which we have little.

Despite our best efforts, accidents happen; death happens.

But war does not just happen; it is made by humans, the likes of you and me.

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Blurb blurble bloop… Help! One-Sentence Biography Competition

I’m trying to get my first poetry book completed and self-published on Blurb. One of the elements I’m still missing is a short blurb/biography about me in relation to poetry – I don’t want to write this myself, and if I asked anyone in my family or non-blogging circle of friends, I’d get something along the lines of:

“‘x‘ is my ‘insert relation type here‘ – she writes poetry, but I’ve got no idea what she’s on about.

So I’m looking for some help from you—the esteemed Blogging community (how’m I doing on the sycophantic flattery front?) for something short, and not necessarily serious, and thus am holding a one-sentence biography competition: 

Post your entries in the comments section of this post.

I will include the kindest best ones on the front flap and may include any snide irreverent blooper blurbs on the back, all attributed of course.

Payment?!

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Don’t be silly! We all know poetry books don’t sell!

The winner will, however, receive a mystery prize. 😉