Books to Die For … crime and thriller writing uncovered @ Springwood Library

Last weekend this event (Books to Die For … crime and thriller writing uncovered …) was held at the Springwood Library. I have been a fan of detective stories for a long time, and enjoy thrillers too, so there was little hesitation to go along and listen to five Australian writers in this field.

Rachel Franks, Coordinator of Education & Scholarship at the State Library of NSW, started off the proceedings with an entertaining and informative overview of the genre. This included a handout which was effectively a literary genealogical tree, tracing the development and expansion of detective stories in particular, as well as highlighting some of the best examples in each category.

Chilling suspense novels are the speciality of Jaye Ford, a former news and sports journalist. Ford explained how she came to writing psychological thrillers featuring ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Many of the crimes that she writes about are intimate and personal, and they are triggered by news stories, personal experiences and that rich vein of writerly inspiration – ‘what if?’.

I have recently come across Crooks Like Us by Peter Doyle, Associate Professor of Media at Macquarie University. It is one of two books by Doyle based on research into the Forensic Photography Archive at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney. The photos featured in the books come from a collection of 50,000 plus photos found by chance, with no labels and little in the way of identifiable information. During Doyle’s talk, some were shown in a slide show montage of mug shots, bullets embedded in walls and photos of police standing around in various poses at crime scenes. Doyle has also written several fiction books.

Next was Candice Fox, a crime author who has won consecutive Ned Kelly Awards for her novels. She has recently released Never Never in collaboration with James Patterson. Fox gave a humourous overview of her journey to publication, and outlined the impact of a strange childhood in western Sydney on her world view as a writer. Fox was recently interviewed on the podcast, So You Want To Be A Writer, and the link to the episode is here.

The final speaker was Chris Allen, a writer of action fiction. He provided a literary roadmap to his emergence as a writer. This trajectory was supported by his career in the armed services, law enforcement agencies, security operations for an aid agency in East Timor as well as appointment as Sheriff of NSW in 2008. Allen writes action thrillers with a theme, such as corruption and corporate greed in developing nations.

This series of talks opened up not only more books to read and authors to follow, but made me think about the writing process and the many influences that come into play.

Have you been inspired by author talks?

[Photo: apple blossoms]

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Finish the damn novel*

One of my favourite podcasts which I’ve mentioned before is ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait of the Australian Writers’ Centre. They have notched up over a hundred episodes and I’ve been a subscriber from the start, listening to the great mix of news, tips and tactics and an amazing array of interviews with writers from all backgrounds, as well as publishers, editors and other creative folk. If you don’t already subscribe, do your writing self a favour and sign up for the podcast.

Last week’s episode (# 104) stood out for me. The interview was with Pamela Freeman, who also writes as Pamela Hart. Freeman has written over 30 books across a range of genres, and whilst this was her second interview on the podcast (first was episode 58 ), there were a couple of comments which really resonated with me.

The first was discussion around the benefits of writing courses. Can you teach people how to write? Freeman drew an analogy between opera singing and writing. An opera teacher works on techniques to improve the student’s voice, and writing courses work in a similar way. They can help with method and approach, but the student’s input – the voice – remains unique.

Freeman also had words of wisdom around the need to finish the first draft, rather than perpetually revising, tweaking, making major or minor changes whilst never completing the novel. She suggested that you promise yourself that you will do as many drafts as you need to fix any inconsistencies or plot holes or whatever it is that keeps pulling you back rather than freeing you up to actually finish the work. As she said, most novels fail because they are incomplete.

Simple but powerful advice.

Now I’m off to keep writing my novel without a backwards glance.

Do you get caught up in tweaking rather than actually writing?

*This has been referenced in a couple of the SYWTBAW episodes as something that was spotted on a t-shirt at a writing conference. 

[Photo of mural in Blackheath]