Farewell to the Godfather of Australian Crime Writing

On 30 August 2018, Peter Corris passed away. Corris is widely regarded as the godfather of Australian crime writing. His first Cliff Hardy novel came out in 1980, The Dying Trade. Corris went on to write over forty Hardy novels, along with an extensive collection of other fiction and non-fiction titles. A historian by trade, he was an academic and journalist before writing became his full-time profession.

I discovered Cliff Hardy in the last six years, enjoying his investigations which traversed Sydney and with various parts of the state and country along with occasional overseas jaunts. Hardy was an old-style private investigator with connections to police as well as darker elements in society. He had his own style of justice and it wasn’t always conventional. Hardy had a best mate in the police force as well as a number of love interests over the years. There was an ex-wife and a daughter, who Hardy was unaware of until they met when she was an adult. Their relationship, although initially awkward, was developed with realistic resonances over time. I enjoyed these books as a reader and a listener: many of the audiobooks were read by Peter Hosking, who will remain as the gruff voice of Hardy in my mind. There is a good overview of the Hardy series here, and a spotlight review of The Dying Trade here by the marvellous Margot Kinberg.

In the last few years, Corris had been a regular contributor to the Newtown Review of Books blog. Most Fridays there would be a brief but thoughtful article from Corris on all manner of things. Some that come to mind are his posts on musical influences in his life, audiobooks (his eyesight diminished significantly which impacted his ability to both read and write), places that he had lived, and gardens that his wife, Jean, had created in their various homes over the years. Sport also featured, along with people that he had met at various stages across his career.

I will not be alone in missing the writing and thoughtfulness of Peter Corris, and my Fridays won’t be quite the same without his regular presence.

[Photo: Sydney Harbour – Sydney was Hardy’s city and he knew it well]

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Let’s Get Critical

Over the years my attitude and approach to providing feedback on the work of other writers has changed considerably. This isn’t too surprising in hindsight, but after providing feedback on a handful of short stories recently, it made me think a little deeper about what has changed and why.

In my first writing group, we had the opportunity to prepare up to 300 words on a topic which was provided prior to the meeting. The work could be prose or poetry, factual or fictional, and it was brought along, sight unseen, to the gathering. Time was put aside for reading the work aloud and receiving feedback if requested. By listening to the feedback provided by others, I began to learn how to identify what worked and how to articulate constructive criticism on other people’s writing.

Constructive criticism is challenging to prepare and to give, but the benefits of being able to make suggestions which may clarify unclear points and strengthen the work are significant. By reading and thinking critically about someone else’s writing, it provides the opportunity to be exposed to a wide range of different styles and approaches, often in genres that you might not spend much time in. It stretches the mind and helps you to see what is possible.

Most of my critiquing these days is completed at my desk with a copy of the work to hand. I prefer to read the work through quite quickly, resisting the urge to mark up sections or make corrections, trying to focus instead on the story and the impression that it leaves on me. If I can, I will leave the work for a day or so before returning to read it slowly, taking my time to write comments and scribble thoughts. I will then jot down impressions of the piece, along with what worked and what might be improved. In my writing group we share feedback at regular critiquing sessions, and it is helpful to see what resonates with others along with picking up on insights from other writers. It is a great way to hone critiquing skills.

I find that bringing a critical eye and a different perspective helps me with my own work as well, reminding me that sometimes you need to step away in order to really see how a piece comes together.

There are many online critiquing groups where writers share their work and provide feedback on other people’s stories. For now I find that there is enough critiquing to be done in my existing writing circles, but I may venture into online critiquing in the future.

What is your experience in providing constructive feedback?

[Photo: bikes spotted in the small village of Marulan – offering a different viewpoint of something familiar]