Tag Archives: crime

Review: Scarlet Stiletto The Second Cut (AWW Challenge #1)

Late last year I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for the Natoinal Year of Reading 2012. This is my first book and first review for the challenge!

I picked up Scarlet Stiletto The Second Cut at last year’s SheKilda convention. It contains a selection of prize-winning entries from Sisters In Crime‘s Scarlet Stiletto awards. It turns out to be a terrific collection of crime writing from twenty new (or newish) women writers in the genre.

Some of the stories are less polished than others. I initially thought The Key Suspect was too straightforward (and not gruesome enough) for my tastes, until I realised that the author, Jane Blechyden’s story had taken out  the 2007 Young Writer’s Award when she was only 10.  This wasn’t even her first writing prize. Clearly, Ms Blechyden has a great future ahead of her.

Badge designed by Book’dout (Shelleyrae)

On the whole, the writing from these women is assured and full of deft observations and intriguing darkness. The narrator is sometimes the investigator, sometimes a witness, sometimes a killer. Each has a distinct voice and many stories incorporate unique elements of women’s lives into the character and even plot. Motherhood, the role of carer, and sexual and domestic abuse all inform the writing. Some stories are incredibly funny, others are poignant or chilling. Contemporary, historical and futuristic; urban and rural – it’s a smorgasbord of styles and settings.

Each of the 22 stories is enjoyable, but the following tales were the standouts for me.

Smoke by Aoife Clifford. I’m a sucker for a combination of crime stories and the Labor party. Move over, Shane Maloney. Aoife Clifford is gunning for your spot.

Persia Bloom by Amanda Wrangles. Amanda sent me this story to read a year or so ago, and I was just as impressed on re-reading it. Funny, fresh and uncomfortable, this story of a hairdresser with psychic skills and a need to solve her clients’ unhappiness is full of surprises.

Cold Comfort by Sarah Evans. Evans has just the right lightness of touch for this macabare and hilarious story of a woman helping her grandfather out of an awkard situation.

Poppies by Kylie Fox. This one is a poem which begins with embroidery and ends with someone stitched up. It’s melancholic and moving with just the right touch of acidity to be thoroughly satisfying.

Undeceive by Evelyn Tsitas. Another prose poem, this one reads like a series of moving images, very visual and again, a satisfying story of getting even. Tsitas’s science fiction crime story, Xenos, is also excellent and unexpected. I’d love to read more in this universe.

Death World by Eleanor Marney. This story and Marney’s other, Tallow, are both standouts. In Death World, a heavily pregnant profiler is persuaded to work on one more set of unsolved murders before her baby is born. In Tallow, a woman writes to her twins to explain a shocking truth about their family. Both stories are superbly crafted with strong, engaging protagonists.

These are my highlights in a book filled to the brim with gory goodness. Several of the writers have gone on to become published novelists too, so you can’t fault the award’s eye for talent.

Scarlet Stiletto The Second Cut is published by Clan Destine Press. You can get the book from them directly. The Book House also sells the paperback, and you can get Scarlet Stiletto – The Second Cut for Kindle from Amazon.com.

GaryView: Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood

Gary and LissaLissa: That was a bit of a history lesson. I remember reading about a flu epidemic after the First World War, but I had no idea that it was so bad, or that it shut Melbourne down like that.

Gary: Yeah. I think one of my dad’s uncles died of the flu around when this book is set.

Lissa: This book really brings it home, doesn’t it? The historical setting really works, and I liked Eleanor as well. She’s working through all this grief, but she really wants justice, whether or not the dead guy deserves it.  I like it that the truth was more important to her than staying comfortably out of it.

Gary: You don’t think she should have left the murder for someone else to investigate?

Lissa: I think I have amply demonstrated that keeping out of things isn’t always an option.

Gary: I guess you have. I liked Sister Jones too, though that might be because she reminded me of my mum. Mum was a nurse too.

Lissa: A nurse detective?

Gary: Not that I know of, but I wouldn’t have put it past her. My mum was pretty cool in a crisis. That’s how she met Dad, actually. During the war, she was stationed in Greece. Dad had been wounded and she looked after him on the ship during the evacuation from Crete. They kept writing after he was shipped home, and when she got back to Australia they got married.

Lissa: That must have been hard for him, waiting for her.

Gary: They never talked about it much. Not to me, anyway. Dad had got shot in the leg, though, and they wouldn’t let him stay in the army. He went home and did his teaching degree instead, so he’d have a steady job for when Mum got back.

Lissa: Every time you tell me about your folks I think how awesome they were.

Gary: This book made me think of both of them. They both went through a lot. For years as a kid, whenever I saw someone my dad’s age, or my grandad’s, I wondered whether they had bullet scars too. My mum kept on nursing, too. She used to say the only thing worse than the old air raids was working on the children’s wards.

Lissa: I bet.

Gary: Yeah.

Lissa:. So. Death and the Spanish Lady. Did you work out the killer before the end?

Gary: No. I never do, though. Not even when I was alive. I used to try making notes as I read to see if I could work it out, but I never could. Mum said it was because I wasn’t devious enough.

Lissa: I guess crime stories aren’t really like maths equations. Otherwise all crimes would get solved by the scientists.

Gary: All crimes are solved by the scientists on some TV shows.

Lissa: I like this kind of murder mystery better. And it’s not as gritty and realistic as all those Underbelly-type stories, so I like that better too. I have enough gritty realism in my life. But this has a different kind of realism. That sometimes you succeed in something but it’s not necessarily a triumph.

Gary: I know all about that, too.

Lissa: You and me both. Hey, how about we cheer ourselves up with a musical. <grins at the look on his face> Or a werewolf movie.

Gary: Can I vote for a werewolf movie?

Lissa: Only if it’s the original Teen Wolf.

Gary: Teen Wolf it is.

* *

You can get Death and the Spanish Lady in paperback from Readings, or as an ebook from Booki.sh or Amazon.com.

Saturday at SheKilda

It’s been a decade in the making, but Sisters in Crime has brought its second SheKilda crime convention to the good – and slightly nefarious – people of Melbourne. For two and a half days, women and men (but mostly women) are gathering at Rydges hotel in Carlton to discuss, disect and plot crime and crime writing.

On this Sunday morning, I am multi-tasking at a panel on Sidekicks and Duos, on the role of partners and helpers in crime fiction. Later today I’ll be exploring Crime Travel and something called Just the Facts, Ma’am. I can’t recall what that one’s about, so it’ll be fun to find out. That’s aside from all the other fascinating, concurrent panels I can’t attend without the assistance of Hermoine’s time turner.

Friday night’s cocktail part has already thrown me together with fabulous, smart, talented, wise and funny women who are generous with their time and advice. So clearly the convention has started as it means to continue.

Saturday morning’s plenary session introduced us to SheKilda’s three overseas guests. (SheKilda features a lot of guests – over 70 Australian writers!) Margie Orford (South Africa), Vanda Symon (New Zealand) and Shamini Flint (Singapore) all have different approaches that spring very much from the places they call home and widened my view of the world in a single one-hour session. Flint is also so charming and hilarious I’ve broken my No New Books embargo to pick up the first of her Inspector Singh series.

Actually, I’ve broken my No New Book embargo for six books so far, inspired by the women I’m meeting and hearing. I have had to construct a psychological time bubble around these books so that they have, in my head, been purchased before the new book embargo began. I have a lot of time bubbles of that nature, as witnessed by the still-growing pile of books in my book stash. (See, I still read paperbacks, even though I love my e-reader.)

I have bought The Trojan Dog by Dorothy Johnston, a crime novel set in Canberra. Dorothy spoke on a panel exploring how the panelists came to crime writing in the first place. I also bought Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut, a collection of previous winners of the Scarlet Stiletto awards. These are the crime writers of tomorrow and I want to see who to look out for. Karen Healey’s The Shattering was always on my list, after the marvellous Guardian of the Dead, and seeing her on a YA Crime panel reminded me to grab it quick.

Arabella Candellabra was co-written by a couple of terrific Sisters In Crime, Mandy Wrangles and Kylie Fox, and published by Lindy Cameron’s Clandestine Press, so how could I say no? Finally, after being on a panel with Tara Moss, and being utterly charmed by her intelligence, wit, thoughtfulness and general loveliness – and then learning her new book has vampires in it – naturally, I’ve picked up The Blood Countess.

This blog wasn’t supposed to be ‘What I bought at SheKilda’, but perhaps it best shows how inspired I am by this event. There are so many more books I am adding to my Kindle wish list because these writers all have a unique voice and a textured story to tell. I hear that they go through the same challenges, crises of confidence, oxygen-giving breakthroughs and joy of defeating the tyranny of the blank page that I do.

These shared experiences, leading to such different stories, remind me that persistance, imagination and hard work will see writers through some difficult times. They remind me, too, the important of mentoring and share your own experiences with others. No-one can write your book for you, but they can shine a light on the process. You can see that others have survived those trials of doubt, of stealing time from your other responsibilities and of the inevitable rejection slips.

So, my sisters (and brothers) in crime at SheKilda and in the writing world in general: thank you all for your blogs, your panels, your corridor conversations and your books.

I am looking forward to my Sunday. If you have time, you can slip on over to Rydges and get tickets to individual sessions too. Look up the program at www.shekilda.com.au

* *

The conference is over. Read some of my thoughts on the overall experience.

The role of the writer’s friend

On Friday night, I attended the launch for Pulp Fiction Press’s latest book, Carolyn Morwood’s Death and the Spanish Lady. It’s a murder mystery set in Melbourne in 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War and during the deadly flu epidemic that killed more people than the actual war managed to do. I’m excited to see it out and it’s next on my to-read pile!

I love a book launch. The publisher gets to finally release their latest project into the wild. An honoured guest gets to launch it with good and kindly words about the author, the subject matter and how everyone there should buy a copy because BOOK X IS AWESOME AND YOU WILL TOTALLY LOVE IT.

And the nervous author, often better at hiding behind a keyboard and typing than standing up in front of a bunch of people, gets to say “I’m really proud of my book. I hope you like it.” (Perhaps with a subtext of “I’m kind of glad it is all over now. Someone pass me a drink!.” and maybe a frisson of ‘Oh god, now I have to write another one!!”

In short, a book launch is all promise and hope. It’s that marvellous/terrifying moment of letting your words finally fly beyond your own brain and fingertips and hopefully find some hearts and minds in which to nest.

But the release of a novel can be a fractious time for a writer as well. To be more accurate, it’s the months after the release that can be fractious, with well-meaning friends deciding that the best time for critical feedback on everything they think you did wrong is after publication.

I’m not talking about reviews, whether in the pages of a newspaper or magazine or in the blog of an enthusiast. All writers know that their book will be reviewed, and they hope some people will like it, though they know some people will hate it. It’s part of the deal. Bad reviews only upset me, for example, when I agree with the point they’re making. But I can live with the bad reviews. Not everyone’s going to like what I do. I don’t like everything that other people do. We all bring our own interpretation and ideas to what we read. I’m not even trying to please all of the people all of the time, so it’s hardly surprising when I don’t.

I’m talking about the friends who say “There’s a spelling error on page 58” or “I thought it had a weak ending” or “I really hated your lead character.”

I don’t mean to sound like a hypersenstive, delicate little flower but… why are you telling me these things? Why are you, my friend, telling me you don’t like my work, to my face, as though that is a helpful thing? I don’t expect that all my friends will like everything I do, but seriously, why do some friends feel the need to tell me they think my work sucks?

I’ve already had a handful of readers (with particular skills and viewpoints and a mandate to look for the flaws) provide critical feedback it before I submitted it to my publisher. My publisher has read it. So has my editor. Numerous times. Both have provided firm, unflinching but constructive feedback on how to polish it, picking up the continuity errors, plot holes and thin character development as we went. A team of other readers, including the proofreaders, have gone over it and hopefully caught all the errors (though, yes, sometimes we miss them).

So, you know, it’s been edited before publication. Once the thing is printed and sitting in its crisp, shiny cover, smelling of ink and new paper and potential, it’s too late to change anything. And if you don’t like the ending or the lead character, that’s really okay, but what is the purpose of telling me so? The reviewers will cheerfully tell me they don’t like my work, and I’m prepared to live with that, but why are my friends telling me? I, my editor, my publisher and a bunch of other people responsible for releasing the thing actually really liked the book and the ending and the characters, or we wouldn’t have released it.  I’m not going to rewrite it now. It’s finished. It’s published. It’s done.

Here’s the deal.

Writers:  Never ask your friends what they thought of your book. They may not care for it, and you don’t want to make either party uncomfortable by putting a friend on the spot and making them either lie or hurt yourfeelings with their brutal honesty. It’s needy and awkward, so do not do that to your friend or to yourself.

(By the same token, if you are sharing your manuscript pre-publication, ask for honest feedback. You don’t have to take it all on board, but this is when the honesty is essential.)

Friends of writers:  Feel free to tell your proud author friend that you enjoyed their book if you did. That’s nice, but it’s not essential. You can always say “I like the cover” if absolutely nothing else appealed. If you think the whole thing’s a wash, try “You must be so proud of your achievement.” But skip the part where you imply that your writer friend would have better spent that two (or more) years of their life learning shorthand and becoming a secretary, which would at least have been useful.

Offer your your support and a little kindness because, believe me, there have been times when this process has been really rough and the writer concerned has seriously considered that secretarial course.

To show your support, it’s ideal if you buy a copy of the book, even if you don’t read it (though it’s nice if you do). It’s great if you like it, but you’re not obliged to. Just like you’re not obliged to tell the author every defect, great and small, you think the book contains.

So please, if you love me, if you understand what hard and emotionally exhausting work this has been, oh please be kind. Suppress that need to tell me how flawed you think my book is*. And I promise not to tell you that you really can’t sing, that you’re a bad cook or that your children are ugly**.

Because that would be rude and tactless.

*Though actually, if you find formatting or typing errors in my e-books Witch Honour, Witch Faith, Fly by Night or Sacrifice, I’d like you to tell me about those, because those ones I can fix.

**These examples are not aimed specifically at any of my friends, just in case you think it’s you I mean. All of my friends are excellent cooks, sing like nightingales and have exquisitely behaved and beautiful children.