Tag Archives: writers

SheKilda Thoughts

The SheKilda Women Crime Writers’ Convention is over. Most of us hope it will not be ten years until the next one, though perhaps the convenors may need a longer break. Lindy Cameron, perhaps unwisely, suggested she might be ready to do it all again in five years. We’re still waiting to see if she ends up stabbed to death multiple stiletto heels, Murder on the Orient Express-style, by the aghast committee.

The attendees are not aghast at the prospect. In fact, we’re rather keen to do it all again next year, no waiting! As I wrote in my previous post, I certainly found the conference rewarding, inspiring and heaps of fun. I also learned a few things and had a few insights.

In the Chills and Thrills: The Why of Crime panel, writers spoke about why that began to write crime and why they chose the kinds of stories they wrote about. Talking about ‘chills and thrills’ in this context, I realised that, for me, chills referred to the fear experienced when our characters (or we ourselves) become powerless, unable to protect ourselves or our loved ones from harm. Being at the mercy of things we cannot control or evade, especially if those things are unjust and unforgiving, is very chilling. The thrills then come in finding the courage, strength and determination to stand up to the fear. Personally or in our characters, taking on the threat (and hopefully beating it!) definitely provides a sense of thrilling energy to me.

The Bending the Rules panel on crime that crosses with other genres, like SF, fantasy and horror, offered a few other interesting ideas. Mariane Delacourt (who also writes as Marianne de Pierres) pointed out that a crime story provides a natural narrative drive for any genre. I felt that the nature of a crime story, which gives the character an excuse for poking into different levels of society and explores transgression from society’s norms, gives a writer a great framework for exploring alien or fantastical societies, their ethics and their social layers.

That panel also veered off onto a discussion on the role of sex and violence in stories and what might be ‘too much’. Generally, the panellists felt that as long as the scenes served to explore or extend the story, you wrote what you needed to write. I mentioned my issue of the porn-to-plot ratio too. I’m no prude, but I prefer more plot than porn. If the porn is also plot, it counts as plot, I guess. It was an entertaining discussion, anyway.

Finally, Meg Vann’s Just the Facts, Ma’am panel on researching crime novels was a terrific session, providing ideas for the different kinds of crime books and how each type needs different kinds of research. A police procedural needs different types of information and detail than a whodunnit. One insight Vann gave was that for stories involving investigative technology, writers really need to be absolutely on top of all the current developments and then predicting where those will be five years ahead.

Another broad lesson learned was how every writer has a different process. Some plot out a story in very detailed story boards long before they start writing. Others totally wing it from the start. Some research for months before they start writing, others write a first draft and then decide what needs more detail. In the end, it seems there is no ‘right way’ to write – only the way that is right for each individual author.

Of course, this is just a little taste of what I gleaned from the conference. Thank you again to the organisers, volunteers and guests who made it such a memorable and energising experience.

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

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

E is for Exciting!

Today I spoke at the Australian Society of Author’s E-Exchange seminar, an introduction to digital publishing in books and apps. I had a great time talking to everyone, listening to the other guest speakers and meeting writers, artists, agents and other publishing professionals.

Vincenzo Pignatelli of Blue Quoll showed what his company is doing with apps for children’s picture books. Their first book, Mr Wolf and the Ginger Cupcakes, looks gorgeous.  The colours are vibrant and the interactive features are pretty cool. The fact that the book can be translated into seven languages is pretty neat too. Blue Quoll are looking for authors and illustrators to work with, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the technology.

Splitting Image Colour Studios has been working with traditional publishers for decades, and now they’ve been working on e-publishing for picture books for a few years. These are the guys responsible for the charming adaptations of Graeme Base’s Animalia and Jungle Drums as well as the Four Ingredients cookbook in app form. Director Warren Smith talked about the other projects, including apps, digital books and print on demand books.

Virginia Murdock spoke about Booki.sh, the web-based online e-book seller, associated with Readings Bookstores. For some reason I’d been having trouble getting my head around how Booki.sh worked, as I’d got used to the model where you buy a book and download it to a reader or device. Booki.sh, being web-based, simply allows you to buy your books in your browser and download your current book into the cache for reading anywhere. It’s actually very straightforward. And because it’s web-based, you can tweet links to chapter samples, which is a cool function. Just remember to search for book titles through the Readings ebook link.

Another innovative approach is being taken by Jeannette Rowe, writer of extremely popular books for preschoolers. She’s working with partners to develop a whole website with online books, book-related games and other ventures. It’s terrific to see a writer really taking charge of the ditigal aspects of her career and working with others to find the best way to do that. Rowe herself is passionate and firm about standing up for your (digital) rights.

I was on a great group panel that fielded some great questions from the audience, and then illustrator Ann James of Books Illustrated got us all into separate groups to brainstorm aspects of epublishing and promotion, which generated some great ideas for the convenor, the lovely Marie Alafaci to run by the ASA when she gets back to the office on Monday!

The attendees were all pretty neat too. For all the things that book people have to consider with the new technology—especially considering that we have no idea where it’s all going to go—the future of publishing is wide a slightly scary page for us to write a new history onto. Whatever we’re doing with digital publishing in ten years’ time, this is where we are shaping how that decade ahead may look.

My thanks to the Hazel Edwards and the ASA for asking me to speak, to the other speakers for coming along and all the really cool things they are doing, and to those who came along to dip their toes into the digital waters.