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Karen Crofts

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June 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter, Newsletters

Live Readings

 

microphone

New time, new space

Cash Prizes – $50, $100

We are thrilled to present our monthly live readings from July to November

at Newcastle Art Gallery

Join us July 2nd from 3pm

share your stories, poems, songs, scripts in response to James Drinkwater’s exhibition 

the sea calls me by name

 

HWC Workshops

July

Speculative Fiction Writing with Marianne de Pierres

Saturday 6th July, Wickham

de Pierres - author

Self Publishing – an online course
Nigel George is offering a half-price special to all HWC members for his new self-publishing course.
Visit the Indie Publishing Machine course page, select the Australian Version, and enter the code HWCJULY50 at the checkout to save yourself nearly $100.
You’d better hurry though – the discount is only available until the end of July!
 

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

HWC Blog

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

 

Thank you to our members who have blogged for us through March, April and May.

Read the following Literary topics

Speculative Fiction
- Our Spec Fic writers
Australian Literature 
- Susan Francis
Writing History 
- Christine Bramble
Crime Fiction 
- Megan Buxton

Graham Davidson, author

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

HWC Member News

 

HWC Member – Gail Hennessy

Gail’s book ‘The M Word’ is published by Girls on Key Press. It is available from the Poetry Portal Bookshop  

The M Word’ is a book of poetry that recalls my experience of postnatal psychosis and recovery. It was written to help break down the stigma associated with mental illness and provide hope for recovery.  It is available through the Poetry Portal of Girls on Key along with ‘Written on Water’.- Hennessy

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The M Word - memoir by Gail Hennessy

 

HWC Member and Board Chair – Adrienne Lindsay

Adrienne Lindsay is the chair of Hunter Writers Centre. She has recently launched her business Cloudberry Writing

She provides fundraising advice, editing services and professional writing services.

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Adrienne Lindsay, chair of HWC

 

HWC & Board Member, Wendy Haynes

Wendy was a founding member of Port Writers Inc. as both Treasurer and President. She is a copywriter and her website outlines the various services and advice she offers

Wendy Haynes - HWC Board member

Heart Open event

Heart Open

Hunter Writers Centre funds the artists of Heart Open – literature, dance, fashion, art

The Heart Open Event 2019 at the Hunter Innovation Festival was a great success

Writing Opportunities and Events

Odyssey House Victoria Annual Short Story Competition

1st prize $1000.

www.odyssey.org.au

Closes Friday November 1st

Max 1,500 words and follow the theme ‘Family’ and make reference to alcohol and other drugs

The money raised from this competition will go towards the work of Odyssey House, Victoria, offering a supportive drug-free environment for people and their families affected by problems associated with drugs, including alcohol. 

 

HWC Facebook Groups

Exclusive facebook writing groups:

Hunter Writers Centre – celebrating literature in the Hunter

The Story Hunters – our Spec Fic writers keeping in touch between meet ups

HWC Poets – where our poetry groups gather online

HWC Writing Groups

Attendance is free as part of your HWC Membership

Newcastle, Belmont, Teralba and more…

See the whole list in the Members Area

Applications Open for KSP’s 2020 Residency Program

The KSP Writers’ Centre in the beautiful Perth Hills region of Western Australia is calling for Australian and international writers to apply to its 2020 residency program. The program offers paid annual positions to Established, Emerging and Next Gen (under 25 years) writers. The residencies include a two-week block to develop a manuscript at the inspiring KSP property, which is the former home of notable Australian author, Katharine Susannah Prichard.

In addition to the salary and space to write, writers receive a welcome platter to share with co-resident writers, transport assistance, breakfast supplies, networking opportunities, promotion, CV credit, complimentary writing group sessions and access to a thriving literary community, library services, mentoring, social events, and heritage walking trails. As part of the residency, writers are asked to present a workshop on a topic of their specialty and perform readings at a literary dinner hosted in their honour. Deadlines are 30 June, 28 July, 25 August for the various categories. Visit the KSP website for eligibility, selection criteria and more details about the program: https://www.kspwriterscentre.com/residency-program

2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program

CBCA NSW Branch is pleased to announce that entries are open for the 2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program (AWMP), sponsored by Scholastic Australia. The aim of this national award is to foster the talent of an unpublished author of children’s literature.  In 2019 the AWMP is open to picture book and junior fiction manuscripts. The Winner of the AWMP will receive the Charlotte Waring Barton Award and a mentorship with Scholastic Australia, to include two three-hour mentoring sessions with an author selected by Scholastic Australia, and a one-hour mentoring session with each of the following Scholastic Australia employees: an editor, a marketing communications manager and a publisher.

Entries close on Wednesday 31 July 2019.

Authors whose careers have been launched by this award include the best-selling/award winning Michelle Cooper, Kirsty Eager, Jacqueline Harvey and Oliver Phommavanh

nurses WW1

Writing History Part 3

By | News, Writing History

Thomas Keaneally’s Error

In my last post I referred to the writerly error of “changing the date of the Battle of Waterloo”, ie getting the facts wrong in relation to a topic that’s easy to check.  I was disappointed when I read Thomas Keneally’s Daughters of Mars, a novel of military nursing in the Great War. The Great War is my specialist subject, specifically the stories of the hospitals, nurses and doctors who did their best to patch up horribly wounded men.  On the one hand Daughters of Mars is undeniably a page-turner, just as you would expect of a writer of Keneally’s stature, enjoyed by millions of readers.

But the novel contains a fundamental error.  Keneally’s novel uses the name of an actual hospital – The Australian Voluntary Hospital – and draws inspiration from some aspects of its story.  On the one hand this might be perfectly acceptable. But the real hospital opened in 1914 not 1916, thus the novel undermines its significance as the first Australian unit in France in the Great War. It would have been so easy just to give the hospital a different name.  On a more positive note, I revel in the novels of Winston Graham (and not because the actor who plays Ross Poldark in the TV series is so gorgeous!).  He doesn’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo, an event that features in one of the novels in the Poldark series, and does paint a credible picture of English society in the period of the Napoleonic Wars.

But back to historical non-fiction.  If you are venturing into writing the history of your street, suburb or family it is important to first write a plan, not a book – the book comes later.

You need to create a reading list. Here are some terms used by historians: History is based on sources and sources come in two flavours (pun intended) – primary and secondary.  The primary sources are original documents from the period you are researching – a birth certificate is a primary source.  Official documents, personal letters, diaries, headstones, books written at the time, newspaper articles (caution – do you believe everything you read in the papers?) – are examples of primary sources.  You find them in libraries, museums and archives or on their websites.  Start by talking to your Local Studies librarian. The task is made easier – and cheaper! – these days because of the amount of original material on-line.  Military service records on the National Archives of Australia website is one example – a trip to Canberra can be an expensive exercise.  That said, there is nothing quite like reverently holding in your hands an ancient dog-eared, musty-smelling piece of paper.

Secondary sources are written after the event, based on primary sources – history books and articles that will help you build a picture of the local, national and global background.  As a rule of thumb, start with the more recent publications as you would expect these to reflect the most recent research on a topic.  Here again, your librarian can point you in the right direction.

I alluded in an earlier blog to “supposition” as opposed to fact.  Sometimes when researching primary sources you come across something that hints intriguingly at an amusing story or a mystery. Just because you don’t know exactly what happened doesn’t mean you can’t use this, but you need to make it clear in your writing that you don’t know. I’ll finish with an example of this from my book Sisters of the Valley – First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter (2011):

nurses WW1

World War 1 Red Cross nurses, photo courtesy of Time: http://time.com/5450885/wwi-nurses/

On Christmas Day 1918 an accident occurred at a military hospital in Salonika.  The accident was, luckily, slight in its consequences but could have been much more serious and would surely have resulted in a telegram to Walter Godfrey in East Maitland to notify him that his daughter, Staff Nurse Leila Godfrey, had been injured.    The injury was nothing to do with enemy action.  In filling out the Report of Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries Leila stated that “at Christmas dinner while off duty I was burnt on the face, slightly, by blazing spirit which fell from the plum pudding.”  Christmas dinner in 1918 held a special significance for everyone involved in the conflict.  An Armistice was now in force and there was reason to hope the fighting was over and that next Christmas they would all be back home.  Perhaps the celebrations got a little boisterous.  We can imagine Leila making a grand entrance to the brightly decorated Sisters’ Mess. She is carrying the pudding aloft, ablaze with the burning brandy, perhaps a little careless in her excitement, perhaps even affected by a tipple from the brandy bottle!  In the commanding officer’s opinion no one was to blame and a commission of enquiry was not necessary.  Leila was lucky that the burns were not more serious.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

Writing History Part 2

By | News, Writing History

‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’

Writing Historical Non-Fiction with Christine Bramble

Some years ago I attended a workshop on Creative Non-Fiction.  When I mentioned this to a friend who, like me, was working on a biography, she looked puzzled.  How can nonfiction be creative? Doesn’t “creative” imply “imaginative” and therefore not factual?  The friend who, also like me, sometimes struggles with the fact that citing references is actually more time consuming than the writing itself, commented tongue-in-cheek that her project would be so much easier if she could occasionally just make it up!

Put at its simplest creative nonfiction is a good story well told – generally about people and events so not a genre that suits a thesis on a technical subject.  It uses the same literary techniques as writing fiction, eg, lyrical style, arranging a story other than chronologically, highlighting the dramatic or the amusing.  But it must always be factually accurate and its characters and places must be real.

The authenticity of the story is paramount.  Writing the story of a family member might be your first foray into nonfiction after years of writing poetry or short stories.  You want the family at the very least and possibly others to enjoy reading your efforts so aim at making your work a piece of creative nonfiction rather than a list of events and dates.  Perhaps you have started with some family papers that have been gathering dust in someone’s garage since a great grandparent died – letters, certificates, photographs, even shopping lists. Yes, such apparently inconsequential bits of paper may get saved by accident but hint at what people were buying a hundred years ago.   You can then supplement these with research on the individual from official sources such as Births, Deaths and Marriages.  Don’t take what is in front of you for granted. A caption on the reverse of a photograph could have been added later by someone who wasn’t on the scene – here it’s useful to identify samples of handwriting from family members, although this can be tricky – the teaching of handwriting in the past could produce a class of students with very similar styles.  I have come across this in my own research and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing one sibling from another.

Even official documents may not reflect the truth.  I came across this in researching the story of Matron Ida Greaves.  Her application form to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve 1916 (pictured, and thank goodness it gets abbreviated to QA) gave her date of birth as 1878.   I knew this wasn’t right. Sure enough, I confirmed that her birth was registered in February 1875 and baptismal records showed that she was baptised in March 1875.  The “mistake” in the application form was almost certainly deliberate as she would otherwise have been too old to join. But I cannot say for certain – the previous sentence is a supposition, not a fact. So if you have a theory but no proof, you need to say so.  You also need to research the context – the time and place that the documents were created. What were the important local, national and global events of the time? How did people eat, dress, travel, work, learn? Library and museum collections are great resources to get a feel for these things – local libraries has online material from the region, Newcastle Historical Collections and Lake Macquarie Libraries to name just two.  The Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK is great for a sense of the global picture.

What about the relationship between the historical novel you might be working on and historical fact?  In some ways this is a tricky one – you have the liberty to create your own imaginary characters and places but the best historical fiction is deeply researched in the facts and the background and just like writing your family history, this takes time if you want to create a really credible world for your characters.  One reason I love reading Winston Graham’s Poldark series is that the world he creates has indeed been deeply researched to create credibility.  I have often been heard to say in connection with historical novels, ‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’, ie something so very easy to check.   Next time I’ll talk a bit more about this and about planning your historical nonfiction.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger
train at station

Writing History Part 1

By | News, Writing History

Carriage ‘B’ of the northbound CountryLink at 1.50pm

Writing Historical Non-Fiction with Christine Bramble

I’ve spent most of my working life writing – but for someone else!  Study notes, exhibition guides, newsletters, council reports, strategic plans, you name it: schools, a museum and the planning departments of local government.  It used to irritate me that I wasn’t writing for myself.  But, hey, you have to earn a living.

I’ve said goodbye to all that and I’m now onto my second work of historical non-fiction and have a slightly different perspective on those years – it was great practice and I was getting paid to do something that I enjoyed.  I am without any doubt a better writer as a result of those years of writing for someone else. My message to those of you who bemoan the writing you may have to do at work: regard it as an opportunity to hone your style.

There were unforeseen consequences. For example, I gained a reputation for writing readable reports that didn’t need redrafting all the way up the line to the General Manager.  Nervous first-time report writers would bribe me with the promise of drinks on Friday arvo if I would cast my eyes over their work.  I’m hopeless at saying no to a drink . . .

So how do I now find myself working on the biography of a woman who experienced the horrors of the Great War from the wards of a military hospital? Strange to say, poetry was the catalyst.  I relished reading poetry from an early age, encouraged by Mum who often gave me books of poetry for birthdays and Christmas. So, it was a revelation to me when, in my final year school exams, one of the set texts was the work of the war poet Wilfred Owen.  I was in awe of his work, then shocked and fascinated when I started to delve into historians’ accounts of the war and its impact on global events. So began my understanding of and interest in how literature and art reflect and influence the story of humankind.  Poems like Owen’s Futility certainly influenced my choice of History for study and my political leanings.

Fast forward twenty-five years to my job at Newcastle Regional Museum. Research for an exhibition on Hunter stories of the Great War, that included the mock-up of a trench complete with soundtrack, introduced me to the war service of Hunter nurses who joined the Australian army and, a smaller number, the British army.  But one who slipped through the cracks in the telling of her story was Matron Ida Greaves RRC, a graduate of Newcastle Hospital who happened to be in England in August 1914 at the outbreak of war.  She joined a voluntary hospital that went to France within weeks but the story is not well-known today.

I accumulated more information about Ida and realised she was a remarkable woman who deserves to be better known – part of the first contingent of Australians on the Western Front and one of the first Australian women to be awarded the Royal Red Cross in that conflict.

I had created a blog for ‘my’ Great War nurses, listing their names and a summary of what I knew about their service.  One day I was contacted by a descendent of Ida Greaves.  We corresponded over a few months and in 2013 he called me to say he would be visiting a relative in Victoria who had ‘stuff’ in her garage that might interest me. I was to wait on Broadmeadow Station, alongside carriage ‘B’ of the northbound CountryLink at 1.50pm on the day of his return.  An elderly gentleman briefly stepped out of the carriage to shake hands, handed me a briefcase and then continued on his way.

The briefcase contained a treasure trove of over 300 photos and documents and I was on my way with turning Ida’s story into a book.  A friend once told me that a good biography takes seven years.  I plan to have A Matron and A Hospital in print in 2020.  It will have taken seven years and I aim for it to be my best writing yet.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger
NSSA 2019 Cover

2019 Newcastle Short Story Award

By | News, Short Story Writing

NSSA 2019 Cover

 

Hunter Writers Centre was thrilled to present the 2019 Newcastle Short Story Award prize ceremony on 5th April. Annabel Smith, judge, flew in from Perth to talk about her judging experience, her own writing journey and gave tips to writers about entering competitions, coping with rejection and explaining the stand out features of a great short story.

Click here to see the list of prize winners

Listen to Annabel discuss writing, entering competitions and maintaining your confidence as a writer:

Annabel Smith, judge of 2019 NSSA

Annabel Smith at the prize ceremony

NSSA winner Ellen Vickerman, Annabel Smith and Paul Egglestone

2019 NSSA Winner, Ellen Vickerman, Annabel Smith, Prof Paul Egglestone, University of Newcastle, sponsor

2nd place winner, Imbi Neem with Cr Carol Duncan, Annabel Smith and Prof Egglestone

L to R: Cr Carol Duncan, City of Newcastle (sponsor of 2nd prize), Annabel Smith, NSSA judge, Imbi Neem, 2nd prize winner, Prof Paul Egglestone, University of Newcastle

NSSA Winner Ellen Vickerman collects her award

2019 NSSA Winner, Ellen Vickerman, from Queensland, collects her award.

Patrick Cullen, Alison Ferguson, Jonathan Godwin and Ned Stephenson - local award winners NSSA 2019

Local Award winners (L to R): Patrick Cullen, Alison Ferguson, Jonathan Godwin, Ned Stephenson

Annabel Smith, NSSA judge, with Sally Davies, Newcastle Law Society (sponsor)

Annabel Smith, judge of NSSA and Sally Davies, Newcastle Law Society (sponsor)
hands reaching out of the swamp - picture for crime fiction article

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 4

By | Crime Fiction, News

The Comfort of Horror Fiction

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

I find horror very comforting. I can just see the raised eyebrows as I write that. The modern world is terrifying enough – war and terrorism, senseless crimes on a daily basis. Why subject yourself to more?

Stephen King, probably the most recognisable name in horror fiction, says that reading horror is ‘… rehearsal for death. It’s a way of getting ready.’ Fear of death, and curiosity about what might come after it, is almost universal. Horror lets us explore our curiosity about death and its aftermath in a fictional – safe – environment.

HP Lovecraft, the founding father of American horror, said ‘… the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ Horror examines both how little we really know and understand and our need to confront the unknown.

Finally; the thrills and chills of horror make us feel alive. Logic might tell us that there are no such things as ghosts and ghouls but our lizard brain doesn’t give a damn about logic- and it loves the adrenaline rush of a good scare.

I prefer my horror as fiction rather than movies, my imagination rather than the director’s interpretation. And you can’t close your eyes or look away when reading a book.

When people think of horror writers it is often male names that come to mind: Lovecraft and King and names such as Peter Straub, James Herbert, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. But, as with crime fiction, there are outstanding women horror writers.

Women writing horror is not a modern phenomenon. Think of Mary Shelley; she is best known for Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818) but also wrote short horror stories such as Transformation (1831) and The Mortal Immortal (1833)

Shirley Jackson will also be a familiar name. Her novel, The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for Netflix though We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, for me, a far more disturbing read. Her short stories The Lottery and The Summer People are wonderfully creepy.

Of more contemporary women horror writers Susan Hill is worthy of mention; she writes both crime (a series featuring the detective Ian Serailler) and horror, which explains why she is a favourite of mine. The Woman in Black, a ghost story written in the Gothic style, is a brilliant literary horror story. There’s no gore in this story just carefully controlled and spine-chilling atmosphere. More recently I have read Broken Monsters by Lauren Beuker, a genre blend of horror and thriller with multiple storylines and complex, fascinating characters, The Grip of It by Jac Jemc, an unsettling take on the traditional haunted house story and The Hunger, in which Alma Katsu takes the true story of the Donner Party (https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-donnerparty) and imbues it with supernatural elements.

All of these stories admirably fulfil the definition of horror: A genre of speculative fiction intended to, or has capacity to, frighten, scare, disgust or startle readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror or terror.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC
drawing of a house for crime writing blog post

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 3

By | Crime Fiction, News

Home Sweet Home . . . or is it?

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

 

Carly scrambled from bed, stumbling and snatching at the darkness, caught between fight and flight.

Where? Where was he?

Listening, straining for sounds, she heard the thump of her heart, the dry gasp of her breath. No taps, no knocks, no bumps.

That didn’t mean a fucking thing.

Her mobile was in her hand. She didn’t remember picking it up. It took three tries to dial the numbers. She wanted to shout, managed to pull it down to a hiss. ‘There’s someone in my apartment.

So begins Darkest Place, Jaye Ford’s chilling novel of suspense. Week after week, in the dead of night, Carly wakes to find a man standing by her bed, silently watching her. And no-one believes her.

It is concepts like these that make domestic noir so very scary. When I read detective stories I enjoy them in the knowledge that I’m safe in my own home. Domestic noir rips that comfort away – in this offshoot of crime fiction the home is no longer the safest place to be. The troubles with which the female protagonists – and they most often are females – find themselves afflicted, take place primarily in the home or the workplace. Those familiar places become, for the protagonists, dark and alien. Marriages and families become untrustworthy; relationships are corrupted by lies, lives ruined. The normality of the settings – suburban homes, offices, schools – heightens the tension.

And, unlike murder mysteries, the victim of the horrors taking place is alive though her life is very much under threat. Readers get very close to the protagonist. We are allowed under her skin as she battles to untangle the lies and deceits around her and we are made to realise the fundamental unknowability of the others in our lives. These stories, often told in first person by an unreliable narrator even make us question how well we know ourselves and what we might do when pushed to the limit.

Just about everybody has heard of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, Gone Girl even if they haven’t read it or seen the movie. While it was the novel that began the explosion of domestic noir it wasn’t the first – beginning in the 1940’s writers like Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson and Mary Higgins-Clark wrote stories of the dark underside of the domestic scene.

It’s no surprise that the majority of authors of this genre are women – or that the few men who do write use their initials ( S.J Watson, Before I Go to Sleep) or a female pen-name ( J.P Delaney,  The Girl Before, is really Tony Strong.)

It seems to me that the rise of domestic noir coincides with the rise of such movements as #Metoo, that their popularity (Paula Hawkins’ Girl on a Train sold over 11 million copies and made the author $10 million in the first eighteen months) is because they so often deal with the issues that women discuss in real life; exploitation, abuse, both physical and psychological, lies, secrets, cover-ups. The prevalence of unreliable narrators, often with amnesia (S.J Watson, Before I Go to Sleep,) or a head wound that affects their ability to recall (Ruth Ware’s  In a Dark  Dark Wood) or even a narrator in a coma (Alice Feeney’s  Sometimes I Lie) echo the real- life frustrations of women who are told that their accounts of their own experiences are unreliable.

Crime fiction, in all its manifestations, is deliciously dark and I love reading it. But I also love the darkness of the horror genre – the subject of my last entry.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC
female lying on oversized book for women and crime article

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 2

By | Crime Fiction, News

Women and Crime

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

Crime, mystery and thriller are the most popular genres in Australia – a large percentage of book sales come from this category and I’ve made a substantial contribution to that statistic. There’s an ever-increasing TBR pile on my bedside table and I have to confess that most of it is crime fiction of one sort or another. For a tragic like me there is almost too much choice in bookshops and libraries but I’ve found, over the course of many years of reading crime fiction, that many of my favourite authors of this genre are Australian.

Australian men are well-represented on my pile. Barry Maitland has long been one of my favourite authors; in particular, his latest series, The Belltree Trilogy, much of it set locally, is a riveting read. Garry Disher, Adrian McKinty, Robert Gott, and Peter Temple are all Australian writers who are masters at keeping the reader on the edge of the seat.

Lately, however, I’ve found that the stories I’ve loved reading have been by women. I’m not alone there – Sophie Gilbert, writing in The Atlantic in 2017 says that 80% of a new female author’s readership is likely to be female. Why are women writers so appealing to me? What makes them such outstanding writers of crime fiction?

It could be that women understand the concept of fear in our very cores – we grow up with the threat of being a victim ever-present in our lives.  And, it has been suggested, women are more attuned to thinking about people’s motivations, that they have greater insight. I’m not sure I agree with that – the male authors I read show just as much understanding of human nature and the things that motivate someone to take a life.

Whatever the reason, there can be no denying that women have always been in the forefront of crime writing – think of Agatha Christie, P.D James, Ruth Rendell and Elizabeth George. There isn’t space here to list them all.

In my case, not only have the authors I’ve loved been women – many of them have been Australian. Australian women have long excelled at exploring the dark side of society.

The very first mystery novel in Australia was Force and Fraud: A Tale of the Bush written by Ellen Davitt in 1865 (Australia’s crime writing award for women, the Davitt Award is named in her honour). Mary Fortune followed with her series The Detectives Album (1868-1909). It was an Australian woman, Charlotte Jay, Beat Not the Bones, who won the very first Edgar award in 1954.

It was Marele Day’s 1988 novel The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender that gave me my first taste of how well Australian women do crime. Since then I have enjoyed the historical crime fiction of Kerry Green wood’s Phryne Fisher series and Sulari Gentil’s suave Rowland Sinclair. Pam Newton (Beams Falling, The Old School) Yvette Erskine and Karen Davis’s police procedurals have kept me enthralled as well.

Holly Throsby (Goodwood,  Cedar Valley), Sarah Bailey (The Dark Lake, Into the Night) and Jane Harper(The Dry and Force of Nature) , Emily Maguire( An Isolated incident) and Candice Fox (Eden, Hades, Crimson Lake) are dark mysteries that grip the reader from the opening page – from opening lines, like these.

Caleb was still holding him when the paramedics arrived. Stupid to have called an ambulance – Gary was dead. Couldn’t breathe with his throat slit open like that. (Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay.)

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you. (Jane Harper, Force of Nature.)

As soon as the stranger set the bundle on the floor, Hades could tell it was the body of a child. It was curled on its side and wrapped in a worn blue sheet secured with duct tape around the neck, waist and knees. One tiny, pearl-coloured foot poked out from the hem, limp on his sticky linoleum. (Candice Fox, Hades.)

I feel as though I should apologise to all the wonderful crime writers, Australian and others, whose names I haven’t mentioned. They are all worth reading. If you haven’t read crime fiction you should Be Warned: it is addictive – especially the recent trend in novels of domestic mayhem which I’ll discuss next time.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC
hand against a window - crime fiction image

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 1

By | Crime Fiction, News

Dark and Loving it

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

 

hand against a window - crime fiction image

I love a good murder.

Don’t be alarmed. I’ve never actually killed anyone; nor am I likely to (though my partner might debate that). I am also, I hope, unlikely to be the victim of a violent crime. But, according to the experts, one of the reasons I (and millions of others) read crime fiction is that it allows us the experience of this darker side of life from the comfort and safety of our armchairs. We can have the adrenaline rush, the edge-of-the-seat tension and suspense, the race to beat the ticking clock – and then put the book down and go on with our comfortable lives.

While I might never be a victim there is always that possibility. As I read there’s a small voice, way down deep, that says, ‘This could be you’. I know, when I’m reading fantasy or speculative fiction, that I will never encounter a goblin or pass through a portal to another world, but I could, on some dark, unfortunate night, encounter someone who means me harm. Perhaps reading crime fiction allows me to compare myself to the victim; I can tell myself that they are very different to me, that I wouldn’t ever do what they have done or go where they went, and reassure myself that it wouldn’t happen to me.

Or, perhaps I want to know what it’s like to be a killer – what it’s like to live with the darkness.

Tana French, one of my favourite crime writers, said, I write about murder because it’s one of the great mysteries of the human heart. How can one human being deliberately take away another’s life?

Perhaps, when we read crime fiction, we’re searching for an answer to that same question. It’s often been said that crime fiction provides us with a sense that order and justice are attainable when, so often in real life, the opposite seems true.

Lee Child says, It gratifies (the) desire for safety, security and the rule of law.

One of the joys of reading crime fiction comes from the interactive nature of the genre. Every crime fiction story is a puzzle and, like most readers of crime fiction I love the challenge of putting the pieces together, trying to interpret the ‘clues’, to work out what is misdirection or ‘red herring’ and unearth the perpetrator. I may not get it right – in fact it’s better if I don’t, if I have the rug pulled out from under me by a surprising but perfectly logical twist – but there is a satisfying intellectual element to reading a good crime fiction novel.

Critics of crime fiction (usually those who haven’t read any) claim that it is shallow, that it doesn’t offer the reader the depth of literary fiction. I’ll leave it to Michael Robotham (another of my very favourite writers) to refute that claim: A great literary novel can change your life and resonate through the ages. A great crime novel can shine a light upon the best and worst of human nature and into the darkest corners of society.

And, finally, good crime fiction (and, yes, there is a lot of bad crime fiction out there) is a great ‘read. It’s fast- paced, full of tension and suspense and peopled by characters who won’t let me put the book down till I find out their fate.

So crime fiction has, I think, a lot to offer me as a reader. I have a long list of ‘favourite’ authors and, increasingly, I’m finding that many of them are women – and Australians – and that is the subject of my next entry.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC
cover of To End All Wars

Our members – 2018 achievements

By | News

Susan Francis began writing her memoir in 2015. It progressed well and she and her husband decided to move to Spain for a year so she could complete it. How wonderful is that? However, six months in, tragedy struck when her husband died. Susan returned to Mayfield and found writing a positive process to help her through her grief. 3 years later and Susan’s achievements show the process not only helped her grief but brought her rewards. In 2018: Winner,  Shelia Malady short story award; Highly commended, AAWP Emerging Writers’ Prize; Shortlisted for Varuna House Lit-link scholarship; Script performed, The Monologue Adventures Voices of Women; Longlisted E.J. Brady competition.

And the success continues into 2019: Long-listed, Margaret River short story competition, Published in the Hammond House Publishing (UK) International Anthology, Published in the Newcastle Short Story Award.

So what happened to the memoir? Well, just last month, Susan signed with Benython Oldfield, literary agent at Zeitgeist Media who has sent her memoir to some major publishers. Congratulations Susan!

 

Cassandra O’Loughlin released her wonderful collection Taking my Breath – a collection of ecopoems.

Taking My Breath 500
to end all wars 500

Dael Allison, poet, HWC  member and secretary of HWC Board has had a very busy year completing much of our governance paperwork, writing her PhD and editing two books. What an amazing woman. One of the books she edited was To End All Wars. Here’s a review by one of the featured poets, HWC member Magdalena Ball.

Christopher Kelen has the rare gift of a voice that feels effortlessly, mesmerizingly, unique.

Poor Man’s Coat is a delight: a fresh and haunting mix of deep meditation, witty intelligence and the abundant wonder of poetry’s ‘wise surprise’. – Jean Kent

 

 

Kathryn Fry’s book of poems Green Point Bearings has been reviewed in The Compulsive Reader and by poet Brook Emery.

green-point-bearings 500

 

Storytime Lane have released two new books since their January launch: “Life is Not Fair When You Are Just a Chair” (E. S. Smith/Graham Davidson) and ‘”Hunter” which is book 2 in Graham Davidson’s Witches of the Cross-worlds series.

Books by HWC member Graham Davidson

Sutherland Shire Literary Competition

Congratulations Penny Lane

1st and 2nd Prizes Free Verse for her poems ‘Nothing Much Here’ and ‘How to Write a Waterfall’

Congratulations Catherine Moffat

Highly Commended for her story ‘The Lady Vanishes’

 

 

Karen Whitelaw won the Peter Cowan Short Story Award (WA) with Heat.

Karen Whitelaw HWC member

 

Hayden’s Bedtime by Wendy Haynes will be available late March 2019.  A crowdfunding event for this book starts soon. Please share and help families escape domestic violence.

reedslarge 500

 

Gillian Telford had two poems published in Not Very Quiet poetry journal: ‘Brisbane Water Estuary’ and ‘Midnight Lexicon’  and  2 poems in The Ghazal Page international online journal. ‘On being Alone’ and  ‘of belonging’

Jan Dean, Kathryn Fry and Magdalena Ball also had poems published in Not Very Quiet this year.

 

Malcolm St Hill’s essay on Australian Frederic Manning and his novel, ‘The Middle Parts of Fortune’, (the greatest war novel of all time) was published in Overland in November

Picture for Essay by Malcolm St Hill
HWC member Laura Brown

 

Laura Brown’s short story ‘My Brave New World’ features in A Patchwork of Stories, the best stories from the 2018 Birdcatcher Books Short Story Competition.

louise 500

News from the Lake Macquarie Poetry Group:

Louise Berry had a poem published in the New Shoots Poetry Anthology 2017 and published her second book on Dora Creek history

Diana Pearce had a poem published in Valley Micropress in 2017, and several poems published in The Mozzie in 2017 and 2018 (print only journals).

Black Crow Walking received a 2017 HWC grant to write about homelessness in the Hunter.

Nicole Sellers had a poem published in Plumwood Mountain in 2017 and a poem published in Grieve Volume 6 Anthology in 2018.

HWC Member Laura Taylor

 

In November, Laura Taylor celebrated her 100th post on Planet Picture Book, a blog where she explores children’s literature from every country in the world.

midnight on a clock

 

Michael Tippett won First Prize in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge with his short story Crawlers. Read Michael’s story here.

The horizon shimmers, a quivering line of gel squeezed between the immense blue sky and the hard dun-coloured earth.

Mark Maclean is currently living and teaching in Lightning Ridge. He blogs about his experience in and around the town and his latest blog entry is about the time Bowie came to a nearby town. Read more

From Mark Maclean's blog 'Learning About Lightning'

Congratulations Katrina McKelvey on the signing of a contract for her 5th published picture book, Isla’s Family Tree to be illustrated by Prue Pittock and published by EK Books in 2020. Read all about it here.

katrina mckelvey member

Jan McLeod’s book, Shadows On The Track: Australia’s Medical War in Papua 1942 – 1943 is scheduled for release by Big Sky Publishing in February 2019

Book cover by Jan McLeod

Judy Johnson had a poem published in The Sydney morning Herald during 2018.

Judy Johnson poem

 

 

HWC Newcastle poetry group has reprinted its collection The Olley Poems. Hunter Writers Centre funded the publication of poems that pay tribute to Margaret Olley. Olley was an iconic figure in Australian art whose main focus on landscapes and interiors turned everyday objects and scenes into bursts of colour. Congratulations, HWC poetry group on a second print run! Purchase the book from the Newcastle Art Gallery for $15.

HWC poetry group