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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, board member HWC
Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill

2018 Newcastle Short Story Award prizewinners

By | Newcastle Short Story Award, News, Uncategorized

The 2018 anthology is now on sale

Congratulations to all the prizewinners:

First Prize – sponsored by the University of Newcastle, awarded to Shaynah Andrews (pictured R with Prof Darrell Evans and Ryan O’Neill, judge)

Here is an excerpt from her winning story ‘Not for Me to Understand’:

My blood feels too hot. I want to beat my fists against Dad for treating me like a kid. I smash a cup on the kitchen tiles, half on purpose. There are little bits of glass all around me. Dad and Linda rush into the room.

‘I’m sorry, it was an accident,’ I say.

‘It’s OK, possum,’ says Dad. I want him to yell and scream at me but he is gentle. ‘I’ll clean this up darlin’, just get away from all the glass. Careful now.’

Dad and Linda hover over plastic dustpans. I walk out the front door and ride my pushie to the beach with Ellie behind me.


Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill
Sally Davies and Cassie Hamer

Cassie Hamer (R) won second prize donated by Newcastle Law Society represented by Sally Davies (L)

Megan Buxton Ryan O'Neill and Kate Griffith (sponsor from Westfield)

L to R: Megan Buxton, HWC President, Ryan O’Neill, judge, Kate Griffith from sponsor Westfield Kotara

Wayne Strudwick - award winner NSSA

Wayne Strudwick, Commended award winner for his story ‘Postcard

Shawn Sherlock and Jane OSullivan

Shawn Sherlock, Foghorn Brewhouse donated the Highly Commended awarded to Jane O’Sullivan

Tanya Vavilova and Amanda Shirley

Amanda Shirley from MacLean’s Booksellers donated the Highly Commended awarded to Tanya Vavilova

Author Ryan O'Neill and prizewinner in the Newcastle Short Story Award

M.J. Reidy (pictured here with judge Ryan O’Neill) won a Commended award donated by Dymocks, Charlestown.

Derice McDonald and Rhona Hammond

Derice McDonald from Macquariedale Organic Wines donated a $120 wine pack awarded to Rhona Hammond, local writer’s award.

writers - local winners within the Newcastle Short Story Award 2018

Local Award Winners Shaynah Andrews, Edyn Carter and Stephanie Holm

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
Drafting a poem-part of the process

Poetry Writing Part 2

By | News, Poetry
a cheerio call from inside of the poem in its making 

here I am back again

happening to be in a Norway summer
high above the Arctic Circle
no chance of sunset at all
(see pictures, stay tuned for midnight sun)

…. and right now I am
making an example out of a poem 

here I am
writing a poem in the form of a poem
about the poem I’m shaping
(you could get a reputation for this kind of thing
… writing about the writing of it
being in the process…
telling the ways and means)

anyway, I do hope can you see me in here
some sign of life?
requires imagination…
and if I fall into prose, then I’m gone
(a million, dad would say)
you don’t get to make the poem
without first being in a poem
(that’s because poems are the most important of the many places poems are from)
all along, in this process
I am discovering the rules
I test them till they break
break them again and
here I am once more
breaking whatever rules had to be guessed
in its making [the poem’s, that is]
(and that’s a noun or that’s a verb
depending on apostrophe)

you have to keep up… it’s steep
but the views!

and midst of them
here I am
I make a little spectacle of myself
making the poem
(and need the spectacles too at this stage
to see the poem at all
[let these serve as the ‘objective conditions’])

the words here?
almost all inherited
I make up a few
but mainly make us of those provided

…this is all by way of introduction to the poem in the poem under construction
(always as ever)

first on paper
(see the picture!)
and then I’ll type up
(like climbing some stairs high into the text that had to be)

here is one from where I am far
(I know you’re waving but I can’t see
… must adjust reception)

this piece was going to be part of
immensity and wonder 
(now I’m not so sure)

motto first
when you’ve gone too far, go further 

(would be an epigraph but it’s mine
… I could dilate upon this later)

enough blather, this is the poem I was working on then
(couple of days ago)… it was on Day 1285 since the beginning of Project 366
(that was on the 1st of January, 2016, so now is July 2019… above the Arctic Circle, remember
… in other words, it was the 1285th draft in the series)

one day opened the door and summer came in 

just a little shy first
stood at the door to be beckoning

must have been hanging about outside

was as if it had been waiting
considering the curtains

I took a deckchair
hung out with the world

there were great swathes of big yellow

hung the world out to dry

summer stood like a statue then
still in the air
not quite a shimmer

not all there
nevertheless there were insects for proof
unidentified (each with the air of the just invented)

and still I remember those terrible eyes
and how this world is other-ended
but that is another story

for now
the south on all its stiff wings had arrived
to say day
the sky stood off

clouds forgot themselves entirely

all glowed
and cherished this moment
we each of us knew
would never
and never would
come again


back again
here I am
can you feel the rhythm in the repetition
(here and gone - fort! da!…
there’s good repetition and bad)

and here though that draft endeth
I will over time go back and fiddle

(a kind of Nietzschean ‘eternal return’
except that you’ll forget, go on
far and away
absorbed in new text
new adventures
boys own in my case…

because I can’t be in words twice the same
that’s not how language ever worked
or will

it’s a kind of Australian Norway I suppose I’m cooking up here
but is that the right thing to do?
especially when Norway’s so much more like New Zealand
(though without the earthquakes)

often I overwhelm myself with this sort of thing
(and it happens every day)
have to hold on to steady
because you

in deep of the mirror wading

this is where the poem must be

all my own

far ahead of the game

I need never have doubted myself

it’s a shallow swim through own muck
such as gods give
but the water’s too cold here
[I did though manage a whole minute in a fjord
but that was below the circle]

… so much ellipsis…

and back to the breach

you simply have to believe

keep brackets open here

Drafting a poem-part of the process

Christopher (Kit) Kelen (客遠文) is a well-known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Macau, where he taught Creative Writing and Literature for many years. Kit Kelen’s poetry has been published and broadcast widely since the seventies, and he has won a number of prestigious awards over the years, including an ABA/ABC Bicentennial Prize in 1988; and in 1992 an Anne Elder award for his first volume of poems The Naming of the Harbour and the Trees. He has also won Westerly‘s Patricia Hackett Prize and placed second in Island’s Gwen Harwood Prize. In 2012, his poem ‘Time with the Sky’ was runner up in the Newcastle Poetry Prize, an award for which he has been frequently shortlisted. In 2017, Kit was shortlisted twice for the Montreal Poetry Prize and, for the second time, won the Local Award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize. In 2018, he was longlisted for the ACU and University of Canberra’s Vice Chancellors’ prizes. Volumes of Kit Kelen’s poetry have been published in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Indonesian and Filipino and Norwegian. The most recent of Kelen’s dozen English language volumes is Poor Man’s Coat  Hardanger Poems, published by UWAP in 2018.

Thoughts from poetry winners

By | Newcastle Poetry Prize, News, Poetry at HWC
NPP 2018 cover
University of Newcastle logo

The 2018 Newcastle Poetry Prize winners are listed on our competition page

The 2018 anthology, BUYING ONLINEis on sale here

Here are thoughts from our winners:

Ross Gillett, winner of the 2018 Newcastle Poetry Prize


If poets can be said to have careers, then winning this prize is definitely an enormous career highlight. Its status as the major prize for a single poem in Australia and the substantial amount of money awarded make it a huge honour to have won. The fact that the competition encourages the longer poem is also very significant, as it’s not easy to get longer poems, or sequences of poems, published at all. To publish thirty or so really high quality long poems in such fine anthologies every year is itself a great contribution made to the poetry world.

Ross Gillet, winner.

University of Newcastle logo


I have been aware of the central position the Newcastle Poetry Prize holds since the early Eighties when it was the Mattara Prize. I entered frequently then and since then I’ve seen it evolve into undoubtedly the pre-eminent poetry prize in Australia. As such I regard it as of immense significance to Poetry in general, and to me  —  since in my case I have been somewhat reticent about my work and winning or appearing in the anthology has been highly important personally.  I recognise many of the contributors over the years simply by their repeated appearances, so that we share a kind of collegiality.  In the perilous community of poets the NPP is a life-line and an anchor.

John Watson, 2nd Prize.

Joanne Ruppin, awarded Commended in the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2018


Writing poetry can feel like slogging away in a one-person show with no audience. While the Newcastle Poetry Prize provides a generous financial incentive to persevere, the opportunity to have work read by such eminent judges is a gift in itself. Receiving an award and being published in the NPP anthology encourages me to continue, with fresh resolve, an exciting, exhausting endless game of hide-and-seek with words.

Joanne Ruppin, Commended

Kevin Smith, commended prize winner NPP 2018


To be commended in the Newcastle Poetry Prize is to be judged worthy by one’s peers, and this might be the best kind of acknowledgement. The prize provides opportunity for the longer poem, a chance to reward a sustained aesthetic effort seldom found elsewhere. What poets do is mostly done in isolation. Attending the awards ceremony put me in the company of fine poets and their work—and fine conversation, too—and I sense the rejuvenating desire to improve my craft. I’m standing on more solid ground, I think, looking forward to the road ahead.

Kevin Smith, Commended

Jean Kent poet

Jean Kent – poet and mentor

By | Member News, News, Poetry at HWC, Writing Groups
Pretending for a moment that she's not tough,
under the rotary clothes hoist the coordinator
of the Affirmative Action for Women program
buckles. This seems like the hardest job
she ever has to do, wrestling with wind and light,
the wet clothes slapping her face
and knuckling her into corners where sun assaults
and the frantic morning pegs down
like a sideshow tent while an audience
of waiting household tasks
boos and jeers
- from 'Superwoman' by Jean Kent (HWC member)
Jean Kent poet

Jean is a long term member of Hunter Writers Centre. Born in Chinchilla, Jean grew up in rural Queensland. She has published 5 full-length collections of poetry and co-edited a comprehensive anthology of contemporary poetry by writers who live in the Hunter or have close connections with the region. Here is her website.  Jean is available for mentoring – contact us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (photo by Dean Osland, Newcastle Herald)

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Australian Literature Part 4

By | Australian Literature, News

Different Voices: new and emerging writers – blog by Susan Francis

My relationship with Newcastle, the city of my birth, was always problematic. Years were spent away from the place. And now? Well, I have to admit, hand over my heart, I’m in love with it. I discover myself residing in the kind of community that facilitates and supports me in something fundamental to my life: my writing. Here, I engage with other authors, attend local workshops and live a life I’d always, in the folded recesses of my heart, somehow imagined. Despite the personal cost, I’m thankful I’m here. I’m thankful that writing was a love I held in reserve. Because the local writing community encouraged my first peek over the barricade of grief.

My debut book, a memoir, being published by Allen and Unwin, is due out early next year. It’s my tale of love, loss, secrets – it’s about finding identity. And most recently, several of my short stories have been shortlisted in Australian and overseas competitions. Some even published. These days, I’m always meeting promising local or established novelists, playwrights and poets. In Newcastle, I constantly feel like I’ve dived face first into a deep bowl of words.

Volunteering for the Newcastle Writer’s Festival began the journey. That year, I also met the indomitable Wendy James, joined a writing group and signed up for the Hunter Writer’s Centre. Three years later and I attend launches and workshops listening to resident shining lights like Barry Maitland, Keri Glastonbury, Ryan O’Neill, Claire Albrecht, Michael Sala, Jaye Ford and Jean Kent.

And all of a sudden, I’m an emerging writer. At 58! My first book to be published at 59! Who’d have thought? Australian literature, at a neighbourhood level, is a garden-fresh, fascinating experience.

Simultaneously, on the national stage, I watch a wave of Australian literature explode – with the relatively new voices of indigenous writers, women writers, disabled writers, the words of refugee Australians and LGBTQ+ writers. These composers now shift in the direction of the mainstream. Behrouz Boochani, a refugee writing from Manus Prison won two prizes this year at the Victorian Premier’s Literature awards. Carly Findlay’s memoir about growing up disabled challenges everyone who reads it, to see our Australian selves differently. Holly Ringland and Nigel Featherstone create worlds reflecting identities never written about before, never shared, never even acknowledged.

Thus, as an older, white, middle-class woman – I have to ask myself – what do I have to say that is new or even helpful?

When I began writing my book, I remember my late husband said, Suz, write about the love we share and the fact that we are older. Write about our adventures, the emotional and the intimate. He believed one of the remaining marginalised groups within Australian society was us.

So, what do I have to say? Because for a few years I did buy into the idea that I was no longer relevant. 

Surprisingly, I have much to say. I have a love discovered later in life to describe. I have grief to express. Images of homeless, elderly women to draw. Or that slumping you suffer under immovable menopausal weight; the creeping, loneliness of ageing; a search for a meaningful life when you live alone, and you’re limping into your sixties with asthma making it hard to breathe in the winter dark. I have the bravery and stoicism of my elderly mother to respect and write about. I have friendship to celebrate and coffee on Thursday mornings in Beaumont Street. I have the sunshine.

Ageing is a difficult, often painful subject to explore. Which is why, sometimes, people don’t like to hear or read about the matter. 

But what I’m learning as I grow older is actually something I’ve always understood – about the gift of identifying yourself on the page. When I recall being a young girl and discovering hope for my plain self because I read about other plain girls – that aha moment – that moment when reading made me realise I was not alone – that moment is equally significant now. 

Australian literature is no longer theoretical for me. Australian literature is alive and circling around me. It’s local. It’s real. And I’m a part of it. Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Seems like an irrelevant question.


Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWCSusan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:


Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

'MILAT, Inside Australia's Biggest Manhunt - A Detective's Story' by Clive Small and Tom Gilling

True Crime Writing Part 3

By | News, True Crime

True Crime by Ted Bassingthwaighte

The whole crime scene!

So, you are ‘standing at the shoulder of monsters’ and what do you expect to see or hear or feel? Are you just a curious observer? Do you feel slightly voyeuristic? Or do you want to ride that imagination train into the deepest, darkest, scariest tunnel of criminal intent? Whatever you chose you’ll be free to return to the safety of your humdrum life either a little scared or hyper alert of your surroundings. If you are like me, you will repeatedly step back into the criminal mire . . . simply because it is fascinating.

The best true crime stories are not always those with the most blood and guts. Sure, the gruesome crime scene is tantalising but not always necessary. The back story fleshes out the characters in a way that you invest in them, even identifying with some. The real-life experiences of others mirror our own lives in their mundanity or tragedy.

Of course, the central character or characters in the story are the ones we most want to understand and hopefully disassemble. And if the story includes a detailed police investigation and follow-up court appearances with a guilty outcome you feel a kind of satisfaction.

But what if the crook is unpunished or even worse undetected? You can empathise with the victim. But can you feel their pain and grief and that of their family who never recover from that moment of malevolence in their normal lives?

One recent story that has stained my memory is Denis Ryan and Peter Hoysted’s Unholy Trinity The Hunt for the Paedophile Priest Monsignor John Day – Allen & Unwin https://www.booktopia.com.au/unholy-trinity-peter-hoysted/prod9781760529628.html

As a former NSW police detective and Child Sexual Assault investigator, I immediately connected with Denis Ryan, a former Victorian police officer who tried for decades to get paedophile priest, Monsignor John Day before a Court to face multiple allegations of his child abuse across country Victoria over many years.

Day was protected by a church that, up until recently, never took responsibility for the criminal behaviour of its priests. Ryan’s determination also ran afoul of his own police bureaucracy whose intransigence to the problem further compounded the angst and hurt of many of Day’s victims. Unholy Trinity is an emotional and at times infuriating read as one wonders in a civilised society such as ours how evil like this can occur, persist and go unpunished.

Conversely, one of my favourite Australian authors is Tom Gilling. Gilling, with retired NSW detective Clive Small, wrote the police insiders story of the hunt for serial killer Ivan Milat https://allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/true-crime/Milat-Clive-Small-and-Tom-Gilling-9781760293307

The police procedural true crime story does not get much better than this book. Gilling and Small allow the reader inside the police organisation and don’t hold back on all the intricacies and obstacles surmounted in the pursuit of Milat. Of course, the subject, a psychopathic serial killer, is pretty alluring as well.

Close your eyes for a minute. It’s daylight, summer. You are in the bush and birds chatter, a slight breeze whispers through the treetops. A battered Toyota four-wheel drive crashes off a hardly noticeable fire trail into a bush clearing. One man, possibly two, climb out and without talking or looking at each other, they open the rear door. On the floor lay two human shaped sacks bound head to toe wriggling in defiance. A German accented female voice cries out, ‘Please, please, please let us go!’ The ancient Belanglo forest watches, powerless to stop evil and ready to succour more innocents after evil is done with them.

I was fortunate or unfortunate enough, depending on your moral compass, to be in the Glebe Morgue participating in an autopsy of my own when I saw the headless skeleton of one of Milat’s victims, the 20-year-old German backpacker Anja Habschied. She lay on a stainless-steel autopsy table next to her friend Gabor Neugebauer, 21. Both innocents were discovered in bush just off a disused fire trail in the Belanglo forest almost 12 months after disappearing from Kings Cross in December 1991.

The image of the gaping holes Milat’s frenzied knife attack inflicted on their skeletons left an indelible stain on my memory. A testament to the violence and suffering this wicked man inflicted on his victims.

On reflection I realise now how important books like this are to society. As difficult and as distasteful it is to read about the behaviour of evil-doers we need to know what happens so as to understand it and prepare for it. Who knows if it will ever visit any of us?


Next week:   The best . . . 

Ted Bassingthwaighte, member of HWC


Ted Bassingthwaighte is a retired NSW police detective living in Newcastle with his wife and dog. Since his retirement in 2009 he has been writing. He reviews books for the NSW Police news magazine, has entered HWC short story competitions, winning a prize in the HWC 2014 Grieve competition. He is a member of the HWC and participates regularly in HWC events. He hopes to have his true crime manuscript ‘Bloody Odyssey’ edited and ready for publication in 2019.


Newcastle Short Story Award Prize Night 6th April

By | Lit Resourses, News, Short Story Writing

Mark your diaries for Friday 6th April at 5.30pm – the eve of the Newcastle Writers Festival – to hear competition judge, Ryan O’Neill, discuss short story writing and his experience judging the competition. Following this live chat, we will announce the prizes: $3000 – first prize (University of Newcastle); $1700 – second prize (Newcastle Law Society); $1000 – third prize (Westfield) plus 2 highly commended awards, 2 commended and several local awards and we will launch the 2018 anthology.

Short story writing is a demanding craft. There are several key aspects you must focus on due to the restricted length. For example, the opening line must grab the reader’s attention and this is a consistent feature of the finalists’ works that have been selected over the past years of the Newcastle Short Story Award. The opening line does not need to be comedic and entertaining, although that is one way to engage, but it should arrest the reader’s attention and pull them in. Starting with a description of the weather, or a similar scene setting that plods towards the action of the story can disengage the reader before he/she has read very far. Here we have assembled a collection of Newcastle Short Story finalists’ opening lines that make the reader ‘sit up’ and want to read on:

You can drive a pretty hard bargain with a socket wrench. – from ‘Wrench’ by Rafael S.W

Jeff spent sixty years trying to kill me. – from ‘Heart Murmurs’ by Joanna Nell

 She truly thought she was better, but after she decided to rescue that stupid dog she realised she wasn’t. – from ‘Mad Dog Woman’ by Marcelle McDonald

It makes one feel differently about the beginning when one already knows the end to be a failure.  – from ‘The Red Wallpaper’ Elianna Han

‘You know, I was an immortal once,’ said Grandfather. – from ‘The Land of Always Living’ Claire Bradshaw

“You shouldn’t name something you’re intending to eat.” – from The Names of Things Angus Gaunt

The house should be empty. – from ‘The Remains’ Karen Whitelaw

When the taxi arrived, Eileen was grumbling to her mute budgerigar. – from ‘A Silver House’ Joseph Sexton

My neighbour is sick. I hear him coughing at all hours, especially in the middle of the night. I am not sure if he sleeps. He must, I suppose, or he would be dead. I have heard you die faster from not sleeping than from not eating. Thirst will always get you before hunger or tiredness, but lack of air will kill you before anything. – from ‘The Man Next Door’ by Johnathon Hadwen

Butterflies & Bushland: The Illustrated Guide to Ash Island Butterflies Book by Rosie Heritage & Julia Brougham

Nature Writing Part 4

By | Nature writing, News
Caterpillar Weirdness by Julia Brougham

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, VHC, has been eating its way through an improbable menu and counting game with children since 1969. Compared with real caterpillars - shape shifting cryptic tricksters hiding their multiple personas in plain sight - VHC is as exciting as a used paper clip.

Common Crow Caterpillar, CCC, is a jazzy black and white striped slinky spring, russet-orange and white dots for horizontal interest, eight sinuous black arabesques behind its shiny black button face to hook your attention if it hasn’t been grabbed by the sight of  its tiny black boots tripping along in erratic syncopation. For a finale, CCC rearranges its soup of DNA inside a chrome-silver shining jewel chrysalis that turns darker and darker until it unzips slowly and drops an old silk veil to the ground, while black and white CCC butterfly stretches its crumpled wings. A cruisy, not in a hurry butterfly. Stick a camera centimetre from its face and CCC butterfly sits nonchalant on its twig.

Large Orange Swallowtail Caterpillar, LOSC, takes shape shifting and trickstering seriously. Stage one, the half millimetre white pearl egg, splits open to stage two, a brown and white blob looking like a streak of bird poop.  Three and four, the blobs are larger and larger versions with a surprise bonus - a pair of brown horns that jack-in-the box from its head and spread a big stink.  Fifth stage of LOSC is a green dragon with bright red horns. In between each stage LOSC grinds, munches and rasps holes in citrus leaves, eating fit to burst. Its insides expand, stretch and reach the limit of its skin to spread then boof! like an over-blown balloon it splits. LOSC’s next persona looks like a different species.  For its Big Sleep chrysalis LOSC slings a knobbly brown hammock under an umbrella leaf. The LOSC butterfly that wriggles out ten days later is a half-moon of black, swathed white across the middle, chains of red, orange and blue crescents frill the edge.

Jalneus evagoras caterpillar, JEC, sings to deaf ants. The ants don’t know they are deaf and JEC songs are sweet airs but grunts, hisses or drums depending on which “different intersegmental regions of the caterpillar” scrape together.  Science using drily exact words in the face of two screaming questions. Ants have no ears, so, how does that work? Vibration, pressure waves? Who knows – yet.

Ants will butcher a fallen butterfly or caterpillar, eating it to death chunk by chunk.  JEC avoids that by making sweet gifts for ants but doesn’t know it. Poke JEC and sugary drops with a smell other insect don’t like, pop out on its skin. Ants, deaf and with no sense of smell, hang around JEC, giving it pats or strokes and get a hit of sugar. The sweet drops are high in an amino acid being studied as a potential treatment for schizophrenia. Ant gets drug food, JEC is protected from other insects by fierce ants with big jaws. JEC and ants in a delicately balanced convenient association. Which side gets the most out of it?

Ten years ago, I was one of three collaborators in a book Butterflies and Bushland. One designed the book. Another painted the gorgeous water colours and I researched the butterflies and the food plants their larvae (caterpillars) needed.  We had grant funds for a two-hectare project on Ash Island to create a place that butterflies would use and where caterpillars were necessary and welcome. The book was the other half of the project.

The three of us were, like most people, intrigued and entranced by butterflies. At first we thought about larvae as just transitions on the way to the flying butterfly?  As if being a butterfly is a finale, the endpoint of some mysterious destiny. Butterfly, symbol of escape, lightness, dancing, beginning, purification, transcendence, freedom. Butterflies are flying colours. Colour from pigments held in the wings, conjured from light’s elemental natures of wave and photon, scattered, reflected, multiplied and bounced from the layer and lattice structure of butterfly wings to decorate our summers.

All true, but those flying colours are in a hurry. They might have as little as one day, a week or two, of life in the sunshine to keep the business of finding mating partners, hiding their pearly eggs on the only plants the larvae can eat, and the cycle of weirdness rolling on.


Julia Brougham HWC member and blogger about Nature Writing
About Julia:

Born in Bunbury WA, lived for six years in South Africa, moved to South Australia and with husband John lived in the Far West, the mid-North, Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide. Since 2002 we have become forever Novocastrians. 

In childhood my fascination with native plants and animals was heavily influenced by a Dad who had an affinity with animals of all shapes and size, and a Grandfather who took us on bush outings at weekends. Love of the natural world and volunteering as a landcarer on Ash Island are ways of connecting with people who combine ecological knowledge with scientific rigour and impassioned care of our natural environment.

Books and reading began early too. My reading habits are wayward and well supplied. We have shelves and cupboards full of books, sometimes in double rows. Becoming a member of Hunter Writers Centre has added to my book stacks as I became involved in the marvellous workshops leading me to new reading places like oriental poetry forms, modern American fiction, grammar and who knows where. 
The words I write daily as the current coordinator of a landcare group are, whether necessary administration or a creative writing piece, an act of advocacy for care of nature. Now more than ever the environment needs advocates who can speak for it and do it well.  To help this along I am hosting a new Meetup group "Nature Writing In Company" which will begin in August on Ash Island. Who knows where that will lead and who will find their voice.