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Newcastle Short Story Award book cover

December 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter, Newsletters

HWC Member Gillian at NAG live read 2019

Newcastle Art Gallery Live Reading
The last live reading of 2019 was held at Newcastle Art Gallery. Over 20 stories, poems, opinion pieces were heard amid a brilliant collection of landscapes.
Cash prizes were awarded to: Eve Gray, Phil Williams, John Dunn, Diana Pearce and Gillian Swain

Here are two works we heard on the day:


NOT ONLY A TREE             
Eve Gray                                            
in response to Bonsai nursery 
by Alexander McKenzie  
of the beloved
had a tree
to rest under
and contemplate,
to hang upon
and contemplate,
to plant and wander
through, meander,
and contemplate.

What is hidden 
is revealed
What is below
is above.
What is lost
is sometimes found.

You may never know
the answer,
but look,
if there is one
it should be here
between the seed
and top of the canopy.

It is about potential,
perhaps the seeming small
holds the complete 
whole miracle.

and perseverance
nurturing nature
and the goodness
of earth left
Resting in peace
Diana Pearce
in response to Summer Rain 
by Angus Nivison

I sit on the verandah
listen to rain’s timpani 
                       on the iron roof
its chorus in the downpipes
of overflowing tanks

breathe the dampness in the air
watch water cascade
like shafted light
a pale promise of relief

see the water become blood
as it scours the tree-dead 
of a distressed land



Creative Writing group HWC members

2020 Membership Gift Vouchers 
in time for Christmas
Email us for more information


Why not gift an HWC membership to a friend or family member for 2020? 
No landfill! Lasts for 12 months. The gift that keeps on giving.
Read all the benefits of a HWC Membership
HWC Member News
Thank you to our writing group facilitators for the wonderful task hosting HWC groups, welcoming new members and encouraging our writers. Thank you to the HWC Board who steer our vision and to Sue Polson and Helen Blackney, the volunteers working constantly behind the scenes to bring you all our programs and activities.
Jill Emberson, ABC Newcastle presenter
HWC lost one of our vibrant members last week. Jill Emberson asked HWC to help make a book from her Meet the Mob podcast series. Member-writers have created beautiful stories and poems during 2019. Local Aboriginal people and HWC Director met with Jill recently to finalise the editing process. We are sad that Jill did not live to see the final book but we continue with the next phase of the design, printing and launch in 2020. Vale Jill.
Emily S Smith Author of Childrens books
Member Emily S. Smith
has a picture book coming out with Larrikin House next year - her first book published by a traditional publishing house. The book is called 'Garbage Guts' - an environmental story about a garbage monster who is determined to have the ocean for himself. It personifies the North Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch and is aimed at 3-7 year olds. Illustrated by Heidi Cooper Smith.

In the past, Emily has self-published two picture books, 'Betty the Yeti's Disappointing Day' and 'Life Is Not Fair When You Are Just a Chair', with Graham Davidson as a part of the project Storytime Lane.
Katrina McKelvey author Member 
Katrina McKelvey
was commissioned in June this year by Macmillan Education to write four books for their Snappy Sounds reading project. They are being released May, 2020.

Phil WIlliams HWC member Live reading at Newcastle Art Gallery Speaker at July 2019 to a full audience and art works

Phil Williams' 
short story Lines of Steel was a finalist in the Newcastle Herald short story competition, and was published in the Newcastle Herald in January this year. His poem Goodbye Humans won a HWC-NAG ekphrastic award last month.

Claire Thomas authorMember Claire Thomas

As a result of being part of the HWC children’s writing group, I have improved my craft and formed networks by entering competitions and attending conferences. I attended the CYA conference in Brisbane earlier this year where I won the preschool picture book category with my manuscript, Secret Worlds.

I entered manuscripts in the CWA Scribbles awards. Manuscripts Moon Rise Sun Set; Not Another Unicorn Book and Adorn the Sky were all shortlisted. Moon Rise Sun Set was awarded Highly Commended in the final results. My next project is researching Margaret Olley for a new picture book manuscript.

Sharon Boyce author

Sharon Boyce 
received her first traditional publishing contract this year for her picture book There's A Shark In The Loo illustrated by Suzy Houghton. The contract is with Larrikin House and is due for release in 2020. Shortly afterwards she received a second contract from Larrikin House for another picture book to be released in 2021


Rebecca Trowbridge
Her two poems david is goliath and Dear E were published in The Enchanting Verses Literary Review in July. Her poetry and prose collection Bitter Matriarch was published in November.
Cover and illustrations from 'My Little Monster'
Member Kate Griffith My amazing mum took one of my children's picture book draft manuscripts and fully illustrated it herself then got it printed for my birthday. I was a little teary at seeing it in print I must say. I wrote this when I was 14 years old 

Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball 
interviewed Beth Spencer about her book High Wire Step on the Climactic Network

Nicole Sellers Spec Fic Part 3 blogger in May 2019

Member Nicole Sellers’ 
poems Ode to my Axial Skeleton and Sun Coat were published in The Enchanting Verses Literary Review in July.  Her poem Lady Firebrand Calls the Sea by Name won a HWC-NAG ekphrastic award in July. Her short story Safari Blonde was illustrated and published by Patchwork Raven in August Her poem Song for Cliodna was published in Three Drops from a Cauldron.


HWC Blog - our members Blogging
Lauren Hislop Blogger on Disability

Next year, our 2020 blogger will be social scientist 
and disability advocate
Lauren Hislop (L)

Lauren will blog about the challenges of seeking employment when you live with a disability

Lauren blogged for us in October
read her humourous, engaging pieces here:
Living with Disability
Meet the Newcastle Short Story Award judges Laura Elvery and Khalid Warsame

2020 Newcastle Short Story Award judges - Laura Elvery and Khalid Warsame

Newcastle Short Story Award Open Now

Accepting short stories up to 2000 words
$7800 in prizes

 Top works selected by our judges, 
Laura Elvery  and Khalid Warsame 
to be published in the 2020 Anthology
Learn more

NPP 2019 book cover for Soft Serve

2019 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 
and all our anthologies are available from our

Literary events and opportunities
Submissions close 27 January 2020 for the 
Writing NSW Kids and YA Festival 
(June 2020)
Learn more
book cover Butterflies book from Ash Island Hunter Wetlands
from Member Julia Brougham:
Butterflies and Bushland - is a book on sale for $25 in The Schoolmasters House on Ash Island Hexham and at MacLean's Booksellers Beaumont Street Hamilton
Survey: Arts and Culture in Newcastle
Have your say and help shape Newcastle's art and culture
Consultation closes 15th January 2020.  
Learn more here

Writing NSW Access for Regional Writers Grants

Round 2 of the regional writers' grants opens November 25. HWC can support your application. Members of HWC have been successful receipients of Writing NSW grants in the past.
Learn more
HWC Writing Groups
Attendance is free as part of your membership. 
There are vacancies in most of our groups especially: 
Belmont, Maitland and Teralba. 
Email us for more information or see the entire list of writing groups 
when you login to the Members Area
Nathan Curnow and Sarah Day NPP judges 2018

2018 Newcastle Poetry Prize Judges

By | Newcastle Poetry Prize, News

We are thrilled to have poet Nathan Curnow as one of our judges of the 2018 Newcastle Poetry Prize judges. Nathan is based in Ballarat, Victoria, and is a past editor of Going Down Swinging. He was published in the 2011 Newcastle Poetry Prize anthology and his published books include The Ghost Poetry Project (2009), RADAR (2012), The Right Wrong Notes (2015) and The Apocalypse Awards (2016). His work has featured in leading journals and been shortlisted for major prizes, receiving the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize in 2010. As a peer assessor he has worked for the Literature Board of the Australia Council, Creative Victoria and Arts Queensland. He has recently taught Creative Writing at Federation University and continues to conduct school workshops across the country.

What a coup that Sarah Day agreed to judge the Newcastle Poetry Prize this year with Nathan Curnow. Sarah’s most recent book is Tempo (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013); it was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and won the University of Melbourne Wesley Michelle Wright Prize. Awards for previous books include the Judith Wright Calanthe Queensland Premier’s Award, the Judith Wright ACT, the Wesley Michelle Wright Prize and the Anne Elder Award. She was poetry editor of Island Magazine for seven years. Her poems have been widely anthologized in Australia and overseas and have been set to music in Australia and Britain. She has written reviews and articles for magazines such as Island; The Monthly; Southerly; Cordite; Famous Reporter. In 2016 she was one of the judges of the National Wildcare Nature Writing Prize. Her next collection will be published early this year.

History Festival September 2018

By | Lit Resourses, News

Logo for History Festival Lake Mac Libraries for History Week first week of September

The first week of September every year is History Week in NSW and Hunter Writers Centre is proud to partner with Lake Macquarie libraries to present a wonderful program of local, national and global history. Talks, presentations, interactive displays and interviews are delivered at Toronto, Speers Point and Belmont libraries. Click here to view the 2018 program held 1-9 September and mark your diaries for another informative, fun-filled week in 2019.

Phil WIlliams HWC member Live reading at Newcastle Art Gallery Speaker at July 2019 to a full audience and art works

July 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter

First Tuesday Live Readings at Newcastle Art Gallery

Our inaugural Ekphrastic live reading was held last week.

23 pieces were heard and the judging was very challenging!

All the works brought the artworks alive.

Congratulations to Brian Noble, Nicole Sellers, Gail Hennessy and, people’s choice award winner, Jan Dean.

See upcoming dates and themes below

August – Tuesday 6th – acknowledging Grief Awareness month – share a poem or story about grief and loss

September – Tuesday 3rd – readings by you in response to the Kilgour Prize 2019 (opens August 3)

October: Tuesday 1st – readings by you in response to Robert Dickerson: Off the Canvas (opens August 24)

November: Tuesday 5th – readings by you in response to Wish You Were Here: landscapes from the collection

Seeking: Writing Group facilitator 

Maitland Writing Group

Meets: First Wednesday of the month 9-12

Are you interested in facilitating this group? You do not need to teach. You need to be a person with a big smile who makes newcomers feel welcome. Contact us if that is you. Maitland library is keen to host this HWC writing group to share your writing.

HWC Workshops

New Date – August

Saturday 3rd August

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

Michael Tippett, writer


Our current blogger is member Professor Kelen
Thank you to our members who have blogged thus far

Australian Literature 
- by Susan Francis

Speculative Fiction
 - by HWC Spec Fic writers

Writing History
- by Christine Bramble

Crime Fiction 
- by Megan Buxton


Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

HWC Member News

Anne Walsh HWC member

Member Anne Walsh is part of the amazing line up at Cuplet  July 11 – tonight!

Gail Hennessy and Jan Dean HWC members

Congratulations Jan Dean and Gail Hennessy who won awards at the HWC Live Reading at Newcastle Art Gallery

Congratulations, Nicole Rain Sellers and Brian Noble who won equal first at the HWC-NAG Ekphrastic live reading

Writing Opportunities and Events

Dying to Know Day – August 8th

An informative opportunity to see into the world of your local Cemetery & Crematorium. Learn about funeral planning, estate and wills and more.

Bookings Essential – RSVP to garry.bellenger@newcastlecrem.com.au

or call 4944 6000 Learn more


2019 Buzz Words Short Story Prize

Short story prize for adults writing for children

High Country Writers Retreat

Friday October 25 to Sunday October 27, 2019

2019 Writing NSW Grants Program

for regional writers 


2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program

Open to picture book and junior fiction manuscripts. Entries close on 31 July

Odyssey House Victoria Annual Short Story Competition

1st prize $1000.


Closes Friday November 1st



HWC Writing Groups

Attendance is free as part of your membership. 
There are vacancies in most of our groups especially: Belmont and Teralba.
See the whole list in the Members Area
Katrina McKelvey author

Writing for Children Part 4

By | News, Writing for Children

How do I find an illustrator? How do I find a publisher? How do I submit my manuscript to a publisher? by Katrina McKelvey

I get asked these questions all the time. Usually the person asking doesn’t realise there are whole courses and workshops written to answer them. They are HUGE questions with no simple answers. There are processes involved and a lot of work.

1) How do I find an illustrator?

Illustrators are assigned by the publisher unless you are self-publishing. The publisher wants to make sure the writing style and the illustration style match. Only very established authors get to ask for specific illustrators. And publishers like teams too. Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley are a few examples. Kirrili Lonergan and I have worked on two books as an author illustrator team, Dandelions and Up To Something. This is wonderful for us as we can visit schools together and talk to kids about making picture books from both perspectives.

The publisher also works between the author and illustrator to bring the project together. The author and illustrator don’t generally directly talk to each other about the book they’re working on together unless it is via the publisher. Some authors and illustrators never meet or meet after their book is released. I knew Kirrili before we started in this industry. So, when we were contracted as a team for Dandelions, we were delighted, as new people don’t usually get to work on a project together when both are new to the industry. She would sneak photos of work in progress while she was illustrating our book. I would get so excited when they popped up on my phone. It was such a privilege to see these snippets as this doesn’t often happen in the industry. Once the book is handed over to the illustrator, the author has to step back during the next part of the project. They’re often brought back in after the illustrations are finished to check the text is still working and look for any final mistakes before the book is sent off for printing.

2) How do I find a publisher?

I’ve said this a few times during these articles now: do your homework. Not all publishers publish children’s books. But there are many ways to find the right publisher.

Look for a publisher’s Submission Guidelines on their website then bookmark that page (article 3). Follow these guidelines exactly. Note: not all guidelines are the same. If a publisher is closed for unsolicited submissions, DON’T send something to them. Instead, go and meet them at conferences and pay for a manuscript assessment. Then you can ask them if you can submit further work to them.

3) How do I submit to a publisher?

There are several ways:

Slush piles (direct and unsolicited)

Manuscript assessments during conferences (book via the conference)

Via an agent (but getting an agent to represent a children’s author is very difficult)

Solicited (invited directly via a conference or networking opportunity)

Twitter parties (yes, there is such a thing!)

Before submitting, there are a few things you need to do. These take time—so don’t rush your submissions.

  • Write a simple one-page cover letter. There is loads of information on the internet and in courses about this. If you don’t know the name of the commissioning editor, address it to, ‘Dear commissioning editor’.
  • Format your manuscript based on the submission guidelines of the publisher you are submitting to.
  • Write a synopsis and a pitch—can you write what your story it about in one sentence, three sentences, in 30 words, in two paragraphs? Practise these. There’s loads of information online and in courses about how to do this. This is not as easy as it sounds. And this can be done badly if the author hasn’t conducted some research into how to write a synopsis/pitch correctly. Also practise writing a blurb. This is different to a synopsis.
  • Track which publishers are open for submissions. See earlier article.
  • Enter writing competitions that give you feedback. This may give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track.

You can submit your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time but publishers would like to know whether your submission is in front of multiple publishers. And if you get picked up by a publisher before you’ve heard from all who you’ve submitted to, you must email them and let them know you’re withdrawing your submission. This is very important! Publishers spend a long time preparing to present possible manuscripts to a publishing team in acquisition meetings. If your manuscript is now unavailable you need to save them the time in preparing for these meetings.

After submitting:

  • Track your submissions—name of manuscript, name of publisher, were they via email or hard copy, who was the editor, what date did you send your submission, record date of any feedback, record any comments.
  • What do you do in the meantime?

Some publishers don’t offer any feedback and say if you haven’t heard from them in three months, it’s a ‘no’. Very informal I know, but they just don’t have the time. If you want feedback, pay for an assessment via a conference. In the meantime:

– write the next manuscript

– build your social media platform—own the title ‘author’.

– build and maintain a website

– write blogs

– support others

– read

– volunteer

After you believe you’ve exhausted all avenues and you still haven’t got that dream publishing contract, you can either put it in the bottom drawer, rewrite it based on any feedback you’ve been given, or let it rest and relook at it down the track.

Rejections are part of this exhausting process. They can be very confusing, disappointing, and upsetting. And most of the time you won’t know why you were rejected. But try not to take them personally. Publishing is a business.

I have always had the mantra, ‘If my stories aren’t good enough to compete with Jackie French, I don’t want my book on the shelf’. This is the attitude you need to get by in this tough industry. The rewards are worth it if you make it. Trust me!

Acceptances are so exciting. But I need to be a parent here. Not all contracts are the same. Some are extremely unfair and don’t have the author’s best interest in mind at all. If you are not a contract lawyer, and most of us aren’t, you can do several things. You can either become a member of the ASA and access their contract advice service and pay to have a professional contract lawyer let you know if it’s a good contract or not (https://www.asauthors.org/findananswer/contracts). The other thing you can do is complete a course about understanding contracts via the ASA or AWC. They don’t come up often and probably not when you need them most, but keep an eye out.

Do I need an agent? This is a personal question with no simple answer. The answer is yes and no. In Australia, you don’t necessarily need one. Many children’s publishers offer a slush pile or are accessible via conferences. But not all publishers have unsolicited slush piles. Some publishers only want submissions via agents. But getting an agent can be as hard as getting a publisher. This is a question that needs its own article. Look online and read relevant articles or listen to advice offered by agents at conferences.


So where am I in my journey now?

I am eight years in and I intend on continuing in this career for a lot longer yet. I have two picture books being released next year so I’m starting to plan those book launches.

I’m currently researching the structure of early chapter books—a new format for me. I’m also researching potential publishers. I’m hoping to have book 1 and 2 ready to submit by Christmas.

I’m a Littlescribe co-author. 

I’m writing four books for Macmillan Education Australia as part of their Snappy Sounds project. This has been challenging and rewarding. These books will be available in 2020. 

I love attending conferences and children’s events as a chair, panelist, or participant so I’m planning where I’ll go in 2020.

I’ll be writing more picture books and, of course, will continue to facilitate my writing group through the Hunter Writers Centre.

And I’ll be popping into schools doing author talks and writing workshops. Love these! I’m on several speaker’s agencies lists. To find out more, visit my website.

Hopefully I haven’t left you feeling overwhelmed by all this information. Work your way through it. You can’t get your writing career off the ground overnight. Everything takes time to develop including manuscripts, author platforms, branding, your writing style/voice, and your networks.

I can guarantee you one thing. If you put your heart and soul into this industry, you will be rewarded. But you can’t cheat. You have to work hard, learn, make mistakes, and continually pick yourself up and dust yourself off. But it will be worth it. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Have you got what it takes to be a children’s author too? If you’ve got the 6 Ps—patience, persistence, practise, perseverance, passion, and positivity then you’re ready to start.


Katrina McKelvey author

Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over ten years primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. She’s highly involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. No Baths Week and Up To Something are Katrina’s recent publications, after her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. She loves chocolate but doesn’t like chocolate cake. She’s left-handed but plays sport right-handed. She loves tea, but dislikes coffee. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit her website: www.katrinamckelvey.com

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
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, board member HWC
picture of a footprint in the sand

True Crime Writing Part 2

By | News, True Crime

Why Do We Love True Crime?

Mark Lawson in this article in The Guardian  said,

“Humans are fascinated by evil,” says bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin. “We wonder where it comes from and whether we ourselves could ever carry out such an act. Some readers turn to crime fiction for answers, while others prefer true crime. Of course, there is a vicarious frisson for the fan of either – the reader stands at the shoulder of monsters without being endangered.”

Trisha Jackson, who specialises in crime books as an editorial director at Pan Macmillan, believes stories of criminality “create a psychologically safe space that lets us dare to wrap our minds around otherwise unfathomable emotion. Unlike cinema, whether it’s fact or fiction, books allow the reader more control over what they are exposed to, as we can simply close the book.”

Is Ian Rankin, right? Are you comfortable standing at a monster’s shoulder and know you are safe from their evil intent? I assume some of you are. And good luck to you if you find enjoyment and learning in what you read or observe.

But what of true crime creating a ‘psychologically safe place where you wrap your mind around those unfathomable emotions?’ Because isn’t that the gist of your interest in true crime … all care and no responsibility? Or is it just plain old voyeuristic curiosity?

True crime for me was a paid job that I would have done without pay if I had to. Today I remain fascinated by the complex number of ways humans behave badly towards each other and themselves. But why are so many others drawn to the genre?

Of course, the genre is not just serial killers and cruel psychopaths. One cannot avoid reading stories of paedophiles, rapists, sadists, domestic violence murderers and organised crime gangs such as the Organised Motor Cycle Gangs (OMCG).  The business model of the OMCGs is predicated on the manufacture, sale and importation of illicit drugs, extortion, fraud and stand-over violence.

There is also a plethora of books that try to unravel, in some way, the mysteries of cold cases but rarely provide an accused nor a conviction. The unsolved Bowraville murder of three young Aboriginal children on the NSW north coast is a very good example

But Why?

Normal, you say! What’s normal about Ivan Milat, serial killer and sadist?  Or Sef Gonzales, who thought he was a gangster. He stabbed to death his father, Teddy, mother Mary, and sister Clodine, aged 18 in their Sydney NSW home to hide his bad University results. How not normal was Monsignor John Day who died in 1978 and may have been the worst paedophile priest in Australia?

  • Is it because we cannot look away from a train wreck about to happen?

I’ll confess. I am a voyeur when it comes to the crime scene. Of the hundreds of dead people, I met over my career I can safely say I remember each face, the circumstances of their death and the investigation outcome. Not only is this because of my professional approach to my police work but it was intrinsically akin to my compassion and voyeuristic curiosity about mystery, death and evil.

Truman Capote in his seminal true crime book In Cold Blood wrote: ‘Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.’  That terror or voyeuristic curiosity is the very reason we cannot look away as trains packed with innocent victims hurtle towards each other.

  • Does knowing what evil is and evil does help us feel prepared?

Megan Boorsma , J.D. Elon University Law School , Greensboro, North Carolina writes about the implications of an American audience obsessed with  true crime. One premise of this very interesting treatise is that, ‘a majority of people in the United States receive much of their impressions and knowledge of the criminal justice system through the media.’ If that includes true crime books, blogs, podcasts and television one can see how the genre may make one feel prepared.

  • It gives us an adrenalin rush! It triggers fear in us.

Scott Bonn, criminology professor at Drew University, New Jersey USA, author of Why We Love Serial Killers writes:

‘People … receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing terrible deeds. Adrenaline … produces a powerful, stimulating, … addictive effect on the human brain. If you doubt the addictive power of adrenaline, think of the thrill-seeking child who will ride a roller coaster over and over until he or she becomes physically ill. The euphoric effect of true crime on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.’

So,  why do you love true crime?  That’s for you to know and others to wonder about.

Next week:   The whole crime scene!

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.

Ted Bassingthwaighte, member of 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, board member HWC
close up of an elderly person's hand

Writing About Significant Loss

By | Grieve, News

Sometimes writing about the loss of a close family member can feel too hard because the enormity of all you have lost might stop you even starting. You may feel that in trying to describe it all you lose the sense of the person. What about writing about one aspect of the person? Start with a small physical characteristic or a small feature you loved about him or her – their smile, the way he sat to read, chat, write; the way she dressed or cooked or performed a regular chore. Below, Maree Reedman writes (in Grieve Volume 5) about hands as a recurring image which creates a clear and intimate portrait of her father. Enter your poem or story/essay into the Grieve writing competition.

My Father’s Hands
Maree Reedman

Long, tapered fingers,like candles.
Not a musician,though your sister
tried to teach you the piano.

A gardener
of fruit trees and roses
until you toppled over
the rosemary; the builder
of a mustard bookcase for my childhood
and my adolescent home;
a maker
of home brew
and pongy dog stew.

Your half-moons purpled
with blood as I held
your hand
while you snored,
mouth open
you always slept

My brother tried to close your lips
when you left,
off to go on that long-awaited
honeymoon with Mother,
the one you never took.
Man's hand in his lap