Hit List: Australian Crime Writings

The Wheeler Centre are running a mini series to spotlight Australian genre writers. This weeks discussion focussed on crime writing and hosted an impressive line up of guests:

  • Emma Viskic, author of the Caleb Zelig series Resurection Bay, Fire Came Down and Darkness for Light (due out this year). Her debut novel won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for best debut, as well as three David Awards.
  • Garry Disher has written two crime series (The Whyatt novels and The Challis and Destry Novels) as well as a number of stand alone crime novels (including Bitter Wash Road and Under the Cold Bright Lights), and a significant number of young adult, children’s, non fiction and short story works.
  • Sulari Gentill, author of historical crime series the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, and fantasy adventure series, The Hero Trilogy and her most recent novel Crossing the Lines.
  • Rachael Brown, ABC journalist and creator of Trace, a true crime podcast about the cold case of the murder of single mother Maria James at the back of her bookshop in 1980. The series resulted in a new coronial investigation. Brown has also written a book of the same name
  • Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of The Wood of Suicides, short story collection The Love of a Bad Man (shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction) and her latest novel, Beautiful Revolutionary.
  • Mark Brandi, author of Wimmera (winner of the Debut Dagger, UK) and The Rip.

The night opened with Emma Viskic speaking about the history of crime in Australia, that our map is a map of massacres and because of white mans beginnings we are a country of outsiders. It was pointed out that the outsider trying to decipher a crime and a place is a common trope in the genre.

Mark Brandi reflected that humans like to ask what it means to be a good person, and how to live a good life. We like crime stories, and they matter, because they are all about what it means to be good, and what it means to be bad. He wrote The Rip to help him make sense of his time spent working in the justice system.

Crime fiction is about the restoration of order, not the murders themselves. The authors discussed how crime fiction shines a light on the murky business of being human and can offer an understanding of why people do what they do to one another. These stories allow readers to sit at the shoulder of a evildoers and scoundrels from a safe distance and strive to understand. Readers are comforted that criminals are punished, or at least understand in noir and that when it all goes to hell, no matter how bad things get, someone will stand up and resist.

The best crime writing requires empathy, and for writers to see the world differently. A theme can drive a book and tell us something about human frailty and the world we live in, and we can delve into the political and social dimensions of crime in a deep way to foster understand, if we write with compassion.

Australian crime writing has the appeal of the different and dangerous, partly because of our landscape. There have been whispers around for some time that an Australian crime wave would replace Nordic noir in popularity, maybe it’s our time? The speakers thought Australian crime writing was of a good quality because authors don’t write for the money, it’s almost impossible to make a living just from writing, so they write because they have something to say – perhaps that makes it better.

There were some funny moments as well at the event, like when Sulari Gentill claimed crime writers as the cool kids of fiction and that she imagined they would be of more use than a poet if she ever need to fight her way out of a situation.

During question time one audience member asked who the authors favourite crime writers were (other than each other) and we got the following responses:

Peter Temple, Jock Serong, Harper Lee, Joyce Carol Oates, Helen Garner, John Sandford and Michael Connelly

Can you guess which favourite goes with which guest?

Main image: guest author book covers

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