After the terror…Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival

What would you call a large group of crime writers?…a band of bards; a gang of thieves; a law suit; a table of trouble; an anthology? I’m not sure, but they were certainly learned owls at the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival.

Table of trouble

I boarded the Terror jet on Thursday and headed south for some serious sleuthing. Tasmania is the perfect spot for a dark crime and Cygnet put on a feast, there were bodies everywhere…mwahahaha.

Tiny Hobart, the artsy capital of the isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, has murderous intent lapping at its doors, and who knows what those creative types might get up to? Hobart is sandwiched between the wilderness to the west and the southern ocean – nothing much between it and Antarctica except whales and spooky stories.

I am fortunate to have friends who live in Battery Point, Hobart who let me set up base at theirs, which by the way has fabulous views over Sandy Bay AND Mount Wellington, so if you’re looking for a great Airbnb with fabulous hosts, check out Katrina and Susan’s Hobart Loft.

By coincidence, on my first night in Hobart, Katrina was taking part in an old-fashioned murder mystery radio play, Battery at Battery Point, performed at the Battery Point Community Hall. It was a hoot and a terrific event to kick of my crime weekend, not to mention the mouth watering Thai beef salad and delicious Tasmanian wine my friends provided.

On Friday we all piled into the car and headed to Cygnet (Port of Swans), a tiny town in the Huon Valley south of Hobart with less than 2000 inhabitants. It’s a magnate for creative types and has an oversupply of gourmet food for its size. Cygnet punches above its weight and was a perfect location for Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, Australia’s newest crime writing festival.

My first stop was a MasterClass with Angela Savage, award winning author and director of Writers Victoria. She wore a themed black dress with white swans printed on it – for swanning around at festivals she said. If you ever get an opportunity, pop along to one of Angela’s sessions because she’s an excellent presenter who delivers engaging and thoughtful sessions with practical advice and useful exercises to develop your own writing.

I also attended a MasterClass with historical crime writer Meg Keneally, coauthor of the Monsarrat series with her father, and author of Fled. Meg provided some great advice on research, use of language for historical fiction, character development and choosing your weapon, or poison to bump someone off. The criminal mood of the session was enhanced by an impressive thunderstorm which probably left Meg horse after trying to make sure we could hear her over the noise.

Dodgy characters at Noir at the Bar

Cygnet folk like to dress up and Friday night was Noir at the Bar 1920’s style. Local gourmet providore’s provided delicious offerings with local beverages for accompaniment, and it was a cracking night. I presented a spoken word piece to the crowd and was pretty chuffed to be able to deliver Feet of Clay freestyle for only the second time I’ve performed it.

Saturday and Sunday were two days packed with the queens and (some) princes of crime led by international guest and author of the Inspector Singh Investigates series, the hilarious and fascinating Singapore based Shamini Flint; Canadian-Australian and vintage dress aficionado, author Tara Moss; and actress Marta Dusseldorp (aka Janet King Crown Prosecutor from the ABC drama). They were accompanied by a plethora of impressive Australian crime writers. The author panellists hosted two days of intriguing discussion on a range of topics, shadowed by the PEN empty chair to symbolise writers who could not be present because they are imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed.

Tasmania’s finest – L.J.M. Owen, Joanna Baker and David Owen talk to Angela Meyer

Below are some snippets from the panels to give you a flavour of the discussions:

  • You can fix rubbish and you can delete rubbish, but you can’t do anything with a blank page.
  • Sherlock Holmes – a supercomputer hooked up to a dot matrix printer…lacking the interface
  • Recorrections’ of gender stereotypes can be as damning as the tropes they ostensibly challenge, e.g. damsel in distress becomes gun-toting fighter
  • Fictional crime is often a vehicle to discuss contemporary societal issues, it’s not about the actual crime in the way true crime is
  • I’ve never had a thought that didn’t end up in a book
  • Jack Heath asks his Facebook friends for advice on how to poison people but still ensure the body is perfectly safe to eat
  • So little diversity in crime writers they can be counted on one hand
  • I don’t believe in writing carefully. I do believe in writing thoughtfully – show your work to a range of readers as part of the writing process
  • The Bechdel Test — the measure of women’s representation in fiction
  • Why is it so hard to get men to view films/TV and/or read books with female protagonists? Jack Heath was inspired to write because genres for young male readers were all cars, sport and farting.
Angela Meyer’s , First Dog on the Moon and whiskey

Some of the other highlights for me included:

  • Mantra Dusseldorp reading from LJM Owen’s The Great Divide – gave whole new meaning to bringing story to life – gave me chills.
  • A discussion about whether Sherlock and Miss Marple would get along
  • The homage to the Golden Age dames of crime…Dorothy Sayers, Dame Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patricia Wentworth, Helen de Guerry Simpson, Baroness Emma Orczy, Ethel Lina White,Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie.
  • All the panels with Shamini Flint because she’s very funny
  • The final session Whiskey and Words – First Dog on the Moon launching Angela Meyer’s novel Superior Spectre over a whiskey tasting

LJM Owen was the powerhouse behind the festivals birth and she and the team of organisers and volunteers did a fantastic job. The event was professionally organised and had great content. Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival is mooted to be a biennial event – I highly recommend you keep your calendar free and go along in 2021.

Main image: Battery Point by Moonlite

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