Sunday, September 02, 2007

MWF - Forensics and Furballs

"Send it to Forensics" had three very different writers on the panel. Liz Porter writes true crime, and her book Written on the Skin has just been a co-winner in the Ned Kelly Awards. It's a compilation of interesting cases solved via forensic science, but she was at pains to point out that only a small minority of cases are solved this way. Most often, the forensics back up or confirm what the police already knew, and the backlog of evidence waiting for processing in the labs means police can't wait on it to solve crimes. Things like tyre tracks or teeth or boot marks rarely match 100%, and when they do, it's called a "CSI moment" (it's a joke).
Novel writers are usually much better at getting the details and research right - films and TV take a lot of liberties. Often true crime is too weird to use in fiction!
Georgina Hayden is a forensic linguistic expert - she analyses recordings of voices, either for the police or the defense. A typical job for her is to compare two tapes of voices and analyse vowel sounds, accents and socio-economic features - very tedious but important to get right.
Karin Slaughter said the real facts about forensics are fascinating, but she gets to "make all that crap up". In reality, she spends a huge amount of time researching methods of violence and murder, as well as investigation techniques, probably as much as a real murderer. In fact, she said, she hopes the FBI never gets a look at her research!
She doesn't want her stories and solutions to turn on forensic details - they are more about the realities of investigations, and her characters offer descriptions for the reader (rather than the author stepping in and providing it). The most complaint letters she ever received was when she let a nasty guy get away at the end of a book, proving that readers want to see justice done.

Going Long - this final session I attended felt like it went way too long. I am starting to suspect that when the facilitator encourages the writers to read from their work, it means she/he can't come up with enough decent questions to fill the time.
The session was supposed to be about short story writers who turned to novel writing, and the why and how of this move. We began with a warning from the facilitator, Melanie Ostell, that no one was allowed to ask questions about getting published, only about craft. Hmmmm.
Deborah Robertson and Ewan Morrison vaguely answered wandering questions about writing short fiction compared to novels, but neither offered anything insightful or interesting. Maybe I was suffering from too many sessions? Maybe I was suffering from insight overload from writers such as Cate Kennedy and Jeffrey Deaver, both of whom clearly had thought about their own processes and were able to articulate and explain what it was they thought they were doing. They also had interesting or humorous anecdotes to add to what they were saying.
I guess this is the difference, too, between writers who are used to appearing in public and discussing their writing and the job of being a writer. Less experienced/famous writers haven't yet built up their store of things to say; it's an art to talk about your stories and characters and craft and yet each time to make it sound new and revelatory.
(I also wonder if literary writers are sometimes less articulate about their craft because they are scared of self-analysing the "how" of writing in case it blocks them in some way. Just a thought.)
The other side of that is the writer who has done it way too many times. Years ago, I interviewed Terri McMillan ("Waiting to Exhale") who had obviously done a million interviews and was very bored and irritable at having to do yet another one. It was only when I started asking lots of questions about other stuff (not the standard ten questions everyone asks) that she livened up and became friendly.
Overall, I thought this year's festival was the best in a long time. The staggered sessions meant the foyer crush was avoided, and the wide range of things on offer meant that although many sessions weren't booked out, overall attendance (so they said) was higher. There were also some free sessions for those who couldn't afford to attend a lot of the ticketed things, which usually means students can attend.
Weirdest thing at the festival? Walking around the book tables in the bookshop and feeling the gravel move and crunch under the mats under your feet. Hard to describe, but weird all the same. Worst thing? The lack of fresh air (or any air) in the Tower Room when it got warm.
Best thing? Cate Kennedy.

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