Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crime Writing Festival

This is a relatively new festival on Melbourne's calendar, and for many of us, a very welcome one. I'd booked my tickets and was looking forward to it when the program for the main Melbourne Writers' Festival was released. The theme for the MWF is 'Where Stories Meet' but for me, the program is sadly lacking in a focus on fiction writing. Maybe there were only so many sessions they could run on the difficulties of the short story (it was starting to sound like the same old stuff, apart from Cate Kennedy's insightful comments), but one of my favourites was always the Writer in Conversation. This year, MWF is running with the 'deep and meaningful ideas' again. Great for avid nonfiction readers who want to hear people talk about politics and social issues, not so great for me.

So the crime writing festival was going to be my thing! I booked three sessions, had a keen crime-reading friend to go with, and away we went. The Convent is a great place for the festival, all stone and slate and big windows - and extremely cold in July. But the rooms were warm. Pity the poor writers whose book signing table was outside the bookshop in the freezing wind! First up was Stuart MacBride, here from Scotland - and he was very easy to understand (sometimes I thought Scottish crime on TV needed subtitles). He was determined to have a good time, despite a series of disjointed questions from the interviewer, and had lots of funny stories to tell. When I asked him how he'd feel about his characters by Book No. 12, he almost blanched! But he is planning a couple of stand-alones for variety. Some of his books can be quite gory (Flesh Market in particular) but Stuart himself was very cheery and had lots of funny stories. (Stuart even managed to smile and be cheery while freezing to death at the signing table - above.)

The second session was Barry Maitland and Garry Disher, and the interviewer was Mary Dalmau from Reader's Feast. Mary was so obviously a fan and had a great depth of knowledge about crime fiction. She got both writers talking at length about their ideas, why they wrote what they did. Maitland was an architect, which explained to me where his book Silvermeadow came from - it's a fascinating insight into those huge enclosed shopping malls. Garry began writing about the Mornington Peninsula when he moved there and began to realise how much more you notice surroundings/weather/seasons change outside the city. Both of them agreed that writing several books in a series can get to be a strain. Maitland has just released a stand-alone - he said the Brock/Kolla series was never intended to be more than one book. Disher has been working on a new Wyatt novel, his first in seven years, but his stand-alone book has stalled at the moment.

The final session I attended was on forensic psychiatry. It was packed out (gee, I wonder why?) and fascinating. The panel consisted of two women and a man, all of whom have written books about real crime - gangs, murderous doctors and murderers in general. I've heard Rochelle Jackson speak before, and she is very straightforward and clear. Her stories of interviewing people like Ivan Milat's brother were amazing - she's pretty brave! There was a bit of a digression into where teenagers today might be heading which unsettled a few people. Are our boys and young men really headed down a road of violence? Or is it just that the media reports it all and makes it sound worse than it is? That question wasn't answered - I'm not sure it could be, and certainly not in a session like that. Mostly the discussion was about serial killers!


Megan Burke said...

I agree with you re MWF. A lot on social politics, not so much fiction (and I work for MWF!).

Sherryl said...

Maybe we need a fiction writing festival! Include romance, SF, fantasy and crime as well as literary fiction.
Now all I need is a million dollars to run it!

estelle said...

I would be into a fiction writers festival for sure!

Anonymous said...

I agree, I don't even participate in it anymore because the entire focus is literary. The film festival is far more interesting because the focus is so much more diverse. They allow for entertainment.

I have written a short crime story like a cross between Stephen King and James Ellroy, would anyone know where a person might send such a story for consideration to be published? I can't find any sort of publication that seems like they might accept that sort of thing. If anybody has an idea about that, please let me know.


Sherryl said...

John - try Googling "mystery short fiction markets" and you're sure to come up with some possibilities. But none of them will be in Australia.
Mean Streets magazine, our only crime & mystery fiction outlet, died a few years ago (stabbed in the back by lack of $$$).

Anonymous said...

Writing the say thank you to Sherryl for the tip - very helpful.

I am amazed that Mean Streets magazine didn't make it. If it was the only one and with that good title, and thinking that crime is a popular genre in Australia, exactly what we need is something like a Mean Steets magazine. Really hopeless that there isn't one isn't it. You would think that we had enough mugs to buy such a thing that one would not only survive but thrive.


Sherryl said...

John, I can't even remember the last time I saw an issue. Would be at least 5 years ago.
It is sad. It published lots of reviews, articles and interviews, as well as some short fiction.