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Reporting from CrimeScene 2012: time with crime-writing authors and forensics experts

CrimeScene logo

Seen at CrimeScene 2012

Bring a whole heap of amazing crime fiction authors into a room with some incredibly interesting forensics people, and then dust for prints. Or something like that.

The CrimeScene conference was held over two days and featured some of Australia’s best writers, all of whom were superb. Funny. Generous with time and advice. Inspiring. All the things I love in a meet-the-author session.

Check out the line-up!

Katherine Howell crime writerEx-ambo and two-times Davitt Award-winning Katherine Howell was fabulous and took time-out from her sixth Ella Marconi novel to share her tips on

– writing great characters (make them compelling),

– using setting (feel free to drop in some setting-specific lingo, even if your audience won’t understand the word…they’ll work it out from the context), and

– suspense (Howell did her Masters thesis on building suspense, so watch out: don’t start reading Katherine Howell and expect to be able to stop).

Forensic tourist’ and bestselling author of the Mak Vanderwall novels, Tara Moss, delivered a great session on her writing journey, including

– the importance of research (be prepared to be choked unconscious, set on fire, hang out with the FBI),

– the need for dedication (be prepared to fly across the world to grab your one chance) and

– being a woman (be prepared to be judged first on your appearance, then your mothering skills, and finally your writing). I am a regular reader of Tara Moss’s blog and applaud her work for and writing on feminism, UNICEF, breastfeeding and more. Check it out for a thought-provoking read.

There were also sessions by David Whish-Wilson, author of  Line of Sight, short-listed for a 2011 Ned Kelly award (David can write as many as 250,000 words in a first draft, then whittle it down to the required 80,000 or so!), and Alan Carter, author of Prime Cut, winner of a 2011 Ned Kelly Award.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Evans, who writes romance, comedy, crime and rom-com crime, all while attempting self-sufficiency on a rural hobby farm.

I caught up with Stephen Dedman, who was nice enough to pretend he remembered me from the Perth Writer’s Festival, even if he didn’t.

And saw Felicity Young, whose new historical mystery series (featuring Britain’s first female autopsy surgeon) is being published with Harper Collins in Oz and Penguin in the US.

Told you it was an awesome lineup!
And that’s only the writers!

There were also a host of forensics specialists, covering everything from frozen pig-meat bullets (they won’t really work) to forensic astronomy (where we took a virtual ride through space and time to view our galaxy from the outside…spin out!).

Every session I attended was brilliant. The presenters pitched at exactly the right level. The science was fascinating, the case studies were gripping. SciTech, eat your heart out.

The sessions were small, intimate in cases, which meant we had all the time in the world to ask specific questions and get detailed replies. Next year, we might not be so lucky! Let’s hope so.

Thanks to the organisers and speakers for a great weekend!


More writing tips from the Perth Writers Festival: crime and fantasy

Paula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers FestivalAfter the festival was over…

I’m sitting at home, taking out my metaphorical glass eye.

And I’m procrastinating wildly, because I now know for certain that I have to ditch the first 20,000 words of my new novel and start again.

It’s not that the start isn’t good; it’s just not the right start for the story.

Goodbye, enormous chunk of sweat and tears and typing

It hurts to know these first chapters have to go, but I’m not in total mourning because I know the new start will help the story to breathe.

So far I’ve been pushing words uphill and that’s never fun. I prefer to write when the story just won’t stop coming.

But for now, I’m tidying my desk, and as part of that I’m going through notes from last weekend’s Perth Writers Festival. I thought I’d share some tidbits from the workshops I attended:

Paula Hart, artist
Paula is the pen-genius behind the interactive murals that were part of the kids stage at Family Day. She drew the black-and-white characters and kids of all ages and sizes helped to colour them in. The images on this page are sections of that mural. I joined in the colouring and it was FUN! Thanks Paula!

David Whish-Wilson, crime writerPaula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers Festival
David’s crime writing workshop focused on how to pull a braided narrative together.

The braided narrative is common in crime fiction, where each ‘strand’ is narrated from a different character’s point of view (written in third person). When woven together, the braided strands are strong enough to carry a more powerful story.

I usually write from just one person’s perspective, but as David pointed out, if you’re only inside one character’s head, you never get a detailed look at the motives and backgrounds of the other characters. And when you’re talking crime, that’s just too black-and-white. Who decides what constitutes a crime anyway? And what constitutes truth? You need several characters to weigh in with what they think.

Anthony Eaton, fantasy/childrens/YA writerPaula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers Festival
I haven’t read Anthony’s fantasy, but his writing for kids is hilarious (as is his live presentation for kids: if you get a chance, see it!) so I was keen to meet him (plus his sister-in-law is in my sister’s book club, so we’re virtually family, right?).

Anthony’s workshop was on fantasy writing and I was horrified to learn that his recent trilogy took ten years to write, including two false starts (of tens of thousands of words each!!). That takes some determination!

Still, he seemed chirpy and he survived the rewrites to produce three awesome-looking books. I’m taking courage from this (deleting 20,000 words is nothing, right?; it’s just the getting-to-know-you stage of a book)(I try not to weep).

Anyway…Anthony’s top fantasy writing tips included:

– Story structure: Ditch ‘beginning-middle-end’ as a story skeleton and instead go for ‘interesting question + interesting answer = interesting story’

– Writers block: It doesn’t exist. If you get stuck with writing words, put away your keyboard, pick up your pencil, and sketch the scene you’re trying to write.

– Universal truths: Fantasy novels work best when they include some universal truths/touchstones of truth that readers can identify with. This can be as simple as a character needing coffee in the morning, despite living on another planet.

Did anyone else go to the festival? Any highlights? Any writing tips or recommended reads?