Friday, August 21, 2009

Plenty of crime at Melbourne Writers Festival

Over the 'ditch' (what we call the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, for you international readers), the Melbourne Writers Festival gets underway today; a ten-day program packed with a variety of books-related events. And, unlike our Auckland Writers Festival, there is plenty of crime and thriller related action to be found.

In a little over an hour (10am Aust time), the crime-related events kick off with the "Is Crime The Key?" seminar, where American crime writer Lisa Lutz (pictured left), along with Australian writers Philip McLaren and Garry Disher and Melbourne Age Chief TV writer Debi Enker, discuss how if you really want to understand a country, you should read its crime novels.

This would be an interesting talk, as the ability for crime fiction to (apart from being really entertaining and enjoyable) delve deeply into the fabric of our society (perhaps even more so than literary fiction), is something of a largely-overlooked truth, although I have heard several authors and commentators discuss it.

For instance, iconic Swedish crime writer Maj Sjöwall herself told the Wall Street Journal in May this year (her writing partner Per Wahlöö died in 1975) that although they were writing entertaining stories with their Martin Beck police procedurals, their “intention was also to describe and criticize certain changes in our society and the politics of that decade”. Crime writing at its best can perhaps do this even better than most other literary genres. I have heard another crime writer, who is an ex-journalist, recently state that he turned to crime writing as it gave him a better opportunity to speak the truth.

Other crime-related events at the Melbourne Writers Festival include:

21 August - 4pm - "Who Knew Crime Was This Sassy?"
Forget the dysfunctional PI with his alcoholic crutch, Kerry Greenwood, US author Lisa Lutz (of the San Francisco-set Spellman novels) and PD Martin all have smart and sassy women solving crime with élan and humour.
22 August - 5:30pm - "Crimes within crimes"
War and civil strife often provide the perfect cover for brutality and crime. UK author Tom Rob Smith (who is visiting New Zealand next week) whose novels Child 44 and The Secret Speech are set in Stalin's Russia talks with Marshall Browne whose Franz Schmidt novels are set in Hitler's Germany. Chaired by Her Honour Judge Liz Gaynor.

22 August - 4pm - "X-rated? How far can a crime writer go?"
A discussion on the question of whether every outrage and sickening amoral act is permissible in crime novels? Australian authors PD Martin, Garry Disher, and Philip McLaren discuss how far they are prepared to go.Chaired by surfing crime aficianado and Ned Kelly Awards maestro, Peter Lawrance.

28 August - 7pm - Spotlight on Teresa Solana
Catalan crime writer Teresa Solana discusses her work, evocatively set in that temple to Catalan culture, Barcelona with her translator and husband, Peter Bush, and Spanish literary expert Lilit Thwaites. Proudly supported by the Consulate General of Spain and the Institut Ramon Llull.

Unfortunately the latter event above clashes with one of the crime-writing highlights of the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Ned Kelly Awards Presentation 2009. The festival website states: "Australia's premier crime writing awards, The Ned Kelly’s are highly sought after by authors and publishers alike. If you love crime grab your mates and a table and make a night of it. Jane Clifton is MC, John Silvester, Liz Porter, Peter Corris and others will take part in the annual debate, Women Do It Better, and crime writers of every stripe will be there. Melbourne icon, Shane Maloney will be awarded the Lifetime achievement award."

The Ned Kelly finalists (Crime Writers Association of Australia awards) for 2009 are:

Best First Fiction
CROOKED by Camilla Nelson
THE BUILD UP by Phillip Gwynee

Best Fiction
BRIGHT AIR by Barry Maitland
DEEP WATER by Peter Corris
SMOKE & MIRRORS by Kel Robertson

Best True Crime
THE TALL MAN, Chloe Hooper
A QUESTION OF POWER, Michelle Schwarz

The SD Harvey Short Story
"Fidget's Farewell" by Scott McDermott
"Farewell My Lovelies" by Chris Womersley
"Fern's Farewell" by Bronwyn Mehan
"Farewell to the Shade" by Cheryl Rogers

The Ned Kelly festivities run from 7PM - 10PM. I am not sure of the exact criteria for an author to be considered for an award, as New Zealander Paul Cleave has been shortlisted in the past, and New Zealander Paul Thomas even won one of the earliest awards.

More information on the Melbourne Writers Festival can be found at:

Now if we could just get the organisers of the Auckland Writers Festival to similarly open their arms to the importance of crime fiction...


  1. I'm still amazed they had no crime fiction novelists at the Auckland festival this year. Crime writing was only represented by Joanne Drayton's hour talking about her biography of Ngaio Marsh.

    Considering how many people read crime fiction, I couldn't understand the omission, as the previous year's crime fiction sessions were well attended.

    Let's hope they remedy the situation next yer, and that enough people did what I did and filled in their feedback forms with "where's the crime fiction!'

  2. Well, they have you, Paul, Andrea Jutson, Dorothy Fowler, Lindy Kelly, Neil Cross, Paddy Richardson and Liam McIlvanney who have all released crime/mystery books in the past 12-15mths (so the last two years by the time next Writers Festival is held next May). Add Michael Green if you widen it to non-crime thrillers.

    Not to mention Alix Bosco (though I imagine she wouldn't be available - pseudonym and all).

    Then there's Joan Druett, Chad Taylor and Paul Thomas, who've previously released a handful of crime/thriller titles.

    You could get a handful of great sessions just form that group, let alone bringing in any from Australia or further overseas. And that wouldn't be too hard - just look at Linwood Barclay, Michael Stanley, Scott Frost, Stuart MacBride and others all being over here very recently (and Tom Rob Smith and Gregg Hurwitz coming soon) - even though they didn't have a larger festival to attend here. I imagine there would be a few internationals with new books coming out Apr/May/June next year who would be more than happy to come down - and lets me honest, it would only take one or two big names (Michael Connelly? Kathy Reichs? Ian Rankin?) to really ramp up the wider mainstream publicity... which would have to be a good thing for the festival...

    Oh well, something to work on...