Sunday 1st September was the last day of the festival and I had one session booked early in the morning – Crime Through Time with Kerry Greenwood, Shane Maloney and Annie Hauxwell. It was moderated by Ken Gelder and even though it was discussing crime novels and the writing of them, proved to be very funny.
Kerry Greenwood kicked off, answering the question about why she wrote crime. She said that she wrote crime because they “offered her money”. She submitted a story for the Vogel and although they liked her writing, they didn’t really like her story. They suggested she write a crime novel and offered her a 2 book contract. She went to the oldest stories – ones that contain a quest to find something. She made up the character of Phrynne Fisher on a tram in Brunswick St, basing her looks loosely on her sister Janet. She chose the 1920’s as her setting because she’d been researching the Melbourne wharf strikes. She said that her hardest book to write was her 3rd one, because she didn’t know if she had anything more to say (book #20 is about to be released, so I guess she did!). So she didn’t get bored with Phrynne, she stripped her character bare of everything: clothes, possessions, etc. Now she’s relying on Phrynne helping her in her old age.
Shane Maloney was next – he wrote crime fiction because he thought crime might cover up his deficiencies. He poked a bit of fun at “genre” – which he termed a French expression meaning “crap”. As a first time novelist, there’s nothing more intimidating than having to write a literary novel. According to him, there are 3 kinds of stores: a journey, a stranger or a horse walks into a bar. He wanted to combine them. In his stories, he chose not to have a sleuth or a gumshoe: Murray Whelan is not consciously any of those things. He also used crime as a way into society, to explore the ways in which a murder is treated or investigated, etc. With Whelan, he wanted to take someone and put him in a situation where he became convinced that someone was trying to kill him but didn’t know who it was or why. The only way he can get out of this situation is to solve it. Whelan possesses a natural curiosity – he’s not a police officer, these things are thrust upon him.
Annie Hauxwell’s sister was a crime fan. Annie herself wanted to write a “proper” book (and by that I assume she meant literary) but didn’t have the nerve so she thought she’d start with a crime novel. She was aware of the saying ‘write what you know’ and had always refused to but in the end, that’s what she ended up doing. She worked in London on Operation Shark Bait, pursuing low level loan sharks so she wrote about that when she came back to Australia. Her heroine Catherine Berlin came from a different source: Hauxwell was interested in an author from the 1950’s/60’s who was a high functioning heroin addict. This intrigued her and made her want to explore how these people would operate in every day life.
Kerry Greenwood loves the Golden Age – her hero is Dorothy Sayers. She fell in love with the “puzzle” novel and likens her books to the way Chinese crime works: the crime is a tear and the magistrate is the one who stitches it back together. Her books area always neatly tied up at the end, there’s lots of sex but there’s no real violence. There’s no despair and no bleakness. She’s the crime “cheer squad”.
Shane Maloney invented his own genre. He doesn’t really consider himself a real crime buff but he does have influences: Raymond Chandler and also the way in which the detective works. Phillip Marlow doesn’t solve the crimes but arrives as a catalyst. His presence inadvertently leads to the solution. Martin Cruz Smith inspires him with subject matter, using it as a way of exploring a social or political issue.
For Annie Hauxwell, place is more important. Influences are people who have written about the London that she wanted to write about. Dickens and Peter Ackroyd, author of Hawksmoor are novelists she mentioned. She was standing in London, thinking of its history: plague, war, famine, murder. Crime allows her to write about addiction and social policies without becoming dry. Crime is the best setting for this exploration. There’s lots of crime with an axe to grind, such as ecoterrorism etc.
The moderator asked if the authors felt that crime novels disenchanted readers in order to re-enchant them all over again? Is evil necessary for this?
Kerry Greenwood’s day job meant that she encountered a lot of crime and became quite comfortable with it. So much of what she encountered was idiocy, not necessarily evil but other days she would need to come home and “disinfect” herself from the day. Phrynne is interested in justice – she’s a hero. Her work is always about producing the just result.
Shane Maloney was asked what his relationship to corruption was (he wasn’t overly sure he had one). In his opinion, murder ramps the stakes up for a “ripping yarn”. He blames WWI for a lack of satisfaction by anything less than a grisly murder. The chat got a bit political then as Murray Whelan is a Labor Party staffer (sort of fitting as we were one week out from a Federal election after a long and very messy campaign) and he said that the Labor Party (who were in power and lost the next week) were full of paradoxes. They were an organisation that contrives to be less than the sum of its parts. He says it’s difficult to tackle real corruption (but that Melbourne is mired in it).
For Annie Hauxwell, it’s not always apparent what is evil or corrupt. She worked with loan sharks in London during the GFC, kicking in the doors of people loaning £4-500 and yet in the City there were rorts totaling in the millions of pounds. In the UK there’s no ceiling – if you have a license to lend then you can charge whatever interest rate you like. For her, evil comes in many different forms.
A lot of this session strayed from the questions (Kerry Greenwood in particular jumped in a lot, including during questions directed to the other two authors, most notably Shane Maloney, who she was seated next to) and it was quite a funny session, especially from Shane Maloney. He has a very dry, self-deprecating sense of humour and loves poking fun at himself. My husband owns the two Murray Whelan trilogy books and I must read them. I’ve thought about it before because he’s always said how good they are and that I should give them a go. Just another bunch of books to add to the ginormous pile!
That ends my recaps of my sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival for 2013. I greatly enjoyed the sessions I attended and came away with a lot more books added to my TBR and more that I have noted down for the future. I discovered that I have an interest in non-fiction lurking deep down and I plan to explore this a little more in the future. Part of the reason I enjoy the festival so much is that it does encourage me to try things that I haven’t before, to read more widely. I don’t just choose sessions that fit within the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with and enjoy reading – it’s a great chance to think a bit outside the square and really discover some other things. And so the long wait now begins for the Melbourne Writers Festival of 2014!