Monday, June 18, 2012

Genre Mash Up

Honestly, I should know better.

Having no sooner recovered from the 24 Hour Book stress, I'm sitting here scratching my head and coming up with a Genre Mash Up pitch for the New South Wales Writers Centre.

What is a Genre Mash Up? Well may you ask.

I think it's an excuse to get together and have a giggle at some of the NSW Writers Centre's tutors as they stray far - FAR - from their comfort zone. It's purported to be all about the launch of the second half of the Writing Program for NSW Writers Centre, but I see right through that.

Here's what's going to happen:
Authors will pitch a book idea totally out of their genre - you might hear a sci-fi writer pitching an office romance novel, a non-fiction author write a fraudulent fantasy or a crime author pen a cookbook for kids.

The victims participants include myself, James Roy -  author of the young adult novels Full Moon Racing, Anonymity Jones, Town and City;  Bem le Hunte - bestselling author of There, Where The Pepper Goes and The Seduction of Silence and Pat Grant - author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Blue.

Audience members are also going to be invited to pitch, baby, pitch. We'll pull two genres out of a hat, and watch them mash.

So if you think this sounds like fun come along to Shearers in Leichhardt on Wednesday 20th June at 7pm.

FREE ENTRY. Refreshments and nibblies provided.

Bookings are essential. Please email to book your place.

The Scene of The Crime

Place in fiction is a powerful factor.

At its most basic it's about getting a sense of the physicality of a location. Reading this descriptive rendering of place sometimes provokes a sense of familiarity, sometimes a sense of discovery.

At its most complex, place in fiction excavates layers, going beyond the mere physical make up of a location to reveal the historical, social, cultural and political strata that construct a place and its people.

When it comes to crime fiction - place is usually one of the elements of the work that is most commented on in reviews. What would a review of James Lee Burke be without commentary on the "sense of place" he creates in writing about Mississippi, or Ian Rankin's rendering of Edinburgh?

The way place is used in crime fiction lends itself to close consideration.

I've written about it as part of my Masters degree.

In The Millennial Detective: Essays on Trends in Crime Fiction, Film and Television, 1990-2010

I wrote a chapter, Crime Fiction and The Politics of Place: The Post 9/11 Sense of Place in Sara Partesky and Ian Rankin, and talked at length about Blacklist and The Naming of The Dead, and the way place not only informed the location of the novels but shaped the plot, the politics, the people and the crime.

Place, politics and people were central elements in my novel The Old School and I'm really excited to have been invited to come along and talk about this at The Scene of the Crime a crime fiction symposium being held at The University of Western Sydney's Writing and Society Research Centre on Wednesday 27th June.

Come along.

It's going to be a fascinating day talking about crime fiction.

The details are below.  If you fancy a day talking crime with crime writers and crime readers then RSVP to

Crime Fiction Symposium

Victorian London, post-WWI England, the mean streets of L.A.: in crime fiction, place matters. It is crucial to the evolution of the genre and the signifying possibilities of specific texts. Has this changed in recent years? Intensified? Diversified? Think Rebus’s Edinburgh, Wallander’s Ystad, Ellroy’s L.A.

How do crime narratives imagine the city and the country, the sprawling metropolis and the regional locale, urban decay and vanishing wilderness?

From Melbourne to Massachusetts, New Orleans to New Zealand, Botswana to Bankstown, from the Yorkshire moors to the Siberian tundra, from bayou to desert reservation: the scene of the crime and the journey of detection shape popular and literary crime fiction alike. ‘The Scene of the Crime’ asks, what is the relationship between crime fiction and representations of place?

Morning session-

Matt Mcguire: Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh
Sara Knox: ‘An Englishman’s Home is His Castle’: the crimes of Alan Bennett
Respondent: Jane Goodall

Afternoon session-

Ross Gibson: “A Hammer is Struck in the Mind”
Novelist Pam Newton: reading from ‘The Old School’
Comments: Jane Goodall
Lunch will be provided.
10.30—2pm, Wednesday 27 June 2012, UWS Bankstown Campus, room 3.G.55

Please RSVP to

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to write a book in 24 hours (aka How to go mad in 24 hours or less).

Anyone who has followed my conversations on twitter with Georgia Blain, Charlotte Wood, Margo Lanagan and Sophie Cunningham about the relative difficulty of writing novels and short stories, will know that I find the short story form particularly taxing. 
At around 2pm yesterday, with a word count still hovering somewhere under the 1,000 word mark and refusing to budge I was wondering why the hell I had ever thought I could write a short story in a day, and what special kind of madness had taken hold of me when I said yes to the 24 Hour Book.

There I was, sitting in a room at the Queensland Writers Centre with eight other writers all madly writing, not just a stand alone short story, but a series of short stories all linked in various ways by location, characters, themes and objects. Stressful? Oh yes.
In keeping with the spirit of the event we writers arrived with some vague ideas about characters but pretty much nothing else. As an exercise in discovering your comfort level, discovering how you write and how you don’t – it was fascinating. 
 My writing approach is a mix of planning, plotting, and discovery. I usually start with an idea of a character, a character who grows into a person, and once I get to know that person I know how they’ll react, what they'll say, what they’ll do and won’t do.
I’ll usually write a bit, think a bit. Plan what might happen next. Write a bit. Think a bit. Plan a bit. Repeat as needed.
The experience of the 24 Hour Book was different.
It was plunging in. Writing, finding out who this character was as I wrote him, finding out what was going to happen next as it happened. It was real seat of the pants writing. And as the word count ticked oh so slowly upwards, I wondered where the story was, would I find it, how would I fill my allotted chapter within the allotted time, and what would I fill it with.
It was a great example of writing from concept not character. I was quite literally writing the beginning of scenes with no idea what was going to come out of the characters’ interactions. My vague idea of the “story” was shaken inside and upside down when the characters in the scene gradually developed a certain sort of energy, a creepy energy that took my idea of what dark secret lurked in their past and speared it into much darker and more uncomfortable territory. In the space of about fifteen minutes I had suddenly fleshed out the back story for my character and knew how the story would end.
That just left about seven hours of solid writing and plot conferencing and pizza and wine and a shot of vodka, to get to the end.  And, as always, landing the plane is the trickiest bit.
With only time for one quick read through, to add a few links to other stories with mentions of common characters and events, and it was time to turn it over to the Keith Stevenson and his trusty band of young editors.

 Calmest man in the room - editor Keith Stevenson

Things I’ve learnt about the experience?

Writing as a group under pressure can lead to strange results.

 Steven Amsterdam wanted to make a writers' pyramid, Geoff Lemon on top, Rjurik Davidson & myself in the middle, Krissy Kneen, Steve, Simon Groth on the bottom, Keith Stevenson relaxing.

When pushed, the words can flow and in short sharp burst like the Jane Espenson Writing Sprints a deadline can be an excellent tool for getting them down.
But the most important thing I didn't so much learn, as have reconfirmed, is that nothing – and I’ll repeat – NOTHING beats time. Not having enough of it, to think, to plan, to write and rewrite, and more importantly, to let the words sit, and then come back to them with fresh eyes, that really makes you appreciate just how important time is in writing.

Writers will often tell you, first drafts are for making a mess. No one will ever see them, so relax and go for it. It’s in the editing and the redrafting and the rewriting that you actually “find” your characters, your themes and motifs. Generally you won’t ever get to read writing this “raw” from a bunch of authors. Don’t miss out on the opportunity – head on over to the 24 hour book and see for yourself.

It was a mad idea, but we did it. And I think we made something pretty amazing, with a surge of energy that leaps off the page.

 The aftermath.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The 24-Hour Book

24 Hours

9 Writers

1 Book

So, a while back I got this email from Simon Groth who has something of an interest in The Future of The Book. Anyway, he approached me, (and a bunch of other victims writers) with this totally insane idea -

On 11 June 2012, if:book Australia will challenge a team of writers and editors to collaborate, write, and publish a book in a single 24-hour period.

You know the expression LOL, and how very rarely you actually do it? Laugh Out Loud. Well, I read Simon's email and I LOLed. Oh how I LOLed. I barked with laughter. I hooted. If I'd been drinking coffee I'd have done a shoot out through the nose over the keyboard spray. I answered yes, instantly. It sounded so insane that I was still chuckling as I shot back my reply.

Not laughing now.

Now, I visit the 24-Hour Book page and watching the countdown clock ticking away, the moment of truth growing closer and closer, and I'm thinking ...... WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Simon wrote this whole blog about was he was thinking. But it sort of came down to -
“because we can” and “because it’ll be fun”

And it will be.


But it will also be .... kind of frightening.

I'm a slow writer. (Ask my publishers.) And those public writing exercises you do in classes ..... always felt like I wrote crap in them.

So this is all rather confronting. And did I mention - terrifying.

But, I won't be alone. I'll be sharing the fun and terror with Nick Earls, Steven Amsterdam, Krissy Kneen, Christopher Currie, Rjurik Davidson, Angela Slatter, Geoff Lemon, and Simon Groth. And while we eventually sleep Keith Stevenson will be leading his band of hero editors Jack Venning, Sarah Kanake, Laura Elvery, Chris Przewloka, Andrea Baldwin, Imogen Smith, Matt Shepard, Kelsey Bricknell, and Sasha Mackay through the night to make the morning publication deadline.

I've decided that I'm going to pretend I'm in a TV writers writers' room. I've always thought that being in the writers' room, planning a season of something like Buffy, or BSG, or The Wire, or The Killing, would just be amazing. Bouncing ideas, seeing how they build, how the creativity sparks and snaps and sizzles to produce something bigger than any one mind ... and we've been promised pizza, and alcohol to get us to the finish line .... so, what could go wrong?

Follow us live on Monday 11 June, 2012.

It'll probably be a bit like this -

And a lot like this.

Wish us luck.