Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Me and Sophie Hannah

Me and Sophie Hannah

I can die happy after a cracker of a night in Melbourne where Intruder won the 2015 Davitt Award for Best Debut Crime Book!

Do not underestimate my excitement. The last prize I won was a netball raffle ten years ago – a mountain bike designed by the military to be dropped out of helicopters into war zones.

A Davitt is infinitely more useful. And it fits on my desk!

A huge thank you to the awesome Sisters in Crime Australia for welcoming me into the fold at their 15th Annual Davitt Awards for best crime books by Australian women.

Intruder was shortlisted twice – in the Young Adult category (won by Ellie Marney’s wonderful Sherlockesque thriller Every Word), and for best Debut Crime Book which is judged across all categories (Non-fiction, Adult, YA and Children’s fiction).

With Pam Rushby and hubba hubby

With Pam Rushby and hubba hubby

Hubba hubby was there to take out the good husband award and to share in a fabulous night that celebrated Australia’s best women crime writers and which starred international best-selling author Sophie Hannah.

Huge congrats to all longlisted and short-listed authors, especially:

Liane Moriarty, Winner of the Best Adult Fiction Award for Big Little Lies and Sulari Gentill, Highly Commended for A Murder Unmentioned

Ellie Marney, Winner of Best YA Fiction for Every Word, and Pamela Rushby, Highly Commended for The Ratcatcher’s Daughter

Judith Rossell, Winner of Best Children’s Fiction for Withering-by-Sea, and Lollie Barr, Highly Commended for The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold 

Carolyn Overington, Winner, Best Non-fiction Book for Last Woman Hanged, and Julie Szego, Highly Commended for The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama.

And finally to  Candice Fox, who was Highly Commended in the Best Debut Crime Book category for Hades.20150829_223918

2015 Davitt Award for Best Debut Crime Book for Intruder

You are all winners in my book and I look forward to adding all your books to my tottering bedside reading pile!

car back2Eight weeks after it was stolen, my station wagon is finally back home – paddle board on top, and wetsuits and boogie board still in the boot.

Brickbats to the thief for gouging every panel before hoiking my key into the bush (that’s malicious damage, dummy, on top of auto theft when it goes to court – and yes, they did get your fingerprints).

And bouquets to the good folk at Yamba Police Station, the forensic cleaners, panel beaters and painters at Raven Smash Repairs at Grafton, Advanced Car Carriers and Allianz Insurance for bringing it home.

A short story – with a twist in the end.

When police found my car abandoned in the bush, I ‘fessed straight up to the insurer and panel beater that the little divot in the centre of the back bumper bar couldn’t be blamed on a robber. That was me, nudging a post.

No worries, they said. And blow me down, they fixed it anyway.

Karma. My car is now in better nick than before it was nicked. Don’t you just love a happy ending to a story?

 

For those whose tastes run to the literary, the crime novel to die for this Christmas is Peter Temple’s Truth. The fictional underbelly of the Victorian police, dry as the crackle of eucalypt leaves in the moment before the fireball hits.

A stripped-down, elegant and elliptical story of hard men and violence on both sides of the law, where Truth is a lovely little grey who “won at her second start, won three from twelve, always game, never gave up. She sickened and died in hours, buckled and lay, her sweet eyes forgave them their stupid inability to save her.” This writer, this book, my favourite for 2009.

Fantasy lovers aged from twelve to eleventy-seven will bask in the gorgeous glow of Karen Brooks’ Tallow: “In a world of  darkness, there is one who will bring light.”

In a canel-laced city, a stolen child, the heir to extraordinary powers, is hidden and abused in the candle-maker’s quarter until her emerging powers betray her to those who would use her in their machiavellian games.  Karen Brooks cannot deliver the next in this trilogy fast enough for me.

As a reward for surviving girl schoolyard politics for another year, pamper your teenage miss with the latest Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen. Set in 1899 Manhatten, this is Gossip Girl  in crinolines, replete with bounders and cads,  and sumptuous with scandal and setting.

Then rocket her back into the 21st century with Justine Larbalestier’s Liar … what happens when a compulsive liar decides to tell the truth… or does she? You decide. Guaranteed to keep you up all night reading. And awake the next. Wondering….

Lure teenage boys away from the X-box with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Post-apocolyptic vision of a world where reality television is an annual kill-or-be-killed event.

My pre-teens will want the latest Emily Rodda, The Battle for Rondo, so I’m not going to fight it. I don’t even want to referee. They’ve read the first two and going by their previous attempts to read the same book at the same time, it could get ugly.

Perhaps I can separate them with a peace offering: Bigands MC, the latest in Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series for the boy-child; and for my girl-child who is about to graduate from primary school, Glenda Millard’s A small free kiss in the dark.

Finally, my non-fiction recommendation for those Dads who stubbornly prefer real life to the inventive pleasures of the novel : Australians by master story teller Thomas Keneally. The first of a three-volume history of Australia with people always centre-stage.

Which books are on your Christmas list this year?

I’m at a loose end. Pull it and I’ll start to unravel.

The revisions are done, the publishing Gods temporarily appeased after taking my second-born.

Henry Hoey Hobson has left home, whisked away on secret publisher’s business to an unknown location, a brutal boot camp where a merciless editor will whip his scrawny arse into shape.

He’ll come back eventually, bulging in a tough bag, splattered with copy editor squiggles. Sporting black marks on his once-spotless pages. Missing adverbs I didn’t even know that he had…

I’ll miss him, I do already; my head’s been in HHH-time for months. But it’s time to reset the clock for crime.

The post-deadline clean-up has cleared the decks to make way for the next one, my adult murder book, The Lonely Dead.

Under the detritus on my desk, I have finally located my dog-eared copy of the Crime Scene Investigation manual (along with an unbanked cheque, two overdue birthday cards,  bills that I’ve paid, and filing I have binned).

Voices that have been simmering on the back burner for months are now rattling their lids.

It is time to make the shift. To find a new register. To drop it down a gear and begin the uphill climb. A new story mountain needs to be conquered.

‘She’s nervous,’ whispered the former army interrogator into my ear. ‘Look at her body language:  scanning the room; seeking the reassurance of eye contact with people she knows; the nervous chatter… I guarantee that afterwards she won’t remember a single thing she has said.’

Talk about getting my money’s worth out of the Crime Pays session at the  Brisbane Writers Festival.

Like everyone else in the State Library auditorium, I was there for crime writing tips from international best-sellers Lisa Unger and Gregg Hurwitz. But I also had the added bonus of Brisbane-based thriller writer JJ Cooper in my right ear.

JJ spent seven  of his seventeen years with the Australian Army working in the Intelligence Corps, and has just released his first novel, aptly titled THE INTERROGATOR. It’s fiction, of course. It had to be, what with the Official Secrets Act and all… I’d like to say more, but if I do, I’ll have to kill you.

It would have been clever programming to have JJ up on the stage with Lisa Unger and Gregg Hurwitz. After all, Lisa did blurb JJ’s debut novel and even made a point of introducing him to the audience during Q&A.

I would have loved to have seen the panel Chair, Inga Simpson, short-listed for this year’s Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Emerging Author, bounce questions off a local thriller writer as well as the visiting big-guns.

Interrogating the Interrogator – now wouldn’t that have been something?

Detective Nick Fardoulys stared at the pretty feet; the immaculate toenails painted a light metallic brown.

His baby sister would have been able to identify the colour immediately from her once-unlimited palette of words. She had always insisted that only old farts like him wore brown; young pains-in-the-arse like her, apparently wore cappucino or pewter, mocha, chocolate and cream. Like life was a colour-coordinated coffee break.

The pretty feet wore oversize Haviana thongs and were hanging over the footrest of an old-style armchair. It reminded Nick of the Jason Recliner they’d given Pop, years ago, at his fiftieth birthday party at the Greek Club. The photo still sat on his desk: Pop stretched out in his best crimpilene trousers, a mustard shirt and yellow tie, grinning like a happy Labrador surrounded by his wife, four kids and a room full of rellies. Back when he still had four kids, a happy bark and nights skittered by for all of them in the unconscious pleasures of sleep.

But this was no Jason Recliner. It was an old lady’s chair, wilting under a weight of flowers in a faded chintz fabric that no self-respecting Jason would wear in a fit. It didn’t suit the owner of the metallic toenails either.

She was the full coordinated coffee break, right down to the funky nerd glasses and spiky hair full of product. She was built like a refrigerator with a well-stacked freezer that someone had tried to defrost with a knife. It was still jammed in there, the black handle jutting out from the swirling layers of a frothy silk blouse.

Fardoulys’s chest tightened as the familiar anger welled up.

The surprisingly delicate feet didn’t belong here. In haviana thongs. On a floral recliner, on a murdered woman. They should be strapped into frivolous sandals that drew the eye away from the too-thick waist, the too-careful grooming. They should be lining up for a weekly pedicure. Or kissing up to a pair of $600 Sioux shoes on some big-bellied barrister under the sedate white linen skirt of a table for two in a swanky restaurant like Alchemy or Montrachet.

Nick noted the absence of any conventional rings amongst the jangle of jewellery on the dead woman’s hands and made his vow to one more member of the lonely dead: I’m here for you. I’ll find whoever did this so that you can rest in peace.

He needed to believe that he had never broken that promise; that the short list of names headed by his own baby sister was merely waiting patiently for him to deliver.

copyright Christine Bongers 2009

[Editor’s note: Henry Hoey Hobson is here to stay, but The Lonely Dead is barking its head off to be let back off the chain. ]

Stringing words together is what we writers do. But when it comes to novel writing, how long should that piece of string be?

That was a question recently posed by a regular reader of this blog and I thought others might be interested in the answer.

Dust, my soon-to-be-published first novel was done and dusted, at 50,000 words – quite acceptable for young adult fiction. My second is only halfway there at 44,000 words. It’s adult and crime. So clearly genre and intended readership impact on novel length.

If you know your genre and the intended market for your fiction, but are a little hazy on word length, read this rather excellent post by literary agent Colleen Lindsay On word counts and novel length..

She confirms my own belief that less is more, particularly for emerging writers.

Making it shorter can take longer; that’s what the edit phase is for. But if you are over the minimum word count expected for your genre and you’ve tied off all the narrative strands by the time you get to your heart-stopping ending, then type a full stop. You are done.

Any more and you risk ending up like that poor sad author in the movie Sideways, desperately trying to interest someone, anyone, in your 700,000 word magnum opus.

Maybe I’m defaulting to the old journalistic setting here – get it right, keep it tight – but I believe that creating something small and beautifully formed is more likely to win you friends, and influence agents and publishers in your favour, than laying a daunting door-stopper on them.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

According to American humourist Gene Fowler, writing is easy: you just have to stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.

[Note to the long-dead Mr Fowler: my forehead has been geysering in a Monty Pythonesque fashion onto my computer screen for days now, but it isn’t getting any easier.]

I tried to blame my two-day-old headache on the decaffeinated beans that I found in my grinder. But then the discovery of Il Perfetto Espresso in a dusty recess of the larder put paid to that theory. After two cups, the head still hurt. And I think I know why.

The word count on the work-in-progress ground to a halt just shy of the 44,000 word count, while I prowled, growled and pawed at my keyboard. Not writing, but paying bills, finishing quarterly accounts and filling in the BAS that’s due Monday. When I flicked back to the WIP, nothing happened. My brain bled like stink, but the words, they just wouldn’t come.

Then Kim Wilkins popped up on facebook – Kim is writing crap, but at least she’s writing – and jealousy spiked through my veins. Wot a skite.

I’d kill to write crap. But I’m literarily constipated – blogstipated, as Belinda Jeffrey would say – and my dear departed dad’s words keep buzzing round inside my skull like blowflies: “Shit, or get off the pot.”

I know, I know. Straining doesn’t help and busting my foofer valve will just add to my woes. But I can’t walk away and do something else. Not with the WIP in crisis.

So I’ve been tinkering with the problem, hunched over my writer’s toolbox, showing my crack.  I think I’ve located the blockage. A couple of main characters that need the screws tightened, that need to be pushed harder and further, to force them to drop the mask and reveal their true natures.

Writers know that true character only comes out under pressure; the greater the pressure, the greater the revelation. If you want to find out if a character has iron in her filings, hit her hard as you can, right in the heart. Force her to act because it is her choices under pressure that will define her.

I’ve been going too easy on her, I can see that now.  I’ve let my sympathy for what’s she’s been through cloud my judgement. It’s time to hitch up the duds and wipe the blood from my brow.

It’ll take a big wrench to fix it, but that’s OK. I’ve got one in my writer’s toolbox.

People will always look for a reason. Antecedents, the courts call it. Probative and prejudicial. For mitigation or explanation. It doesn’t matter to me.  I am what I am. A self-confessed cereal killer.

I make no excuses, so don’t try to blame it on a deprived childhood. Other people had what I had. A choice between Weet Bix and Vita Brits.

But they didn’t grow up to suffocate Rice Bubbles. Crush them into dust. Drown them to make mud. Then dispose of the evidence.

The early signs were all there. Like cruelty to dumb animals. Feeding my six brothers Froot Loops until they ricocheted off the fibro walls of our shack in the sticks.  It was a long way to town; a girl had to make her own fun.

The fire-starting, I date back to clearing brigalow in the seventies. We’d celebrate by throwing potatoes into the base of burning stumps. It trained me to rake through coals to retrieve food.  I do the same with my own kids. Tell ’em it’s toasted meusli.

My mum would take out her angst on the porridge bowl. Gave it a damn good beating most mornings. Do the same thing myself. Intergenerational transmission of behaviour, the shrinks call it.

I call it the one clear warning you will get. Don’t mess with a perimenopausal writer before coffee. Ever.

Am I escalating? The evidence is mounting. Blackened saucepans litter the pots cupboard; unresponsive now to the once reviving power of boiling vinegar and baking powder.

The eleven-year-old has started cooking for herself and for her younger brother too. Each night, she sees the glaze film my eyes as I head on autopilot towards the kitchen. She intercepts me, steers me gently but firmly back to the keyboard.

She pats my hand. Her voice is soft in my ear. “It’s OK, Mum. It’s OK.”

[Editor’s note: Christine Bongers needs to get back into writing her crime novel. It has been languishing at 43,000 words for too long.]

It is said that the jaws of writers run red from cannibalising the lives around them. Having supped, long and deep, on a vein of my own experience, I hunger for the smorgasbord offered by the lives of others.

Don’t worry, if you see me staring at you strangely, in a queue at the deli, or listening in on your chatter, from an adjoining table in the mall. I promise not to devour your life, not all of it anyway. I’ll just chew on tender morsels, savouring the tastes and textures of a life that is not my own.

You are safe out there in the messy space of reality. But don’t ever try to follow me home, into the realm of fiction, where story is king.

In my lair I suck secrets from marrow, pluck out hearts’ desires, stoke the blackest of fears. I will take that tender morsel that was once some part of you and make it forever mine. I might serve it up fresh and raw, or marinate it in creative juices, turning it constantly and slow-cooking it until so tender you won’t even notice the meat fall away from your bones…

So beware when you see me and others of my kind. When our eye falls on you, it will sear the flesh, sealing in juices and creating tender morsels on which others may feast.  Killer stories that make the juices flow.

[Editor’s note: Christine Bongers is now officially back into writing her crime novel The Lonely Dead. If the school holidays had gone one day longer, her children may not have survived.]