A feisty festive season

The holiday season is nearly upon us and it has awakened a hunger in me: a hunger for books. I am slavering over book catalogues like a vampire at the blood bank.

Here are some books I have recently read, or plan to read over the holidays – true crime and crime fiction books; some light and mysterious, some heart-breaking and powerful:

  • Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout – I am fortunate to have met Sarah while she was working on this wonderful gothic suspense novel, and now I can’t wait to lose myself in such lush mystery!
  • The Good People by Hannah Kent – Inexorable, pagan, and all too real, this historical crime fiction is as women-centred and steeped in mud and magic as Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites. The quality of writing is as brilliant, too.
  • The Girls by Emma Cline – Girls are beautiful and vulnerable, terrible and powerful. Based on the Manson cult followers, Cline’s book is an intelligent and gripping fictionalisation and exploration of the way lust, love, and the desire to belong shaped the murderous choices of these young women.
  • Invisible Women by Ruth Wykes and Kylie Fox – I sat on the board of a sex worker’s health organisation for many years, so I am both saddened and heartened to see this exquisitely researched book recognising sex workers’ lives lost to murder.
  • A Mother’s Story by Rosie Batty – Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has such clarity in detailing her suffering, and such strength in her message of hope and change – I am always moved by her media statements and speeches, so look forward to the power of her book.
  • The Prodigal Son by Sulari Gentill – This free novella is now available for those wanting a taste of the popular historical crime fiction series. I am looking forward to catching up with the stylish and savvy Rowland Sinclair.

collage of covers of the 6 books mentioned below

I am also on the hunt for books by women about women investigators on the trail of women killers (especially serial killers). If you know of any, please leave the details in a  comment. They are so hard to find! Perhaps I should write one…

On that note, some of you may also be interested in reading my most recent work, a novella Crawlspace – available for $2.99 here (along with a short story by none other than the Godfather of Australian crime writing, Peter Corris!). Not about serial killers, but still, as shadowed and twisty as the cobwebbed labyrinth of my subconscious could make it.

I’ll be sending out my first author newsletter this month. If you are interested in my thoughts on women, criminality, and justice – or in seeing a pic of me rocking my SuperGirl outfit! – then please sign up here.

Wishing you all a feisty festive season.



‘Bitches be tricky’ and other thriller tropes

It’s time to talk about the dark and twisty ladies of literature I adore. Welcome to the first book review at mamaguilt.

I loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl! But I also hated it, in a totally respectful kind of way.

SPOILER ALERT – I won’t actually give away the ending, but this review discusses the shape and impact of the entire novel. If you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, then:

(a) omg where have you been, living on a deserted island or something?!, and

(b) look out, this review will give you strong hints of the book’s climax.

Gone Girl book cover

Flynn’s previous books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, both explore lesser heard voices so exquisitely. In both, Flynn’s women and girl characters are crafted with hidden motives based on lived experiences that so many of share, yet so few of which are represented in popular fiction: body image, control, safety, violation.

And Flynn does it with a powerful female gaze. Her Domestic Noir novels are grounded in twisty ladies as protagonists and point of view characters, with narratives driven by domestic terror – an issue that is, of necessity, an overwhelmingly female concern.

The use of skin as text. The lifelong impact of pre-verbal horrors. The menace of intimacy. All of these are rich source material for Flynn’s work.

In Gone Girl, Flynn turns the female gaze to power and control in intimate relationships. Flynn slowly reveals that all the things making Nick Dunne a ‘great guy’ also make him a prime suspect in Amy Dunne’s disappearance .

Flynn puts the intellectual thrill in thriller in the establishing scenes, with her critical eye on popular media’s influence on justice, her menacing clarity about power and betrayal in domestic relationships, and her complex portrayal of the labyrinthine depths of the female psyche.

A complicated and gripping clue-puzzle plotline drive both Nick and the reader on a pacy chase through the entire middle of the book. What a great, sustaining literary device! It captures and holds narrative interest throughout a middle that, while rich with revelations of both Amy and Nick’s despicable secret selves, suffers from a lack of dramatic tension.

I was swept up in the way this narrative device accelerated my heartbeat, but ultimately it made for a let down, delivering a dissatisfying end game. The climax of Gone Girl plays as a parody, undercutting the intelligence of the first half of the book.

Popular fiction didn’t need another bunny boiler. Flynn has demonstrated a far more subtle and powerful hand in her other works, especially in Dark Places. (Oh Libby, how I adore you!). Gone Girl could have gone to much more interesting places, while still maintaining the thrilling twists, forbidding menace, and ultimate power reversal.

Super smart and with an impeccable education in dramatic structure based on many years as a television critic, Flynn is to be worshiped for her craft skills, and revered for her choice of subject matter. One day I would love the opportunity to meet and learn from her. She is a master. (How I wish there was a gynocentric term to replace ‘master’ – ‘mistress’ just doesn’t cut it).

Obviously, the dramatic shape of Gone Girl has been carefully crafted and the ending deliberately chosen for maximum effect – and, given the commercial success of the book and the movie, it was a choice well-made and well-played.

But, for me, while it stays true to the woman driving the narrative, the Gone Girl climax comes at the cost of the female gaze. The end scenes left me disoriented and disappointed as the author surreptitiously slides the ol’ man-goggles on, and I am tipped out of a deep-seated identification with Amy to gaze at her, aghast, from the outside.

That said, Flynn’s novels are exemplar in capturing the way, as girls and women, we misshape ourselves for success and fulfilment in response to being battered by conflicting threats and demands from every side. I am keenly interested in her next projects, both the adult thriller and the Young Adult novel.

But when it comes to crafting twisty ladies in literature, I far prefer it as done in Sharp Objects and Dark Places – with a full palette of character nuance, resisting the urge to swamp end scenes in psychobitch scarlet.

The Spirit of Varuna

Yesterday evening saw me ensconsed on the couch of the Varuna loungeroom, quilt on my knee and fire in the grate. Peter (the) Bishop, Gabrielle Stroud and I spent one of the best hours of my writing life discussing our projects, the universe and everything.

Picture of Varuna - the Writer's House
Ensconsed at Varuna

Peter observed that when writing a project, we are  in conversation with an eclectic assortment of people. These people are a non-corporeal yet tangible presence who influence and inspire our writing. They are not our intended readers nor our inner critic; they are sometimes no longer living or based only in memory. Yet they are those who are invoked by and crucial for the developing story.

Those present to my work-in-progress Evangel include girls from my (heavily religious) high school, my long-gone and much-loved grandfather, and Margot, a friend who struggled with mental illness and met a tragic end. I am haunted, not by memories but by deeply embossed impressions of injustice, trauma, courage, and beauty.

As Gabi says (attributing it to Noni Hazelhurst), we need a touchpoint to evoke the emotion of a scene. My touchpoints for Evangel are tender. It’s hard  to  delve in, press, and explore. Yet, the fascination to converse with the unburied souls around this project keeps me showing up to the page each day.

Peter’s insight and encouragement gives me the audacity necessary to just. keep. writing. The extraordinary mentorship and companionship of Peter, Gabi Stroud, Gabi Wang, Meg Mundell, and Avril Carruthers has carried the spirit of Eleanor Dark to me over these past two incredible weeks. Thank you, all. I can’t wait to read your Varuna projects when they hit the shelves.

Limitless Varuna sky

And I am once again astounded, humbled and filled with gratitude by where following this passion for writing takes me.

The Lincoln Lawyer’s in town…

Squee! My awesomely smart and talented friend, Donna Hancox, is in conversation with Michael Connelly in a couple of weeks:

Author pic Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly

Brisbane Wednesday 25 May 6.30 pm

  • Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane Writers’ Festival and Brisbane’s Better Bookshops present: Michael Connelly in conversation with Donna Hancox
  • Venue: QUT Auditorium, Kelvin Grove
  • Cost: Free. Bookings: Not required
A journalist and crime writer, Michael Connelly is an articulate and hugely successful author. And Dr Donna is just the person to stimulate a fascinating discussion with him. Can’t wait!

Brisbane Sisters in Crime

Great news! The Brisbane chapter of Sisters in Crime is re-forming.

Women who love crime writing and live within cooee of Brisbane are welcome to come along to our first meeting.

Sisters in Crime Australia logo

Where: Avid Reader bookstore, 193 Boundary St, West End
Date: Saturday 7 May 2011
Time: 12.30pm
Cost: FREE! (Lunch available for purchase from Avid Reader café)

Come along to chat about what you are reading, what you are writing,
and what you would like from your local chapter of Sisters in Crime Australia.

Sisters in Crime Australia (SinCOz) was inspired by the American organisation of the same name, founded in 1986 by Sara Paretsky (creator of Chicago PI VI Warshawski). It exists to celebrate and promote women’s crime writing.

SinCOz has been running since 1991. It produces fantastic events and opportunities for crime writers, such as the Davitt Awards, the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, and the SheKilda Conventions. The Sisters in Crime Australia website explains what SinCOz is all about:

  • To bring together women crime writers, screen-writers, producers, booksellers, publishers, lawyers, judges, police, forensic specialists, librarians, academics, and critics but in the main, readers and viewers.
  • To discuss and analyse books, film and television shows, law and justice issues, new trends and critical issues of the crime genre.
  • To explore the contemporary issues at the heart of much crime fiction as well as dissecting its rich history.
  • To promote the professional development of women crime writers, especially emerging writers.
  • To provide opportunities for networking between writers, publishers and producers and between writers and their readers and viewers.
  • To have fun – and lots of it.

For more info, leave a question in the comments here, or like our page on Facebook.

Winning Trent!

There is a great interview with talented speculative fiction author and all-round good egg, Trent Jamieson, over at fangbooks.

picture of author Trent JamiesonTrent talks about setting stories in your home town:

We’re all here, as writers to tell the stories that are important to us, and Brisbane is very important to me. From the brown, and slightly ominous coils of the Brisbane River to the flashing transmitters atop Mt Coot-tha, and the knitting needle bunches of the Kurilpa Bridge Brisbane is full of stories (and the possibility of adventure, explosions and love).

Certainly, one of the striking features of Trent’s Death Works series is the amazing sense of place: from the awesome and ominous One Tree underworld stemming from Mount Coot-tha, to the white-shoe brigade business culture informing the management of Death, Trent draws on his hometown to create rich and fantastic realities.

You can also win copies of Trent’s terrific books. All you need to do is leave a comment ON THE FANGBOOKS BLOG by Friday afternoon 15 April explaining why you think Australia makes for an interesting setting for a book (or not!).

Thrills with JJ..

Awesome workshop for crime thriller writers coming up at QWC this Saturday 16 April!

Image of JJ Cooper author
JJ Cooper

Grip It and Rip It: Successful author and former military interrogator JJ Cooper shows you how to develop credible plotlines, dialogue, artful suspense, and the all-important pace for a great thriller.

Highly recommend!