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.
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.
Have you noticed a greater-than-average serve of women-baiting and women-hating in the media of late? My Facebook and Twitter feeds are clogged with examples.
And in the face of it, there are so many amazing women demonstrating grace, strength and intellect.
So I’ve decided to start collecting and celebrating them. You’ll find a new page at mamaguilt now: Sheroes. Please let me know a woman who is rocking your world, and why. We want to see pictures, read links, and understand why this woman is inspiring you, so please use the contact form on the Sheroes page to let me know – I’ll share it, and acknowledge your contribution.
I have wanted to write since before I could read. And for six years now, I have been writing regularly. I’ve studied creative writing at uni and my local writers centre, joined a wonderful writing group, and convened another. I’ve written two long-form manuscripts, won some development grants, and had the opportunity to show my work to agents and publishers. I have enjoyed guidance and encouragement from so many generous and talented writers, as well as endless support from family and friends. But I have never been published.
My story ‘Provocation’ was published last week in The Review of Australian Fiction. That is my name there in Volume 1, next to amazing authors like Kim Wilkins and Christos Tsiolkas and PM Newton. Pinch me!
‘Provocation’ is a psychological thriller. A young woman recovering from anorexia is covertly stalked by an inappropriately devoted security guard at her dream job. This middle-aged man has access to her every move, and an array of rationalisations to justify his increasing surveillance. Her uniquely disordered thinking becomes her best defence. But the stress triggers deepening psychosis, leading to an endgame where meaning and motive are as murky as the depths of a river in flood.
‘Provocation’ grew from a couple of ideas that kept haunting me. If you haven’t read ‘Provocation’ and think you might be interested, I would encourage you to head on over and do so before reading on here – there are no actual spoilers, but themes explored in this post may influence the way you experience the story…
Firstly, the story is dedicated in loving memory of a real-life young woman who was killed by covert violence. Her stalker had been court-ordered to keep his distance from her, her house, and her workplace. But she was dependent on medication for a chronic illness, and he put two and two together, loitering around her neighbourhood chemist. She spied him, ran home, and died there alone, literally gasping for relief.
Her death was not recorded as murder. As far as I can find out, no charges were laid, and no action taken. (I’ve blogged about this incident, and the cathartic power of the crime narrative, in my Reading Girlhood post over at Sisters of the Pen).
The other major idea arose after the 2011 Brisbane floods. During the clean-up, I learned the library and gallery at South Bank are connected by subterranean loading docks that formed a massive underground whirlpool when the river broke its banks. The security cameras kept rolling as industrial bins were swept away like tin cans, ramming into those huge portable walls used in galleries. Fish, furniture, trash and rubble were carried from the basement of one building and deposited in far reaches of the next. I made several unauthorised tours of those docks, and there are some spooky places and machines down there, let me tell you!
‘Provocation’ has no flood event, but is set in a building that was recently inundated. Those giant, interconnecting docks play an important role both as labyrinth and metaphor.
Inspired by these ideas, I formed a story premise, deciding to challenge and extend my craft – after two manuscripts in first person point of view, I wanted to write in third person with multiple viewpoint characters. I also wanted to experiment with tense, changing from past to present for the climax. And I needed a break from long-form fiction and humorous crime, so was drawn to the thriller novelette: ten thousand words to develop and deliver a lyrical story? Heaven!
As I tell my students, writing is a valid and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. I don’t write with the expectation of being published. But it feels great to have developed a career as far as this significant milestone.
I love writing so much, in so many ways. I am profoundly grateful to all the people who have supported me to get this far, and just so thankful that I get to write.
I scored a ticket to TedxBrisbane this year. Have you been to a TED? It’s a full-day event shaped to bring you in touch with social, cultural and technical innovators around the world – and especially in your own home town. Tickets are free, and won by a seemingly magical application-slash-lottery system. All meals are included – even good quality coffee.
The TEDx experience is immersive. You turn up at 8:30am to be ushered through a brilliant and precise schedule featuring 15 speakers. All speakers follow the same format, parading the diversity of ideas without any frills to dress them up. Then, sometime after the evening mixer, you staggerfloat away into the night, exhausted, drifting in a sparkling kaleidoscopic vision of humanity. Excuse the poetry; there’s just no plain way to express it.
Every part of this TEDx event was designed around principles of connection and hope, built on a strong foundation of social entrepreneurship (where resourcing initiative takes the place of charity). I met some fascinating attendees in the giant marquee on the GOMA lawn that beautiful Brissy Saturday. And the speakers were an eclectic and exciting mix. The emotional and intellectual standouts for me were:
Edward Harran blew my mind with his prescient insights into the K/no(w)mad generations.
Andrew Bartlett broke the standard format by choosing to spend his 18 TEDminutes in a heartrending and enlightening discussion with invited guest, Mr Hassan, an Afghan refugee.
A bible bashing eco-feminist who shall remain nameless pissed me off mightily with her patronising prostheltysing infommercial, which managed to strike a perfect balance between both ego- and guilt-tripping. (I felt bad having such a negative reaction to one of the few women on the program, but there you go.)
Jeff Waldman brought joy to my heart with his swing project – he hangs swings around the world, made from rope and wood or whatever he can find. Swings bring joy, Jeff says, and nobody is above a push.
But the best, the very best and mightiest of all was Eva Cox. Yes, folks, I was actually in the same room as Australia’s preeminent social change activist and feminist political visionary! Well, actually, I was in a room with her giant Skyped face on a screen. (Cheers, airline, for grounding my shero out-of-town on the big day).
Eva spoke elegantly and simply about what could be summed up as Stuff That Matters Most. Her take home message was “We need to start paying for what we care about, instead of caring about what we pay for”. As they put it in this terrific article over at JosephMark: how to prioritise social good rather than economic growth.
It was not only the content of Eva’s speech that made it special. There was also this one moment… One of those moments when time hung still, everyone in the room suspended in a shared epiphany.
Eva, at 73, was clearly new to the whole Skyptacular microphone/headset thang, so she was gesticulating and bumping the mic a fair bit, as newbs do. She was talking about Stuff That Matters Most in a disarmingly me-to-you way; no preaching, no talking down to us. Her face was projected onto a screen the size of a public pool. We sat in a banked auditorium that practically tipped each one of us into her digital lap. It was intimate somehow; despite the pixellations and delays, her address felt direct and oddly disintermediated.
She’d been talking for maybe 5 minutes, and was starting to warm up, to really relax and get comfortable. Eva alternated between looking straight at the camera – straight at us – with occasional downward glances, or sometimes raising her gaze thoughtfully to the ceiling. She followed the ‘no notes’ TED rule, speaking off-the-cuff, from her heart and mind and guts and dare I say it, balls.
Then Eva Cox said this: “People are much more difficult to look after than money, so why do we pay people who look after money so much more than we pay people who look after people?”
And for some reason, that struck a chord with us. A chord you could actually hear; one that began in the front row and rippled up the tiered seating like a Flamenco guitar riff. 500 of us in the main venue, plus 100s of TEDx folks in the adjoining auditoriums, all clapping and murmuring our approval.
Eva kept talking, eyes lowered, the Skype connection buffering her awareness of our response.
And our response kept growing, refusing to fade away as applause usually does. It grew into that wild, footstomping kind of applause, like an audience demanding an encore at the end of a stadium gig. Our murmurs turned to full-throated cheers, spiked with wolf whistles and ululations. Many of us found ourselves lifted to our feet in a standing ovation.
Then Eva Cox looked up.
She looked into her computer screen at home and saw us: auditoriums full of folks she didn’t know, thousands of miles away, all moved beyond measure at her stunningly simple observations about such complex and difficult issues. Borne of her truths, the sentient connection between us all was palpable, and Eva sensed it, and it stopped her in her tracks. She paused, looked surprised, looked away, looked back at us. Cleared her throat. Smiled a shy smile, fumbled for the thread of her thoughts, looked down again, still smiling to herself. Then she shot us a glance, clear-eyed and determined, and quickly picked up where she left off, carrying on with her amazing TEDx presentation.
That day, I saw Eva Cox take on a new and tricky situation, fly by the seat of her pants, speak her regular startling truths, and stay open to the fact that one person in one moment can harness the energy required for significant social change. She is a living legend and a force to be reckoned with, yet I have seen Eva Cox blush.
I’ve spent years watching my kids have a blast at singing-swimming classes, tiny tots gym, music and movement lessons, etc etc. I’ve had it. Much as I love to see them learn and giggle and grow, I wasn’t put on this earth just to chauffeur other folks around to the fun.
So when I finally green-lighted their campaign to study martial arts, my boys were amazed to find mama standing next to them chanting the ‘Hana-Dool-Sets‘! I feel strong, throwing out those punches. I feel balanced, sending out those kicks. I feel only a little bit silly, blocking with my knife hand.
It’s not research for my book as such – like when I went for my Recreational Marine Driver Licence, and found myself grappling a twin-hulled, twin-throttled beast of the sea. (I am now legal to captain a vessel up to 50 metres in length – yikes!) But my family martial arts sessions are definitely helping with a feisty state of mind – my protagonist shero is as determined as she is preggers. I love experiencing and embodying the powerful opportunities available to women today.
So bag-snatchers beware – I am going to be one kick-arse old lady, one day!