‘Provocation’ and gratitude.

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.

Until now.

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!

Library in FloodQueensland State Library during 2011 floods
*image courtesy QPS

‘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.

Lecherer, moi?

It has been a whirlwind year of teaching for this crime fic tragic!

So far, I have devised and conducted a full day workshop on research for crime fiction, including  hands-on session with the heritage collection at the John Oxley Library. I have tutored a four-week course on creative writing at QWC, and am about to tutor a similar course for the AWM Online Learning Centre.. I am also tutoring in the Genre Fiction course at The University of Queensland.

And to top it off, last night I gave a lecture on research for crime fiction to hundreds of students at UQ!

I love working with students of creative writing – everyone has a fresh take to offer, and it is a privilege to walk alongside writers for awhile as they develop skills and confidence.

And of course, my first love is teaching crime fic research and development. I cover the historical development of the genre and its many sub- and sub-sub- and hybrid genres. I share heaps of visual, textual and personal research sources, like the Howdunit series for writers, and the websites for the Australian Federal Police, and the Queensland Police Museum. And I look at research in action, discussing character, context and conflict in excerpts from fantastic writers like Katherine Howell, Leigh Redhead, and Shamini Flint.

Book of Poisons for Writers book cover
Awesome Gruesomes!

A wise friend told me years ago that people usually find success by doing what they are passionate about – I didn’t believe her at the time, because allowing myself to pursue my dreams of crime writing seemed so impossibly unachievable.

So I encourage everyone to dedicate some time this weekend to doing what you love – you never know where it will lead!

Real Life Hero

One of the things I love about writing crime is that I am compelled to consult with some of the coolest, most adventurous experts on the planet. One such expert who very generously gave me his time for a couple of phone calls outlining the basics of his work has now written a book of his own!

The Retriever: The True Story of a Child Retrieval Expert and the
Families he has Reunited By Grantlee Kieza, Keith Schafferius.

If the brief conversations I had with Keith Schafferius are anything to go by, this book will be a gripping read, providing insight into the high-stakes and sometimes heartbreaking work of retrieving abducted children.

Picture of Keith Schafferius
Keith Schafferius, Child Retrieval Detective

“Schafferius once posed as a Hollywood movie mogul, using a forged British Honduras passport and fake ID to win the confidence and support of Middle East officials, while trying to retrieve two abducted children.”

 

 

Keith helped me understand some of the ways in which an investigator might trace an international skip, so that I could construct a credible series of steps for my protagonist to follow as she tracked down an absconded fraudster (and possible murderer).

I am thrilled Keith has put his experiences into a book of his own, with the able assistance of journalist Grantlee Kieza, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Taikwon-Dodo

Who says you can’t teach an old dag new tricks?

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!

That's Ms Captain to you!
That's Ms Captain to you!

Research is fun!

I’m in the swing of editing my first manuscript, and feel the time is right to start developing the story idea for my second book. You know what that means… research!

And now my blood is roaring like a cannon. On the way home from work in Brisbane city, AKA Brisvegas/Brisrael/Brisbados , I impulsively stopped by a construction site. I climbed four flights of rickety scaffold stairs to lob into the site office. I was wearing a skirt and open-toed sandals, and carried a shopping bag holding pumpkin, bread, and toilet paper. A total pro!

I had to face my fear of mocking stares from blokes in hi-viz shirts, vertigo, and possible rejection. I turned around to leave half a dozen times before I cranked up the courage to JFDI. And you know what? The site manager was helpful, his wife is a fan of my genre, and I am now in negotiations for a tour of deep excavation work under a high-rise building!

This bit of research may even top the monster-truck experience for my first book…