DOING THE CRIME

Last weekend, Luscious and I divested ourselves of all encumbrances and headed into Perth to spend the weekend at the annual convention of crime writing and investigative sciences, CrimeScene WA.

CrimeScene is a wonderful convention, not least because it has an incredibly strong science stream, presented by top notch industry professionals with a set of presentation skills that makes the traditional writing convention “three talking heads and a table” scenario seem decidedly second rate. For the first time in a long time I had agreed to be a part of more than one panel at a convention: apart from a solo presentation on writing settings, I agreed to assist Lyn with her presentation on Women Characters in Crime and take part in a panel discussion on what to do once you have been published. I was keen to see whether the change in convention genre would result in a change in approach to panel structure, so I packed our little Powerpoint shows and book-buying money, and away we went.

The convention was held at Rydges Perth, in the heart of the City: a hotel with a funky 70s retro-future vibe going on in the foyer, but with an obscene parking rate (valet only parking at something like $70 a day) and the traditional convention hotel quota of working lifts– in this case, one of four. It was a delight to meet up with writing Guest of Honour Tansy Rayner Roberts, who I’ve known for years but seldom see in the flesh due to living on opposite sides of the country, and one of the nicer things about attending a convention outside of my own genre backyard was the opportunity to bump into authors with whom I interact in my day job but rarely on an equal literary footing: sharing the registration queue with Sarah Evans, a writer of my day job acquaintance from Bridgetown, was a lovely moment, as was a breakfast shared with Michael Murphy, up from Capel for the weekend. And Linda, Jay, and Todd– the convention committee– are good pals who treat their authors and experts wonderfully, so apart from the joy of their company they always make me feel like I want to do my best for them.

Thanks to the interwebbernet we found some cheaper (not cheap, cheaper) parking nearby. The walk to and from the hotel, coupled with a wander into the main shopping mall at Sunday lunchtime when we needed a break to visit the Nespresso store served one purpose, at least. Living so far away from Perth means we visit it rarely, and so had failed to observe a small but subtle change that has overtaken the CBD– it’s become a complete shit hole: filthy; filled with empty shopfronts; and generally more run-down than I have seen it in a long time.

One particularly unpleasant reminder of the inhumane and uncaring social policies of our State and Federal Governments was quickly apparent, too: I’ve never seen so many homeless people tucked into doorways and crannies as I saw this weekend. I’m not naive enough to believe Perth is any sort of utopia, or that homelessness does not exist here, but the two blocks between the car-park and hotel were occupied by no less than 8 homeless people trying to find shelter or ask for assistance, and that’s a critical mass that’s hard to ignore. There’s rot in the heart of the apple in Perth, and it’s beginning to show. One wheelchair-bound old lady, in particular, seemed to represent the failure of our social systems: passing her on the way to my nice middle-class hotel room to play at my middle-class pastime added some uncomfortable self-awareness of the advantages I take for granted:

This the kind of heritage you were talking about, City of Perth?

Still, on to the convention itself, and it was clearly apparent that this is a convention in two parts.

The science stream was utterly fascinating, with strong presentations on a wide range of topics. Highlights for me included a discussion on psychopath and offender profiles by Associate Professor Guy Hall, with an emphasis on the Claremont Serial Killer; a dissection of the murder scene of Don Hancock and Lou Lewis by Sergeant Clayton Bennie, the bomb squad Sergeant who was CSO at the scene; palynologist Doctor Lynne Milne discussing the study of pollen within crime scenes; and a history of bog bodies by Doctor John Watling. Each of these presentations was highly interactive, with a strong public speaker in confident control of both their subject matter and the audience, and excellent visual presentation aids that stopped the audience feeling like they were simply privy to a private conversation. More importantly, each presentation was focused, and delivered great value for money. I came away fascinated, educated, and with a feeling that I had been exposed to the best this particular industry had to offer.

The writing stream, I enjoyed not quite so much, for a variety of reasons, chief amongst them being my own involvement: in the end, CrimeScene felt like not much of a writing experience, and more often than not I wanted to be in the other room where the interesting crime stuff was happening. Clearly, most of the attendees agreed with me: apart from the ongoing procession of “three heads and a table” panels, the rooms were, quite simply, verging on empty whenever I attended a writing stream session, as the majority of con-goers were in the far more exciting science stream rooms. My own presentation, on creating settings, for example, attracted three attendees, and the experienced amongst you will quickly work out that one of those is Stephen Dedman, an author to whom I reckon I can teach just about the square root of fuck all:

Other writing panels I attended fared little better, but in all honesty, the majority got what they deserved as far as offering entertainment goes: there’s only so far a crime convention can go when the majority of the writing stream consists of writers outside of the central genre, and particularly when many of the sessions are programmed against proven entertainment winners: Professor Simon Lewis and Hadyn Green are long-term CrimeScene alumni, for example, and deservedly popular, and the aforementioned discrepancy in presentation skill was overwhelmingly apparent. While I enjoyed assisting Lyn with her Women in Crime panel, I once again came away feeling that being a panellist at small scale conventions is something I no longer enjoy.
Lyn had been battling illness all convention– and, indeed, spent the following week bed-ridden with a chronic chest infection– so we finally gave in to the inevitable and left before the closing ceremony, so we missed the announcement that the convention is going on hiatus. It’s a pity, because as a small scale industry exhibition it’s the most enjoyable one I’ve ever attended. My hope is that it returns, with a strong focus on the elements that make the crime and suspense genre such a compelling one to read, watch and enjoy, and perhaps, with a writing stream that goes out into the community outside of the convention time frame so that it doesn’t suffer in comparison to the far more professional presenters who populate the science and crime streams.
 



LET THE CRIMES BEGIN!

I don’t know what you’ll be doing this weekend, but I will be enjoying myself strangling, poisoning, murderlising and generally getting up to no good with an absolute plethora of like-minded ne’er-do-wells at the annual CrimeScene WA crime writing convention, held at the Rydges Hotel in sunny Perff.

Apart from presentations by myself and Luscious, guest speakers include the likes of Stephen Dedman, Simon Lewis, Tony Cavanaugh, Hadyn Green and this year’s guests of honour, Michael Robotham and Tansy Rayner Roberts, dressed up in her why-does-she-even-bother-when-we-all-know-it’s-Tansy-anyaway-and-love-her-for-who-she-is,-pet alter ego pants, Livia Day.

If you haven’t got yourself a ticket already then you’re a fool of a Took, so get your arse into gear and buy one at the website. If you’re mad keen to hear what I have to say on any given subject, I’ll be up front being famous at the following sessions:

Saturday, 11am-12pm
Supporting Luscious as she presents her panel Women in Crime

Saturday 2.30-3.30pm
All on my todd for a writing workshop, On Writing Settings

Sunday, 9-10am
In company with Stephen Dedman, as we discuss The Writing Process and What You Should be Doing Once You are Published

You can view the full programme here. Get it up ya!

BLOOD SPLATTER, KIDNAPPING, AND OTHER HARMLESS WEEKEND PURSUITS

Sometimes, you just have to renew your writer-fu.

The Luscious one and I spent this last weekend in the crimelicious surrounds of CrimeScene WA, the annual crime writers convention at the Rydges hotel, where we spent our time drenching our third eyes in the minutiae of blood spatter analysis, trace evidence, clue trails, and all manner of crimey-wimey goodness. The conveners presented a stunning lineup of subject experts, including the lies of Professor Simon Lewis, Dr Mark Reynolds and Hadyn Green, and the depth and styles of their presentations left those of us who contributed to the writer stream looking a little like shambolic amateurs: their professionalism and skill was astonishing, and quite honestly, made my own contribution to the running order (participation in a critiquing panel with Juliet Marillier and Alisa Krasnostein) a slightly disheartening experience. 
Writing panel: Marianne de Pierres, Stephen Dedman and Robert Schofield talk settings, Australian locales, and why Kalgoorlie trumps Macau.
Apart from an opportunity to spend a weekend in a delightful hotel with my beautiful wife, and to catch up with some friendly faces we hadn’t seen in a while, highlights of the weekend included stunning presentations on the identification of trace evidence and the science of blood splatter analysis, a presentation on the chronology of the Lindbergh kidnapping that was so arresting the audience gladly gave up our lunch hour to finish it when the flood of questions forced the presentation over time, a hypothetical wherein the guest speakers revealed how they would kill each other– and Humphrey B. Bear– and make it look like an accident, and a presentation on professionalism by Marianne de Pierres that brought home to me just how I’d allowed my discipline and well-being to slip in recent months.
I love these ‘how to’ presentations: Hadyn Green talks the audience through the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Luscious and I have returned home with renewed zeal for our careers: now that Master 8’s Rumination Syndrome is being managed with a long-term strategy, and Miss 11’s breathing problems have been diagnosed as bronchial asthma and she’s receiving the proper management, Lyn is able to put serious effort into her desire to move her career away from speculative fiction and towards crime– part of the reason we attended the convention was to enable her to do some groundwork, and Marianne de Pierres is a particular inspiration– and I’ve walked away with a renewed sense of purpose towards not only my works in progress but the direction I want to steer my career towards.
CrimeScene was an absolutely fantastic convention: intimate, well-balanced between industry and writing expertise, friendly, and with an open and transparent duty of care towards the attendees, presenters and hotel (the convention’s harassment policy, for example, was not only clearly articulated but displayed in several high-profile areas; something I’ve rarely seen at other cons). It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a convention so much that I’ve chatted to the conveners about my plans for next year while the convention was still running, but I certainly did so here.
I can’t wait for 2014.

WIBBLY WOBBLY CRIMEY WIMEY

Off to Crime Scene WA tonight, for two days of immersion in everything I’ll need to know to commit the perfect murder write within a genre I love but which I’ve never attempted as an author before. I’ll only be on one panel over the weekend– a critiquing panel with Alisa Krasnostein and Juliet Marillier– and the rest of the time I intend to soak up as much information on blood spatter and art theft and DNA analysis and the like as I can.

You can check out the programme here, and five gets you ten you can still get memberships and come along. It’s shaping up to be a lot of fun.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WON’T.

Well, I warned you things would be a bit quiet around here for a short while, didn’t I?

So let’s catch up.

Firstly, health matters are slowly on the improve. Luscious can get out of bed now, as the bed rest and immobility appear to have finally gotten a grip on her condition. Miss 11’s asthma is being managed: her birth mother was a chronic asthmatic, and I’m all too familiar with the routines associated with breath testing, puffs, washing of chambers and associated routinery, and Lyn’s eldest came close to death when younger from the same condition, so we’re both hypersensitive to any changes in breathing pattern, lip colouration, or tingling in the extremities. In other words, we’re all over Miss 11 like blankets on a pig. And we continue the hospital trips and juices in support of Master 8, who had had pipes up his nose, down his throat, into his stomach and just about every orifice except his third eye and still maintains a diagnosis of Rumination Syndrome and the best we can do is manage it and hope it goes away.

As always, a change in habit becomes the habit becomes normality: we live our lives around puffers and vomit bags and we keep moving on.

Writing-wise, Marius and Gerd have officially completed their journey, and so I move on to other things: Magwitch and Bugrat is with a publisher, and I’m feeling the itch to write fresh words, which means I really have to shift my arse and complete the editing on Father Muerte and the Divine so I can get it out of my in-tray. I’m desperate to start a new novel by the beginning of November, so expect the odd excerpt from the Muerte work as I renew my acquaintance with phrases I thought I was dead clever for writing when I came up with them and decide to share them with you.

First off the rank for me, however, is a jaunt to the murderous confines of CrimeScene WA, the crime writing convention taking place this weekend, where I’ll be co-presenting a critiquing panel with Juliet Marillier and Alisa Krasnostein. Two days of lazing about the hotel, talking shop, expanding my skill set and teasing out the kernel of an idea I have for a crime novel is just the thing I need at the moment: an escape from the pressure of work, an immersion in the world I want to live in full time, and a weekend away with my beautiful wife, it comes at exactly the right time.

Check out the programme here, and head along if you’ve got a spare day or two: the lineup of speakers looks awesome and anything that teaches you a better way to murder someone can’t be all bad, right? I’ll pop up a con report after the deal, so you can see what you’ve missed, but you’d be far better just coming along.

And I’ll have another entry in my It Could be You anthology series tomorrow: one of the reasons I’ve not been blogging is that I’ve been rereading it, and have once more been lost within it….

CRIMEY WIMEY CRITIQUING BABY!

I have no idea what that heading is supposed to mean…

HOWEVER, here’s an exciting opportunity for aspiring authors in Western Australia who are looking to join a community of fellow professionals for the purposes of support, networking, and develop critiquing skills.

As part of the thoroughly awesome Crime Scene writing convention taking place in October, I will be joining the truly legendary Juliet Marillier and Twelfth Planet Press head honchette Alisa Krasnostein to present an open critiquing session: thass right, if you’d like your work critiqued by two of the most respected and talented writing industry professionals in the State and me, you can present your work to us and have it subjected to our professional eye!

How do you take advantage of this amazing opportunity I don’t hear you cry because I’m sitting at a computer at my place and you’re all miles away?

Head over to the Twelfth Planet Press website and read this bit here, then follow the instructions: Email Crime Scene coordinator Linda by 13 September with a brief description of your writing experience and a brief description of the piece you’ll be submitting. If you’re selected, you’ll need to send in your work by 20 September, at which point Juliet, Alisa and I will rip it apart with joyful abandon as we destroy your most precious baby and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh critique it and present our observations at the Crime Scene panel. We’ll be taking both novel excerpts and short stories, so there’s really nothing stopping you, is there?

The chance to listen to, learn from, and argue with, three established pros who have read and enjoyed your work. What’s not to love?

Get yourself over to the Crime Scene website and check out the brilliant lineup of guests, panels, and general crime goodness on offer, then get your typing fingers over that precious WIP: we’re waiting. 

HEAD POPPING UP LIKE A NERVOUS MEERKAT

Technology continues to defy us at the Batthaim: the two weeks of radio silence promised us by our new ISP is stretching towards its third week, and customer support continues to be a contradiction in terms. Luckily, I have five minutes of free access via our son doing something clever that involves my phone, a modem, and a pentacle on the dining room floor, so hey presto! Blog post.

Rather than give updatery goodness in self-contained pockets as per usual, let’s just rattle a long one off and hope we cover everything. To whit:

HEALTH IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.

By which you know I mean this son of a bitch:

I’ve blogged recently about my Dad, and the problems he’s been having with his memory. Well, turns out he has a thing, and that thing is called Primary Progressive Aphasia. Put simply, he’s losing his capacity for words, which will eventually result in a loss of all verbal function, as a result of his brain physically shrinking inside his head. It’s permanent, essentially non-treatable, and will talk a long, slow, terrifying 7 or 8 years to have full effect. As Dad tells me, if I point to a desk, he might be able to tell me it’s a desk, or he might know it’s that wooden thing you sit behind on the thing when you do work and stuff, and there’s probably a word to describe the thing, but sorry, he simply doesn’t know it. My Dad’s a charming man, funny, intelligent, articulate. All that’s going to go away, in front of his eyes.

And our youngest, the Mighty Master 8, has been throwing up consistently for the last fortnight unable to keep down solid foods of any kind. Initial diagnosis was that a food allergy had burned a hole in his stomach lining, so he went on a liquid diet while doctors extracted 5 vials of blood and ran every allergy test they could think of. All of which came back negative. We’re now at the stage where he’s even throwing up the jelly he’s allowed to eat, and we’ve progressed to therapists, specialists, and even a chiropractor. Updates will be posted as we find things out, but right now, Lyn’s exhausted, he’s exhausted, and everyone’s trying to make the best of it while being worried like worried people.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE WRITER

So, last weekend, everyone in the Australian SF Universe besides Lyn and myself attended the Continuum convention in Melbourne, having travelled there by rickshaw from Canberra’s Conflux convention, which they also all attended and we didn’t.

I’m not normally that fussed about missing Cons. I have enjoyed the eastern States ones I’ve attended, and would like to attend more, but I’m a guy with a large family, larger mortgage, and a day job that allows me little time off for extended trips. Plus I’m pretty much always skint. So, you know, I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s never going to happen. But this year it really bummed me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s just loneliness build up. Writing communities in the eastern states seem to be quite tight-knit, whereas my experience of the Perth community is that it’s far-flung and tends not to gather all that often, and I’m ambivalent about the local Cons for the most part.

I’m also in an odd place, writing-wise. My agent is in the US, and has a large roster so doesn’t contact unless he has something worth talking about: a sale, or a contract or whatnot. He doesn’t get in touch to tell me he’s hopeful. Which is fine: I knew that going into the relation ship, and accepted it, so I’m aware that the two projects I have with him will be discussed when they either hit pay dirt or he releases them back to me. My publisher is in the UK, and we’ve formally reached the end of our contract: I’ve delivered everything I was contracted to deliver, and they’ve done everything with it they said they were going to.

But that kind of leaves me in a limbo on non-communication: I’m not talking to anyone right now, for the first time in about 2 years, and it feels weird and unsettling. The only actual writing I’m doing is an 8k novella for a speculative project that won’t net me any money but will expose me to the innards of electronic publishing, and everything else is editing, which i find a very insular and isolating part of the writing process.

Maybe that’s why having my Facebook page clogged up with pictures of shiny happy writer types drinking and laughing together has given me such a case of the Thierry Ennuis lately. And maybe that’s why we’re turning the kids over to their grandparents this weekend, and heading out of town for three days: Lyn needs a break from full-time carer duty, we both need to feel like writers, and so Margaret River is the site of the first ever…..

BATTCON 13

Yep, Battcon 13, the inaugural Convention of Writing Battersbys, with twin guests of honour Lyn and Me. Taking place in the spa-suite and bar of a Margaret River hotel. Here’s the draft program:

FRIDAY
7pm: So this is Margaret River, huh? Where’s the Bar?
Late: Sho this Margit Riv, ishit? Whesh my fucking room?

SATURDAY

8-ish. Maybe: Breakfast?
9am: Writing.
1pm: Suppose We’d better have some lunch.
3pm: After-lunch writing—does it really exist?
3.30pm-5.30pm: The spa culture, and how much wine is appropriate while in one.
6pm: Round-table discussion—is this meal really worth 40 bucks, and can we take the bar back to the room?
8pm: The role of alcohol in creative thinking
Late: Whesh my fucking room? Oh crap, I’m in it.

SUNDAY

8-ish: Breakfast? Bollocks.
9am: Breakfast with the authors.
10am: Okay, time to Start Writing!—Ways to kick-start that writing project you’ve put off all weekend
1pm: Authorial lunch and wine-tasting.
3pm: Okay, time to Start Writing!—Ways to kick-start that writing project you’ve put off all weekend
6pm: Round-table discussion—You’ll never be a top level author with that attitude, at least not until we open another bottle.
8pm: Barley or the Grape? Creative dichotomies in a liquid culture
Late: Sleeping in the spa: a shyminium… shimilimpim…. Shlymfucking talk! About… where’s my bed?

MONDAY

8-ish: Breakfast. Absolutely breakfast.
10am: Check out.
10.30am: last minute shopping and stocking up on wine.
12pm: Lunch or leave in time to pick the kids up from school?—a debate
12.05pm: Lunch
1pm: The art of phoning the children’s grandparents
4.30pm: Kids, grandparents, and apologies: an author’s guide
6pm: Dead Dog party. 

We wouldn’t be doing it, with Master 8’s health the way it is, if the kids’ grandparents weren’t insistent we do, and we didn’t trust them so implicitly, but they are, and we do, and the break is most necessary. So we’ll be seeing you Tuesday, by which time Connor will be fully fixed, the internet will be returned to the Batthaim, I’ll be a world-famous author with publishers pounding on my door demanding I work for them, Tony Abbott will have drowned in a vat of his own pus, unicorns will roam the high places eating Jackson’s curse and shitting rainbows, Forest will have found a loophole in the rules and been awarded permanent EPL status, and I’ll weigh 80 kilograms and have all my hair back.

Right?