INTERVIEW: Excitement is building as the BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival returns in under a week to the State Library of New South Wales between 2-5 December. From Rural Noir to Investigative Journalism to Cozy Crime to Indigenous perspectives on the criminal justice system, there will be plenty of diverse views and opinions from a star-studded guest list across crime fiction and true crime.
The Festival’s artistic director, Catherine du Peloux Menagé, speaks to Therese Taylor for True Crime News Weekly about what audiences can expect.
TCNW: What arrangements are in place for the 2021 instalment of the BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival?
This year, the festival will be fully available through streaming, as well as live sessions. Covid safe regulations are in place, and all volunteers have been briefed. Attendees check in with a QR code, must be fully vaccinated, and seating is spaced at 1.5 metres apart.
The streaming of sessions makes it possible for everyone to participate, and it gives so much reach. Regional libraries (listed here) have joined in, offering coverage of the sessions. In previous years, if you were in a remote town, there was just no chance of seeing authors speaking live.
TCNW: Speaking of remote towns, Rural Noir, always a presence in Australian writing, is currently high profile.
It has been a thing for the past two or three years, and novelists such as Garry Disher and Jane Harper follow on from existing crime series such as those by Peter Temple. It is expanding, so that you get – not just a story about a country town in drought – although that is a good topic in itself – but also the underside of life in those hidden places, police corruption, missing persons … Tank Water, by Michael Burge, he is based in New England, and the story he writes is based on gay hate crime.
Catherine du Peloux Menagé: Artistic director of the BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival (Image: Supplied)
It is a terrific look underneath what goes on in an isolated place. The Stoning, by Peter Papathanasiou, includes diverse communities and Indigenous disadvantage in a powerful story.
I love to talk about beachside noir. It is a genre in the US and UK but in Australia it has a particular style with the fibro beach houses and surfers. Australian beach side towns are partly rural, but also rely on tourism, so people come in and depart. The locals have deeper links, and the two mingle.
Kyle Perry’s, The Deep, is one example.
TCNW: Do you think that Crime Writing can play any role in the process of Reconciliation in Australia?
That is such an important, and difficult, issue. We have not yet managed to get many crime fiction writers from the Indigenous community. In much crime fiction Indigenous people are still invisible. This is changing, for example Sarah Thornton’s novel, Lapse, makes the issues of racism and community central to the story.
Without being crime novelists, Indigenous writers are writing about crime because of their history – Australian history. Violence, dispossession, fear of police. Literature by Indigenous Australian authors is often not crime fiction, but crime in fiction.
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In Daughter of the River Country, Dianne O’Brien, an Indigenous woman, gives her own account of terrible injustices – rape, imprisonment, and being part of the stolen generation. This is autobiography, but crimes, and the process of naming and resisting them, are all through the story. She is a guest at the festival in a session facilitated by Daniel Browning.
There is a session at the festival, ‘Australia as a Crime Scene’:
It asks: “Has the whole of Australia become a crime scene since colonisation? Where do we start to look? Four First Nations speakers give us a new perspective.”
Some of the faces of the 2021 lineup for the BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival
TCNW: Can crime writing help to restore justice?
Crime writing can bring out experiences, and show how so many people are affected by events. It is also in crime novels, historically, that one can find descriptions of issues which were being suppressed or ignored. Looking back, years later, you can see how novels showed an awareness of an underside to Australian society, and things which people did not talk about at the time.
I actively look for these issues.
Robert Drewe, a guest at the festival, grew up knowing a murderer, and a friend of his was killed. He writes about the impact of that in his life.
Social justice is important and this is now incorporated in crime writing. Louise Milligan and Kathryn Heyman will both be speaking about the experiences of sexual assault victims in the courts. Louise Milligan was closely involved in every stage of the Pell trial, and Kathryn Heyman has written her own account of being a person sexually assaulted in a case that was prosecuted.
Erin Stewart’s, The Missing Among Us: Stories of missing persons and those left behind, takes on the unresolved cases – the unknown element, where people never know exactly what happened.
All through the different sessions there are writers and speakers who bring out the need for justice, and who protest against the ways that victims of crimes are disempowered.
TCNW: In contrast, and on the entertainment side of the crime writing genre, what presence does Cozy Crime have in Australian writing?
Cozy Crime is massive in the US and the UK, and it has endless sub-genres. There are cooking crime books, pet sleuth crime books … Cozy is a huge field and very popular.
Clergy cozy mysteries, travel agent crime novels – everything under the sun.
In Australia, Kerry Greenwood has been very accomplished in cozy crime. Katherine Kovacic has also written in this field. Pamela Hart’s Digging Up Dirt is very Sydney – a cosy crime novel about renovating. Kellie McCourt, Heiress on Fire, gives a tale set in high society.
Cozy crime is given a whole session, of a most enjoyable type – ‘Champagne, Cake and Crime’, with Louisa Bennet, Katherine Kovacic, Pamela Hart and Kellie McCourt.
From the program: “For a change of pace and an afternoon of fun, join four writers who don’t like their crime too serious as they chat over canapes and cake with a glass of fizz. Cozy crime or glamour crime, it’s all here”.
BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival is on at the State Library of NSW from 2-5 December. You can view the full program of events at www.badsydney.com.