Wednesday Waffles - Let's Hear it for the (trailblazing) Girls

Continuing a little on my theme of those who came before, there are some little heard of (and darn hard to find the work of) pioneering female Australian crime writers who deserve to be mentioned.

Before Katherine Howell, P D Martin, Leigh Redhead, Tara Moss, Sydney Bauer, Kathryn Fox, Lindy Cameron, Kerry Greenwood, Leah Giarratano and all the current crop of fantastic female writers (the only reason I don't list each and every one of them is because the list is huge!), there were a number of important authors who played a major part in the starting of both genre fiction, and, more widely, an Australian writing tradition.  To mention a few - in (sometimes approximate) date of birth order:

Ellen Davitt will be well known to members of Sisters in Crime Australia, as they have an annual crime writing prize for women named in her honour, and in 1993, they placed a plaque on her grave, commemorating her importance to the history of Australian crime writing.  Born in 1812 in Yorkshire England, dying of cancer in extreme poverty in 1879, Ellen and her husband - teacher Arthur Davitt emigrated to Australian in 1854.  Ellen was a renowned public lecturer and an exhibited artist and she and her husband were well-known in colonial education, although, somewhat typically, she was pilloried for having "overbearing self-esteem".  Her book Force and Fraud, the first known Australian mystery novel was preprinted in 1993.  (On a purely personal note I've finally managed to get my hands on a copy of that book and will be reading it toots sweet).

Mary Fortune was born around 1833 in Canada.  She migrated to the Australian goldfields in 1855 and three years later married policeman Percy Brett.  She was one of the earliest women to write detective fiction, she wrote from the viewpoint of the detective.  (Mind you - as her marriage to Brett seems likely to have been bigamous maybe she had some sympathy with the criminal viewpoint <VBEG>).  She wrote over 500 detective stories over 40 years mostly featuring a Detective Mark Sinclair. They were published in Australian Journal, where she was using the psuedonyms "Waif Wander" and "W.W.".  She also had the first known collection of fictional detective stories written by a woman published in 1871 - The Detective's Album.  An alcoholic, she died at an unknown date and in an unknown location.  For more on Mary please see:


Margot Neville is the sister combination of Anne Neville Goyder Joske (1887 - 1966) and Margot Goyder (1907 - 1975).  They wrote novels, plays and screenplays under that pseudonym starting in 1923, but their first detective novel Murder in Rockwater was published in 1944, the last Head on the Sill was published in 1966.  They wrote over 20 crime novels in all, set in Sydney, the books were police procedurals featuring two detectives - Grogan and Manning.

Jean Spender was born in 1901, she died in 1970.  A diplomat's wife who turned to writing during her husband's postings, she wrote 6 novels between 1933 and 1960, two of which are set in Australia.

Pat Flower was born in 1914 in Kent, she emigrated to Australia at the age of 14.  She worked for the New Theatre League, as a copywriter and wrote for tv, radio and films.  Publishing 15 crime novels between 1958 and 1976, many of them had flower themes in the names (mostly pretty awful puns titles).  Her early novels featuring Inspector Swinton have been compared to Maigret in style but her later books were psycho-thrillers, considered by many to be the best produced in Australia.  Sadly, she committed suicide in 1977.  (Mt TBR has Vanishing Point from 1975, Crisscross and Shadow Show from 1976 lurking on it).

Charlotte Jay is actually a pseudonym for Geraldine Halls.  She was born in Adelaide in 1919 and she died in 1996.  Working in the Court of Papua New Guinea gave her the background for her second novel Beat Not the Bones in 1952, which went on to win the first Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers' of America.  

June Wright was born in 1919, and she wrote 6 detective novels between 1948 and 1966, with Melbourne settings and female detectives.  She got her start when she entered a novel competition run by London publishing house Hutchinson.  She won with Murder in the Telephone Exchange and Hutchinson went on to publish three of her novels.  Reservation for Murder in 1966 introduced a detective-nun, Mother Paul.  (Another one that I've got to get to - Faculty of Murder is on my Mt TBR).

Patricia Carlon was born in 1927 in Wagga Wagga, and she died in 2002.  An author of 15 crime novels written between 1961-1970, none of the books were originally published in Australia due (according to the author) to the locals only wanting police procedurals, and Patricia's books were more thrillers and/or psychological thrillers.

In the early days of the hard-boiled / pulp industry here Audrey Armitage and Muriel Watkins wrote under the pseudonym K.T. McCall, but I've never been able to find out a lot about them personally.   It seems they were the only female pulp novelists working in the heyday between 1939 and 1959.  "She was blonde, beautiful and brainy. And K.T. McCall was one of the world's highest paid female crime writers", or so said the blurb on the book's back cover. Almost 50 years later Audrey Armitage still laughed when she recalls her time as one of the country's most prolific and popular authors. "I think I was the only woman so it wasn't hard to be the highest paid," she says.

Many of the books that these authors wrote have been republished (although nowhere near all of them).  I've always found ABEBooks to be a great resource for tracking them down, particularly if it's too hot to be trolling around second hand bookshops (like it is here today).

Next Wednesday's waffles will discuss something slightly more current, before we go back and have a look at the boys from the start.

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