When you read a lot of books, the most frequent question you seem to get is "how do you manage to read so many books". The subtext obviously being either you're a speed reader, or you somehow don't have anything better to do. (You can tell from the look on the enquirer's face.) I'm not a speed reader by any means, but since childhood, coincidentally on a farm just outside Ballarat, I have been blessed with ability to stick my nose in a book and pretty well ignore everything else around me. And I do mean blessed. Reading for me isn't something I do when I've got nothing else to do - it's the default choice. I like doing it. I read a lot of books because I don't much care what the house looks like. I grew up in the bush, in the time before the internet (yes I'm that old), and in those days movies, and even TV weren't much of an alternative, so reading was firmly entrenched in the DNA.
So the attaction of festivals about books, a chance to listen to writers talk about books, to readers talk about books, to be with people who always have the "are you a speed reader" look on their faces when you talk about numbers - well it's participation sport for readers like me. Especially when the obsession is for crime fiction in particular.
Death in July was an outstanding day (couldn't make it down for the Friday session - don't do housework but do have to feed and bed down livestock). I was lucky enough to have some friends from the local community come down with me (Ballarat's an hours drive from where we live now), and it was worth every second of that drive.
It's not just the fun and laughter (and goodness knows there was that in bucket loads), it's not just the general chatter about books, and the bookshop, it's the atmosphere. At writers / readers festivals, the fact that everybody is OBSESSED with books isn't odd. It's not commented on.
The day was a clever balance between panels, launches and discussions - finishing off with the traditional debate which was, as usual, a masterclass in hilarity. I think I'm one of the people Angela Savage mentions in her post(link is external) crying with laughter - I was not alone. (We need a female crime writer whose name is Peta to enter the Neds!)
Each of the sessions was bookended by a chapter of the very clever Blood on Ballarat(link is external). I'd be the first person to admit to a somewhat ambivalent feeling about the town of my birth, but this film, and the cleverness of the story that it was illustrating actually might make me rethink what's happening there now. Such a clever idea, and such a wonderful illustration of the story, and the town (and to be honest I thought the shuddering was on purpose and not the result of a laptop on it's last legs!)
There were a series of good panels - from the start out "Gum Shoes or High Heels?" which talked about the trends in women's crime fiction writing. Having seen a few of these discussions recently I was pleased to see the conversation veering a little bit towards the issue of the "crime" in crime fiction. As somebody who prefers to read from the darker end of the spectrum, (yes you get that "look"), the attraction for me is that searching for meaning - people are an odd bunch and I find more insight into motivation, control, cause and effect on the dark rather than the light side. Still an excellent panel and lovely to finally hear Annie Hauxwell talk about her standout Catherine Berlin series. Good panel clearly indicated by a scramble to the book shop later to fill in a few blanks in the collection.
The next panel was Lindy Cameron talking to YA authors Ellie Marney, Simmone Howell and Nansi Kunze about the growing category of "Young Adult fiction" in general and "YA Crime" in particular. (Around this discussion Carmel Shute and I were comparing notes about what we read as Young Adults - when there wasn't any such category). Interestingly it did emerge that there is a large adult readership of these novels. Having been one that's sort of danced around the edges of it for years now, I've resolved to extract my digit and read more to see exactly what's happening. Certainly if Marney's first book - EVERY BREATH - that I've just finished was any indication - it holds much interest.
During the day there were also launches for Marney's second book - EVERY WORD and Hauxwell's third - A MORBID HABIT (did I mention how much I admire that series....).
We then had a fascinating poetry reading by Judith Rodriguez from her book The Hanging of Minnie Thwaites (that went on the TBR list as a result) and it was onto Boffins, Ballistics and Bones. Chaired by Vikki Petraitis (who if she ever gets sick of teaching for a living will obviously consider a gig as a stand up comedian), this panel included Dr Shelley Robertson, Detective Superintendent Tess Walsh and true crime author and journalist Liz Porter talking about the CSI effect. Aimed at exploring how cop shows and crime fiction distort people's expectations when it comes to real life, this started out with panel member's favourite authors, but more interestingly, the crime shows they can and cannot watch on TV. The difficulties of taking real life forensics into the fictional were pretty well known by most of the audience I'd expect, but the impact that it has on the professionals in the business was the thing I came away with a clearer understanding of.
And then it was the debate. And before I say anything else can I just say what standout good blokes Robert Gott and Jarad Henry are. I've seen them sacrifice their dignity and any chance of winning at a few of these debates now and they show up and give it a red hot go (even sick as dogs and yes Robert - it did makes us want to slap you a bit :) ). The debate was hilarious. The women's team of Vikki Petraitis, Leigh Redhead and Angela went out of their way to bury any arguments the men (Robert Gott, Jarad Henry and Andrew Grimes) might have raised, although, we all agreed that Andrew was the surprise package of the day (if you discount Leigh's rock solid Southern Accent). But the debate covered everything. Multi-tasking; aprons; saving Africa whilst doing the dishes (or something); PTSD (Peter Temple Sex Detective); the statistics on winners of the Neds (worked out by a man of course - girls don't do statistics ;) ); rose-water pee and something or other to do with a pleated skirt and Santa not being real. To say nothing of the frankly masterful use of pudendum in sex scenes written by male crime authors; external scrotums and their assistance in the area of "arse glue" as opined by Steven King; an awful lot of non-fatal, but obviously disconcerting to a few in the audience, removal of penises in extreme circumstances; and a particularly elegant summation of lots of things that are just like Dicks after a gentle, quiet, dead pan verbal assassination of various current day national "leaders".
Needless to say the Dames won, even though they were arguing that "Dicks to it better". I opted to agree with that on the understanding that by the end of the debate I wasn't sure that I knew what "it" was anymore....
Sincere congratulations to everyone at Ballarat Writers, and Jill Blee in particular. That woman is a force of nature. As is Sisters in Crime's Carmel Shute. And all the SinC convenors who came up to Ballarat and manned the stalls. To the authors who gave up their Saturday thank you. To the M.A.D.E. staff who worked like trojans when presented with a lot of women desperate for coffee and food.
I'm really sorry I missed the keynote speech by Angela Savage - but she has posted it online(link is external) - and it's well worth reading.