Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we ask the question: if you were to start a fire, would you place the matches on the mantel or the mantle?
Q: Hi AWC, I was emailing a friend the other day who had just renovated their fireplace, and they felt the need to correct me about something I wrote.
A: How rude. We wish people wouldn’t do that.
Q: That’s literally what you do all day.
A: Good point. Carry on.
Q: So, I had asked if they had kept the original mantlepiece – but they insisted it is actually spelt “mantel” and “mantelpiece” – which just seems wrong.
A: Hate to blow smoke up their chimney, but in this case they are correct.
Q: So is it an ‘America versus the rest of the world’ thing then?
Q: Sorry, I’m really struggling with the fact that “mantle” isn’t a word.
A: Whoa – we didn’t say THAT. Mantle is totally a word. It’s just not the word for this.
Q: So what’s a “mantle” then?
A: Mantle has a bunch of meanings. The newest (1940s) is from geology – the large chunk of the planet between the core and the outer crust. According to the interwebs, Earth’s mantle makes up about 84% of the planet and is nearly 3000km thick in most places.
Q: Wow. As a planet, we’re pretty dense.
A: Yes we are. The original meaning for mantle is “something that covers” – sartorially, this is usually a type of cloak.
Q: Oh yes, my Uncle Liam used to wear one as an excavator driver. Some people thought he was working as a spy, but it turned out to be more ‘cloak and digger’.
A: That was terrible. Do you even have an Uncle Liam?
Q: Not anymore. He died after taking cough medication and then operating heavy machinery.
A: Always read the label. Anyway, there are actually many other smaller meanings for “mantle” but probably the main other one is as a role, duty or responsibility that someone takes on from another person.
A: When Queen Elizabeth II dies, Charles will assume the mantle as British monarch.
Q: Do you have a better example, because I actually think the Queen will outlive Charles.
A: Okay, so after the coach left, the assistant coach to took up the mantle and guided the team to the finals.
Q: Did they win the final?
A: What? Um, sure, they won. So now we–
Q: Why did the original coach leave? Was there some sort of scandal?
A: Can we continue with “mantel” instead?
Q: Sorry. Good idea.
A: So, this one is easier. “Mantel” only has the one meaning – as a shortened form of “mantelpiece” – effectively a supporting shelf that sits above the fireplace. Today they’re often more decorative than supportive – and also go by the name “mantelshelf” in some parts of the world.
Q: So what are the origins or these two words?
A: Just one origin – the word “mantle” is the older one, and goes way back to the 12th century. It wasn’t till the early 1500s that the fireplace “mantel” variant showed up. And a mantel is essentially a cloak for a fireplace – covering it.
Q: What about Mickey Mantle?
A: He was a baseball player with the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 60s. You may have heard him mentioned in Billy Joel’s song We didn’t start the fire.
Q: And I suppose if you WERE to start a fire, you’d place the matches on the mantel and not the mantle.
A: Correct. Any further questions?
Q: Yes – where does “dismantle” come from?
A: Well, one derivative of mantle “to cloak” was also “to fortify”, so essentially when you dismantle something, you are removing this fortification.
Q: Excellent answer – in fact, here’s a trophy for explaining today’s topic so well.
A: Um, thank you. We’ll put it on our mantel.
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, !
For this month’s second Furious Fiction short story competition, we spun our judging chairs around and waited to let the notes you were belting out wash over us – with musically themed stories, 500 words or fewer. For the winner? A recording contrac– oops, no, we mean FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS CASH.
(Find out more about how our monthly Furious Fiction competition works.)
The rules each month are simple enough. We’ll give you some story parameters and you give us words. Here are the things we were after this month:
The first word had to be MUSIC.
The story had to feature singing at some point.
The story had to include an invitation in some way.
Our judges read and re-read the hundreds of stories, compared notes, carried the 4 and divided by the number we first thought of, eventually arriving at this month’s shortlisted stories. And it’s congratulations to Alicia Bakewell, whose story “Ladies Only” was judged this month’s winner. Well done Alicia!
You can check out the winning story below, along with FIVE other shortlisted entries.
LADIES ONLY by Alicia Bakewell
Music helps you remember, wine helps you forget. You take a sip, turn on the radio. She’s still got the same slot, Sunday night lonely heart o’clock. Jazz, on the slow side, ladies only. It doesn’t seem she’s added to her record collection recently. She used to say all the good stuff’s already been made. You take a sip, try to pretend you’re hearing her for the first time. The on-air voice, syrupy and self-assured. Can’t help remembering how quickly it turned to a naggy mezzo-soprano when you came home too late or mentioned another girl. Names roll off her tongue – Billie, Sarah, Nina. Now who’s mentioning other girls then? She always loved them more than she loved you. You take a sip, smile in minor key.
They don’t know her like you do, the other half a dozen listeners. They don’t know that she doesn’t play much jazz at home. They don’t know that she sleeps in an old Patti Smith t-shirt with a hole over the left nipple that you tore with an errant fingernail. They don’t know that she won’t speak in the morning until she’s had two cups of coffee, no milk no sugar. Not a word. They don’t know that she tripped and broke her arm once, as you both ran through the city just before dawn, a couple of drunks singing that song about being hit by a double-decker bus. They don’t know that when it rains, her arm still aches. You take a sip, consider covering the mouthpiece with a handkerchief and requesting some Alice Coltrane.
She says there’s time for one more request. An invitation, a tease. You take a sip. She wants to hear from you. You take a sip. She doesn’t want to hear from you. It’s the daisy game in a glass. She loves you not, of course. Music, remembering, wine, forgetting. Tears, and you always expect them to be Cabernet coloured. Your hand inches toward the phone and you knock the bottle, just as Alice starts to play. Damn that sixth sense that doesn’t become null and void when the marriage does. Now the tears are Cabernet. You drag your fingers through them, paint a little tragedy on the tiles.
The wine you want to remember, the music you want to forget, because the music is her and she is the music and it’s so quiet in here now you’ve turned the radio off. It would take her about an hour to gather up her records, exchange a few words with the country and western fella on the next show, walk to her car in the dark, hit the back roads, come over here and tuck you in. You kiss the air, kiss her goodnight.
What we loved:
This slice-of-life read authentic from the first sentence – with a strong turn of phrase and descriptive style that painted such a vivid picture of love and loss. It took us down the spiral of alcohol, heartache and late-night radio – a kind of ‘halfway house’ for feelings that aren’t quite ready to let go. We flew through 450+ words in no time thanks to tight, purposeful writing.
THE BALLERINA IN THE BOX by M.T. Ellis
Music gently chimed from the little wooden box on the windowsill. The ballerina’s tulle skirt sat perfectly horizontal as she spun in a wobbly circle.
I picked up the invitation and read it for the millionth time. My fingers shook with excitement as I placed it back in the envelope. She’s gonna love it.
The ballerina continued to dance in time with the key turning in the back of the box. I liked the way the tiny plastic doll did what was expected of her.
I leaned the envelope against the pink music box. Gold curls embossed the edge of the white paper. A single word, Sarah, was printed in black ink.
Each stroke of the calligraphy took me an age to master. I had practised on scrap paper before finally etching the words carefully onto the envelope. I had watched the ink seep slowly into the fibres of the paper.
Butterflies tingled at my insides as I thought of Sarah opening the envelope. I envisioned her blue eyes starting to glisten with the hint of a tear. I imagined her clutching the invitation to her chest as she declared that she’d love to accompany me.
The tiny ballerina’s hands reached up towards the sunlight that bathed her through the window. I heard a door downstairs open. Sarah’s home.
I could hear Sarah singing to herself as she climbed the stairs towards me. The ballerina slowed and the music waned; every beat seemed to take longer. I quickly turned the key and the ballerina sprang back to life. Everything was perfect again.
Sarah’s singing turned into a scream as she opened the door. She stared directly at me. “What are you doing here?” Her soft features had morphed into that of a terrified rabbit who’d just encountered a fox. “You know I’ve taken out a restraining order.”
I slammed the music box shut, trapping the ballerina inside.
What we liked:
This drew us in and made us cheer for this devoted calligrapher – but dropping a few clues along the way (such as the helplessness of that spinning doll). Ultimately it had us holding our breath in anticipation of what turned out to be a cold slap in the face. Sometimes things aren’t always what they seem, and we were hooked right up until the ‘restrained’ ending!
FOR THE RECORD by Eleanor Ng
Music is a shapeshifter.
Our friendship is faint; it is fragile, and it is flimsy, and it is flourishing into something that we can no longer control. It is in the way that we speak, and the way that we laugh, and the way that everything around us diminishes into a growing frequency of desire; you have a way of taking me higher.
Music is a time traveller.
There are years between the times that we would meet again. From a written distance, to a quiet fading, to a guileless glance, to a hesitant greeting, to our inhibitions fleeting into intense chemistry that renders the smoothest release of rhapsody; I fall all over again. Each reunion is an elision formed by a delicate composition of love, of longing, of despair in wanting the wrong from right, the right from wanting: this is our requiem.
Music is an invitation.
Take this pill, you say to me. Take this pill, and take my hand; I will remain right here where we once began. There was no rhyme or reason to cause admittance of the rising iniquity on my part. But I take it anyway. It starts off simple; a gradual, calming transition of subdued illusions that depart themselves into a swell of intentions that would allow us to succumb to a sweet disposition of words, of rhythm, of lust in a seamlessly pitched algorithm.
Music is submission.
The shift in incline from verse to suggestion brings us into a common state of surrender. You touch, and you whisper, and you sigh, and you quiver against the sound of my voice and a sliver of hope that I am yours to keep, that I am yours to hold. I graze my lips against the promises that you utter, imploringly singing our sins into place, barely touching the surface of what we could be, what we so desperately wanted to be. God, your lips feel good. The progression of notes punctuates your silent pleading, like a broken record in haunting transgression. There is no need for a sentence; there is merely a word stuck on repeat:
But it is not enough. A word is never enough when the rest of the song belongs to another. The recurring refrain of lyrics unspoken and chances stolen will always be where they are meant to be, in a chorus of designed tragedy. You push me away. A confession between the mind and mention, the heart and rhythm, the possibilities that forge incisions into my soul, ripping me apart until everything I have of you becomes remnants of the lost and cold. I am as fragmented as you are insignificant. I am the sound of nothing in your voice of deceit.
You are deafening,
and I am mute.
What we liked:
Music is many things to many people, and this story managed to capture that in an aptly musical way. While some other entries simply defined music, this also wove a story – with an enjoyable rhythm and confident style throughout. We also liked that the verse, chorus and bridge structure seemed to resemble a song.
THE HITCHHIKER by Martin Lindsay
Music filled the car, thankfully ending the silence. Lonesome guitars twanged in crackly AM radio fidelity.
“So, do you often pick up hitchhikers?”
“No, never,” said the driver, his first words since his awkward invitation of a lift. Another conversational abyss passed before he spoke further. “Do you often hitchhike?”
“No,” Jake replied. “Well, who does these days? Ted Bundy sort of ruined it for everyone.” He stopped short. It wasn’t really the topic for late night country highway driving. “Just backpacking,” he continued. “Misjudged the distance between towns.”
The driver continued staring ahead, sitting bolt-straight, hands tight upon the wheel. That couldn’t be comfortable.
“Thanks for picking me up,” Jake said as the song wound towards its melancholy conclusion. “Not many would nowadays.”
“No,” the driver said. “I mean, you hear the stories,” he added, still staring ahead. “Of drivers picking up hitchhikers, then… things happening.”
“Attacks. Robbery. …And worse.”
Jake swallowed. No it really wasn’t the topic for late night country highway driving. He couldn’t help a glance at his passenger door, checking it had an inside handle. After all, you hear the stories.
The radio station announced a request: Mack the Knife began weaving its gruesome tale.
Had the driver activated the central locking when they’d set off? Jake sat, now wondering just what that occasional clank from the back seat actually was. He’d told no one where he was going – no one to miss him if he never arrived.
Jake slid a hand slowly down his rucksack, wedged between his legs. A side pocket. He reached in for a potential weapon, then froze.
Had the driver noticed the movement? His knuckles had whitened on the steering wheel. Preparing to strike?
Jake’s searching fingers found something. Shit. He was about to find how sturdy his all-purpose plastic camping spoon could be.
The car decelerated. The driver’s breathing – sharp, shallow. Tensing for action.
Jake whipped out the spoon.
“Please don’t hurt me!” they pleaded in unison. The driver had tears in his eyes.
“What? No. Of course not.” Jake lowered the spoon in relief. “I was more terrified of you.”
Colour returning to faces as they chuckled at conclusions leapt to.
Jake settled back, nerves still aflutter.
The driver reached forward and changed radio stations. A bright pop song bounced out. “I love this one!” Hands tapping the wheel, he began singing along, only partially in tune.
“Okay…” Jake thought
“You’re not singing,” the driver said, looking over.
Jake smiled and shook his head.
“You’re not singing,” the driver repeated.
Jake became aware that it wasn’t a question.
“The road. You’re not watching-…”
“You’re not singing!”
Mouth drying, Jake made faltering attempts to sing along, increasing in volume until the driver finally returned attention to the road.
The song drew to a close. The driver switched off the radio. Jake checked his door handle. Locked. Centrally.
“You’re not singing,” the driver said.
“You’re not singing!”
Jake could hold a tune, but for how long?
What we liked:
Dialogue can be tricky, but this did it particularly well – driving the story (literally!) through a realistic interplay that kept us interested like a long tennis rally. The mix of humour and foreboding was successful in careening us towards an ending that caught us off guard.
BLACK DUFFLE BAG by Hannah Roux
Music is playing from the car radio and the street is empty and the singer is singing a love-song (or is it a break-up song?) and you think about how many marriages that rock star had (was it four or five?) and whether or not they had children and about her boyfriends (the ones she didn’t marry) and how many there must have been (dozens and dozens coming in and out of the house at odd hours) and you watch the rain pounding onto the windscreen and the sheets of water turn the gums which line the street into grey-green smears on the glass. You think about how he invited you to dinner and it was a smart casual affair: jeans, a nice shirt, a Japanese restaurant, lip gloss, earrings, trying not to snort the Wasabi up your nose and looking at him with your eyes streaming and he asked about your parents, and you told the truth. Separated, for a few years now. You smiled to make it nothing – it was nothing – and you smiled to say ‘I’m loyal, not like them, I’m not a basket-case like them. Ask me out again, please ask me again’ and at the end of the evening you smiled, you’d had a good time. You said so. So did he.
You rest your head against the steering wheel and underneath your skull the music pounds, the whole plastic covering of the car vibrating and trembling with it, and it’s a singer singing a break-up song (or is it a love-song?) and you turn up the volume to sing along. You can sing a love song and hear a love song and without bursting into tears, and you can go on a date and not think of them, and you can sing about love and you can smile. Your life is not their life. You can wonder – will we go out again? And will I see him old? And will our children have children? You can think all that, and never think of them, not once.
You stare at the rain on the window and you don’t think about the months that they sat each night on opposite ends of the sofa, hardly slept, slept some nights one on the sofa, one in bed, and the squabbling and the voices stiff with politeness, and the absence of dad on Christmas day and the words ‘your mother’ and ‘your father’ spoken like ‘infestation of fleas’ (as though they were no more now to each other than the second-degree relation – ‘he’s my daughter’s father’) and you don’t think about the hours on the train going back and forth with a black duffel bag filled with schoolbooks and no music playing.
The track ends. You open an umbrella, and take the black duffel bag from the seat next to you. The bag is heavy and the straps bite into your shoulders and you heave it up and plod slowly out into the rain.
What we liked:
A clever use of the 2nd person narration threw us immediately into the story – giving an instant and relatable stream of consciousness, punctuated with parentheses of occasional clarity. It’s hard to turn away – and the writing made us want to see where this one would go.
MIXTAPE by Phoebe Hogarth
Music makes me. Its warm orchestral melodies fill my heart. Sweet voices sing through my veins. Music is a constant in my cinematic existence.
I am the sum of the songs I have loved. Music has been in every first kiss, first date, break-up and anniversary; like a loyal friend, beside me through every memorable moment.
I have slow-danced with boys I thought I’d be with forever, and cried into my pillow after they dramatically declared we weren’t meant for each other. I sang drunken karaoke with my girlfriends on holiday, raucous and improper. I met a man under strings of fairy lights and felt as though my world had changed forever. And I sat alone in our apartment drinking wine to my own solemn song after he left me.
Music can bring a moment so vividly to mind. R&B transports me to Vivian Harding’s sweet 16th, kissing Tim Abrahams in the garage while a love song buzzed from the tinny CD player. It was my first kiss, and for the month that followed I was obsessed with Alicia Keys. When I hear rap music, I am in my Year 12 boyfriend’s flashy sports car, with Kanye and Jay-Z blaring. I never liked rap, but to this day it reminds me of how nice he smelled whenever I was near him.
When I was twenty-three, I locked eyes with a handsome man while Kings of Leon soared through the speakers. That became our favourite story to tell, particularly at our engagement party. Soon after, he left me a sombre note on our kitchen table, and I never listened to Kings of Leon again.
It’s six o’clock on a summer evening and my skin is humming. I’m cleaning out the apartment and starting anew. He collected his things yesterday when I was not here, and now everything else will go to the Salvation Army. The only thing I decide to keep is a wedding invitation we had mocked up in September. I place it delicately onto the coffee table and gaze at it for a minute. Then I pick it up and toss it into the bin with resolve. My brain has been a broken record, stuck on the same miserable moment. I will not replay it any longer.
The music you hear now is heady and warm like a strongly brewed green tea. It is a song you have not heard before. Full of emotion and somehow, full of comfort. It is like listening to all the words you have never been able to say. A montage of your most private thoughts flowing out in one sweet, strong melody. The music sets something off within you, something that soars, and you see things clearer than you have in a long time. That music is yours to keep, and nobody else’s. It shines like copper in a beam of sun, and you feel brighter too. Hold onto that feeling, and don’t let it go. Sing at the top of your lungs.
What we liked:
We liked the simple, honest insights and relatable experiences – a gentle celebration of music and memories, with an uplifting resolution. Glazed thick in nostalgia, these moments were random but never generic – specific flash points of memory, connected out of sequence and jumping here and there like neurons firing.
Think you could have done better? Feeling inspired to enter Furious Fiction in April? JOIN THE FURIOUS FICTION FAN CLUB to be notified when the next challenge goes live!
We were stoked to spot a familiar name in the 2018 shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. Our very own creative writing AWC presenter, Nicole Hayes, has been recognised for her novel A Shadow’s Breath.
The Ethel Turner Prize ($30,000) is offered for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry written for young people of secondary school level.
Judges’ Comments A Shadow’s Breath is an exciting book. Dual timeframes embrace the core of the work: how to look back so as to be able to move on. The story is an unusual blend of art and violence. In telling the past story of Tessa and Nick, Hayes explores the emotional depths of accomplished artworks through precise dialogue embracing symbolism and structure. By desperate contrast, then, she describes the violence of the car accident that upends the characters’ lives, leaving them struggling to find a way forward.
Perhaps the best way to review a life is to look at it in a near-death experience. This is exactly what Hayes does in A Shadow’s Breath. It is a device that encourages the reader to appreciate his or her life and to ‘seize the day’. Accomplished and compelling, this is a well-crafted and thought-provoking work.
In Episode 227 of So you want to be a writer: A new prize is announced for crime authors who do not feature a female victim. The writing myths we tell ourselves and Norwegian Airways writes a poem to a passenger. To celebrate National Indexing Day on 29 March 2018, you’ll meet indexer and crossword creator Denise Sutherland.
Over the years Denise Sutherland has had a regular ABC radio segment about cryptic crosswords, invented a new puzzle, been a publications editor, written the words for websites, designed logos, brochures and websites, indexed books, self-published seven books, written cryptic crosswords, been a website manager and developer for a science history group, written four books in the For Dummies series, and even worked as a lab assistant in plant genetics (she also studied science at the ANU), back in her dim distant past.
Now, National Indexing Day is coming up on the 29th of March. And it’s being run by the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers. Now, you’re an indexer.
Indeed I am.
Not many people think, oh, I want to grow up and be an indexer. Or not many people even think that there are indexers. They just assume that these indexes kind of magically appear at the end of books, and wherever it is that they come up. Tell us a little bit about, first, what is indexing, just in case anyone needs clarification?
Okay. Indexing is the process whereby usually an indexer, sometimes an author, goes through the whole manuscript of a publication. Usually when we use indexes, they’re in nonfiction books. It might be a cook book or a gardening book or an academic book. But also journals have indexes. And we analyse the text.
So we start at the very beginning of the book and we read and analyse the whole thing, and we write the index. So it’s actually a creative process where we’re actually reading, we’re analysing, we’re figuring out how best to, you know, how do you summarise that concept in that paragraph in two or three words.
And then we’re putting in what we call locators. The page numbers. Because they’re not always page numbers. Like in a legal document it might be paragraph numbers and things like that. And so it’s a process of creating a finding aid for the book or the journal or the magazine or whatever.
So it’s a very intensive analytical process.
And do you read the entire book first and then attack it with the indexing? Or do you index as you go on your first read?
It depends on how much time you have. Because indexing happens at the very end of the publication process, so generally you’ve got editors pushing you to deliver on time and often everyone else has run late but you get squeezed in at the very end. So often we’re working to very tight deadlines.
Sometimes, yes, ideally you actually get a chance to read the book first. But it’s a bit of a rarity. More often than not you get a chance to skim through it and get a bit of a feel for it. But most of the time you’re indexing as you go without necessarily having read the text in full beforehand.
So how in the world did you get into indexing?
Good question. I wear a bunch of different hats, including graphic designer and editor and author and a bunch of other things. And I was sort of feeling like I needed to… You know, there wasn’t a lot of work coming in and I needed something else to add to my collection of hats. And I was actually talking with my sister who is an historian and she mentioned indexing. And how she needed to get her book indexed. And I was like, what’s indexing? And she started mentioning it and I was like, oh my god! Perfect career!
Really? Why did you think that?
Yeah. I don’t know. It just really appeals to me. It’s the analysis aspect.
I’m also very interested in lots of different topics. And when you’re indexing, you do all sorts of different books. I mean, I’ve done a book about make-up, I’ve done cook books, I’ve done political science, I’ve done economics. Every book is a different topic and you’re always learning new things, and I find that very appealing.
I find the classification and creating lovely information structures – I know it sounds very geeky, but they’re very satisfying.
And you’re always working on behalf of the reader. So you’re really trying to make sure that a reader, you know, the book mightn’t talk about a topic in a certain way, but you’ve got to think about ways that all the readers might approach or might be looking for. For example, a book on adolescence might never mention the word ‘teenager’, but some readers would look up teenager and they need to find it in the index. So even if that word doesn’t occur in the book, it needs to occur in the index.
And so at the time when you went, oh my god, perfect career for me, were you a) looking for a new career, and b) what primarily were you doing at the time? I know you wear many hats, but what were you doing at the time?
Probably mostly, I mean, I was probably writing. Some graphic design, some editing, proof reading, that sort of work. And I wasn’t looking for a full career. I mean, indexing isn’t a job generally that you can do fulltime, with a fulltime income. It tends to be sporadic work.
And so I was just looking for another string in my bow for my business. I’ve been in business for 20 years. And you know, I think the key to staying afloat is to have a lot of different skills that you can bring to the table. So sometimes if graphic design work is not so much around, I don’t have much work in that regard, I’ll pick up a bunch of editing, or an index will come in. And so it tends to work out quite well for me.
And so obviously with indexing you do have to be fairly anal, and be able to compartmentalise and categorise things. Are you neat as a person? Like, does your house have everything labelled in nice boxes and that sort of thing?
Yeah, I’m a minimalist and I am quite neat. But I wouldn’t say that’s a generalisation for all indexers.
So what’s the feeling you get when you’ve indexed a book really well? Or the process of indexing. What’s satisfying about it? How do you feel?
It’s just, you feel proud that you’ve done a good job. I mean, you know very much you’re working in the background. No one will know who you were. I mean, most authors don’t put a credit in to their indexer. And people just assume that it’s sort of magically appeared somehow. But it’s very satisfying to know that you’ve created…
And you’re actually part of the process of writing the book, more so than an editor, because you’re actually writing part of the book.
And often in our process of indexing, I mean we’re not officially proof readers, but we often pick up – because we’re doing things like indexing names and places and things like that – we’ll pick up the inconsistencies, the mistakes in a name that have been used in a text. And I’ve done that on pretty much every book I’ve indexed. I’ve picked up some bits and pieces that all the proof-readers and editors and the authors missed. And I’ll say, oh you know, I don’t think Paul Keating was the Prime Minister in 1970. And they’ll be like, oh my god, it was the wrong date! Or this name is spelt several different ways, and which way is the correct one. And so that sort of thing.
And so we actually provide a valuable service in that regard as well. It’s sort of a by-product of indexing, really.
Yes. When you thought, okay, this is a great career, how did you then get into it?
Well, I joined the Australian New Zealand Society of Indexers, ANZSI, as the first thing. And they run occasional training courses. So there’s not really any official training you can do through a university in Australia. There are some online courses that are run in the UK and in America which you can obviously sign up for, but they’re online only.
But I did the training through the Australian organisation, which runs occasionally, depending on the level of interest. And did the basic indexing course and then the intermediate indexing course as well.
And it’s very much sort of a learning through mentors. I had some people in Canberra who really mentored me and helped a great deal. And you do things like index a book that you wish had an index because a lot of nonfiction books nowadays are published without indexes unfortunately. Often through cost, publishers trying to mitigate costs. And you sort of do up an index as a project for a book that you wish had an index and that sort of thing. So it’s a lot of helping each other out. It’s a very collegial sort of set up.
Then how did you get your first gig?
It’s hard. It can be hard. I can’t remember what my first gig was. Dearie me. Often, it’s sort of word of mouth. So one indexer will say, maybe one of your mentors will say, oh look, I’m not available to do this index because I’m booked, would you like to do this? And you can have a website, you can have a listing on the ANZSI website, that sort of thing. But it’s a bit tricky getting your foot in the door, sometimes.
Yeah, for sure. So then, how long would it take – I know this is a bit how long is a piece of string, but maybe you can give us an example of a 60,000 word book took this long or something. So how long would it take to index a book?
Yeah, very much how long is a piece of string. It depends on several things. How many pages are in the book. What’s the intended audience. So if it’s a book for children, that tends to be quicker. If it’s a book for an academic audience, that’s much harder.
So a 300 page academic text, so something that’s like a political science or biology, something that’s really written for academics, will take about 60 hours. That’s six zero. So it’s a lot of work. A smaller book, maybe 100 pages for a general audience, might be 30 or 40 hours of work. But it’s quite intensive.
You spend about two-thirds of the time writing the actual index entries. So we have software where you write into it; it’s a bit like a word processor except it’s designed to handle index entries. And so you spend the first part of that time reading through the text and writing the entries as you go.
And then about a third of the time you spend on editing. Because often as you’re going, you’re going I’m not sure if that’s really a major topic in the book but I’m going to put an entry in for it anyway. That sort of thing. And then by the time you get to the end you go, okay, there’s only one entry for that particular topic, I might just leave it out because it’s not significant enough. It didn’t end up being a major theme in the book.
And often we’re dealing with very strict page limits. So often a publisher would say, you’ve got four pages for the index, make it fit. In which case you often have to leave things out or combine things that you would rather have sub-entries for, and that sort of stuff.
So there’s always a juggling act with what the publisher needs, the complexity of the text, the author or publisher’s budget, what they can afford in terms of your time, how much room there is in the book, all that sort of stuff. It’s complicated.
Sure. And so on National Indexing Day, on the 29th of March 2018, what will all the indexers in Australia be doing? What will you be doing to celebrate National Indexing Day?
I think all the local groups – because we have groups that are in different states and territories around Australia and New Zealand. There’s going to be photo opps. So I know in Canberra we’re doing a thing of going to the national library… National library? No, there’s a sculpture which is, I think it’s at Gorman House, with people reading. It’s an appropriate sculpture. And there will be a photo which we’ll put out on Twitter and put on our Facebook group and that sort of stuff.
A sculpture of page numbers or something?
Yeah, something. I think it’s a person climbing up and there’s books and… Reading and books and things like that involved. It’s going to be good.
One of the other things that you do is you also write. And you have written a number of books. But one is Solving Cryptic Crosswords for Dummies.
How in the world did this come about? Are you a cryptic crossword nut?
I’m actually a puzzle writer. So that’s something that I do. Word searches, and all sorts of crosswords, and mazes and puzzles. I’ll write pretty much anything. And so cryptic crosswords is one of the things I’ve learned to do.
How in the world do you learn to do that! You must have enjoyed playing crosswords.
Yeah, there aren’t any courses. I actually, there’s a few books out there which are written by some of the masters of the cryptic crossword from the UK. And they’re books that I’ve gotten. And it’s very much a try it and learn it and just practice. It’s sort of an apprenticeship, but it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult work.
But how did this start? Did you also hear that somebody does this and go, oh, that’s the perfect career for me!
It’s more something I’ve always done. Because I always get asked, oh how did you start, when did you start crossword writing? And I’m like, I’ve sort of always done it.
I was the annoying bossy big sister of six kids. And when I was young I used to make little activity books and things for my brothers and sisters. So it’s something I’ve always been interested in. And when my children were young, I got a bit more interested in it. And my dad and I wrote a puzzle book together when my children were very little.
And then I sort of got more serious about it over the years, and tried to make it into a career. It has sort of kind of worked. I’m syndicated but puzzle sales have really dropped off since the global financial crisis. I used to be in all sorts of newspapers overseas, but that’s pretty much all dried up now.
So puzzle writing isn’t such a big thing of what I do now. But it’s something I love. And yeah, it’s one of those sort of weird hats that I wear.
Yes. So Solving Cryptic Crosswords for Dummies, presumably it’s a book to help people who are crossword lovers to solve the whole thing.
Yeah. Well, cryptics are very much a mysterious language to most people. But basically, they are written to a bunch of rules. And so the book is explaining the rules, and I’ve got lots of examples of how to do and sort of lead people along, I think, in a friendly and kindly manner on how to learn how to solve cryptics.
Wow. I must admit, I wouldn’t have imagined there was a whole book in it. But obviously the Dummies books are extremely popular and very comprehensive. Now, I understand that with Dummies books they also follow quite a specific format or formula or a way in which information is presented. And you’re a technical editor on three of their other titles, Dummies titles. Can you just sort of briefly describe that format or formula?
Yeah. So that’s actually how I started with Dummies, is they approached me as a puzzle writer to tech edit one of their puzzle books from America. So I actually have done, the three titles I’ve tech edited were for the States.
It’s very much, so when you’re writing a Dummies book, you’ve got templates that you use in Word and various things have to be actually set up using styles and that sort of thing. So the layout happens automatically because you’ve got to use particular styles. You work very closely with your editors, project editors, who have always been fantastic. And there’s also, there’s actually a Dummies guide to Dummies guides. So when you…
No, is there really?
Well, it’s sort of an unofficial one, but it’s what they send out to all their authors. So you do get what sort of voice to use and the structure and how you need to have the little tips and how all that sort of stuff, how they want it done. And then you’ve got your project editor working with you to make sure you’re doing it the way they want to do it.
But it has always been very enjoyable working with Wiley. My only beef with them really is that they give very, very tight deadlines. So it’s very hard work. You’ve got to write fast.
Sure. Now I think one of the things I find really intriguing about what you do, because you said that you wear many hats – you index, you edit, you write puzzles, you write books. But you also do graphic design. Now, what came first? The chicken or the egg? Which career did you start with? Just so I get a bit of background maybe?
Sort of the graphic design. I was science writing… Science, writing, art were my things, always, when I was a teenager. And in the end I actually studied science at ANU, at the university in Canberra. But then was feeling like it wasn’t really where I wanted to go long term.
And then graphic design was just starting up in Canberra in the mid-80s, and I decided that sounded really interesting. Because it’s sort of problem solving as well as art, and I really find that very appealing. So I did a degree in graphic design. So that really came first. But then also at the same time I was thinking, oh, maybe I should go do a writing course. So really, they were sort of together, both at the same time.
So graphic design was more my initial career, and then the writing has sort of come later in terms of actual professional work.
So if you had to describe a typical day, maybe just take me through it. Because it just seems so varied, what you do. Maybe take me through the day. You wake up, do you have any particular ritual in the way you start your working day, obviously. Give me an idea of the things that you do in a typical day.
Every day is very different, really. There’s not really a whole lot of routine, which is something I like. Something that part of the being your own boss thing which I really like. I guess I start my days with checking email, that sort of stuff. And then I use – do you know bullet journals?
I am a big bullet journal fan.
I am not surprised! You, who loves indexing!
So the night before I will have sat down and thought about all the things I need to..
We’re delighted for super-talented children’s author and AWC alumnus, Tamsin Janu, who has not one, but TWO novels in the shortlist for the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature.)
This week, thanks to Madman Entertainment we have 10 double passes to The Death of Stalin – a comedy that has been banned in Russia and loosely based on true events!
Here’s what is being said about it:
“The one-liners fly fast as political fortunes fall in this uproarious, wickedly irreverent satire from Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop). Moscow, 1953: when tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin drops dead, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Simon Russell, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko and more.”
Check out the trailer here.
The Death of Stalin - Official Trailer - YouTube
Now, we’re going to ask something slightly different this week. We want you to give us your BEST NAMES for those two characters in the black and white photo above. Imagine they’re characters in your own novel – or just think up something funny. If it gets our attention, you’ll win one of the 10 double passes!
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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re cogitating about equality and equity when all things are not equal…
Q: Hi AWC, I have a question that came up during International Women’s Day last week.
A: We already told you that we don’t know when Wonder Woman 2 is coming out.
Q: No it’s not that. It was about the difference between the words “equality” and “equity”
A: Ah, now that IS a good question.
Q: Are they interchangeable?
A: Some think so, but no. They have quite different meanings.
A: “Equality” is all about things being equal.
Q: Well duh.
A: It’s generally a “quantitative” thing – the sort of things that can be counted, such as women deserving pay equality in the same role. It can move into more broad areas too however, such as when discussing social equality – or more likely, social inequality.
Q: So “equality” is about everything being the same for everyone?
A: That’s right – the same in measure, esteem or value.
Q: So what is “equity” then?
A: Well rather than promoting things being equal for everyone, “equity” is about things being FAIR and JUST for everyone.
Q: But isn’t “equality” all about fairness and justice too?
A: It can be, but sometimes that’s only true if everyone starts from the same place. Equity meanwhile, aims to bring everyone UP to the same place.
Q: Ahhh okay. So maybe when people use the word “equality”, sometimes they should be using “equity”?
A: That’s right. Another example – gender equality is about women having the same things as men. But gender EQUITY is about fair treatment of men and women, according to their respective needs. It’s a fine, but important, line.
Q: So that baseball game fence image above sums it up then?
A: Well, yes – and no.
Q: I sure hope the fence YOU’RE sitting on is comfortable.
A: Allow us to explain. While the image does a great job at simplifying the differences, many think it suggests that the people themselves are to blame for their situation (i.e. being too short), when often it’s their circumstances or lack of opportunities compared to others.
A: Think about Australians living in remote locations. Rather than suggest they are inferior or the problem, it’s actually their situation that limits access to services. In that case, the image above could be changed.
Q: To what?
A: For starters, all three people should be the same height and it’s the ground itself that should slope away making it difficult for the second and third person to see over the fence. It’s a subtle, but important difference in the discussion of treating people as equals.
Q: Toto, we’re not in grammar chat anymore…
A: Haha, fair point. We’re getting a little off topic – but you get the idea.
Q: We do! And wait, shouldn’t those three have bought a ticket to watch that baseball game, like everyone else?
A: Oh, um, good point.
Q: Time for a recap. Equality is giving everyone four slices of pizza each, whereas equity is providing a fair distribution of pizza based on who is hungriest.
A: Including gluten free options.
Q: Yes, of course. So one more thing – I hear the word “equity” used a lot in money circles.
A: They’re called coins.
Q: No, not THOSE money circles. I’m talking about equity in share trading – is it related to this?
A: No, it’s not. It’s just another meaning for the same word – “stocks and shares not bearing fixed interest”.
Q: I certainly think my interest in this topic is starting to fade. But you have successfully answered my question.
A: Glad that we were equal to the task.
Q: Time to equit while you’re ahead?
A: That was bad. Let’s leave before the readers start throwing things…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, !
In Episode 226 of So you want to be a writer: Allison Tait’s The Book of Answers is nearly here! HarperCollins announces a new fiction prize for Australian writers. We share tips for kicking out a first draft fast. Find out more about the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. And meet true crime author Campbell McConachie.
Al and Val are the perfect writing pick-me-up. In between day jobs, school activities and kids sport, I crave something that will keep my writing on track. This podcast reminds me that my writing goals are worth pursuing, and may even be possible. It helps that these knowledgeable ladies are also hilarious! Sending you love and words-of-the-week from Bris Vegas.
(If you click through the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)
Now for listeners who haven’t read your book yet, tell us what it’s about. The Fatalist.
The Fatalist is a true crime biography. It’s about a man named Lindsey Rose who committed five murders in Sydney between 1984 and 1994. And I was prompted to write his story because it turned out that I used to drink with him when I was much younger at the Burwood Hotel in Sydney. I was unaware that he was a criminal at that time, and we didn’t find out until many years later when we saw his mugshot on the news.
Now you actually, before you started writing this, you had a day job, correct?
Yes. I work in financial services doing IT stuff.
But what made you think, I’m going to write a book now about Lindsey?
Well, I’d always planned to be a writer. I was just really bad at organising my life to get around to it. So I did a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, and produced a novel. I did that in about 2000, but I never thought it was worth trying to get that published. I did some post grad study at Sydney Uni as well. But it’s been my objective since I was ten years old.
And basically when this opportunity, or when I freed up some time to be able to write and give it attention and decided what project I’d tackle first, then this opportunity was right here in front of me. It fell in my lap, as it were. So that was my choice of first project.
So this fell in your lap. When you found out that Lindsey was the person that you had been drinking with all those years before, you had some connection, was it an immediate thing? Oh, there’s a book in that! Or did you decide that later after you went to visit him in prison? Which I understand you did in 2004, you started a series of visits to Goulburn, to the Supermax at Goulburn. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s right. Look, I don’t remember for sure. I think probably within a few days. It was just such a shock to see his face on the news, wanted for two murders. And I think probably I would have remarked around that time, imagine writing his life story. And in a semi-serious way, because that was 1997; it wasn’t until 2004 that I pulled my finger out and actually started doing something about it.
Yeah. So then you decided okay… How did you make contact? How do you go, hey, I’m going to visit this guy in Supermax? Just tell us a bit about that initial procedure and that initial meeting.
So I rang the Department of Corrections to ask how these things work. And they explained that you need to apply to be an authorised visitor into the Supermax. I had to have a police check done. And then I had to apply and the governor had to approve it. And as a courtesy, I rang through and the intel officer in the prison asked Lindsey on my behalf if he’d be happy to accept my visit. Which he was. And then it’s just a matter of ringing on the appropriate day to book for the following weekend.
And then there’s quite a lot of palaver when you get there. So being Supermax, they took my photo, they scanned my iris, they scanned my thumb print. I was led through five different locked doors and had my thumb print scanned another three times. And finally I was all the way through into Supermax and let into the visits room with him.
And it was, despite my apprehension, having never been near a prison or had anything to do with the justice system, once I was in the room with him it was kind of relaxing. You know, I relaxed with the familiarity of the person who I’d known.
And so were there other people in the room? Is it a big communal room? Or do you get a private room?
I think it was designed as a communal room. There’s little tables and chairs that would fit four or five groups. But it’s just one at a time, is how they’ve arranged it. It’s like a tiny cafeteria. So only one prisoner at a time is visited. So someone can take their family in to visit the one prisoner. But there’s only one prisoner per visit room.
And there’s two side-by-side, so I did see some of the other celebrity inmates in the adjoining visits room when I was visiting Lindsey.
Were you scared at any point?
Not scared for my physical welfare in any way. I was certainly… The day before I was due to drive up to Goulburn for the first time I was having beers with my friend at lunchtime and said, you know, I’m a little anxious. It’s a long way out of my personal experience.
And so at that point, that first meeting, did you say – ‘hey Lindsey, I want to write a book about you’? Or, just tell us how that process evolved, and then what the steps were that you took to get information, to talk to Lindsey and get his point of view.
I did mention it at that first time, because it was in my mind and I didn’t want to have any false pretences about me. His first reaction was… Well, the first thing he said to me was he had started scribbling some notes himself about his early life with a view to maybe writing a book himself. But it had amounted to nothing in the end.
But at first when I put it to him, he said he’d have a think about it. He wrote to me and said, ‘no, I’m not interested. There’s a contract on my head and my family have been threatened. The people who you’d have to interview would probably rather shoot you than be interviewed by you. It’s really not a good idea.’
But I persisted with visiting him, and we exchanged letters, and after a couple of years he sort of trusted me and decided he would tell me his story after all.
So it took you a couple of years of courting, really, and then he decided to say yes. Is that correct?
Yeah, look, I wasn’t actively courting him. I mean, we went and spoke and he did tell me parts about his life. I suppose you could call it courting, but I was more visiting out of… I suppose hoping to develop a friendship to the point where he would agree to participate.
But I guess I was also visiting in a compassionate way to him. No one else visits him. He has declined to let any of his family members visit him because he’s concerned for their welfare.
And so he… At that point where he agreed, when did you then think, oh, I’m going to go to a publisher? Was it shortly after that? Or did you decide to write a whole chunk of it before going to a publisher? Just tell us about that process.
Yeah, look, I went solo. I decided all the guidance you read about how to be a writer is, you know, you want to get your manuscript as good as it can possibly be before you start getting in front of people. And I know now that publishers will give people book deals for high profile cases before they’ve even started writing it. But I don’t think I knew that at the time.
So I went on my merry way. I was working long hours in stressful jobs and having other commitments, so I took a long time. I was ‘finished’ I think in about 2013. And then I engaged an editor out of my own pocket to review it and give me feedback and give me a manuscript evaluation. And he gave me some great tips and advice and said it’s certainly publishable if you can cut it back. Because there was still a lot of fat in it at that time.
And then I spent a few months pitching to agents. And they all declined. But I managed to hit up an agent… It’s actually the Australian Society of Authors conference I went to a couple of years ago and I bailed up an agent in the lunch break. And I guess, I don’t know, I found that pitching the story to people face to face they go, oh my god, you knew this guy, had a lot more impact than writing it down on a piece of paper and mailing it out.
So he was interested straight away and he signed me up. And he pitched it to a range of publishers and two of them were interested, actually. And they actually had to, there was a couple of bids each, and Hachette ended up being the final bidder. So they published it, and it was released August last year.
And so what was your aim with this book? Was your aim to tell Lindsey’s point of view? Was your aim to do an investigative piece? What was your aim with the book?
My aim was biography. It’s marketed as true crime, for obvious reasons, but it really is a biography. And the arc of his life from being an innocent child, as we all are, to being an ambulance officer early in his career. And then he became a private investigator and got mixed up with all sorts of nasty people. That’s sort of the physical element of it.
But his psychological development is something that is revealed through the telling of the story, as well. So that was my objective, was to say, well, how could this person I knew, who many of the people I spoke to still feel a great love for him, the person I knew who was well-loved and who was also apparently a successful ambulance officer, which was before his criminal career, and had compassion for people and saved many lives – how could it be that he changed into this other person that could commit five murders?
So that was my objective, was to understand it and obviously make it understandable for other people.
And it is fascinating because as you say, he was an ambulance officer, which is something that is helping other people and requires a great deal of compassion. And you do talk about how he was one of the first responders to the Granville train disaster, and played an important role in that tragic event. And then now, to do this.
At any point did you kind of think… Did you have to reconcile with yourself why am I spending this time or writing this book about this person who has murdered five people?
Yeah, I did. I lost a lot of sleep over it. Yeah… Do we really need to hear about another criminal and the terrible things he did?
I kind of solved it in my mind by saying well look, my objectives are good. I’m hoping that by illustrating how he came to be this way, we might learn something from it. Maybe we can make the world a better place and not produce these kinds of people.
So that’s speaking on very general terms. But this is not a… This is not exploitative or tabloid or pulpy in that way, I hope. That was my objective. And so that was kind of how I… Maybe I talked myself around it for my own ends, but that was what I told myself anyway.
What else did you lose sleep over? In the process of writing this book?
Well, the tricky one was one of the double murders was… A lot of the stuff he told me I couldn’t verify. They were things that were personal to him. One of the double murders, his belief was that this particular woman had terrorised his business, which at the time was a brothel and a massage parlour. They’d had a business dispute, and he believed that she had embarked on a campaign of intimidation, that she’d hired a bikie gang to threaten his staff. There was a car bombing involved. There was graffiti, threats to staff, assaults. And he blamed all of these things on her.
Now to tell the story, and it’s written as narrative non-fiction, so it reads like a novel, so it was a challenge to say, well, how do I tell the story of his point of view, but at the same time I don’t really have any… I have a miniscule of anecdotal support for what he said, but no proof of it. So that was a real stumbling block. And I thought, maybe I should give it up, or just cut that whole thing out, or turn it into straight exposition rather than trying to tell it in a novelistic form.
But in the end, I kind of cheated. What I did was I left it in, and then I just put a chapter in there that says, I went on to remind the reader now that this is what Lindsey told me, and you can believe it or disbelieve it. The victim, his victim, which he has described in this way, was loved by her family. And so I just put a big fat disclaimer in there, which was perhaps a cop out, but that is what I ended up doing.
So for that one you couldn’t verify, but there were obviously other things that he told you that you could go and verify. Can you give us some examples of what some of those things were and how you verified them?
A lot of the details of his crimes… So I tracked down the lead investigator, the detective inspector who led the taskforce, which ultimately caught him. And he kindly arranged for me to have access to the public record police files.
And so that was a great boon. It was literally hundreds of pages of documents related to the investigation. And forensic evidence, and all the stuff you really want when you’re writing this kind of story.
So the circumstances of the murders, and the circumstances of some of his other criminal career, I could line up what he told me with the evidence that the police had collected.
And another aspect of that was his married life. Because he was married and had a daughter. And I interviewed his ex-wife and his daughter, who their… With a couple of exceptions, which I’ve kind of included both sides of the story in the book, but other than those their accounts pretty much lined up.
So were his daughter and his ex-wife, you know, yeah sure, I’m happy to be interviewed? Or did that take some time to get them to trust you as well?
I contacted the daughter first. And she was hesitant at first because she’s a practising lawyer and had not told anyone about her father. It had caused her problems, and obviously she was 13 when she found out about her father. And it was something that would have been a challenge for anyone to deal with and she was able to successfully.
So yes, there was some hesitancy at first, but she kind of at the same time felt the burden of carrying this secret through her life. Australian Story actually did a profile on her late last year, talking about the fact that she’d kept this secret and then this idiot came out and wrote a book about it and kind of forced her out of cover.
But she’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. And she then… I think she then sort of introduced me to her mother, who was happy to answer some questions as well.
Now you said that the detective gave you access to all these police files that are on the public record. How does that actually work? Do you just get access to them in a physical location? Do you get to take them away? Are they electronic? How does that actually work?
In my case, I was kind of shielded from that because he just arranged access. He had them at his house. He’d arranged for them to be there, and I accessed them there.
So you had to go to his house to look at them physically at set times? You couldn’t have them on your computer and do research at 2am?
Well, just quietly, he let me borrow them. But look, I don’t think that’s the normal process. That was, he very kindly made the arrangements for me. Because this was the highlight of his career, in a way. He was very closely involved in this for more than two years.
Right, so they were physical files?
And so you went through and analysed these physical files. Was there a system to it? Were you looking for something in particular? Or how were you using them?
The system was that there was one box per investigation. So there was two double murders and a single murder. So there were three boxes.
It contained print outs of his interviews with the police that were on tape. And transcripts of interviews with other witnesses who were either involved or who had witnessed some of these criminal acts. There were copies of faxes between agencies and reports describing the arrest plan. Because they had someone to arrest the next morning, and things like that.
So I was not hunting for something. I was treading my way through trying to see what would be useful in telling the story.
So what I ultimately did was, I created a timeline in a spreadsheet. And I had the date – because it wasn’t in date order – I had the date and what happened and then as the police went about their investigative steps, processes, so that on this date it went to forensics, and the next day they went and interviewed so and so, and a week later the forensics came back. And then someone said the weapon’s over here. And then they went and got the weapon, then they got it checked, and the ballistics did or didn’t add up. And then they got the witness in and he said, no, actually that’s not the weapon after all. Things like that were all on a timeline.
And then the last… Well, the police investigation is woven into the story. So he was on the run for nine months, and I’ve got what the police were doing and what he was doing swapping backwards and forwards during that nine months.
And also, when you’re in a prison and you are interviewing someone, you can’t take a recording device in, can you? So how do you remember all the stuff?
Yeah, with difficulty. I don’t know if it’s the case in every prison, but certainly in the Supermax and the maximum security, I couldn’t even take one little yellow sticky note with my questions on it. But that was okay.
So I had a database of unanswered questions. Some of them I could write in letters. Other types of questions were a bit sensitive and he’d asked me to not put certain topics in. So I prioritised the ones I needed answered next, or the more bigger, ask more significant questions, and I’d write them down and then memorise them as I drove up to Goulburn. And then I’d just to do my best to remember the answers.
So I had a voice recorder, so on my drive back from Goulburn to Sydney, I’d just read..
Creatively ambitious and sexually precocious, Mollie Bean was a poet, aspiring novelist and muse within Melbourne’s bohemian salons in the early 20th century – until one night in 1930 when she was brutally slain by an unknown killer in a laneway while walking home.
In A Scandal in Bohemia, Gideon Haigh explodes the true crime genre with a murder story about life as well as death. Armed with only a single photograph and echoes of Mollie’s voice, he has reassembled the precarious life of a talented woman without a room of her own – a true outsider, excluded by the very world that celebrated her in its art.
This book looks so interesting! And to get your hands on a copy, give us the best caption (in 25 words or fewer) for the laundromat picture above.
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(NOTE: If you win, we’ll contact you via email. Winners must acknowledge their win and provide a sending address within 7 days of notification or they will forfeit the prize and a new winner will be chosen.)
HarperCollins is excited to announce the establishment of a new fiction prize, The Banjo. We’re looking for exciting new Australian voices telling the sorts of stories that we love to read – from sweeping family sagas and lush romances to dark and gritty crime, twisty psychological thrillers, rich historical dramas and contemporary romantic comedies. We’re looking for stories that make us laugh and make us cry. Stories that keep us reading late into the night. Stories that make our pulse race. Stories we just can’t put down.
So, if you’re over 18, are a fiction writer, and have an original, finished, unpublished first draft manuscript, and think you could be the next Colleen McCullough, Bryce Courtenay, Judy Nunn, Di Morrissey, Jane Harper, Kate Morton, Graeme Simsion, Liane Moriarty or Matthew Reilly – just to name a few – then The Banjo is the competition you should enter.
The Banjo will be offered annually and will be open to all Australian writers of fiction, offering the chance to win a publishing contract with HarperCollins, with an advance of $15,000. In partnership with News Regional Media, two runners-up will each receive a written assessment of their manuscript from HarperCollins.