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Monday musings on Australian literature: Sisters in Crime

November 25, 2013

And now for something rather different here at Whispering Gums. Crime literature, as my regular readers know, is not my forte. In fact, I really only read crime if it comes my way for a specific reason – such as Peter Temple winning the Miles Franklin Award a few years ago. That doesn’t mean however that it’s not a relevant subject for Monday Musings. So today I bring you Sisters in Crime.

Sisters in Crime is an Australian organisation which aims “to celebrate women’s crime writing on the page and screen and bring a collective critical eye to the field.” Inspired by the American organisation of the same name, it was launched at the Feminist Book Festival in Melbourne in September 1991. It undertakes a range of activities supporting crime writing by women, including sponsoring two awards:

Because this is a reader’s blog rather than a writer’s one, I thought I’d focus on this awards aspect of their work – but for the record they offer a lot to writers, including workshops, networking opportunities, and promotion.

The Scarlett Stilettos

This year, 2013, was the twentieth anniversary of the Scarlett Stilettos, an award for short stories in the crime and mystery genre. The purpose of these awards is to “support and unearth new talent”. Over the years they have done just that with some of Australia’s top female crime writers having won the award, such as Cate Kennedy and Tara Moss. The Awards have an interesting “two-strikes-and-you’re-out” rule. That is, if you win twice you can’t enter again. I like this. It feels appropriately collaborative for an organisation that calls itself “Sisters”, and it shows they’re serious about the “unearth new talent” goal. Apparently, in its twenty years, four writers, including the inaugural winner, Cate Kennedy, have won twice.

Prizes are offered in multiple categories: First, Second and Third overall-prizes, Malice Domestic, Best Investigative, Cross Genre, The Body in the Library, Best New Talent, Great Film Idea, Funniest Crime, and a Youth Award.

In 2013 there were 175 entries, and an e-book of the 2013 winning stories, Scarlet Stiletto Short Stories: 2013 has been published. It’s available from Clan Destine Press (here), Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. At $4 it is surely a great deal if you love crime and mystery.

The Davitt Awards

These awards are a little younger, with this year being the 13th time they’ve been awarded. They are named for Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who apparently wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and fraud, in 1865. She was born in England, and married her husband, Arthur Davitt, there. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, they emigrated to Australia in 1854 “to take up a joint appointment with the National Board of Education, Davitt as principal of the Model and Normal Schools and his wife as superintendent of the female pupils and trainees”.

As with the Stilettos, several prizes are awarded: Best Novel (Adult), Best Novel (Children and Young Adult), Best True Crime Book, Best Debut Book, and Reader’s Choice (voted by members). In 2013 a new award was added, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Australian crime readers would not be surprised to learn that the inaugural winner of this award was Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher detective novels which have been recently adapted to a popular television series. I haven’t read the novels, but I love the 1920s inspired covers (of the current editions, anyhow) and have enjoyed the television series which beautifully reproduces the era in Melbourne.

Sixty-one books were entered for this year’s awards, which is apparently a record number. The winners are listed on the Sisters in Crime website so I won’t report on them all here. I was interested though to see that a Canberran whom I haven’t heard of, Pamela Burton, won the award for Best True Crime for her book The Waterlow killings: A portrait of a family tragedy. It’s about the murder of art curator Nick Waterlow and his daughter Chloe by their son and brother Anthony, a schizophrenia sufferer, and apparently explores the limits and failures of the mental health system. It’s the sort of crime book I could imagine reading!

There are other Australian awards for crime fiction – notably the Ned Kelly Awards. In fact, Kerry Greenwood won their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. I’m thinking I might do a bit of an occasional series on Australia’s literary awards for genre writing, if only to inform myself better on our literary landscape.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2013 1:51 am

    Speaking of Peter Temple, I saw two Jack irish films on DVD and enjoyed them. Irish is a great character–in the films at least.

    • November 26, 2013 8:03 am

      Ah yes Guy, that was Guy Pearce? We enjoyed them too.

      • December 5, 2013 5:37 am

        I thought the two films were good, but the Jack Irish character made the stories, I think

        • December 5, 2013 8:03 am

          Yes, I agree Guy … I’m far less interested in plot than in character in relationships. I find that when I watch crime shows I sometimes don’t even bother to try to work out the crime, but just watch the interactions!

  2. November 26, 2013 3:03 am

    Trust a women’s competition to have an egalitarian stance on how many times you can win! 🙂

  3. November 26, 2013 3:54 am

    What a name for the organization, I like that. If the names of the Awards can be as creative as that… 😉 Thanks for this interesting post. I too seldom read crime novels. But, I do have a favourite crime writer, and that’s Michael Connelly, good as an escape from the heavy stuff.

    • November 26, 2013 8:05 am

      Thanks Arti … I had a work colleague, American male, who was a huge Connelly fan. He was always reading the latest one at lunch.

  4. November 26, 2013 6:33 am

    Pam Burton’s book on the Waterlows is brilliant. Am very happy to learn she won the prize.

    • November 26, 2013 8:06 am

      Oh thanks Sarah … It sounds really interesting and right up my alley. Analytical true crime would interest me I think, particularly if it addresses social issues rather than individual pathologies.

  5. November 26, 2013 12:55 pm

    The thing I like about Sisters in Crime is that it’s a broad church, and a world-wide one. No matter what kind of crime you write, you are made to feel welcome. And with regard to names, the affiliate organisation is Brothers-in-Law, though I don’t know how many chapters are still active!

    • November 26, 2013 4:47 pm

      That’s great to hear Dorothy – the broad church, and inclusivity, I mean. I hadn’t heard of Brothers-in-Law. That’s a great name.

  6. November 27, 2013 6:41 am

    If you were a crime reader it sounds like those two awards would certainly be useful in adding to your TBR list. I don’t really read crime either, now and then I do, but my genre excursions of choice usually venture into fantasy and science fiction. I wonder what it is that leads readers to prefer certain genres and not others?

    • November 27, 2013 8:08 am

      Good question. If I had a choice I’d always tend to the crime. I don’t mind a little science fiction but for some reason fantasy just doesn’t grab me. I’m sure it says something about my grounded brain and suggests I’m not a very good Pisces!

  7. November 27, 2013 9:01 am

    With reference to Stephanie’s question, I think that once you get started on a genre, it can quite quickly become a habit. There is a large element of reading-for-comfort in such choices too, I believe. I’ve always found it curious that reading detective fiction could be comforting, but I think it’s all to do with patterns and the expectation of a resolution. I often think about the patterns in the same way I think about Baroque music, if that make sense to anyone.

    • November 27, 2013 3:45 pm

      Makes perfect sense, Dorothy … though I think it’s the patterns and expectations aspect that is why I tend not to read them. For the same reason I get tired of series books whereas other people I know love to get lost in them, in a whole new world. Any yet I watch television series like Phryne Fisher!

  8. December 4, 2013 4:59 am

    I keep meaning to catch the Jack irish on netflix have watch a few of the fischer tv show apart from that not read a australian crime novel I tthink got copy of temple ,all the best stu

  9. December 5, 2013 5:55 am

    Just finished watching Underbelly. I knew I should have moved to Australia!

    • December 5, 2013 8:05 am

      Which series, Guy? The first one? I’m not sure all would gave that reaction after seeing that show! I loved the music in most of the series.

      • December 5, 2013 8:07 am

        The first one. The second just arrived….

        • December 5, 2013 8:09 am

          I’ll be interested to see what you think … Some series have been better acclaimed than others. It was hard to beat the first, but we enjoyed them. Is the second one the Donald Mackay one?

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