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Monday musings on Australian literature: On the Run (Aussie crime writers in America)

May 11, 2020

In yesterday’s post on the Yarra Valley Writers Festival (YVWF) crime panel, I mentioned Sulari Gentill’s intitiative which saw four Australian crime writers taking Australian crime to the USA last year. Called On the Run: Australian Crime Writers in America, it’s such an inspired project that I thought it deserved its own post, a Monday Musings post, in fact. The writers were Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Jock Serong and Emma Viskic, and the tour took place from over October-November last year.

Robert Gott describes the origins in an entertaining (but informative post) on the dailymail.com blog:

When Sulari floated her idea she pointed out that this hadn’t been done before and that Australian crime fiction was enjoying a bit of a moment in the US. She needed collaborators and it was safer to collaborate with chums than strangers, especially as we would be doing everything in the way of organisation ourselves.

Sulari, Emma, Jock and I are all friends. We’ve appeared together at writers’ festivals and launched each other’s books. We knew we could rely on each other to meet deadlines for the gruesome process of applying for grants, and for shaping our tour should the impossible happen and an application be successful.

Gott also shares some of the ideas they came up with for the project’s name: “‘Unreliable Witnesses’, ‘Roadkill’, ‘The Mobile Crime Scene’ and others that were even worse”. I think On the Run was a good decision!

The itinerary

Gott also describes the itinerary in the above-linked post:

Our first appearance in America, after a meeting with the Consul General in New York, will be at Bouchercon in Dallas. Bouchercon? I’d never heard of it either, but that’s because I haven’t been paying attention for the 50 years it’s been running. It’s a huge convention for mystery writers and readers and we’ve been given an ‘International Spotlight’, which means we have our own panel.

We thought we might have to interview each other, but Dervla McTiernan has been called in, so that’s splendid. After Dallas we’re off to Phoenix and from there we’re driving to L.A., Santa Cruz and San Francisco and we’re doing events in each of those places, so there’s plenty of scope for horror and disappointment.

Bouchercon?! So, that’s what it’s called. I’d never heard of this either – not surprisingly, I suppose, given I’m not a crime fan. Consequently, when it was mentioned during the panel, I struggled to capture its name. Was it Vouchercom or con? That didn’t seem quite right. However, now I actually had the name, I checked Wikipedia and found that:

the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention is an annual convention of creators and devotees of mystery and detective fiction. It is named in honour of writer, reviewer, and editor Anthony Boucher, and pronounced the way he pronounced his name, rhyming with “voucher”.

Haha, so I wasn’t too far off the mark then!

Anyhow, as Gott shares in the last post, they “were away for 21 days, 19 of them on the ground” during which they did “separately and together, 26 engagements, some small, some large, some in bookshops, some in bars, some in private homes and of course Bouchercon”. A good effort. Let’s hope it carries through to longer-term increases in Aussie book sales in the USA.

Highlights

Unfortunately, Gentill wasn’t part of the YVWF panel, so we didn’t hear her highlights, but here’s how the others answered Angela Savage’s question:

  • Viskic said she had a personal highlight from every place, but one was visiting the New York Public Library. (She writes in the blog, “I’m a polyamorist when it comes to libraries, but I think I’ve met my One True Love in the NYPL.” Oh Emma, you warmed this retired librarian’s heart!) She also said she was “blown away by the enthusiasm of people in Dallas” at Bouchercon. People were “so warm, and excited, desperate to read more Australian writers”. They were keen to read outside of American writers. It was “lovely to see that excitement”. Sounds like our writers achieved their goal if that was the case.
  • Serong said that New York had to be a personal highlight, which makes what is happening there now during COVID-19 “particularly awful”. However, he said, “more useful” was talking about their work Dallas and Phoenix. California was fascinating. He described the USA as, really, a “collection of a whole lot of different societies”, and writes some great reflections on the blog that take me back.
  • Gott “loved everything, including travelling with these people”! Nice, eh? A landscape highlight was the Grand Canyon.

Sulari Gentill describes the Canyon on the blog, and her description is perfect: “Your vision is not wide enough, your mind is not great enough and your soul is not deep enough to take it all in.”

In the blog’s closing post, Gott writes:

How did it all go? Modesty forbids declaring it brilliant, so let’s just say it was sensationally good. People came to our events. They were generous, they asked thoughtful questions, they laughed in the right places, mostly. They were intrigued when we spoke about the now well-established convention at events in Australia of acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which we sat. The idea that a bookshop in Pasadena, sitting among neon and concrete, might actually have beneath it land once walked on by First Nation people, seemed to require a daring imaginative leap.

Gott also writes that “an Australian presence at Bouchercon, and at other large conventions, should be an inevitability rather than a curiosity.”

It was, said Savage at the YVWF panel, a real coup to pull this off. The writers added that their model was good: four works well in an American car; choose writers who have a similar outlook but write differently; and get a grant, such as from the Australia Council or the Neilma Sydney Travel Fund (about which I wrote recently).

To read all the posts written by the writers, check the On The Run tag on the dailyreview.com blog. These people are writers – obviously – so the posts are both entertaining and informative. Well worth reading, even if you are not a crime fan/reader.

Are you a crime fan/reader?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn permalink
    May 11, 2020 23:28

    How wonderful that the four were able to visit in just the nick of time before all craziness broke out in the U.S., so that they’ll have a foothold to continue promoting Australian crime fiction through virtual methods.

    • May 12, 2020 08:05

      Thanks Carolyn. I was thinking the same thing, they just got in didn’t they. And if you read their blog you’ll see how friendly they found Americans, just like we do.

  2. May 12, 2020 01:21

    Yes, I’m a crime fan and also an Australian fan. I read “Scrublands” by Chris Hammer last year and enjoyed it so much I bought several copies for Christmas presents for family and friends. A propos – I watched a very entertaining program recently on Australian movies over the years and it was terrific.

    • May 12, 2020 08:08

      thanks Em (4pinkroses) I have been interested in Scrublands, actually. Isn’t it great when you read a book and love it so much that you buy copies to give away.

      I’d love to know the name of that program.

  3. May 12, 2020 01:59

    My wife is a bit of a crime and mystery fan.

    Neither one of us has heard of Bouchercon. It sounds like fun. I used to attend some science fiction conventions and these fan gatherings can be very enjoyable.

    • May 12, 2020 08:10

      An interesting re Bouchercon, Brian. I’ve heard mostly of comic conventions in the USA and know they can be huge. I can imagine how enjoyable they add be.

  4. May 12, 2020 07:12

    I certainly am ! 🙂
    I liked ‘Roadkill’ for the tour .. Must be me.

  5. Meg permalink
    May 12, 2020 07:56

    Hi Sue I am not a true crime or mystery fan. Though I do like the novels of Jane Harper and Dervla McTiernan, My wonderful library is not open. However, they delivered me some books I had put on reserve, and one of them is Darkness for Light.

    • May 12, 2020 08:14

      Thanks Meg. As you know I’m not either but I’d probably dip into a few more of these Aussie ones if I had the time to read more. Have you read Viksic’s earlier novels?

      • Meg permalink
        May 12, 2020 15:14

        Hi Sue, I just finished Darkness for Light. The plot and events at times are implausible. The characters, especially Caleb who is deaf make the novels different and a bit more interesting. I have read the earlier novels. Crime novels are for me a quick read, and a break from my more serious reads.

        • May 12, 2020 15:17

          Thanks Meg … I think that’s how quite a few people I know read crime.

  6. May 12, 2020 08:46

    I’m so glad you did this write up, Sue, and I’ll forward to the Writers On The Run. I wanted to add that the works of all four of theses authors are very much worth reading, even for those reluctant crime readers. Both Sulari and Robert’s work sheds light on a fascinating part of Australian history, while Emma’s novels are driven by compelling characters, and Jock’s deal with big picture politics through intimate stories. Highly recommend.

    • May 12, 2020 11:22

      l’d love to read all these authors, Angela. I have given both Sulari’s and Jock’s books to a few people recently, and have my eye on Emma. I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard much about Robert but I enjoyed his writing on the blog.

  7. May 12, 2020 10:43

    As a veteran of writing grant applications for my school, and mostly getting them, I’m wondering what they said the payoff would be in their application, and whether it turned out to be worth it. 4 people, 21 days, that’s an awful lot of money. But it can’t be judged on the immediate uplift in sales, it’s the strategy’s value for long-term exposure and sales of other writers’ books that is what I’d be looking for if I were on the grants’ panel.

    • May 12, 2020 11:16

      Yes, me too Lisa. I certainly didn’t mean to suggestjust their sales but overall interest.

      • May 12, 2020 11:57

        Just getting on the US radar is an uphill battle!

        • May 12, 2020 14:19

          It sure is. It’s such a big market with so many of their own writers, vying for it. But it was lovely seeing that they got such an enthusiastic response at Bouchercon. Keen readers do want to read other stuff if they can get it, I think.

  8. Neil@kallaroo permalink
    May 12, 2020 16:52

    I was a crime fan in my teens. I remember when the family went to a holiday house on the coast, and there was a Sherlock Holmes book (I’m assuming you can count detective stories as crime stories). And then there was Father Brown (the proper one, not the mashed and muddled TV series that appropriated the name and a few plots and then wrought mayhem). And a Boney story or two. But in recent years I have become irritated at the omniscience of the villains. In a story I read recently (which I won’t name because I don’t want to put others off) the story was humming along nicely until the villain magically acquired the front door key of the heroine’s house. Eh? And an other from a year ago. The victim is flattened by a heavy statue falling from a plinth. The statue was possible to move because it had sugar underneath. So how, I asks myself, did the villian lift the statue to put down the sugar? And how did he know when to lurk behind the statue to be there to push it on the victim?

    As you can see, I dip into crime, but not with great enthusiasm.

    • May 12, 2020 17:34

      I love these examples, Neil – of your early foray into crime, and your plot problems. The latter is interesting. I suspect I would miss some of those because I am so uninterested in the plots that I find that I often don’t worry about things that bother other readers. My focus is character, the ideas driving the story, the style and structure. I usually don’t care too much if the stories are improbable or illogical. The only real thing that bothers me with plots are if they are boringly predictable.

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