Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 5: Crime

When I decided to write this sub-series, the genre that nearly stopped me before I started was crime, because I knew I’d have to do it! CRIME is so-o-o big that it’s hard to know where to start … so, I’m just going to dive in, share a select number of ideas, and let the rest of you, as you always do, fill in the gaps.

Crime, as you know, is not a key genre for me, but over the years, for one reason or another, I’ve read a number of crime books, ranging from cosy crime to police procedurals, from classic crime to true crime, from rural noir to literary crime, from – well, you get the picture. In other words, for someone not drawn to crime, I’ve read and, I admit, enjoyed more than I would have thought when I started this blog. I have also written separate posts about Sisters in Crime Australia and their Stiletto awards.


Angela Savage, The dying beach

Crime, being the popular genre it is, features regularly at writers festivals around Australia. It would be rare, methinks, to attend a festival and not find at least one panel devoted to crime. I’ve written on a couple myself – a crime panel convened by Angela Savage at the 2020 Yarra Valley Writers Festival, and a true crime one at the 2019 Canberra Writers Festival.

But, there are also festivals devoted specifically to crime, including these three held or to be held in 2021:

BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival

To be held from 2-5 December, 2021. As far as I can tell, this is an annual festival that started around 2017. It “explores what crime can tell us about human beings today and in the past”, or, what BAD describes as “”the dark side that is part of being human”. They suggest that Sydney is particularly appropriate “because it was founded by convicts and their guards” and “has been significantly affected by crime and corruption for much of its history”. On the 2017 festival page, they argue that “you cannot understand this city completely without its vital criminal subculture”. The 2021 festival will feature “some of the biggest names in crime fiction, true crime and social justice advocacy”, including Jane Harper, Michael Robotham, Garry Disher, Chris Hammer, Xanthé Mallett, as well as Melissa Lucashenko, Robert Drewe, Richard Glover, Tony Birch, Larissa Behrendt and Stan Grant. This is a face-to-face festival, but all sessions will also be Zoom-ed.

Rural Crime Writing Festival

Held as an online festival on 12 June 2021, by the New England Writers Centre. Calling it the “very first of its kind”, they hope to repeat it. Participants included Emma Viskic and Yumna Kassab. Carmel Shute of Sisters in Crime convened a panel which discussed “the rewards of literary awards”. Would love to have heard that.

Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival: CSI: Tasmania Digital Festival

To be held as an online festival on 27 & 28 November, 2021. Described as Tasmania’s International Crime and Mystery Literary Festival. Like BAD, TARWF, which is located in the Huon Valley, offers a range of live, live-streamed and virtual events throughout the year. CSI Tasmania is their second festival, following their successful Murder She Wrote festival in 2019. It features Australian writers like Gary Disher, Sulari Gentil, Candice Fox and Anita Heiss, and international writers like Val McDiarmid and Ann Cleeves. TARWF’s founder and current director is crime writer L.J.M. Owen, and the organisation is volunteer-run.


Crime is also a genre that seems well served by awards and prizes.

  • Danger Award, offered by BAD. An annual award, established about 2018, I think, for “the best book, TV series, podcast or film about Sydney crime” (so not “just” books).
  • Davitt Awards, offered by Sisters in Crime Australia, since 2001. Prizes are offered in several categories for writing by women.
  • Ned Kelly Awards, run by the Australian Crime Writers Association and established in 1996. They offer prizes in several categories, including true crime, debut crime and YA crime.
  • Scarlet Stiletto Awards, also run by Sisters in Crime Australia, since 1994. This award is limited (devoted) to crime and mystery short stories “written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist”. Clan Destine Press has now published eleven collections of winning stories.

AWW Challenge

Many of you know that I’ve been involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge pretty much from its inception. It collects on-line reviews, mostly by bloggers and GoodReads readers, of books in all forms and genres written by Australian women. And crime, of course, is a big genre. An important aspect of the challenge is our Book Review database, which you can search via the Books Reviewed search page. Clicking this link, however, will take you immediately to a list of the reviews posted for over 950 crime books by Australian women writers. It’s quite a database now.

Finally …

If you’ve been paying attention, and I’m sure you have, you will have realised that there are many organisations in Australia devoted to supporting crime, including the Australian Crime Writers Association, Sisters in Crime Australia, BAD, and publishers like Clan Destine Press.

And, just to round it all off, this article in The Conversation provides a neat history of Australian crime – in case you are interested.

Do you read Crime? If so, would you care to share some favourites?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories; 3. Biography; 4. Literary nonfiction.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 4: Literary nonfiction

Continuing my little Monday Musings sub-series on “supporting” genres, I’m turning next to a rather “rubbery” genre, literary nonfiction. It is tricky to define – and partly for that reason, it is not obviously well supported.

Literary nonfiction goes by a few other names including creative nonfiction and narrative nonfiction. This last one provides a bit of a clue to its definition, which is that it generally refers to non-fiction writing that uses some of the techniques of fiction, particularly, but not only, in terms of narrative style. Wikipedia defines it as “a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.” It quotes Lee Gutkind, who founded Creative Nonfiction magazine:

“Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

In other words, it aims for a prose style that is more entertaining (but not at the expense of fact.) In my review of Anna Funder’s Stasiland, I wrote that she “uses some of the literary techniques – relating to structure, voice and language – more commonly found in fiction to tell her story”.

Well-known Australian writers in this “genre” include Helen Garner, Chloe Hooper, Anna Krien, Anna Funder and Sarah Krasnostein, all of whom I’ve read. It is a grey area, though, and I suspect each of us would draw the line at different places. However, I would include essay collections by Fiona Wright and Maria Tumarkin, and many hybrid memoir/biographies, like Nadia Wheatley’s Her mother’s daughter (my review)? Historians who write for general audiences rather than academia might also be included. I’m thinking here of Clare Wright and Inga Clendinnen, as possibilities. What do you think?


For some genres – literary fiction and crime for example – awards/prizes are a major source of support (in terms of money and recognition) but this is less so for literary nonfiction.

Anna Funder's Stasiland bookcover

Back in 2004, Anna Funder’s Stasiland (my review) won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction. Now renamed the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, it is, says Wikipedia, “an annual British book prize for the best non-fiction writing in the English language”. Not surprisingly, winners include works from this literary nonfiction “genre”. Another winner I’ve reviewed here (though it’s not Australian) is Helen Macdonald’s H is for hawk (my review). Australians have not featured highly in this award.

In Australia, several of the state awards include a nonfiction category, and these have been won by literary nonfiction, though they compete with other forms of nonfiction like histories, biographies and other forms of life-writing, essays, and so on.

Major Australian Nonfiction Literary Prizes

None of the awards listed here are specifically for “literary nonfiction” but these are awards which may be won by such books.

Sarah Krasnostein, The trauma cleaner

Also relevant are awards that are not “specifically” nonfiction:

Nadia Wheatley, Her mother's daughter
  • Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award: this award for “excellence in research” and “in writing” has been won by books in this genre, like Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s consolation (2005) and Nadia Wheatley’s Her mother’s daughter (2019).
  • Stella Prize: while this multi-genre/multi-form prize has more often been won by fiction, nonfiction – and particularly literary nonfiction – does feature in its long- and shortlists. Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms, for example, was shortlisted in 2021.

But, is there more?

The issue, though, for writers is what support do they get when they come up with an idea? Are the sorts of fellowships, grants and writer’s residencies that fiction writers can access also around for nonfiction writers? Well, yes, there are, such as:

  • Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund is an unusual award that is open not just to writers but also to “literary sector workers”. It recognises the importance of travel to writing and literary careers. Awardees have included writers researching nonfiction topics – and, despite COVID, it is still being offered, with a round being made in June this year. To give some examples, in 2018, the aformentioned Rebecca Giggs received a grant for expenses related to a writing residency at the Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany. And, in November 2019, Tamara Lazaroff received some funds to research her experimental narrative non-fiction memoir Hermit girls on De Witt Island, Tasmania. 
  • Varuna Writers House Residencies are open to “committed writers from all genres”. With around 160 residencies a year, the alumni is extensive, but they include Gail Bell whose The poison principle (on my TBR) won the 2002 NSW Premier’s Prize for Non-Fiction and Patti Miller whose complex memoir, The mind of a thief, was longlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize.

There are more, but these two provide a good start.

Do you read literary nonfiction? If so, would you care to share some favourites?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories; 3. Biography

Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 3: Biography

Time for another in my little Monday Musings sub-series on “supporting” genres. I’ve chosen Biography for this one, since the 2021 National Biography Award winner will be announced this month.

However, I have written quite a bit about Australian biography before:

David Marr, NLA Seymour Lecture, Sept 2016

Given all this, you might think that this post is superfluous, but I figured that it’s helpful to put all these together in one post as a resource for myself (and maybe for others too?) These posts provide significance evidence for the support of and interest in biography in Australia – and they mean that the rest of this post will be a bit different to the first two “supporting genre” posts.


You may have noticed that I described the Seymour Biography Lecture as “devoted to life-writing” – and here’s the rub, because there is quite a blurring of definitions when we talk about “biography” these days. Traditionally, biography has been seen as a detailed description of a person’s life written by a third person. Autobiography, on the other hand, is the story of a person’s life, written by that person. Then there’s memoir which focuses on a particular aspect or period of a person’s life, and is written, again, by that person. All of these come under the banner of “life-writing”. The problem is that, for example, the Seymour Biography Award is called “biography” but the lectures are, in fact, broader. Indeed, the first lecture we went to was given by Robert Drewe who has written, and who thus talked about, memoir.

This is fine but the nomenclature is strange, don’t you think? Even our National Biography Award is, actually, a national life writing award. It “celebrates excellence in biography, autobiography and memoir writing” says the Award website. Interestingly, though, while all these forms feature regularly in the shortlists, traditional biographies have tended to be the winners. A recent exception was Behrouz Boochani’s No friend but the mountains.

Life-writing now

Life-writing is big business. Search online and you will find many companies offering to help you write your life story, or to write your life story for you. You will also find courses on life-writing. Daughter Gums did one a few years ago at the ACT Writers Centre taught by memoirist Benjamin Law.

The Fellowship of Australian Writers NSW (FAWNSW) has an excellent page on the subject written by Dr Rae Luckie. They quote from La Trobe University’s description of its Unit for Studies in Biography and Autobiography.

Life writing is now one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing fields of international scholarship. It includes not just biography and autobiography, but also diaries, journals, letters, and the use of life narrative in various disciplines: history, anthropology, sociology, politics, business and leadership studies, sport, and others… In addition to its high academic profile, life writing generates great interest among the general public: works of biography and autobiography sell in vast numbers.

Nadia Wheatley, Her mother's daughter

Luckie talks about changes in the field, saying that “writers whose work is included under the umbrella of ‘life writing’ have broken traditional auto/biographical boundaries”. She mentions works I read before blogging, like Inga Clendinnen’s Tiger’s eye, Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s consolation, and, even, Robert Dessaix’s “autobiographical novel” Night letters! While I enjoy the traditional biography, and have reviewed several here, I am not averse to reading writers who play with the form, like the hybrid-biography-memoirs I’ve reviewed (such as Nadia Wheatley’s Her mother’s daughter and Gabrielle Carey’s Moving among strangers)

The biggest change, though, is probably that academic historians are now embracing the form in a way they hadn’t previously. If you are interested in a discussion of the topic, check out this in the first issue of the Australian Journal of Biography and History. The authors comment on the fact that “there are now prizes to encourage biographical writing, lectures that feature prominent biographers, biography research centres and courses in universities, public conferences and so on.” Another interesting point they make is the significant role biography played in feminist history.

Biography – and life-writing – are now serious, as well as, marketable business. You heard it here!

Zeitgeist, or Serendipity?

Book cover

And now for something completely different. It concerns those funny coincidences which happen in the literary firmament, like when David Lodge’s Author, author and Colm Tóibín’s The master, which are novels about Henry James, both came out in 2004. What was that about?

Well, I’ve noticed another strange coincidence: the recent publication of Jennifer Walker’s Elizabeth of the German Garden: A biography of Elizabeth Von Arnim (2017), Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here: In search of Elizabeth von Arnim (2020) and Joyce Morgan’s The Countess from Kirribilli: The mysterious and free-spirited literary sensation who beguiled the world (2021). Many of you, I know, have heard of Elizabeth von Arnim. Her best-known works are the satirically humorous Elizabeth and her German Garden and the popular Enchanted April which was made into a successful feature film starring many of our favourite grand dames of English theatre. For those of you who don’t know her, though, she’s a British novelist who was born in Sydney (Kirribilli) in 1866, but who moved to England with her family when she was three and never lived here again. Her connection with Australia is therefore tenuous, but she was a wonderful character who moved among the biggest literary movers and shakers of her time. I devoured many of her novels, and a memoir, back in the 80s and 90s when Virago published her. Why this flurry of interest now? (Not that I disagree.)

Do you read biography? If so, care to share some favourites?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories

Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 2: Short stories

When I started this little sub-series, I wondered how to describe it – genres or forms or genres and forms? In the end, I chose “genres” on the assumption that we could define it very loosely to include forms. I hope this works. After all, the content is more important than the name!

I decided to make my second topic Short Stories because it’s around now that the relatively new Australian Short Story Festival has been held. You will see from this post, that the way the forms/genres I discuss in this sub-series are supported vary greatly. Short stories, for example, don’t seem to have a focused organisation supporting them the way genres like historical fiction and crime do. However, they are supported in their own ways.

Short story publishers

Although the scuttlebutt is that publishers do not like short stories, there are some who commit to them in an ongoing way, and these are the ones I’m going to share here. Many publishers, though, do, in fact, publish collections, such as, recently, Laura Elvery’s Ordinary matters (by University of Queensland Press) or Carol Lefevre’s Murmurations (by Spinifex Press, my review).

Black Inc’s Best Australian stories series has been published annually for at least two decades, with each edition edited by significant Australian short story writers like Charlotte Wood (2016) and Maxine Beneba Clarke (2017).

Book cover

Margaret River Press published their short story prize anthologies, annually, from 2012 to 2017. I have reviewed a couple of these anthologies, which included competition winners and commended stories. They announced in 2019 that they were “taking a break”. They may be taking a break from this competition, but they are continuing to publish short story collections. I reviewed one only recently, Emily Paull’s Well-behaved women.

Carmel Bird, Dead aviatrix

The wonderfully named Spineless Wonders describe themselves as “a multi-platform publishing company devoted to short, quality fiction produced by Australian writers”. They support “brief fiction in all its forms – from short short stories to novella” including ‘microlit’ which combines microfiction and prose poetry. Most of their publishing is digital, I believe, and I have reviewed Carmel Bird’s foray into digital publishing, The dead aviatrix: Eight short stories.

Other publishers which support short stories in a significant way include MidnightSun Publishing and Kill Your Darlings, which has now published two annual editions (2019 and 2020) of New Australian fiction.

Short story prizes

Back in 2015, I wrote a Monday Musings on short story awards, so I won’t repeat that here. Please check it out for awards like the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and the Margaret River Short Story Competition. But, there are some new ones established since then, and genre ones I didn’t mention, that I’d like to share here.

  • Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award: Established in 2018 –  named for Carmel Bird (who has appeared on my blog several times), hosted by Spineless Wonders and supported by the Copyright Agency – this award is for short story collections up to 30,000 words in length. The stories can be in any fiction genre, with all prose forms being acceptable, including non-fiction prose. The award includes cash prizes and world-wide digital publication of the three winning entries. Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has posted on this award.
  • Scarlet Stiletto Awards: Established in 1994 by Sisters in Crime (who will appear again when I focus on crime), this national award is for “short stories, written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist”. Its purpose was “to support and unearth new talent”. Past winners have included writers who have appeared here – Cate Kennedy, Angela Savage – and a young woman who went to school with Daughter Gums, Anna Snoekstra. This award is actually a suite of awards comprising several awards – such as “Best New Writer”, “Best ‘Body in the Library'”, “Best Foreign Linguistics Story”, “Best Story with a Disabled Protagonist”, to name a few.

There is a comprehensive list of short story competitions available in 2020 on the Australian Writers Centre site, which underscores how much support there really is for this oft-maligned form!

Australian Short Story Festival

As I said at the beginning, the reason I chose Short Stories as my second topic for this sub-series is this festival. Founded by Anna Solding (MidnightSun Publishing) and Caroline Wood (Margaret River Press) in 2016, it’s an annual festival celebrating short stories in written and spoken forms. It aims to connect Australian and international short story writers, storytellers, publishers, literary magazine editors, and readers. It’s apparently the first national event to focus exclusively on the short story.

The first festivals were held in Perth – I watched the social media campaigns with great envy! In 2019 it was held in Melbourne. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 festival, scheduled for Adelaide, was cancelled because they felt that “online festival experiences can never quite replicate the immediacy of the face-to-face festival”. This is a festival I plan to attend one day.

Book cover

For those of you interested in short story recommendations, check out my reviews of short stories or look at Readings blog post on Short Stories (written to align with the 2019 Australian Short Story Festival). One of the books recommended is Chris Womersley’s A lovely and terrible thing, which I’ve reviewed here, so I’ll conclude this little post with it!

Do you like short stories? Why or why not?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 1: Historical fiction

While my prime focus here is literary and classic fiction, I do also delve into other forms (like biography, autobiography/memoirs, poetry, history), and other genres (like crime, dystopian fiction, and historical fiction). So, I’ve decided to start a little MM subseries on other genres and forms, starting with historical fiction. My aim is less to analyse the genre itself, than to share some of the ways in which it is supported in Australia.

I’m starting with historical fiction because of the recently announced longlist for the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize, which Lisa (ANZLitLovers) posted on recently. Let’s start with the prize’s home, the …

Historical Novel Society of Australasia (HNSA)

HNRA describes itself as

the third arm of the international Historical Novel Society, and is recognised as the home of the historical fiction genre in Australasia. The Society promotes the writing, reading and publication of historical fiction … Our events showcase the best literary talent and enable readers, writers and publishing professionals to celebrate the genre.

They consider historical fiction

to be important to both the entertainment and education of readers as it contributes to the knowledge of the reader and provides a valid perspective beyond the viewpoint of the historian. Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events.

The secret River cover

While I agree that there is an educative aspect, we readers need to appreciate what sort of education we’re getting. We can’t expect certifiable facts but can expect insight into how things were or might have been. My favourite historical fiction, though, does more; it explores the past in a way that throws light on the present. I find the statement that historical fiction provides “a valid perspective beyond the viewpoint of the historian” interesting in light of The secret river controversy. Beyond? I think alongside might be better?

Anyhow, on the ARA Historical Fiction Prize page, they define historical fiction. It:

  • means novels written at least 50 years after the events described, or written by someone who was not alive at the time of the events and who therefore approaches them only by research.
  • can include historical mystery, historical romance, historical fantasy, and historical fiction written for children and young adults; and also alternate history, pseudo histories, time-slip novels, multiple-time novels, and parallel narrative novels with flexibility to crossover between eras stretching from 50 years or more in the past until contemporary times.

HNSA has now held three biennial conferences – in 2015, 2017 and 2019. They also offer a suite of prizes/awards of which the new ARA Historical Novel Prize is “the crown jewel”. The others are the ARA HNSA Short Story Contest and the TCW HNSA First Pages Pitch Contest. They also offered a Colleen McCullough Residency on Norfolk Island in 2019, and this year instituted the Elizabeth Jane Corbett Mentorship for Young Adult historical novelists (that is, for previously unpublished writers of young adult fiction, not for writers who are young adults1)

ARA Historical Novel Prize

Nigel Featherstone, Bodies of men

This prize, which is supported (fascinatingly) by a building and facilities company, the ARA Group, is worth $60,000, with $50,000 going to the winner, and $5,000 each to two short-listed writers. It is open to Australian and New Zealand writers. The longlist was announced on 6 October, with the shortlist of 3 books to be announced 28 October, and the winner on 10 November.

The inaugural 2020 longlist is:

  • Sienna Brown’s Master of my fate 
  • Nigel Featherstone’s Bodies of men (my review)
  • Catherine Jinks’ Shepherd
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain (want to read, Theresa’s review)
  • Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel (my review)
  • Christos Tsiolkas’ Damascus (my review)
  • Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of lost words (on my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Tara June Winch’s The yield (my review)

Surprisingly for me, I have read half of them!

HNSA Conferences

In 2019, the conference included a full-day academic stream, focusing on the overall conference theme of History repeats. There were three panels through the day: Genre and gender; Genre and the discourse of history; and War and conflict. Abstracts of the papers can be found at the link above.

Jessica Anderson, The commandant Book cover

One of the papers was “‘the truth of the book’: Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant as a work of biofiction, Merran Williams“. I have reviewed this book, which is Anderson’s only historical fiction work. In her abstract, Williams says that “Historical novels have the ability to provide unique insights into untold histories” and that

Anderson subverted the traditional biofiction of a man of importance by feminising the masculine history of Patrick Logan and the Moreton Bay convict settlement and telling much of his story from the point-of-view of the soldiers’ female family members. I focus on her fiercely forensic approach to historical research and how she applied this to her writing practice to produce a work of historical biofiction that shines a light on a foundational period of Australian history.

This is a stream of the conference I’d love to attend if it ever came my way.

AWW Challenge

Challenge logo

Many of you know that I have been involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge pretty much from its inception. It collects on-line reviews by contributors of any books – all forms and genres – written by Australian women. At regular intervals, mostly monthly or bimonthly, volunteers post round-ups of reviews contributed in the previous period for specific genres/forms. Our current Historical Fiction volunteer is Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes.)

You can find her Historical Fiction round-ups at the AWW site. The Books Reviewed search page will find all contributors’ reviews posted to the challenge. The site comprises an excellent resource for reviews on books published recently and in the past, because our reviewers read widely.


The Nib Literary Award could be seen to support this genre in a broad way, because, although its winners tend to be non-fiction, its aims are to celebrate excellence in research, including in fiction.

Courtney Collins, The burial

There is also an interesting international site called which devotes a page to Australasia. It’s uncomfortably simplistic in its understanding, offering this about Indigenous Australians regarding historical fiction: “Native Australians, dubbed Aborigines by European settlers, did not fare well as colonization spread, but modern novelists recognize the positive aspects of their culture”. However, for readers looking for a list of Aussie historical fiction books, there’s something here. The list includes classic and contemporary novels – including writers like Eleanor Dark and Brian Castro! I learnt a few things, including that Courtney Collins’ The burial (my review) was published in the USA as The untold.

I’d love to hear what you think about historical fiction – even you Bill! – particularly regarding whether you like and why or why not?