Clunes Booktown Recap 2: Crime in the Country

Proudly carrying a brown paper bag with the ‘Readings’ logo embellished on the side, handles twisting under the strain of probably too many newly purchased books, I made my way to the second and final panel I would be attending at Clunes Booktown. This session was about Crime in the Country and was held in the free lending library just outside of the main street of Clunes.

For this session, I was thankful I arrived five minutes early. As I entered, I faced a room full of expectant bookish people and had to make my way to the very back of the room to take up one of the few vacant seats. To say this panel was packed would be an understatement. I made a note in my journal – ‘thank god Booktown is held in late Autumn when it’s cold!!!’ and shuffled my purchases under my chair.

image3

The Panel from left: Caleb Cluff, Mark Brandi, Anna Snoekstra, Ellie Marney and Emma Viscic.

I’m just going to start the recap of this panel by getting on my soapbox a little, but one of the things that bothered me about this session was the way it started. Caleb Cluff from the Ballarat Courier introduced all the authors and their books, but there was an awkward moment when he introduced Ellie Marney. All the other authors from this panel wrote adult crime novels, and Ellie was the only author of YA fiction. Caleb held up White Night and explained the basis of the story, before turning to Ellie and saying that he ‘hesitated to refer to her work as YA.’

Ellie corrected him straightaway, saying that her work was indeed a YA novel and that was who it was marketed for, but it annoyed me a little bit. After coming from the panel earlier in the day, where concepts of ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ literature were discussed, this was another example of YA literature being dismissed as secondary to writing for adults, and not as important. Granted, this was a small moment of annoyance in a very interesting panel, but I still argue the topics covered in YA writing are just as valid as those covered in writing for adults, and these books are just as important and entertaining as adult novels are.

Okay. I feel better, and I’m stepping down now. On to the rest of the panel!

In country towns you do have this claustrophobia of everyone knowing each other and each other’s business.

I think Mark Brandi summed up what makes the country such a great setting for crime novels – ‘In country towns you do have this claustrophobia of everyone knowing each other and each other’s business’. These country towns can be ringed by Pines, as in Emma Viscic’s novel And Fire Came Down, so these towns feel almost like they’re closed in and suffocating. Or they can be very isolated and featureless as in Ellie Marney’s No Limits. A lot of the authors on this panel had themselves grown up in country towns, so it seemed to be a natural gravitation back to the country as a setting for their novels.

Anna Snoekstra, the author of Little Secrets, shared some interesting points about how she was published. She did start looking for a publisher in Australia, but then found she had to move outside of Australia for her first book. Anna is now published by HQ, an imprint of Harlequin. As she came to writing from a screenwriting background, she writes in what she described as a ‘tight style’ and she often finds she has to go back and add details she may have glossed over. For her novel, to get a really solid idea of her setting, she also drew maps of the town she used as the setting so that she knew the layout and where important buildings were.

For No Limits, Ellie explained that she spoke to locals in Mildura and surrounding areas and worked out that all the issues with assaults and crime that were happening in the town were all coming back to the drug ice. This inspired her to write No Limits, even though, as she admits, drugs and the effects of drugs aren’t really a palatable issue to talk about in YA. Nevertheless, it is a real issue that young people come into contact with just as much as adults and therefore an important one to discuss.

Aside from the talk of drugs, arson and murder, this was a fun panel to attend. All the authors speaking had a great sense of humour, which is hard to believe given the dark subject matter they explore in their novels (here’s looking at you, Anna, and the much talked about ‘disturbing bath scene’ that features in Little Secrets).

image5

Looking down Fraser Street, the main street of Clunes where all the action of Booktown takes place.

That’s all from Booktown 2018! I highly recommend making the trip to Clunes if you’ve never been before. It’s a bookish experience like no other.