BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival – the verdict

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 Permalink

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival.

I’ve been to a few writers’ festivals and one can feel quite isolated as you drift in and out of sessions. There isn’t the sense of camaraderie you get at a conference… where you’re all staying in one spot and chatting over meals etc. However… what I didn’t realise is that the NSW State Library precinct isn’t as vast as Brisbane’s for example (where there are several cafes and various outdoor spaces). In Sydney there was far more socialising than I expected because it was hard not to keep bumping into the same people between sessions in the on-site cafe or library foyer.

I’d initially signed up for seven sessions plus the Ned Kelly Awards (on Friday evening), but ended up adding an additional session on Saturday as I really had no plans to play tourist or shop. And though my hotel room was stunning… (ie. thank god for that gift card that I HAD to use before it expired this month!) I figured I should make the most of being amongst such creative and passionate people.

The sessions I attended were great. Unsurprisingly they were all from the ‘fiction’ stream rather than the ‘fact’ or ‘true crime’ stream and a few involved authors I’d heard speak before (Michael Robotham, Candice Fox, Sarah Bailey and Dervla McTiernan).

I also ‘engaged’ more than I expected.

I usually look at people who ask questions at sessions as attention-seeking wankers but I ended up asking a question in one session (as no one else did and I felt bad) and then asked another couple of questions in later sessions, cos I had things I wanted to know and felt less-weird about it.

When drafting this post I’d initially gone into some detail about each of the sessions I attended but had to edit it down from over 2000 words. I’m ‘killing my darlings’. So… now just offering a snapshot of the sessions I attended.

Country Noir:Β  Catherine du Peloux Menage with Emily Maguire, Richard Anderson and Aoife Clifford. (It was nice to meet Richard in person as we’d been chatting on Twitter and I ended up spending a bit of time with Aoife who is absolutely lovely.)

This involved an interesting discussion re setting crime fiction in small towns. Richard talked about writing what he knows, Emily talked about the sense of ‘ownership’ others in a small community feel they have over victim and I laughed when Aoife was pragmatic and said it’s easier to hide a body in the country. And… if your mystery involves revisiting the same place years later you’re more likely to find the same people in a small community than you would in a city suburb.

Missing Children: Suzanne Leal with Christian White, Felicity McLean and Caroline Overington
The three authors spoke of their inspiration (newspaper article, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and her own experience), respectively.Β  They talked a little about parents falsely accused and recent real life examples. I was kinda intrigued by a point they touched on but didn’t discuss at length… the dilemma of parents – would they prefer their child remain missing rather than know they’re dead? (And I apologise if I’ve worded that bluntly!)

Interviews with Ned Kelly Awards’ shortlisted authors: Andy Muir with Bri Lee, Candice Fox, Dervla McTiernan and Katherine Kovacic (with whom I also spent time, and loved meeting!)


It was noted that the panelists (and many finalists) were women. Andy asked if the perception that ‘women can’t write crime’ still exists. (#Spoileralert: the answer was mostly ‘no’.)

Spotlight on Michael Robotham
Michael was as entertaining as always. He asked for a show of hands re how many people had heard him speak before and 3/4 of the audience had. Thankfully (for all of us) he spoke about his new book and focused on its theme of lying. He also offered up some audience participation to remind us how often we all lie, for various (non-nefarious) reasons.

#MeToo Movement: Sue Turnball with Sarah Bailey, Katherine Kovacic and Leigh Straw
I chose this session because Sarah Bailey was speaking and I’d missed her the day before. Having said that I’m not really sure her character (Gemma Woodstock) was the best fit. I know she struggles with sexism in her work and though I was keen to hear from Sarah, someone like Bri Lee would probably have better suited the topic, as it was something she referred to in another session.

Katherine was able to speak from the position of the two women at the centre of her book (a victim from years before and art historian revisiting the crime). And finally Leigh who’s written about Australian true crime figures and I liked that she reminded us that women don’t always have to be a victim.

I actually posed a question to the panel at the end, reflecting on a book I read recently, The Whisper Network and potential misuse of the ‘me-too’ movement. I disliked the way that book seemed to speak on ‘my’ behalf and had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Michael Robotham with Val McDermid
There was a nice sense of camaraderie in this session. Val talked about the universe she’d created via her books and how her characters can move between them. A good thing – because she said she thinks How The Dead Speak ‘might’ be her last Tony Hill / Carol Jordan book. I loved some new characters she introduced and worried they’d be ‘wasted’, so hope to meet them again. Somewhere.

My favourite fictional detective: Kate Evans (ABC Radio) with Candice Fox, Sulari Gentill and Laurie Oaks
I’m a new fan of Sulari Gentill, who I’d heard of but not read, after meeting her and seeing her at the festival. IΒ  have a huge list of fave fictional detectives so was a tad surprised the panel didn’t have more rolling off their tongues, but Laurie and Sulari in particular talked about some I’d not heard of – particularly those from other cultures.

They talked a little about ‘amateur detectives’ and I asked about the ‘trend’ we sometimes see come and go. Like ‘legal procedurals’ via Scott Turow, John Grisham, Alafair Burke and Lisa Scottoline. Coroners like Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan) or Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta. Forensic psychologists (or behavioural analysts) like Johnathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware and Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin.

The Great Debate: Crime – is fact stranger than fiction?
Journalist Laurie Oaks moderated the debate featuring Candice Fox and Duncan McNabb (in the negative) and Michael Robotham and Xanthe Mallet (in the affirmative). Of course Mallett and McNabb are predominantly true crime authors and investigators (of sorts) themselves so splitting them (and fiction writers, Fox and Robotham) was an interesting choice, but the latter are smart and sassy and so having them both on the same team would not be fair to anyone. And, though it didn’t matter, fact (thanks to Michael Robotham’s list of reality TV shows – despite Candice Fox’s outrageous fictitious sex scenes) won out over fiction.

I also attended The Ned Kelly Awards (the Neddies), held in conjunction with the crime writers’ festival. And I hate to be a negative Nellie (or Neddie… see what I did there?!) but this was probably one of my least fave parts of the festival.

I mean, it wasn’t ‘bad’ but there are only 3-4 awards presented and the event scheduled for two hours. But… it felt like it dragged.

It ‘only’ cost $30 to attend. I’d expected a free drink on arrival and some nibbles and was more than happy to buy other drinks myself. But the food and wine were sponsored and I gather people weren’t overly enthused by what was on offer, as I overheard a waiter (defensively) commenting that they were just serving and not responsible for food and drinks.

That aside, rather than getting to mingle and chat between awards, speakers were scheduled and I would have liked shorter / fewer storytellers from more varied backgrounds. Although perhaps there was an ‘underworld’ Sydney theme happening? Though it ran smoothly a friend commented that there was more of a focus on the storytellers than the award winners.

And, as an aside, though I’m a fan of Val Mc Dermid, I was a bit affronted by her comment (when presenting the award for best crime fiction of the year – which went to Jane Harper for The Lost Man) that – as evidenced by the quality of books up for awards – Australia is finally catching up with the rest of the world. There were a few raised eyebrows around my table and I’m sure most of us would suggest it’s been an issue of exposure overseas than quality of our writers and books. But whatevs. (Check out the winners here!)

That aside, it was a great weekend. I was interested that the sessions were very focussed on readers rather than the art of writing and it was great to meet up with some fellow book bloggers and online friends.

So… how was your weekend?Β 

31 Comments
  • Suzanne
    September 11, 2019

    I can imagine as a writer that being with others that write/publish would be very inspiring and motivating. I continue to be in awe of people who manage to write a book.

    • Debbish
      September 11, 2019

      I’m the same Suzanne. As a reader and blogger (and passionate about words and writing) I love going to events like this because I find them really ‘nourishing’ in that creative sense!

  • Rachael Johns (@RachaelJohns)
    September 11, 2019

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write up your time at Bad Sydney – I’m so jealous but loved reading a bit about the sessions you went to. I heard Michael talk about his latest book recently and the exercises he made us do on lying were fascinating. I would love to get to this festival next year!

    • Debbish
      September 11, 2019

      Rachael I was initially regretting that I didn’t go to the RWA Conference in Melbourne which is the one I mention in the blog post… as you know, I attended the one in Brisbane a couple of years ago and found it very collegial and supportive.

      But as I’m (much) more of a crime reader than lover of romance, I’d decided on this one and – in retrospect – very glad I did.

  • leannelc
    September 11, 2019

    Sounds like an interesting festival – not my genre of novel at all though (I don’t like suspense etc – keeps me awake at night). Glad you got to mingle and ask some questions and stay in a lovely hotel room – so not a bad few days all in all.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM πŸ™‚

    • Debbish
      September 11, 2019

      I’m okay with suspense but not great if it borders on horror… though I guess there have been a few books that left me unsettled.

      And yes, my hotel room was gorgeous. I’ll do a more ‘generic’ visit post down the track as I also went to a bookclub event and met some great people.

  • Denyse Whelan
    September 11, 2019

    What no Rick Morton comment…LOL.I am so glad you went and it all turned out to be better than maybe you had expected. Making it happen was up to you and you did!! I admit, I have never been inside the State Library proper even though I lived there for decades. Sigh.

    Thanks for linking up for Life This Week. Next week’s optional prompt is “What is Love”. Hope to see you link up! Denyse.

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Ha! I’m going to do something separate on the entire visit – including hearing Rick interviewed by Bri Lee at the B List Book Club. I waited around to meet him and he was lovely to say hi from you. I actually hadn’t realised he was at the blogging conference that I met you at…. back in 2011 in Sydney!

  • Jo
    September 11, 2019

    Oh I love reader/writer festivals. In fact I’m a bit of a festival fan and love rubbing shoulders with creatives of any genre. The Perth Writers Festival is a must-do every year for me. Sounds like you had a great time, and I’m really impressed by your ability to pull the ‘Bad’ authors and sessions together in such a writerly, intelligent and cohesive way. I would be much more linear and boring! Thank you for a really interesting de-brief πŸ™‚ I loved your comment that people who ask questions at writers festivals can be, ‘attention-seeking wankers.’ While I’m far too introverted to be brave enough to speak up after a session, I do often wonder why some people can ask such stupid questions and not be embarrassed. Your comment sums them up! #MLSTL and Shared on SM

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Interestingly Jo it’s only my ridiculously empathetic manner that has me usually asking questions as I feel bad if no one else does and struggle to think of something vaguely sensible to ask. Of course I think my question is sensible…. yet others around the room may be eye-rolling at the wankery of my question (as I sometimes do with others).

      And yes, I love writing festivals etc for the same reason. We don’t get a lot of authors come here to speak (regional Qld etc) but I usually try to go even if the genre isn’t one I read because I can usually relate to their struggles of creating something from nothing.

  • PamelaPerraultPhotography
    September 11, 2019

    Good morning, Deborah. This is the post I was most looking forward to this week and it did not disappoint. Not one bit. Thanks for all the memories.

  • DB McNicol
    September 12, 2019

    So happy to have encountered you during #MLSTL. I write small-town whodunit mysteries so your post was a fascinating look at crime/mystery writers in another country. I’ve added you to my blog reader list and will enjoy following along.

    • DB McNicol
      September 12, 2019

      Oh, forgot to say “Ask those questions….”. I learned long ago during my IT career, someone else has the same question and will appreciate you asking. I’m an introvert so it was always hard for me, but now I don’t hesitate.

      • Debbish
        September 12, 2019

        Good point. In my career I often ask the ‘dumb’ question – particularly in recent fields as I was a project manager in health related fields and health professionals would throw around acronyms or make comments that – even if I’d learned to understand them – was conscious others around the table might not, so I’d always ask for clarification. (Falling on my sword…. in a manner of speaking!)

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Yes… I’d bemoaned the lack of crime-writing events here as an avid fan of crime fiction and thrillers etc… We also have a Sisters in Crime association who have an annual awards evening but this has been the first multi-day event I’d seen. Interestingly there’s another in Tasmania (another state, further afield for me) later this year but my budget won’t allow another event at the moment. (You’ll note I review A LOT of crime fiction on the blog!)

  • Cheryl
    September 12, 2019

    So interesting to read about a Crime Writers Festival – I never knew they existed! My husband has written a crime novel and has had it published. It’s in French and probably won’t be translated into English, but I loved seeing the process he went through, and even though I’ve been a book lover since I first learnt to read, after watching him write his novel I have a new-found respect for writers. He’s almost finished the first draft of his second crime novel. Let’s all buy more books and encourage these writers to keep doing what they do best! Thank you for this post, it was really interesting! πŸ™‚

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      That’s great news Cheryl and huge congratulations to your husband. I have to admit I don’t read as many novels from European / Nordic countries as I should because I mostly get confused about the structure of their police forces and judiciary. In some, there’s a prosecutor (etc) assigned to investigate with police for example and the politics sometimes baffle me.

      I think the UK has several crime writers / crime fiction events (Theakston / Harrogate for eg) and recently watched (from afar) one in the US – (ThrillerFest).

      • Cheryl
        September 12, 2019

        Hi Debbish, thanks for the congratulations, I’ll pass them on to Olivier. I guess he may get more involved with the crime writers community if this becomes his new profession! I’m reading a crime novel at the moment actually, and I do find that I love a good crime! All the best. πŸ™‚

  • Michele
    September 12, 2019

    I love a good writers conference. I don’t know these authors or books, but they sound interesting. I always like to get the backstory or the scoop on how the process works for different writers. It sounds like a worthwhile time.

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Yes Michele, interestingly this was probably less about ‘how’ they write (plotting in advance or via the seat of their pants) but very much about their inspiration. A lot of the true crime sessions were popular and featured journalists, police officers, lawyers, forensics specialists etc…

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    September 12, 2019

    Deb,
    Thanks for your highlights from the crime writers festival. I appreciate your personal insights and opinions about the event, the way it was run and those who spoke. Interesting comment that Val McDermid made.. as a reader, the quality has always been in Australian crime fiction, it’s just the exposure and recognition, as you pointed out.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Yes it was an interesting comment from Val and was probably just a throwaway line she didn’t really mean the way it sounded. I know for example she’s pretty chummy with a few Aussie authors so am sure it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful but still….

  • Natalie
    September 12, 2019

    Thanks, Deb, for your recap of the festival. Now I know a few more Australian crime novelists’ names. I’ll look for their books from my library. #lovin’lifelinky

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      Yes Natalie – if you also check out the awards nominees and winners here it’ll give you an idea of the most popular / favourite / ‘best’ books of the last year or two.

  • Jo
    September 12, 2019

    That sounds like sessions I would have enjoyed too. I’m a massive Sulari fan. Aside from the fact that she lives just out of Tumbarumba, her Rowland Sinclair books are some of my favourites.

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      I’d heard of her and another reader of my blog knows her so I made a point of saying hello and she was lovely. I definitely want to check out her books now!

  • Min Write of the Middle
    September 12, 2019

    I’ve never been to a writers festival so found your wrap up very interesting! Thank you! I’m so glad you had a good time! I’ve always had a little dream to write a book. Not sure that it will ever happen….unless a fabulous ‘story’ idea strikes me. You never know! πŸ™‚ #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      September 12, 2019

      I’m the same (re writing) so admire those who do ‘finish’ and ‘publish’ either via publisher or self-publishing /indie publishing.

      I just had a FB reminder that I’d attended the Brisbane Writers’ Festival in 2009. I don’t think that was the first I’d attended but weird to think it was a decade ago!

  • Christie Hawkes
    September 15, 2019

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Deb. I have never been to a writers festival or conference. I’ve considered it, but feel a little intimidated, if I’m honest. I’m stopping by from #MLSTL and have shared this post on social media. Have a lovely week!

    • Debbish
      September 16, 2019

      The thing I always find interesting is how many people feel nervous or self-conscious about attending conferences etc… I know I’ve been to some where I’ve felt ignored or isolated but there’s always someone else standing around alone who probably appreciates the company.

      I’m also not very ‘fan-girly’ so kinda take people as they come but fortunately haven’t met any authors who were arrogant or seemingly ‘above’ their readers. (I’ve actually found blogging conferences to be a bit less inclusive!) x

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