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Scaring people ‘sh*tless’: the craft of crime writing

We got settled in our seats, while chairman John Green looked out over us, his sweeping gaze settling on everyone. He asked us to trust him.

“Don’t turn around,” he said. “Don’t panic. Don’t leave your seats, but there’s a shifty looking man at the entrance with something explosive. It’s not a bomb – it’s a crime novel!”

Well, there isn’t anything too scary about that is there? Well, if you met the panelists at this session of the 2011 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, you might say differently.

Jaye Ford was living the typical Australian life; a sport presenter on SBS and regional television, and then running her own public relations business. But the lure of crime writing couldn’t be stopped. Her first novel, Beyond Fear, was published earlier this year, and she is currently working on her second.

LA Larkin has many busy days, working at one of our country’s leading climate change consultancies and writing. Her first novel, The Genesis Flaw, was released last year with her second novel to be released later this month.

The final member of this panel was a veteran of crime fiction, Michael Robotham, who has published multiple international bestsellers. He has written as a ghostwriter for celebrities and decorated soldiers since his first thriller, Suspect, was written in 2004. His latest, The Wreckage, was released in April this year.

This group of crime buffs, led by our creepy chairman John Green, walked the audience through what it takes to scare the readers. Developing characters, setting the scenes and taking the reader on an adventure are only just three of the factors needed to write ‘the perfect crime’.

When asked if it’s is important to scare the readers, Jaye Ford didn’t think so.

“I want them to read a rocking good story, and if they get scared along the way, then I did a good job,” she said and Larkin agreed.

“It’s not about the scare, it’s about the adventure; how you get the reader back safely,” Larkin added.

But it isn’t the most popular line of work, as Robotham found out after his wife reviewed a draft of Shatter.

“[She said] no one’s going to invite us round to dinner anymore,” he said. “Everyone will think you’re a sick bastard.”

As stories were told about gathering research and finding time to write, these three authors lent their magnifying glass to the audience to discover the secrets behind crime writing. A great help for the detective in all of us, and the perfect note to end our experience of the 2011 Byron Writers’ Festival.

Amelia Turner and Josephine Mooney are Southern Cross University media students.

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