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Classic crime fiction and its new protagonists

At the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival authors Sulari Gentill, Stuart Littlemore, Shane Maloney and Kel Robertson gave us their thoughts on how they developed their protagonists, plotting and if they read when producing their novels.

Sulari Gentill made the honest admission that when she undertook writing, she originally started with stories about ancient Egypt. It was only when her husband, who she asked to edit her books, remarked ‘can’t you write a book about Peter and Paul’ due to the difficulty he was having in pronouncing the Egyptian names. Gentill changed her genre to crime fiction.

Gentill does not plot in making her stories. But she believes ‘there are plotters and pants’ers’ when it comes to writing. She is one that flies by her pants and lets the story take her on a journey. However, Gentill feels her writing is structured to a degree as someone has to die in the opening pages and the story always unfolds from there until the end.

Gentill does not read at all when she is writing. She feels she has to immerse herself in the story and cannot have any distractions. She owes this to her reader, someone she feels privileged to write for. Gentill painted a picture of herself sitting in a corner of her house while her family evolved around her, she stuck fast in time while the story is born and comes out onto the page.

Stuart Littlemore, a practicing solicitor, brings realism into his fiction. His stories are based on actual criminal events that he has presided over during his time in the courts of law. His protagonist, aptly named Harry Curry, close to the Japanese vernacular of ‘suicide’ is based on his uncle’s name. However Stuart confided in the audience that his protagonist takes on the many different personas as he mediates the story through a particular barrister for each case but in the mould of ‘Harry’. This was visible when Littlemore slipped at one stage when he said “I” instead of “Harry”.

Littlemore likes to think he does not plot but plans his novels. He researches them first through his personal archives of cases and then transcribes them onto paper. This takes his time away from reading when writing.

Shane Maloney brought his infectious dark humour to the tent which is apparent in his novels. Maloney honestly told of how he was not thinking to write crime fiction. He thought about writing how a young boy went to wizard school but decided it could not be a best seller. Maloney wanted a “ripping good yarn” and based his novels in the 1990s in Melbourne. When he looked at who the protagonist could be, he scratched out the norms of crime fiction as being a detective, private eye or similar, and as he felt Melbourne was a village and if someone wanted to know anything about anyone they could pick up a phone and make a call. Maloney decided upon his protagonist being a local member of the Labor Party.

Maloney does not plot his novels and lets the story take him on the journey. He recited that his protagonist “fails upwards” and compares this to his opinion of most politicians. Maloney does not read during writing but did reflect on how he eavesdrops on the public and uses what he hears within his novels.

Kel Robertson, after a brief interlude of overcoming how he was portrayed as a female in the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival program (a hilarous moment in the tent), went on to giving his insights in how he created his protagonist. Robertson’s interest lay in Chinese Australians and how they overcome the governing bodies of a different country culturally. He named his protagonist Bradman Chen to reflect how immigrating Chinese took on an English name to fit into Australian society. The spin-off is that the protagonist is named after the famous Australian cricketer as are all his brothers.

When plotting, Robertson chooses to tape together A3 papers and stick this to his lounge room wall. He ends up with a lot of arrows, clouds and possibilities not to mention blue ink on the wall. Robertson felt once he starts to write, what he has on the wall, does not get reflected within his story except for the end. He felt the end of his novel was something he thought about the most and the process is getting to it.

Robertson felt he could not read fiction when writing as he found the author’s style he was reading would spill onto his own page.  And, if he does read, prefers non-fiction for a break in writing as it does not compromise his style.

Blair Casey is a Southern Cross University Creative Writing student.


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