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A Murder of Crime Writers in Confession

Once arrested fleeing from the site of a crime, Lenny Bartulin was scared straight. Tasmanian police put the hard word on Bartulin and his mates who tried to deny their public urination but were given away by the wet patch on his mate’s crotch. Maybe it prevented a life of crime (or any future street toileting) but it hasn’t stopped Bartulin producing some compelling crime fiction.

Having shared their crimes with the packed out Ferros tent at the 2013 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, it’s doubtful that any of the panellists pull from personal misdeeds to inform their work.

Marele Day once dabbled in shoplifting. Holidaying in Italy, she couldn’t find anyone to pay for the hairbrush she’d picked out.

“I figured if I walked out the the shop than someone would try to stop me and then I’d know who to pay,” said Day.

No one stopped her and she still has the hairbrush. The audience was in hysterics as the mild-mannered Day recounted her story. She presented the perfect persona to cover a devilish hidden side although she insisted this was the closest she has come to ‘practical’ research.

Kerry Greenwood, recipient of the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award, doubles as a criminal lawyer. It’s one of the reasons she sets her Phyrne Fisher books in the 1920s.

“If I wrote in the modern day, I’d end up using my client’s stories,” Greenwood said. “They don’t have much so I can’t go taking their stories as well!”

Greenwood insisted the truly vicious cases are in family law anyway. An aggrieved father, who insisted Greenwood’s law practice was responsible for ‘stealing’ his children, once held a knife to her throat. Greenwood did some fast talking to escape with her life but it was her clothes she was worried about.

“I was wearing a new blouse and all I could think was ‘Oh, God how am I going to get the blood out of this?’” said Greenwood.

Michael Robotham’s greatest crime was committed at the tender age of six. The drought in Gundagai stretched back since before he was born but the young Robotham wanted a campfire. He stole some matches and started a fire that would go on to threaten the entire town. He hid under the house to escape his punishment and was only lured out by his mother’s cooking. The fire remains local legend.

If I tell you… I’ll have to kill you, a collection of essays launched today at Writers’ Festival, exposes more of the inspirations and deviancies of the panellists and their fellow crime writers. It also shows, promised Day, the wonderful diversity that exists within Australian crime writing.

The panellists agreed that their inspiration came from place and a love of reading rather than life experience. Criminal fiction places plot and place on centre stage and that’s what makes it so compelling to read and write, said Greenwood.

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts Student.

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