Saturday, November 05, 2011

Writing A Book On Crime

Here it is - my sixth post as Writer In Residence on Insideadog! Go on, visit the web site - you know you want to... And comment! 
The best cover I ever had!

When I was commissioned to write Crime Time: Australians behaving badly for Ford Street Publishing my brief was to do a volume of “Fifty Infamous Australians” to go with Meredith Costain’s Fifty Famous Australians. (“Infamous” means evil, not very famous.)

It was not, repeat, not, going to be a book for homework It was for entertainment. Mind you, when our Legal Studies students were looking for specific crimes, my book came in handy!

.As well as the fifty main stories, there had to be around the same number, or more, of “Did You Know?” boxes.  Plenty to choose from; we’ve had crime here for  centuries, since the ship Batavia was wrecked off the coast of WA in 1629, long before the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788. While the captain went for help in a boat, several of the crew mutinied and killed passengers. There were huge battles going on between mutineers and loyal crew when the captain returned. For the record, there’s plenty of fiction about it, from Gary Crew’s horror novel Strange Objects to Kirsty Eagar’s fabulous Saltwater Vampires, in which the mutineers did it to become vampires and are still around.

 I went for some silly crimes to break up the horrible serial killer ones – like the Russian librarian who rescued her boyfriend from Silverwater prison by helicopter and was identified because of an overdue library video.Then there was the couple who robbed a restaurant in the Dandenongs and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls – on April Fools’ Day!

While researching Caroline Grills, a dear old granny who poisoned people with her cakes and pikelets and was sentenced to life in prison, I travelled to Northern Territory, where I met an elderly couple in a pub. I mentioned what I was working on and the wife said, “Oh, I met her when I was working in Long Bay jail as a nurse. Such a sweet woman!”

You couldn’t buy that kind of research help!

Looking for an angle to write about career criminal Tony Mokbel, who escaped the country while on bail and was caught in Greece, I went out for coffee one day and opened the newspaper to see a double page spread about that escape, along with all the silliness it involved. There was my angle. I called the chapter “The Adventures of Tony Mokbel” and it finished the book.

 I keep coming across terrific newspaper crime stories and thinking, “Oh, I wish I’d had that for Crime Time!” Still – there are plenty more stories out there for me to tell.