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Getting your novel reviewed

Posted by Janice on July 1, 2016 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (180)

So far my book has secured only two reviews, both online. One of these is on the Fair Dinkum Crime site and the other at  Aust Crime Fiction

Not through lack of trying as the publishers have sent review copies to various dailies but as yet, no bites.

So it was lovely to have this feedback passed on by a friend.

"I finished reading Murder in Mt Martha recently, having even read some of it at Mt Martha which seemed appropriate.

I enjoyed Murder in Mt Martha from a number of perspectives. I like crime fiction that develops interesting characters, rather than mainly focussing primarily on the 'crime plot/ solving the crime', and I thought this book did this well, even though at times it almost felt like there were too many characters and sub-plots. I think this feeling may have been caused in part by the fact I was often reading in bed late at night and only a few pages on some days. I also liked the writing style, as I found it engaging and easy to read, with enough dialogue / direct speech to make the characters come alive.

It was also a plus having the (rather gruesome) link to Mt M and being able to recognise some other familiar places because a lot of the action was set in Melbourne. Another (unexpected) interesting aspect was the Hungarian connection, as the father of a friend of mine migrated (fled) from Hungary and was an interpreter at the 1956 Olympics and therefore had some contact with the Hungarians who defected. My friend recounts little snippets of Hungarian food culture similar to those featured in this novel.

So I enjoyed the book on many levels - thank you for your kindness in giving me a copy. (Please feel free to pass on my feedback to your friend, Janice if you think that's appropriate.) I intend to lend the book to Kirsty and to my friend whose father came from Hungary and who is a keen reader of crime fiction."

How I came to write 'Murder in Mt Martha'

Posted by Janice on May 17, 2016 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (138)

Needing a subject to write about when I enrolled in Novel 1 as part of a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing, I decided to pick up on a story that had flitted round the edges of my imagination for some years.

The murder of 14 year-old Shirley Collins on 12 September 1953 hit local and interstate headlines when her body was discovered, bashed and partially naked, in the driveway of a holiday home at Mt Martha. Despite interviewing more than 4000 people, the police remained baffled. Questions I had when I first read about this case in the early 2000s included how could this girl have travelled from her home in Reservoir to Mt Martha. The first part of her journey was by train, but even then witnesses were divided as to where she boarded on that Saturday evening. Some said she alighted from the bus she caught in the presence of her foster mother near her home at Reservoir Station, others said she got off the bus at Regent Station and caught a train to the city from there. What was clear was that she did not end up at Richmond Station where her work friend was waiting to pick her up and accompany her to a twenty-first birthday party in honour of one of their colleagues. The party was held at an address in Punt Road. In fact, according to two witnesses, she arrived at North Richmond Station and walked down the Elizabeth Street ramp to Punt Road. One of the witnesses saw her talking to a man in a car. What happened from thereon remains a mystery.

My novel makes sense of this brutal murder, even though in reality I am still puzzled as to what really happened. Writing it was both exhilarating and laborious, as I needed to check - and often re-check because initially my notes were not sufficiently organised – not only the ‘facts’ of the story, but everything else that was going on in Melbourne at the time. I could easily have been waylaid by the Petrov Affair, as it was called. Or by the Hungarian Olympic team’s defection in 1956. Both these stories also lend themselves to fictional treatment. Maybe in the future I shall write about them, but first I would need to do some very serious study about the USSR and its methods leading up to both these events.

As I said, I began writing ‘Murder in Mt Martha’ in 2009 – and finished the first draft - as part of the PWE course. In 2010 I enrolled in Novel 2 and needed a new subject. That year I wrote a police procedural ‘A Body of Work’, introducing two detectives, Angela Micelli and Brendan O’Leary. I am looking for a publisher for this novel, set in Melbourne and Ballarat, the first of a series. At present I am a third of the way through the second in the series, ‘On the Ball’, a story set at the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam which roves from Glenlyon in country Victoria to Melbourne and as far away as Estonia. Why Estonia? Well, you’ll have to wait until its published, I’m afraid.

A (re)surgence of interest in true crime

Posted by Janice on April 25, 2016 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (357)

I was browsing my true crime shelves the other day - a few titles there, as well as those that are considered 'almost true crime', such as Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'. The issue with Capote's work is that it contains all sorts of writerly devices such as dialogue which Capote neither participated in nor witnessed. John Berendt's 'Murder in the Garden of Good and Evil' earned much the same criticism - not really real, but based on and creatively imagined. Anyway, what's not to like about that gorgeous character, Chablis. I don't care that Berendt may have constructed dialogue. I loved her.

Not sure there is such a word as 'surgence', but am also not sure that there ever was a fascination with true crime like there is now. According to in their recent article, ‘Why is True Crime all the Rage Right Now?’, true crime taps into the public’s beliefs about, and responses to, social justice. The article discusses the long-form television drama, ‘Making a Murderer’ which is not a whodunit or a willhegetcaught?

My novel, ‘Murder in Mt Martha’ is based on a true crime story, that of the brutal murder of 14-year-old Shirley Collins in 1953. It raised headlines for weeks following the discovery of her body, and periodically appeared in various papers in the ensuing years, the most recent mention being in 2013. An enduring fascination with an unsolved case, indeed.

The ABC in September 2000 on the 7.30 Report presented an interview with Ron Iddles who at the time was a serving Victorian police officer and had been recently charged with leading a cold case unit to investigate unsolved crimes, including that of Shirley Collins. Here is a brief excerpt from that 5 September telecast:

GEOFF HUTCHISON: For those who work in the Cold Murder Squad who investigate again crime scenes which may no longer exist or the statement of witnesses who may have died, rewards -- if they come at all -- come slowly. But occasionally, the phone does ring and with extraordinary possibilities. In the middle of Ron Iddles's unsolved murder file, there are a couple of pages relating to the 1953 death of Melbourne shopgirl Shirley Collins and a couple of weeks ago, he answered a call which may yet find her killer. Someone killed 15-year-old Shirley Collins 47 years ago and you get a phone call on Friday saying, "I know something about it." Does that open enormous opportunities?

RON IDDLES: Oh, of course it does. Like, I guess one of the things is -- and I've spoken to the caller -- I say you're able to assess the caller and I believe that the caller is truthful, that they believe that this person they're nominating is responsible and it's taken that caller -- and it's been a reasonably tormenting time for the caller -- it's taken 25 years to pick up the phone.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: But the Shirley Collins case will have to wait a little longer yet. A new homicide has just been phoned in and detectives will have to put aside their unsolved investigations. But there remains a steadfast and grim determination around here that justice might yet be done for those who died without it. 

A flurry of activity

Posted by Janice on April 1, 2016 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (412)


I have spent the last few months working with my editor to spit and polish the manuscript for 'Murder in Mt Martha'. A few significant changes were made, including the title.

At the time, I wasn't sure that what was being suggested would work, but wisely - in hindsight - I decided to accept the advice.

And that has lead me to where I am now - as pleased as a pampered puppy with the final result. I love the size - it will fit snugly in handbags and pockets. I love the cover - stark and beguiling. I love the layout - no nonsense and no distractions with funny falderals to separate sections and so on.

Therefore, my advice to authors, basd on my one experience, is to think long and hard about an editor’s suggestions, and because you the writer are probably a little too close to your baby, you’re perhaps not the best person to judge what will work and what won’t. After all, chances are high that your editor has launched more books than you!

The Guardian published an article in titled ‘The award for best fiction editor goes to ... nobody’ where the author opines that marketing and finance has taken precedence over the creative editor, and that unless we reward editors, the role will continue to decline and the consumer will be left with pap and rubbish – perhaps not written as strongly as this, but you get the drift. Read the article here and make up your own mind.

So thank you Anna Blay from Hybrid Publishers for your patient and painstaking work on my novel!

What comes into my inbox

Posted by Janice on October 19, 2015 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (66)


Apart from all the please pay-up type emails I receive from Doctor Whosimewatzit and the endless catalogues for products that I have never wanted let alone signed up for, as well as the Viagra ads and the sexy lady announcements, there is a goodly number of what I might term 'vanity' publishers offering to publish my manuscript. Some do this as a straight offer; others put their offers out as a 'competition'.

I fell for the competition-type years ago, when I paid good money to some US outfit that promised deals too good to pass on. From memory, it was a publishing deal with an advance plus promotion and distribution. I know you are wondering why I would be so naive. Probably the naivety developed via a combination of years spent tapping away at a keyboard, sending off submissions, many returned with not a mark on the paper (that was before electronic submissions became de rigeur), and one-line rejection notes.

Well, I have learnt a bit since then, but it doesn’t mean I am immune to scanning vanity emails before trying to find the ‘unsubscribe’ button, though. Some offer a few tips – hackneyed perhaps, but often a good reminder of something basic. Like this one that popped into my inbox this morning: ‘34 issues that will scare readers away from your author website’*. As I am blogging right now on my author website, a quick scan might tell me something new or reinforce something I already know.

For example, tip 13: ‘There’s nothing to engage the reader. No contest to enter or sample chapter to download. No sign-up for mailing lists. No way to follow you on social media or “like” your site.’ Ouch, that’s me. And tip 16: ‘You have no press kit or information for literary agents who may be checking out your site.’ Me, again. Makes sense, really, so that gives me two jobs to do, just when I was feeling pretty smug.

* Find the entire article here:


Rules for Writing Detective Fiction

Posted by Janice on September 23, 2015 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (24)

I don’t know if you get annoyed too, when you get to the end of a book only to throw it on the growing pile of those whose next journey is to the op shop, regretting the time spent reading more so than the money spent purchasing it. For me this happens when the murderer is someone who was never really featured in the story until charged with the dastardly deed; or the one where the detective has an ‘ah ha’ moment just before solving the crime, usually about two chapters from the end, which is handy as there is no other way that the crime could be solved without this; or, even more annoying, the detective runs off with the handsome man or beautiful woman at the end, as if this had been a romance novel all along.

So, it was with relief I came across an article penned by S.S. Van Dine, a pseudonym for Willard Huntington Wright, in 1928 that appeared originally in American Magazine. Forgetting the pronoun ‘he’ that is used throughout, I think the advice is great. Here is what he wrote:

THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:

1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretences.

5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his co-deductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worthwhile person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.

12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyse it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective storywriter will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality.

(a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect.

(b) The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.

(c) Forged fingerprints.

(d) The dummy-figure alibi.

(e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.

(f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.

(g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.

(h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.

(i) The word association test for guilt.

(j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.

Short short stories

Posted by Janice on June 20, 2015 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (659)

One of the shortest stories (and some argue the most powerful) ever written was achieved in just six words. Here's how it goes: 

'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' 

It has been attributed to Hemingway but good old Wikipedia states that '...the link to him is unsubstantiated, and in fact the 'story' predates Hemingway's writing career.'

Regardless of who penned it, the story remains brilliant in its conjuring of a veritable cornucopia of imaginative possibilities.

Here's a couple of my short Short Stories.

A Thin Man Goes into a Wine Bar

‘It's been a hard week,' says the thin man. ‘Whisky?' asks the proprietor. The thin man curls his lips, raises his eyebrows. 'Ouzo, then,' the proprietor says. The thin man retracts his neck, wrinkles like a fine wool merino's arse cascade into his V-neck cashmere. 'Nah, I'll have a white.'

Florsheim Shoes

I got on a train – I think it was a Bendigo train – and under the seat I found a pair of black Florsheim shoes. Never worn. Still in the box they came in. Exactly my size. Another time I found a supermarket bag of porno videos. They’d been used, though.