The Black Hand, vol.2

Amateur sleuths and crime writing

Did you know that there’s a global online organisation of amateur sleuths? The Guardian wrote an article about it, and if you’d like to check it out, you can go to Websleuths and see for yourself.

It’s pretty fascinating that people all over the world, some with significant professional experience, have started looking into cold case homicides and disappearances. They’ve even provided case-cracking information to law enforcement. The site lists people with qualifications as former detectives, retired forensic profilers and forensic anthropologists, psychologists…and authors! I even spotted a post by an 18year-old Websleuths member, so the ‘teenage amateur detective’ plot bunnies are now arriving thick and fast.

But hey, heads up: much of the information and detail about cases (both current and historical) on Websleuths is disturbing, so don’t visit the site if true crime freaks you out. I keep up with true crime for my novels, and I research specific cases, but a lot of true crime is really tragic and distressing, so please be aware.

Another resource I use when researching crime books is the podcast Real Crime Profile, which I recommend highly – particularly because the hosts honour and respect the victims of crime. One of the other reasons I like RCP is because they often interview law enforcement officers, who talk candidly about their experiences of training and casework. If I’m writing about LEOs, information like this is invaluable.

Aurealis awards

None Shall Sleep is a finalist for the Aurealis awards! I am excite :)

I’ve never had an Aurealis nom before, and it’s really lovely. Thanks to my Aus publisher, Allen & Unwin, and to everyone for the support.

None Shall Sleep also got a wave in a new article on GoodReads about YA mysteries and thrillers, which is pretty cool. If you’d like to read the book and see what the fuss is about, you can find it here.

Wine in space

Completely random, but scientists sent a case of really nice wine into space to find out the effects of zero-gravity on fermentation, and taste, and other wine-related things. I have no idea why we, as a society, need to know this information, or why vintners (wine-makers) also send wine to the bottom of the sea to age, but there you go – I’m sure it’ll all be useful for something one day (I mean, penicillin was discovered entirely by accident). And hey, maybe it’ll start a new trend in Space Wine?

Author event

I have an event coming up on Tuesday 20 April – it’s an online Q&A with author Keri Arthur, run by Writers Victoria, and we’ll be answering all your burning questions related to self-publishing. If you’ve ever wanted to pick the brains of a self-published author, now’s your chance! We had a big response to this event, so WV moved it online, which will allow more folks to participate. You can find tix and details at Writers Victoria – hope to see you there.

What I’m writing

I can’t decide! No, seriously, I’m just coming off a writing hiatus – which is very nice, and I recommend it if you’ve been grinding hard for a while – and I’m about to start tackling some of the pitch proposals I sent to my agent, but I’m not sure which one to start with.

Obviously I won’t launch into writing an entire book if it hasn’t been signed (that’s why they’re called pitch proposals: as in, “Look, here’s a book I’d like to write for you, if you’re prepared to publish it”). But amongst the proposals were a couple of things I would really like to finish, including the None Shall Sleep sequel and a New Thriller Book that I think is likely to sell. But which one to write first?

Usually, when writers tell me they have this problem, I say something annoying and wise-sounding like, “Write the one that’s grabbing you the most,” and often it’s good advice. But in this case, I have to remember that I’ll have edits for my next release arriving soon, and I have to think about timing, so I need to consider my professional interests. That’s what being a grown-up writer is all about.

Either way, it’s kind of a great writer problem to have? Issues around “what to write next” don’t tend to crop up for me, because my brain is full of ideas. But working out “what to write first” is sometimes a problem. Maybe I’ll use a dartboard, or flip a coin – that sounds very grown-up.

Currently reading

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is a different reading experience to her runaway bestseller, Gone Girl. I threw that book across the room at about the halfway mark, once I realised I loathed all the characters and wished they had all been murdered/disappeared. Gone Girl has therefore gained entry to the highly exclusive club of Books I Hated So Much I Didn’t Finish Them (which also includes Solar by Ian McEwan), but I’m finding Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects, much more engaging.

The story is about a woman journalist who returns to her stifling small town, and the house of her creepy and horrible mother, to investigate a series of child murders. The writing is atmospheric and clever, and I admire the craft in it, and the turns of phrase. The book is classified as a thriller, but while it’s pretty gripping, I don’t find it particularly thrilling or scary – the general tone seems to be more tense dread and melancholy. Anyway, it’s a solid level above most psychological murder mysteries, so give it a try.

Side note: I still find it a bit incredible when adult things (murders of small children, self-harm, drug-taking, unhappy sex, etc) pop up in adult books, particularly when some of the characters are teenaged, as they are in Sharp Objects. I’ve been reading YA for so long, my first thought is always ‘Is the author allowed to write that?’ – but clearly they are, so carry on.

Alternative book rec: If you’d prefer something less grim than the last two books I’ve recommended, fear not - The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is an absolutely delightful story, and is very clever and well-written. It’s about four septugenerians in a retirement home who get together every Thursday to examine cold case homicides – and then find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation. I tend to steer away from celebrity authors, but Osman has done a fantastic job of differentiating each voice, and constructed a story full of pathos and wit. I laughed a lot while reading, which I don’t often say about murder books. Enjoy!

I’ve become obsessed with Alone

It’s all Lili Wilkinson’s fault (thanks Lili!) because she was the one who first told me about this History series (it’s on SBS On Demand in Aus), in which ten contestants are dropped in harsh, isolated locations with a bare handful of equipment and a bunch of GoPros, and film themselves as they try to survive for as long as they can.

Contestants can press a button to tap out at any time – there’s a high rate of attrition in the first week, when people realise they have to deal with bears and wolves and starvation and cold – but the contestants are warned at the outset that the process could last up to a year. The winner gets $500,000, but you quickly discover that the contestants who are in it purely for the money are least likely to win.

I love it. It’s a massive change of pace from every other overhyped reality TV ‘survivor’ scenario, and some contestants are incredibly inventive. But it’s not always the best survivalist who wins: often the cleverest contestant is the one who knows when to just sit in their makeshift shelter and do nothing, to conserve energy. It’s also a very psychological series, and there is a lot of self-reflection as contestants come to understand what being utterly and completely alone for months actually means.

I’m up to Season Three, and taking loads of notes for research…and I’ll tell you why I need the research in due course.

Best spy books written by spies, decided by a spy

Alma Katsu is a thriller writer and also a former spy, and she has written this very useful article about spy books written by spies. She hasn’t included any books by Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, but given that Katsu used to work in the industry, I think I’m prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt.

#LoveOzYAbookclub

We just finished reading The Gaps by Leanne Hall, and our new title for April is The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni. Head on over to #LoveOzYAbookclub on Facebook anytime to hang out and enjoy the fun.

#LoveOzYAbookclub here!

I’d really like to see this movie

Nobody uses the classic trope of “milquetoast suburban dude turns out to be a retired hardcore badass when his family is threatened”, which I quite like, and also I like the actor, Bob Odenkirk.

Also incredibly hyped to watch Shadow & Bone

I mean WHO ISN’T, far out, I cannot wait for this, the trailer looks freaking amazing:

I’m on school holidays right now, and it’s the best. I mean, all my kids are home, which makes for a very busy house, so it can be hard to concentrate on writing. But as a part-time teacher, I do relish the holidays. I’m gonna watch movies with my kids, go visit my friends and my nieces, spend some time with my partner, and then retreat for a while to get some writing work done.

I hope you’re doing well, and that you have a good month! Catch you round again soon :)

xxEllie