Friday, October 28, 2011

SheKilda - Shamini Flint

Singapore based writer Shamini Flint completed the happy trio of international guests at SheKilda. Once upon a time she was a corporate lawyer, but now keeps even busier as a writer, mum and, well, that's busy enough, isn't it, let alone chucking in the other things she does. She writes children's fiction and the Inspector Singh Investigates crime fiction series. The over-riding impression of Shamini at the festival was how very funny she is, make that hilarious. Her performance at the Davitt awards night was brilliant and immensely entertaining. Both she and Margie were great fun to be around.

I had the pleasure of being on the A World of Crime session with Shamini, and it was fascinating to see what makes her Inspector Singh tick. Where Margie Orford came from South Africa, which was rife with crime, Shamini lives in Singapore, as does her character, which she complained was ridiculously safe, and the biggest chance you had for getting arrested was for littering. But perceived safety aside, it was harder issues in many Asian countries she traveled to and worked in that compelled her to dig a little deeper into their histories and to embed her stories into the echoes of those. Her most recent book, A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree was prompted by her feeling bad about her lack of knowledge of the Khymer Rouge and Pol Pot regime. Writing was a constant learning process.

Inspector Singh as a character is fascinating, she created someone who was an outsider, a food loving, fat, sweaty Sikh in Singapore. This was an advantage for her as it meant his bosses were never sure quite what to do with him so took every opportunity to send him away somewhere else, hence his adventures in many Asian countries, and, of course, their cuisine.

Shamini's children's books  were also selling well at SheKilda and I enjoyed listening to her talk about the rationale for writing them, her environmental books and in particular her Sasha series of picture books, which follow the travels of a little girl in many interesting and well known places around Asia. I learned a lot from Shamini, who is a great writer and a very savvy business woman to boot.

Shamini was also rugby mad, make that sports mad in general, so with a Rugby World Cup happening at the same time as SheKilda we were both getting plenty of score updates from our respective spouses, although Shamini may have missed a session or two to watch... Anyway, one of my favourite memories of SheKilda was sitting in the Rydges bar with Shamini, Margie and I barracking for South Africa in the quarter final against Australia surrounded by a room full of Aussies. We are brave women.

Friday, October 21, 2011

SheKilda - Margie Orford

One of the great joys of SheKilda was meeting so many fabulous women, many of whom were writers. Margie Orford, from South Africa, was one of the three International Guests of Honour, along with Shamini Flint and myself. I had the pleasure of listening to Margie on a number of occasions over the convention, in panels and as the star of the show, and every time she was on stage her humour, knowledge and wealth of experience shone through.

Margie opened the convention with the keynote address on Saturday morning, and I have to say afterwards I told her off for raising the bar so high for us fellow international guests to follow! Her talk about the nature of life in South Africa and her own experiences on the business end of the law when she spent a short time in prison as a twenty-one year old for treason captivated us all.

At the A World of Crime session Margie spoke of the immense rate of crime in South Africa, which is so high the difficulty for the writer was to make the reader actually care about this murder over any other. Some how the topic of crime tourism came up and Margie told of some folk who brought their partners or spouses to South Africa to knock them off, thinking that everyone would take it to be yet another random murder in SA and being sorely mistaken because all South Africans knew a pretty woman, or a tourist would never do that or go there and they were inevitably caught out. Takes dumb tourists to a whole new level. She also gave a beautiful description of describing settings in fiction, in response to an audience question. I liked the analogy she gave of using a camera, taking broad shot in scenes that took the wider view, but focusing in on detail in close scenes between people that needed that tension of the minutiae.

In An hour with Margie Orford we heard a bit more detail about that imprisonment, and a few hair-raising moments in the name of research, but also more about her character, Dr Clare Hart, and the story behind the woman. One of the intriguing comments from Margie was how difficult she made life for herself by making her lead character a woman, because in the books Clare puts herself in situations that in reality no woman with a shred of safety awareness and society would do, and she had to find a way of doing this credibly. She would have been far better off making Clare a man. (Although, I think most of us disagreed, in light of her books.) We also enjoyed Margie's honesty about the reality of trying to combine motherhood with writing, and the ways writing won!

It was a great pleasure to be around Margie, who is an extraordinary woman, and this writer certainly learned a lot from her. And yes, one of her books added to the immense weight of my luggage!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When life imitates art - sort of.

The news in New Zealand has been full of images of the environmental disaster playing out off the shore of Tauranga, with the grounding of the container ship Rena. We have all watched transfixed and horrified as images of oil coming ashore and polluting pristine sand and containers washing up at Mount Maunganui beach and Motiti Island flood the media, usurping even the Rugby World Cup for headline space.

Containers washing up on beaches...hmmmm, that rings a bell. I have had several phone calls and texts from folk commenting on the similarities between reality and a certain novel I happened to write, Containment.

In Containment the containers of the grounded vessel Lauretia wash up on Aramoana Beach near Dunedin. The Rena has struck the Astrolabe reef at Tauranga.

In Containment the locals looted the heck out of the containers, the beginnings of very bad things for a few. In Tauranga the locals have shown far more restraint, and the containers have been well guarded.

Phew, plenty of dissimilarities to make me feel not quite so bad, except for one little coincidence... I was born in Tauranga!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

About facebook

Okay, you know how I've said I wouldn't join facebook? Erm, courtesy of the Brave New world panel at SheKilda and nagging from certain parties (you know who you are) I now have an author page.

I'm waiting for the lightening bolts to strike from on high...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SheKilda - Wow!

I'm back in the real world, sitting at my computer with a happy smile on my face thinking of the fabulous time I had at SheKilda in Melbourne.

Firstly congratulations to the wonderful group of women brave enough to organise a second SheKilda Australian Women Crime Writers convention, it was a fabulous occasion and I felt privileged to be a part of it. (And yes, Lindy Cameron, there were plenty of witnesses who heard you say you'll happily do it again!) There was a very full programme, too full in fact as there were sessions I wanted to go to but missed because I couldn't be in two places at once! There was something there for everyone, and it was great to be around so many fabulous Australian women writers. Margie Orford and Shamini Flint, my fellow international guests were amazing, funny and very clever, and I learned a lot from them. In fact I came away from the weekend feeling happily knackered and mentally invigorated, it's left me dying to get back to my writing.

The body in the pool - yes that is a green stiletto sticking out of her eye!

A sense of fun infused the whole convention, as was evident by the 'body in the pool' which had to be the body by the pool due to the inclement weather - her death was a mystery we enjoyed trying to solve, and the perpetrator of the crime surprised us all, but no one was as surprised as she was. Carmel Shute, I didn't know you had it in you!

I also loved the fact it was one of those conventions where lunches and morning teas were provided there, so you had a great opportunity to mingle with the readers and writers and chat over a bite to eat and a drink, it made it feel very intimate and personal.

I'll report over the next few days on individual sessions I attended, and the Davitt Awards Night.

But for now, I'll sit here smiling, remembering, and marveling that I managed to sneak in 200gm under the weight limit for my luggage considering how many books I brought!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

SheKilda - almost here!

Counting down the days now until the fabulous SheKilda, Australian women's crime writers convention  in Melbourne. It kicks off this coming Friday, which means I get to hop across the Tasman on Thursday. I'm so excited about it all I can't stand myself.

For a full list of their programme and guests check out the SheKilda website here.

Naturally there is a lot of preparation for me to do, ie, figure out what I'm going to wear. Although, I hear the shopping's quite good in Melbourne... and the food...

As you can guess from the above comment I have never been to Melbourne before (I've only been to Australia once before, two years ago, to Sydney.) So if any of you have some must see recommendations, especially for specialty stationery shops, book shops, or chocolatiers let me know! I'm already going to make getting to the Tutankhamen exhibition at the Melbourne Museum a priority - I can't believe my luck that it is there at the same time I will be.

Most of all I am looking forward to wallowing in the world of crime fiction with lots of fabulous women writers - it is going to be a blast.