Once, a few birthdays ago, my partner bought me a whole stack of books about writing. It was the perfect present for an aspiring novelist, but to this day, I haven’t read them all through—I’m just too threatened. What if I get intimidated by the book’s own amazing word flow? What if their Writing Don’ts crush my already low novelist self-esteem by sneering at all my favourite things (i.e. terrible couch posture while writing, frequent internet procrastination, tell don’t show)? Despite this fear, I still picked up If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You, subtitled Australia’s leading crime writers reveal their secrets, and by about page one, all of my fears were allayed and all of my ears were pricked. YES ALL OF THEM.
After Michael Robotham’s heartening intro, it’s straight into Shane Maloney, whose body count confession and stumble into crime writing made me feel a little comforted, along with his sage advice: “There are no fucking rules.” From there, the differing styles of successful authors made me realise one very obvious thing, which is that there is no one steadfast rule, apart from that yes perhaps I should stop procrastinating. As a habitual dog-earer, this book has so many folded corners that the top right-hand corner has almost doubled in thickness. Sometimes I even had to do that awkward double-fold where I like something on both sides of a page. (Note to self: buy post-its.) Every essay has something that was inspiring, or interesting, or helpful, or funny, or all of the above and then more. Liz Porter shares advice she cherishes: “Try to do something a bit different from what everybody else is doing.” Garry Disher’s spot-on rule #7 is “Become part of the community of writers in some way”. Malla Nunn punches anxiety about other authors in the face with “What the publishers and readers don’t have, yet, is a book by you.” Katherine Howell taught me something I won’t forget1. Leigh Redhead makes a great point about how boring motivation-less serial killers are: “I became more interested in reading stories about ordinary people who resorted to crime.” Tara Moss disclosed just how far she’ll go for research and I was impressed and will now be thoroughly terrified should I ever meet her. Leah Giarratano shares a psychology strategy and a staggering amount of research. Michael Robotham’s touching connection to Ray Bradbury almost made me have a little bit of a cry.
If you are a crime writer, this is a ridiculously helpful kick in the butt. In fact, the only reason it took so long for me to read it was that I became so deliriously inspired by the end of each essay that I had to keep putting it down to go work on my own crime novel (blog post about publisher six-figure bidding war for said novel presumably coming your way very soon.) If you’re a reader, think of it like a collection of personal short stories by Australia’s premier crime writers. I’ve read a lot of these authors before, and these stories makes me a) want to read books by the authors I haven’t and b) read more by the authors I have. You get a feel for their styles, from hardboiled Lenny Bartulin to comedic Geoffrey McGeachin (I’ve only read his more straight Ned Kelly winner Blackwattle Creek but am now desperate to go back to his spy capers); or maybe you’ll want to read their books because they sound like people you’d get along with.
Crime has never seemed so cheerful.
1A really clear explanation of suspense, but she did it with useful words and not cheap tricks a.k.a. what I just did then. Sorry.