Carmel Shute – Secretary, Sisters in crime

Carmel Shute – Secretary, Sisters in crime


We have with us Carmel Shute. Carmel you were one of the founders of Sisters In Crime Can you tell us a little bit about sisters in
crime. Well we’ve been going since 1991 and we’ve been on a mission to bring the
joys, the pleasures of women’s crime writing to the broader world and
to have lots of fun doing it and do you see a role to be particularly
focused on helping young female authors get into crime writing? Well we certainly
do our best to encourage it so we’ve got the Scarlet Stiletto Awards which have now
been going for 26 years and that’s a short story competition and that’s done
an enormous amount to unearth talent so over those years 25 over the past 25 years 25
authors have gone on to have novels published which is a pretty good record
and then we’ve got also got the Davitt awards which are for best crime books
from the year previously that’s been now notching up 19 years and that gives
women a lot of encouragement as well and also their publishers to take a bit on
Australian crime writers and not just bringing the latest blockbuster from
America. And can I join sisters in crime? We love brothers-in-law and can I just
say that at our events new brothers-in-law almost always win the
raffle. Can I ask you what um, when did you first get to know about Charlotte
Jay when did she first come to your attention? Well she came to my attention when I was
contacted by Wadefield press in 1992 that just published Beat not the bones, the novel which won her the inaugural Edgar Allan Poe award
presented by the Mystery Writers of America and she was coming to Melbourne
and I think they rang me up the day before said we’ve sent you
the book and could you please do an interview with Charlotte Jay she arrives
tomorrow night so I had to do a very very fast read of her book
and meet up with her after she got off the plane after quite a few gins I
have to say on her part she does lead develop a bit of a passion for gin
on the diplomatic circuit with her husband or all those years she is she was
terrific and I feel such a privilege that I got to meet her because not many
people did. It’s probably true to say that Charlotte Jay as an author is best
known in the USA perhaps slightly less better known in UK and even less better known in Australia. That’s
right in fact beat not the bones wasn’t even published in Australia first
off as far as I know so it had a very you know one great critical acclaim in
America and to a lesser extent the UK but you know just not even known here in
Australia because it didn’t help the fact that she was out of the country for
a very long period with her diplomatic husband oh well actually he worked for
UNESCO so. It’s interesting isn’t it because she and her husband obviously travelled around
the world a lot and she took great advantage of that by setting her books
in many of the places where they ended up. That’s right Thailand, Lebanon, Trobriand islands, et cetera, yes. Yes so so perhaps the issue with
Australians for is the only really her first book is set in Australia the knife
is feminine yes and of course back then there wasn’t much of a crime market and
all there wasn’t much of a matter for Australian literature generally so it
was quite difficult I think for a lot of writers to make go over in Australia
because most of the books of hers that we see of the Collins crime series which
was published in the UK and maybe some were shipped out to Australia but
as you say a two Lakeville pressed with an interest in the early 1990s there
were no Australian editions of her work. And I’ve got the three books they put out but that’s it. That’s it. Which is disappointing. It is. It’s just a shame that she didn’t go for a bit
longer because when Sisters In Crime was more established we would have
definitely would have tried to have an event with her. Can you reflect on reading beat not
the bones and what it has to say now about what life would have been like in
Port Moresby back in the early 50s well it’s I was just swept away with it
I thought it was an outstanding book and full of terror and what I particularly
admired was the way that she took crime from the mean streets of the United
States and the cozy English villages and put it in the jungle so you can say
that she’s the pioneer of tropic noir you know called tropic noir. and not only that was a ripper
of a crime read but it was also about a young woman’s self-realization
she arrived in Papua New Guinea to discover them or to find out what happened was
the murder of her husband and she’s a very naive convent educated girl and she
has a bit of a rude awakening. The picture of the male administrators in
PNG in those days I think to us now seems terribly paternalistic, chauvinistic and racist but I recall from reading account your interview with her
that she can feel that all when she was writing it. That’s right she thought they
were you know she greatly supported that administration she thought they were
fairly benign but I have to say I would Papua New Guinea 1975 just before
independence and was a violent racist place mm-hmm so it’s it’s interesting
that I think the impression of that book now is really greater on modern thinking of
Australians back in it’s day. That’s right she showed I thought a remarkable degree
of well a matter lack of self awareness about what she was doing
and when people like myself compared it to the heart of darkness she just
roared with laughter where is definitely you know in that vein and when you
talked about the administration again she was just saying
oh it’s just one or two bad apples that I portrayed she didn’t see is a systemic
issue whatsoever and she was also fairly naive about her central character I
thought about her again her, her, her own journey towards self-realization and
how much we think that central character affected Charlotte Jay, Geraldine Hall’s own
persona at the time I’ve got no idea I think she was a rather more
sophisticated person and she’d she was well-traveled and she I don’t think
she was provincial in the way that her central character was hmm because it
really is an extraordinary extraordinary naive young woman going into the jungle
as it were way outside her comfort zone and what’s
hysterical is that Charlotte Jay never actually went into the jungle herself
she just made it all up I was really impressed by those that plant with a big
orange flowers and she just made it up but I think there were plants like
big orange flowers so she just managed to hit the nail on the head without
actually doing any any research of that ilk herself she didn’t go up the see
pick or anything like that and I’m like you when I first read it I immediately thought of
heart of darkness the only differences there wasn’t of curse at the end of the
river to make all the demons come true the fact that was rather surrounding
climax at exactly I was also very struck by the Knife is
feminine as as a picture model I was around in 1950 Sydney but it’s just as I
imagined it probably was the what she represents it just seems to me so
real and authentic I and she was always that her pain she said to tell a really
good story and to be entertaining and and I think she does that in spades
there’s a threatened terror in all her writing that one of
the main incidents that happens in the knife is feminine is that there’s a strange
sort of boarding house that the protagonist is drawn to he knows it’s
something wrong about it he knows it’s creepy or it’s dodgy or something but we
all know as we don’t go in there he’s going to stay there even though all
the signs are saying don’t do it don’t go and a hang of hair is also really
creepy so she’s got that ability to create that atmosphere out of very
ordinary makings yes and that’s what makes her such a great writer. you

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