Crime Writing with Peter Doyle.

Over the weekend I attended a Crime Writing Workshop with award winning crime writer Peter Doyle.  He is the author of four books, including Crooks Like Us and City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948.  These books were based on extensive research in the forensic photography archive at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney.

During the workshop, we got to view actual crime scene photos and were given a writing exercise based on a photograph of our choice.  It was great to hear so many different takes on these pictures, which highlighted the great potential for story ideas.  Peter also suggested another source for photographs included Picture Australia, which is part of the National Library of Australia.

Here is a snippet of my take on one particular photograph that aroused my curiosity:-

He walks into the bedroom, seeing the blood upon the sheets.  Large pools soak into both sides of the double bed as if two bodies had once lain there propped up against the pillows.  The light hanging from above ironically reveals the image of a cherub.  He begins to wonder if this is a simple domestic or something more sinister.

Admittedly, we only had about 15 minutes to write it, but it was fun.  Here are some more helpful tips from Peter on crime writing:-

  • Hook the reader in fast and slowly reel them in.
  • Keep it lean and keep it mean.
  • Remove adjectives – it kills visualisation.
  • Visit places like war memorials and cemeteries to find names – you get to see names you don’t really see anymore.
  • Australians haven’t written much about our own past in regards to everyday criminals and everyday people, so there is plenty of stories out there waiting to be told.

My thanks to Peter Doyle and Central West Libraries for a fun, informative workshop which left us all with plenty of scope for story ideas.

Image copyright Justice and Police Museum, Sydney.

The ‘Real Life’ Underbelly & Femme Fatales.

‘Underbelly’, a popular mini-series on Australian television re-told a true gangland war in Melbourne.  However, it wasn’t just Melbourne that was well known for it’s reputation as having a high representation of a certain type of criminal.  Sydney during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s also comprised of many thieves and con-men.  And the women were just as bad!

Recently I attended an exhibition titled ‘Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal’.  This exhibition is part of the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney, containing images from police files and records, including research from newspapers of the day.  Australia was also the world leader in crime photography during the 1930s and 40s.  You can find out why by visiting their blog, From the Loft, which I’ve since found to be handy for writing prompts.

Here are just some interesting facts I discovered from the exhibition:-

  • Women like Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine were prominent figures in Sydney during this time.  Both women were involved in the sly-grog trade; Kate Leigh was also known to be a cocaine dealer.  They were both brothel owners and therefore, bitter rivals.  They ultimately came to blows during the Sydney razor gang wars.  This episode of Australian history would later be portrayed in Underbelly: Razor.
  • Lillian Armfield became Australia’s first policewoman in 1915.  Having no uniform and carrying a gun in her handbag, her work mainly involved assisting women who were victims of domestic violence.  This type of work would also lead to other cases, including murder, rape, drug-running and the white slave trade.
  • Family friends of Yvonne Fletcher became suspicious after her second husband died in similar circumstances to those of her first husband.  His body was exhumed and traces of thallium, a popular rat poison at the time, was found in his body.  This was also found in the body of her second husband – both were enough to convict her of murder.
  • Perhaps the strangest case of all involved Harry Leo Crawford.  He married his first wife in 1914, only for her to disappear three years later.  He remarried in 1919 and was eventually convicted of murdering his first wife.  What was so unusual about this case was that he was in fact a woman.  Eugenia Falleni successfully managed to convince everyone, including both his wives that he was a man.  It was only after his arrest that his second wife admitted that she thought ‘he was a bit shy’.  The ‘object’ in question was also on display, yet it is believed it could also have been a baton.  Although no expert on these particular ‘objects’ and having seen the one in question I believe this may well be the case.

Delving into such fascinating cases opens many opportunities for crime writers.  The truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

Image copyright Justice and Police Museum, Sydney.