In a darkened bar, up a wide old stone staircase, deep in Trades Hall Melbourne on Saturday night we gathered for the 20th Anniversary of the Ned Kelly Awards.
These awards were special for a few reasons - they were back in Melbourne, it was the 20th Anniversary of the Neddies (as they are affectionately known) and ACWA had a few surprises up its various sleeves. And I don't just mean the winners of the awards.
One of the reasons I had been really keen to get to Melbourne for this year's event was the Lifetime Achievement Award being given out. In my eyes Peter Lawrence is an absolute hero. After 18 or so years of SINGLE-HANDEDLY running the Ned Kelly Awards a few years ago ACWA came to light and stepped in to help. Since then it's taken a bunch of us peddling bloody hard to pull off what Peter did on his own, and on the smell of an oily rag for all those years. I wanted to see the statue handed over to him, I also wanted to be standing and applauding as he walked to that stage and I wanted to give him a hug and a thank you. His speech was classic Peter - self-deprecating and kind, but along the way he pointed out that it was a labour of love - and a buzz to be supporting our wonderful local crime writers. Words that I absolutely agree with, but now I'm out of order and all over the place.
But the night itself kicked off with the Green's Dairy Angel Ensemble who were absolutely fabulous - the music was great fun and really started the night off with a blast. It was really special to see MC Jane Clifton take to the stage with the band later in the evening to do a few numbers.
In a slight change in running order, we started the night off with Michael Robotham explaining the significance of the history of the Neds and re-iterating once again how important they are for our local writers. He then handed out the first of the nights awards and it was so pleasing to see Jock Serong take to the stage to receive his Best First Neddie for QUOTA. It's a wonderful book, and couldn't have been happier to see him awarded and smiling.
Then fellow-Committee member and True Crime Author herself, Rochelle Jackson took to the stage to announce the winner of the Best True Crime award. Both Michael and Rochelle expanded on the author perspective of the awards - the appreciation of the acknowledgement, and as Helen Garner took to the stage to accept her award for THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF, her speech nailed that even harder. There seems to be a bit of comment around today about ACWA and the judging panel being brave to have given her this award - but to be honest, in the background, I'd have been a bit confused had it not won. Everyone I know who has read it says it's an incredibly powerful book by one of our all time great authors. My copy is here and I've been trying to restrain myself as it's an upcoming book club discussion - but we all know restraint in reading choices is not my favourite thing.
After the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award and Andrew Nette's great tribute to Peter, it was time for the Famous Ned Kelly Awards Debate. "Can the Bad Guy Ever be the Good Guy" was the topic, and I think the teams of Vikki Petraitis and Robert Gott for the affirmative (or the negative - we all got very confused) and Matthew Condon and Leigh Redhead for whatever side the others weren't on actually did touch on the subject matter at hand once or twice. Although Vikki was at pains to point out that the differences between good boys and girls and Robert seemed to get trapped in a political discourse about one use only presents from girls to boys of a highly personal nature. It definitely seems that Matthew has read Vikki's latest book about Police Dogs, and Leigh. Well Leigh basically kind of won the night with her phrase "c*ck-juggling thunder-c*nt". In context - something or other to do with politics I think - too busy laughing. Anyway Leigh and Matthew won. I think. Nobody knew who the affirmative and negative were. Nobody could get past that line of Leigh's, too many people were trying to work out the hidden message in Robert's gift giving ideas, and whilst Matt openly admitted his rebuttal was to the point because he'd not bothered to take any notes, Vikki's teacher look "known to quell even unknown children in supermarkets" seemed to have a slightly strange effect on a bar full of adults. Needless to say hilarious as always. (Note to rest of the Committee - we really really really should start warning the overseas guests. Particularly the ones from the UK. Their awards are a very serious affair - no idea where they think they've landed when they get to a Neddies night...)
Onto the the next award and we were thrilled to have last year's winner Emma Viskic to hand the award to this year's winner Andrea Gillum. Who walked past us in tears which set us off, which frightened off a couple of people we were chatting to, which meant we all ended up back at the bar for a restorative....
Which meant that S.J. Watson could take to the stage and after a chat with Jane about his books (Before I Go To Sleep and Second Life) he announced the winner of the Best Crime Award - Candice Fox for EDEN. Which puts her in a very small set of people who have won Best First, and followed up the year after the Best Crime. It's a tremendous series. Brave, strong and fascinating, dark and confronting. Everything you want in really strong crime writing anywhere in the world.
There were lots of people there during the night, faces even I recognised which was fun - but after the awards the band returned to the stage, some dancing was undertaken (okay Leigh danced, the rest of us were feeling a bit shell-shocked by that stage!) and that's it for the Neddies for another year.
Congratulations to all of the short-listed authors - each could form a recommended reading list for crime fiction and true crime fans the world over. Thanks also to all of the authors and publishers who entered into the long-list and let's hope you'll come back and do it all again next year.
Special thanks to the ACWA Committee who are just the best bunch of people to run an event with.