This year's 10th Annual Ned Kelly awards were incorporated as part of the Melbourne Writer's Festival main programme.
Yeah - no longer part of the fringe festival :) :) :)
The Awards were held in the Festival Club Marquee at the Malthouse in South Melbourne on the 30th August.
It was a warm and balmy night......
Firstly Peter Lawrence had again done a sterling and mostly solo effort to bring the awards to fruition. This year was the first year that the awards had been officially included in the Festival programme and for the first year many of the main publishers have actually come on board with some support.
Peter deserves all our thanks and gratitude for holding this monster together and in particular this year, as he's been personally very very ill - having rarely seen Peter in the flesh (so to speak) it took me quite a while to even recognise him in the crowd. But more on his comments later on.
The night was hosted / adjudicated / wrestled into submission by the inimitable Jane Clifton (who took it upon herself to ensure that every participant's porn name (first pet / first street name) was identified and announced as each of them were called to the stage).
The evening commenced with a few words of welcome from Jane and Rob Hulls, Victorian Attorney General was called to the stage to perform the initial opening, which he did in truly hysterical fashion in the form of a noir opening chapter of life and times as a hard bitten crime crusader in the mean streets of Victorian and Australian political life. Amongst other memorable and frequently in jokes, the one that caused our table to become riotous with laughter and stared at by other participants was when he referred to one of the criminal masterminds that he fought on a daily basis as the Cadaver who ultimately skewered himself on his Amnesty Pin. Okay - we thought it was hysterial!
Then the winner of the Crime on a Postcard story competition was announced. Okay, I'd had a couple - but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the very nice lady that won the competition but have to confess to being very startled about how much you can fit on a postcard when she read out her story.
Then onto the debate - That Crime is better than Sex.
Judge Liz Gaynor started off on the Crime / affirmative side and managed to make it through most of her session without revealing too much about her husband, and fellow Judge, John Smallwood - our own latter day Ned Kelly. Liz's argument appeared to centre around sex has destroyed her girlish figure and, in her day job sitting on the County Court - she gets more laughs these days from Crime. (I'm paraphrasing :) )
Leigh Redhead then "appeared" for the Sex / negative side. And did Leigh appear. In a titchy little short / low cut black dress number that really shouldn't have been allowed on a balmy Melbourne night, Leigh proceeded to explain that most people don't write sex scenes because their own lives are pretty dull, or at least I think that's what she was saying, after she'd embroidered on a couple of things she'd written in one of her books I was having a bit of trouble concentrating.
Greg Fleet, local comic identity then continued the discussion on the affirmative side. Well at least I think he was on the affirmative side. Everybody was duly impressed with the suit and tie getup, but he did manage to mention that the only reason he was dressed up was that, for authenticities sake, he'd tried a bit of crime on the way to the venue and had arrived in a very posh car with the liberal party politician owner tied up and naked in the boot (he "borrowed" the suit as well). He then proceeded to tell some very funny stories about being in West Australia and a bunch of other stuff. As Jane commented, no idea what that was about, but boy was it funny.
And then Rhys Muldoon on the negative sex side. "She was a blonde" was the opening line of a short story about crime, sex and more sex and then a bit of sex. Verging on erotic soft porn he oozed his way through a story which had us all leaping for programs to fan ourselves and glasses to drink from. Mind you, he did nearly crack up laughing a few times when the audience collapsed in hysterics, but all in all a VERY memorable contribution.
After that, the debate was declared a draw and everyone retired for a short time to recompose themselves!
Then trivia questions - we were hopeless and even moreso, when Peter Lawrence pointed out that all the answers where printed in the Table Talk handouts on everyone's table. It was dark alright, and somebody printed the blasted notes in 6point - couldn't see a thing!
Melanie Rooth announced Wendy James and Out of Silence as the winner of the First Crime Novel - Wendy's award was collected by her publisher. Melanie Rooth mentioned a number of the other novels in the category and had some glowing comments to make about all entries.
Rhys Muldoon announced Lachlan McCulloch and Packing Death Best True Crime novel, again mentioning all of the other contenders, but as he said (and most of us agreed) too much Kath is never enough. Lachlan was there to receive his award and even wore the big overcoat that he appears on the cover in. He was just a little emotional, and having finished that book late on Friday, I can see why - he went through Hell to nail that family (review here).
Maryjean Watt then announced Peter Temple joint winner for The Broken Shore. Peter tried his hardest to make us all believe that his win had more to do with being able to break into VicPolice's LEAP database system for juicy bribery material on the judges than the nature of the book, but even at his most self-effacing it is the book of the year and could easily have won on its own. (review here.)
Judge Liz Gaynor then announced the joint winner Chris Nyst and Crook as Rookwood. Her summary pointed out that this book includes some of the best written courtroom scenes in the Australian genre and she's definitely right about that.
Peter Lawrence then announced and presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to John Silvester and Andrew Rule. It's very easy to forget that the Underbelly series was the beginning of an Australian publishing phenomena - self-published / true crime. Unflattering, funny, concise and exactly what you'd give any budding gangster as a how not to manual, the Underbelly series was mostly self-published when all the publishing houses wouldn't touch them and they have gone off "like hotcakes".
A great night.
Incidentally, The Age's website has published the Top 10 books from the Readings Bookshop at the festival:
1. The Planets, Dava Sobel;
2. India Vik, Liz Gallois;
3. Folly and Grief, Jennifer Harrison;
4. My Israel Question, Antony Loewenstein;
5. Secret Asset, Stella Rimington;
6. Last Seen in Lhasa, Claire Scobie;
7. The Secret River, Kate Grenville;
8. At Risk, Stella Rimington;
9. Unintelligent Design, Robyn Williams;
10 Open Secret, Stella Rimington.