Ever since I was twelve, I’ve wanted an excuse to quote Boy George. Now I’ve found not one, but two:
“It’s a Miracle” I’ve finished writing another novel.
“(It’s a) Miracle” is the title of my new novel!
This is a long-winded and slightly nonsensical way of saying (if not singing) that my new novel Miracle will be published by Cloud Ink Press later in 2022.
Although Miracle has nothing whatsoever to do with Boy George (his song just came to me as I was writing this post), it’s primarily set in the 1980s, so Culture Club could feasibly feature in its soundtrack. If it were to have one.
It’s been a long time between blog posts. This year hasn’t been my most productive, but a two-week stint in hotel isolation gave a much needed boost to my word count. And although I didn’t finish writing my second novel, I did write about the experience of trying to…
Here’s a condensed version of my iso blog:
Fingers crossed 2021 will be more productive (with no iso required). Happy New Year!
It’s been a massive two years! As well as winning the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best for First Novel, All Our Secrets took me to WORD, LitCrawl, Rotorua Noir, three Mystery in the Library events and Booktown. We also made it across the Tasman – to Sydney and Melbourne. A big thank you to Rosa Mira Books for making it all happen – and to each and every reader.
My daughter Tess made this little video to mark All Our Secrets’ two year launchday.
Here’s an essay I wrote for the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal:
“…but no matter how far or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home.”
When most people hear those words, they probably think of the now-deceased Peter Allen, who performed the legendary song in the musical The Boy from Oz. Or possibly, the Qantas inflight safety video it recently accompanied. I don’t. I picture my curly-blonde-haired three-year-old brother Damien at the gig that launched his busking career.
At nine years old, I, his self-appointed manager, had big plans for the musical prodigy that was my brother. I somewhat optimistically believed his voice carried the power to make us a fortune (though admittedly, to me at that age, a fortune was 20 cents for a bag of eucalyptus lollies). Damien, dressed in an understated white Bonds singlet and blue terry-toweling shorts, sat perched on the wooden stool I’d dragged half-way up Hockey’s Lane, a dusty dirt road, about a kilometre from our house. No appreciative listeners gave us 20 cents, or even one cent, that day, to mark the beginning of our lucrative partnership. Quite possibly because the audience consisted entirely of dairy cows. But that didn’t stop Damien from belting out the lyrics with enough gusto to stun the magpies that blackened the branches of the gum trees looming above us.
Nothing sinister happened to Damien as he flung out his chubby arms to accentuate the ‘hooooommme’, his voice as electric as the fence that separated him from his attentive audience. It probably helped that not a human soul knew he was there. Even so, having lived in New Zealand for 22 years, this image and the soundtrack to it is imprinted firmly in my mind**. And it was the heat, the dry, dusty lanes, and the towering grey gums of my New South Wales childhood that I conjured up when writing my mystery novel All Our Secrets.
Unlike in All Our Secrets’ fictional town of Coongahoola, in our village, there was no scandalous River Picnic to burn our parents with shame or haunt us in our dreams. We did have an annual Christmas party in the local hall, but the worst thing that happened was Santa giving me the same present – a manicure kit – three years in a row (I still pride myself on the state of my nails).
Instead of a foreboding, ‘black-as-night river’ like Coongahoola’s Bagooli River, we had Good Dog Creek. And although we were warned against playing on its banks, no lives were lost during the many times we disobeyed our parents and paddled in it. Only the occasional sock.
We were also, thankfully, spared the horror of having a serial killer living amongst us. There was old Mr Jones who lived on his own in a run-down house on the corner. My best friend and I used to knock on his front door on those endless, hot summer days when we’d run out of things to do. We watched him beat the life out of a red-bellied black snake with a spade once, before stringing its long, limp body over a barbed wire fence like a trophy. But he was friendly enough to us.
What we did share with Coongahoola was our very own cult. I used our ‘Little Pebbles’ as inspiration for ‘The Believers’ in All Our Secrets. But although the Little Pebbles’ leader was later jailed for sex offences against under-aged girls, his cult wasn’t a threat to our family’s everyday life. Despite our mum warning us that we might get stoned to death if we approached their camp, well, we didn’t.
So there are more differences than similarities between Coongahoola and the village I grew up in, and between various other stories I’ve written and my own childhood. But no matter how hard I try to distance myself from my roots (especially after another depressing election result), my connection remains strong. I guess I still, and possibly always will, call Australia home.
* Although I had limited success as a band manager, I did have an eye for musical talent. Damien grew up to be an award-winning film and TV score composer. He’s also the singer/songwriter/lead guitarist for indie band Dropping Honey.
**A reimagined version of I still call Australia home also made it into All Our Secrets – ‘Parents took turns escorting us kids to and from the bus stop and made us walk along in a chain, holding hands and singing songs like ‘I still call Coongahoola home’ as if we were six years old.’
Next Friday night I’ll be in Melbourne with sisters in crime, Jennifer Spence and Joanna Baker, talking to Vikki Petraitis about ‘the murderous intertwining of love and family secrets, and its place in broader society’.
Here’s a post I wrote for the Sisters in Crime website in preparation:
Sometime last year, Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson invited me to Rotorua Noir, a festival he was organising with crime writer Grant Nicol. I quickly signed up because:
I was enjoying my newfound status as a ‘crime writer’
This would be New Zealand’s first ever crime writing festival
Craig seemed like a pretty cool guy, and
I actually don’t need a reason to sign up for a weekend away
So, this January, on a fittingly overcast Friday morning, I found myself in Rotorua with next-to-no expectations for what lay ahead…
The festival officially started the next day, but for me the adventure began when I stabbed my friend’s mother in the throat with a car key – during the ‘Out, damned plot’ creative writing Masterclass with ‘modern-day Queen of Crime’ Vanda Symons. I’d met Vanda at WORD Christchurch last September and she’s also a Ngaio Marsh Awards judge (so of course I rate her very highly).
Someone else committing murder under Vanda’s careful instruction was fellow Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist Nikki Crutchley, who I’d also met at WORD Christchurch. We were both staying at the same old-school motel a 10-minute wander from the festival’s home and, as if we’d spent years in each other’s company instead of a couple of hours, we immediately became partners in crime for the weekend.
Following the heaving launch of J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie that night, we joined Craig, Vanda, Finnish crime writer Kati Hiekkapelto and a few others on an out-of-town excursion. First stop was the quintessentially Kiwi Waiotapu Tavern where we enjoyed dinner (fish and chips, of course), beer, and games of pool.
Next, in a scene perfect for a crime novel, we drove down a dark road and pulled over by a bridge. With only the soft light from our phones to guide us, we followed a track through the bush to the river. There we were rewarded, not with being bludgeoned to death by a group of men in balaclavas, but with the sight of steam rising. The river was a natural spa – with convenient pockets of cold for when we needed cooling off! We soaked (swimming would be overstating it) under the stars, talking about crocodiles and the many other dangers we didn’t need to concern ourselves with while soaking under the stars in New Zealand (apart from, perhaps, men in balaclavas). Even for New Zealanders (and interlopers like me), it was truly magical. There are no photos (probably a good thing because not everyone remembered togs!), but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
The river adventure was hard to top, but the pōwhiri at the Te Papaiouru Marae on Saturday morning, in which we were welcomed by the local Māori iwi, came pretty close. I’ve visited a marae before but this was my first pōwhiri at a marae. As part of the ceremony, our group was expected to sing (a requirement I’d only just learned about the night before). So if you happened to have walked past my motel room at 6am that morning, you may have heard me attempting to learn the lyrics to Te Aroha (admittedly only 4 lines) with the help of YouTube. Fortunately, mine was only one of around 40 relatively well-rehearsed voices, and the group effort sounded pretty special.
Speeches and singing were followed by a hongi (also a new experience for me) and morning tea (not so new). The whole ceremony was very moving – evoking tears in at least one person – and a fitting beginning to Rotorua Noir.
The festival’s home was the Shambles Theatre, where panel after panel of top local and international crime writers kept us in our seats with discussions about everything from the craft of adapting crime novels to the screen to ‘rural noir’ – thrilling tales set in the wops-wops. My only regret is not taking notes (so I could insert detail into these brackets). In between talks we bought books, signed books, pestered others to sign books, all while meeting and chatting to other writers. Among them, dressed in her ‘It’s criminal what a girl has to do…to get a good read’ t-shirt was Lindy Cameron of Clan Destine Press, my Australian publisher (and president of Australia’s Sisters in Crime). There were a few other Aussies too, some of whom are pictured below.
Saturday night’s festivities included ‘A Question of Crime’ – a quiz hosted by Vanda Symon and Paul Cleave. Our team ‘#yeahnoir’ (named for the hashtag coined by our team member, Steph Soper) came fourth, possibly helped by the question: ‘Who coined the hashtag #yeahnoir?’. The question: ‘Who wrote the Ngaio Marsh Award finalist for best first novel, ‘Nothing Bad Happens Here’?’ was another bonus since Nikki Crutchley was also in our team. But the ‘Agatha Quizties’ were the winners and, with that name, deservedly so.
Then, suddenly, it was Sunday! After the excellent ‘Ill Winds from the North’ European crime fiction panel, it was the newbies’ turn. Vanda Symon interrogated Nathan Blackwell, Simon Wyatt (both cops in real life!), J.P. Pomare, and me in ‘New Blood’. I can’t remember much of what I said but the next day’s Rotorua Daily Post suggested I wasn’t completely clueless:
After the first gripping instalment of Zoe Rankin’s Unknown – winner of the Rotorua Noir short story competition and now serialised on Zoe’s blog – it was time to force my oversized suitcase (now bursting with books) into an undersized Air New Zealand plane. Thank you Craig and Grant for creating the fabulous event that was Rotorua Noir. Can’t wait for the next one!
Thanks and apologies to all those whose photos I’ve stolen.
Guest blogger Tilly Mainwaring recalls the Sydney launch of All Our Secrets, albeit briefly and without even mentioning the author’s dress. (Her recollections morph into a book review before coming to a sudden end but, hey, she’s 10 and she’s got better things to do than her mum’s homework.)
Mum’s book launch, by Tilly
I remember walking in to a big room filled with paintings, sculptures and mirrors. It was such a blast of colour, a sight that thrills the eyes. Damien was setting up for his amazing music performance. His poor partner Nicole was meant to perform with him, like she did at the launch in NZ, but she sadly caught tonsillitis and couldn’t come.
Soon after we arrived, the guests started to arrive too. Mum actually hadn’t actually seen the real book or met her publisher in person yet so we all said hello and introduced ourselves.
Anthony was the MC so after his speech I was called up to do my speech. It was really good and I barely stammered over any words. And then Lindy (Mum’s publisher) spoke. And finally, Mum spoke and read from the book. She dedicated the Australian version to Nan.
There was food, book signing and lots of chatter.
Soon after, I read the book and I was amazed. My own mother came up with these scenarios and every word of the book. I couldn’t put it down for the few days in which I crammed every moment of spare time into reading it. I know I am only 10 years old but even though this is a crime fiction I really enjoyed it. Until I actually read it I didn’t see why it was such a big deal, but now I think that this is one of the many topics I would be very happy to grab a cup of tea and discuss. Also, after being in Cambewarra, which is what Coongahoola is meant to be like, I can connect with the book lot more than I would without being there.
Words by Tilly. Punctuation and emoticon-deletion by me.
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to experience WORD Christchurch. The Ngaio Marsh Awards ceremony was part of the festival and the finalists were invited to read from their books in Murder in the Chamber. I jumped at the chance to escape for a weekend, meet the other finalists, be inspired by other writers, and get out of doing the weekly grocery shopping. I wasn’t expecting to win.
My hotel was next to the Piano Bar (home of most WORD events), which was fantastic for a couple of reasons: 1. I didn’t need to rely on the Google Maps lady to find the Piano Bar. 2. Most of the festival’s writers were also staying there, so I felt like part of the scene. Every time I caught the lift or passed through reception, I saw someone I ‘knew’. They just didn’t know me.
Because I was part of the festival, I scored a writer’s pass, which meant not only did I have an important-looking ‘Writer’ lanyard to hang around my neck (though I kept it in my bag – I’m not a show off) – I was entitled to free entry to events. Helen Clark’s Women, Equality, Power event and her rockstar reception was a highlight, as was Motherhood, a conversation between Catherine Robertson, Emily Writes and Hollie McNish over the cries and gurgles of countless babies.
On the day of the awards, after sharing the hotel gym with a Booker Prize winner (sorry, had to squeeze that in – I won’t mention his name, but he was very polite, even apologising for his squeaky treadmill), I met my publisher, Penelope Todd. This in itself was a momentous event: our first proper face to face meeting after ‘kind of’ knowing each other – through emails and the occasional Skype – for several years. Penelope has invested so much time and energy into All Our Secrets she deserves a multitude of awards herself. My win that evening was twice as rewarding with Penelope there to share it.
Next up was a Masterclass with award-winning Glaswegian crime writer, Denise Mina, whose book, The Long Drop, was the only upside of having spent the early hours of that morning propped up against one of my hotel bed’s seven enormous pillows (its size not only prevented me from sleeping, but forced me to question, for the first time ever, the length of my neck). The Long Drop (which is also, ultimately, about a neck, not an outside loo) is a gripping read. Denise’s course, too, was captivating and inspiring. Even though I was up for a crime fiction award I still felt like an imposter in a crime writing workshop, but Denise assured us that lots of authors write crime novels by ‘accident’.
Then, somehow, it was 5pm and time to meet the other finalists. We gathered in a room I can only recall as being green (and probably only because someone called it the ‘green room’). It was a huge buzz meeting people whose faces and books I recognised from social media, and to hear that many of us will get to hang out together at the inaugural Rotorua Noir festival next year.
In Murder in the Chamber I read about the first death in All Our Secrets – of Sebastian, the kitten – the most ‘crimey’ part of my book that didn’t give anything away (apart from, of course, poor Sebastian’s life).
Then, the awards ceremony: a happy blur, partly attributed to excitement, and partly to the pre and post-Murder in the Chamber pinot noir. Awards judge, Vanda Symons kicked off proceedings before inviting A J Finn (aka Daniel Malory) to present the award for the Best First Novel. I confess I didn’t know who A J Finn was; I just thought he was a hot American guy who must’ve written something. I now know that his book, The Woman in the Window, is the biggest selling book in the world this year!
Anyway, the hot American guy announced… “the Winner of the Ngaio Marsh First Novel Award is….All Our Secrets by Jennifer Lane.” I know these were his words because he later gave me the envelope that contained them. As for what I said when he handed me the microphone, I’m not entirely sure. I hadn’t wanted to jinx my chances by preparing a speech.
Denise Mina then declared Alan Carter the winner of the other, bigger, Ngaio Marsh Award (Best Crime Novel). We posed for photos, signed a stack of books, hugged everyone in sight, and I enjoyed a celebratory dinner with Penelope and her husband. It was a truly memorable night!
My only responsibility for Sunday was to meet Vanda and Alan at the Radio NZ studio for an interview with Lynn Freeman. Easier said than done. I got lost wandering through the construction site that is Christchurch’s CBD, even with the Google Maps lady bossing me around. Once I finally found the others, we realised we had the wrong address, so had to race a couple of kilometres back in the direction from which I’d wandered (despite Google Maps lady’s protests – she was ready to strangle me by then), but made it just in time. I find radio interviews slightly terrifying, and this one was live! Fortunately Vanda and Alan had plenty to say.
And that ended my magic weekend. Oh yeah, there were a few All Blacks at Christchurch airport. I only knew who they were because they were being accosted for photos (though their All Blacks outfits should’ve been a giveaway). I’d spent my weekend among celebrities – the night before I was practically one myself – so I wasn’t at all fazed. Though, I confess, I did take a discrete photo, just to pass the time. The photo was blurry (such was my discretion) and I think the friend I sent it to was equally unfazed.
It was then time to fly back to reality, motherhood and grocery shopping, but also to a normal-sized pillow, and with a very special souvenir squeezed into my suitcase:
I’m writing this from my childhood home of Cambewarra*, where I’m spending a couple of weeks with my mum, working on my second novel (slowly), and trying not to think about the odds that the giant huntsman spider I spotted outside the front door yesterday managed to make its way inside overnight…
Another reason I’m in Cambewarra (no, not to avoid the school holidays – that’s just a coincidence) is because I’m kind of on ‘exchange’ with my younger brother Damien, who usually lives nearby but is currently in… Hollywood! He’s one of the 12 film and TV music composers from around the world selected to take part in the acclaimed ASCAP Film scoring workshop, under the guidance of Emmy-award winning composer, Richard Bellis. It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m very excited for him.
But enough about him. I’ve got news!
Firstly, All Our Secrets made Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards longlist – for Best First Crime! My publisher, Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books, is now busy looking at options for making All Our Secrets more widely available in Australia, something I’ve long hoped for (especially given its strong Australian setting). At the moment it’s only available as an ebook (apart from via this website). Fingers crossed this is about to change.
Then, within a week of the Ned Kellys announcement, the New Zealand equivalent – the Ngaio Marsh Awards – revealed All Our Secrets as a finalist for Best First Novel! One of the judges commented, ‘A very assured debut with some wonderfully drawn characters. This pulled me in right from the beginning.’ The winners of both awards will be announced early September.
A few other writerly things have happened since my last post (thankfully, since it was around six months ago), starting with a writing retreat on the Kapiti Coast, an indulgent weekend of workshops and discussions with a fabulous mix of writers. Inspired by the experience, Janis Freegard and myself decided to reform our writing group which, for numerous reasons, had fizzled out over the past few years. We’ve since expanded and are meeting regularly, which has been hugely motivating – and has resulted in some new writing I’m relatively happy with.
In May I braved Wellington’s ‘Murder in the library’, along with Annaleese Jochams (author of Baby) with Brannavan Gnanalingam (author of Sodden Downstream, among others) as the interrogator (pictured below).
I survived the grilling, and a few weeks later, enjoyed the chance to ‘pitch’ All Our Secrets to other writers at the New Zealand Society of Author’s Pipitea Book Pitch. The same week I was a guest speaker at the Flash Fiction Awards in Wellington, along with Janis Freegard and Tim Jones, and chaired by Constance Talbot. It was a fun night of discussion (somehow Cambewarra got a mention!) and listening to local finalists read their stories. To me, 1,000 words is short, so I’m full of admiration for writers who can tell a great story in 300 (or less).
I’m now looking forward to reading at the WORD Christchurch writers & readers festival in September, where the winners of the Ngaio Marsh Awards will be announced, and taking part in Rotorua Noir, New Zealand’s first-ever crime and thriller writing festival, next January.
Hopefully, I’ll have more to update you on before then…
*Cambewarra, aboriginal for ‘mountain fire’, is on the South Coast of NSW, has a population of 238 (probably including the aforementioned huntsman spider), and just got its first ever mention in the American VARIETY magazine (thanks to Damien).
Now that I’ve been back in New Zealand for nearly two weeks, my slight holiday tan having all but disappeared (despite Wellington’s decent crack at having a summer), it’s time I started on my ‘MUST do on holiday’ list. Number 1 is “Write blog post”, so here goes:
I’m happy to say that ALL OUR SECRETS is continuing to do well, thanks to many fabulous friends spreading the word and a few generous reviews in national media.
Andrew Laxon of the New Zealand Herald reviewed the novel alongside books by Stephen King, Jennifer Egan, Robert Harris and John Le Carre, describing it as “a hugely enjoyable mash-up of small town horror and coming-of-age story, with plenty of quirky and sometimes downright weird humour thrown in.” He says some OK stuff about the other books too!
In the NZ Listener, Catherine Robertson says, “Lane pulls off two ambitious feats: creating a child narrator who is authentically pre-teen but who can hold adult reader interest and integrating a well-plotted mystery that keeps tension high and readers guessing…Highly recommended.” Thank you, Catherine!
Bookseller NZ’s Sarah Forster also highly recommends ALL OUR SECRETS “as a summer read for age 13+” and Karen Chisholm of AustCrimeFiction calls it “an absolute gem”. I couldn’t ask for more.
The Sapling published an extract (Gracie’s “unmerry Christmas”), and my voice assaulted the ears of listeners nationwide via interviews with Lynn Freeman on Radio NZ and Morrin Rout on Plains FM. No one arrested me after I was on air though, so perhaps I didn’t torment everyone else’s ears as much as I did mine.
Just as encouraging as the reviews were the many messages I received from readers. (By the way, I’m amazed by the number of people who only find time to read during the holidays. Am I the only one who prioritises reading over housework/sleep/life 365 days a year?) It’s hugely rewarding to hear that so many of my friends and family enjoyed ALL OUR SECRETS (the rest of the world would just be a bonus), so thanks to those who have said so. And if you thought the book was a load of crap and kept that to yourself, I appreciate that too!
But, sadly, the news hasn’t all been good. Two people who played a part in helping me bring ALL OUR SECRETS into the world passed away in December.
Firstly, Paul Greenberg. Paul took on the job of getting ALL OUR SECRETS into shops around New Zealand, a challenging task (I discovered) for a novel written by an unknown “New Zealand” author, especially a novel set in Australia. Paul worked in the industry for 50 years and was described as the “greatest salesman in the history of New Zealand publishing”. I never met or worked with him directly, but Penelope Todd (ALL OUR SECRETS’ publisher) says he was a delight to deal with. ALL OUR SECRETS was possibly the last book he represented.
Then there was the death of my friend and fellow writer, Sarah Anderson. During the more than ten years we were in a writing group together, we read and critiqued many of each other’s stories, including the first draft of ALL OUR SECRETS. Sarah was the most prolific writer in our group, having published a number of fiction and non-fiction collections as well as a magazine, VIOLA BEADLETON’S COMPENDIUM OF SERIOUSLY SILLY AND AMAZINGLY ASTOUNDING STORIES. She was also a talented artist and my daughter Tess was lucky enough to be tutored by her in art last year. We will miss Sarah greatly, and we’re lucky she left behind many stories, poems and artworks to remember her by. Here’s a poem she wrote about summer:
Hot so hot In Summer I used to love you Summer Sirus the cat would sit on my lap In the summer My girlfriend and I would seek the sun when we lived in cold dark Vivian Street and got no afternoon sun but we could see it shine on the hills at Mt Vic In the summer We would play as children by rivers and run through the woods while the men played cricket in the backyard In summer The sky was so blue and the cicadas sang so loud, everything was alright because it was Summer.