A dead body found in an abandoned house, a missing child reappearing after 20 years, a murder on a train stuck in the snow. Mysteries, crimes and thrillers are my favourite books to seek out in bookshops. My shelves are slowly being overrun with these mystery novels. I have become addicted to clues and mysteries and most of all the twists that leave me shocked to my core. But one thing I have noticed in my reading is the lack of female detectives.
Starting from the Golden Age of detective novels, in around the 1930s and 40s, the murder solving sleuths are generally men, and mostly detective figures. The most famous from this era is the one and only Hercule Poirot, a former detective who is infamous across the globe. In these novels Poirot is always the saviour of the day, solving the crime, usually with the somewhat unhelpful assistance of a male friend, and providing justice for the victims. And although I do enjoy reading these novels, I can’t help but wonder if the dynamic would be the same if Poirot was replaced by a female detective.
For this we can look at Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, the sweet old Miss Marple. While Miss Marple is not, nor has ever been, a detective she still finds herself surrounded by murders and mysteries, not the ideal person to hang around with. She is always there to solve a mystery and find out information that police can never hope to. Unlike Poirot, Miss Marple is not a part of the professional team in solving murders, she does what she can to assist the police in their investigations but can never be the one to officially solve the crime.
Another female detective, much like Miss Marple, is our own Australian Miss Fisher. Set in the 1920s, she runs her own private detective agency and works alongside police to solve murders across Melbourne. Miss Fisher never has full access to the police resources and has to use her own skills to find out the answers. Along with these barriers she also faces the criticism of male police officers turning her away from crime scenes and refusing to accept her assistance, even if it will help the investigation. But despite all of these barriers Miss Fisher still manages to solve the crime.
These novels highlights that women who are portrayed as the sleuth are not placed in the traditional detective role that their male counterparts are. Most women, like Miss Marple and Miss Fisher are independently searching for the answers to the crime, using their own resources, which are few, to solve the case that male detectives are unable to. Understandably, due to the time period these female sleuths are set they cannot have a standing in the professional sphere. However, even current detective novels still leave women out of the professional sphere to solve crimes. Novels are filled with women in positions of seeing things they shouldn’t, uncovering family secrets and writing stories for newspapers, which eventually leads these women to a larger mystery that they solve.
Doing a quick search of crime novels released this year it is clear to see this theme with women being cast out of the professional detective role yet still solving mysteries is still very relevant. Bloodline by Jess Lourey follows a pregnant journalist who moves to a town with a deadly secret, The Lost Village by Camilla Sten follows a documentary filmmaker determined to make a film about a town where people go missing, including her own family, and The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson follows a school teacher who moves to a remote Icelandic island and is living in a house with a haunting mystery. All of these women who face the crime and mysteries around them have no profession detective affiliation and are just swept up in these mysteries by accident.
So why aren’t these women detectives? Would the story be less enticing if a woman was called in to solve the mystery rather than an incompetent man that only stalls these women’s quests for justice and a solution? Or are male detectives simply seen as more reliable due to the long history of male detective novels?
Could it be that detective novels have created this impenetrable setting that female detectives have yet to breach, making them less reliable as an investigator, and the only way to ever hope that a female detective character will be taken seriously is to have her not as a police detective, but as an everyday person who is dragged into a mystery.
Search as much as I might for my answer, just like these women I am not a detective, and might never hold the answer. So while I ponder this overarching question I will continue to do my own sleuthing and keep reading these fascinating books.
Claire Hone, Publishing Intern
September 22, 2021
We had a place, a designated café that we always used for interviews. Decent coffee, if not overpriced, with a trendy postgrad hangout vibe. It was February 2020, and my third year as an editor for Antithesis, the postgraduate arts and humanities journal for the University of Melbourne.
After working my way up, I had landed the top job as Editor-In-Chief and my brain was as bursting with ideas as it was with the practicalities of production. I excitedly collected names of creatives I wanted to commission, fantasising about layouts and the diversity of voices I wanted to capture while also screeching at myself about the things that must be done; advertising, grant applications, printing quotes. At the beginning of the year, I had interviews to do, about twenty of them, and I wanted my café and coffee. But already, there was a definitive tension in the city. Cafes – shock horror – were closing, and there was buzz about a lockdown, not that I was sure what that meant.
My lead creative editor and I met our editorial candidates at a nearby library, all of whom were excited, passionate, over-qualified as always, and ready to get to work. As a new team, we created a journal that exceeded even my own very high expectations. Together, we meticulously commissioned and edited a huge array of voices speaking to the lived experience of mental ill-health, disability and adversity. Topics ranged from testifying to the Royal Commission Into Victoria’s Mental Health System to overcoming warfare-induced PTSD. I was immensely proud to have spearheaded a publication so immensely and unforeseeably relevant to the times. Yet never did I see my team in person again.
The next time I would see my lead editor would be, ironically, in a café in Thornbury eight months later. With a box of our completed journals sitting on the table, I walked over to her as she entered.
With equal parts joy and sheer exasperation, she asked me, ‘How are you?’
I never did answer that question. All I could say was ‘Can I give you a hug?’
And we just stood there embraced. For a good few minutes.
Without words, we thanked each other. We acknowledged the phenomenal teamwork and dedication it required to bring our journal to print, against all odds, in the worst global health crisis of the modern age.
The production of Antithesis: Mental, like all of the publishing industry, was forced to adapt in 2020. Our journal might as well have been sponsored by Zoom and Facebook Messenger. The work got done, and it got done well, yet invariably missing was the in-person contact so critical to facilitating a sense of camaraderie and rich, in-depth discussion of submissions. Also removed was the opportunity to meet with our writers to discuss their work in addition to in-person promotional events. The art of schmoozing was rudely disrupted, along with access to the opportunities that may follow.
My team worked throughout all of the uncertainties that COVID-19 threw into their personal lives, from employment instability, financial insecurity and the demands of home-schooling children. Simultaneously, I oversaw production whilst continuously re-shaping my approach and the how of publishing, navigating curveballs and questions that I could never have foreseen;
Will writers still be able to work on their pieces in this time?
Will my team be able to keep going?
Will our printer stay open? What if it doesn’t?
How are we going to launch? In-person? Online?
What about sales strategy? With an online launch, we won’t have a sales table.
The challenges were continuous, all-encompassing and pervasive, demanding constant openness to change. Yet never did our team lose sight of the importance and relevance of our material; a curation of resilient voices in the face of adversity. And it was this critical relevance to the ever-evolving struggles so raw and universally present that saw us through to publication.
COVID-19 has critically impacted the publishing industry on a global scale, from conglomerate publishers right down to graduate student-run journals. The virus has facilitated an increasing shift to digital publications, enforced socially distanced working arrangements and hindered the scope of both marketing and networking opportunities. Student publication committees hold their breath as they await grant application outcomes, their viability entirely reliant on what tertiary institutions can feasibly offer.
Yet research suggests that demand has not decreased. Readers are still reading, whether for the love of it, as distraction from the world or as a lockdown time-filler. While some may escape into fantasy novels and others into romance fiction, where dinner dates are possible and COVID doesn’t exist, others pick up a text in the hope of finding a voice that speaks to their own pain and struggle. The written voice is not bound by COVID, and in this era of lockdowns, words remain a source of comfort and insight when we can’t bear witness to them personally. And the fact the world still wants them, and perhaps sometimes clings, is enough for this editor to fight another day, no matter what it brings.
Antithesis is the graduate student-run arts and humanities journal for the University of Melbourne, publishing fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, artwork and scholarly articles in an annual print edition, in alignment with a theme. Antithesis: Mental is on sale now.
Sophie Raphael is a writer, editor and mental health peer support worker based in Naarm. She is passionate about mental health writing from both the lived experience and scientific perspectives and is a strict non-fiction fanatic. A current intern at Busybird Publishing, Sophie has also volunteered with Meanjin and Overland, and was the 2020 Editor-In-Chief at Antithesis Journal.
July 6, 2021
Review of the Winter Solstice Writing Retreat, June 2021
Kinglake, Victoria is surrounded by trees and national park. On the third weekend of June 2021, it was also shrouded in early-morning mist. If you had been passing through, beyond the cacophony of Sulphur-crested cockatoos and kookaburras, you may have heard the scratching of pen nibs and the shared laughter from a writing retreat at Karma Kinglake.
The Busybird Publishing Winter Solstice Writing Retreat had been booked, and places filled, months in advance. But with the unpredictable curves and turns of the pandemic, Melbourne was sent into another lockdown only weeks before, and we were all left waiting, sharpening our quills, hoping that restrictions would be lifted in time.
As this is a review of the weekend, there will be no further suspense. Two days before we were due to gather, the retreat was given the green light.
Eleven participants gathered in the forest surrounds of Karma Kinglake, an accommodation and meeting centre as calming as its forest setting. While I initially felt a little adrift and unsure what to expect, the group came together as a flotilla. Boats of all types and all ages converging from our many different ports. Discussing why we write, it transpired that the reasons we write can be as diverse as our styles of writing, and none are trivial or insignificant. Our tutor and mentor for the weekend, Blaise van Hecke, the Book Chick ensured we all sailed in the same direction. Whether novices or published authors, she asserted that if we write, we are writers. We were all at different stages, and that was part of the pleasure of the weekend.
While our writing souls were nurtured by words of wisdom, support and companionship, our stomachs were sustained by the excellent meals supplied by Steve and Nicole at Karma Kinglake, and with ever-available snacks in the classroom. Frequent breaks gave time to reflect, and Saturday incorporated an extended period for our own activities, walking or sleeping or writing (it was a retreat focused on writing, after all), or individual time to speak with Blaise to explore our specific interests.
Over three days Blaise led us through essential elements of writing: voice, metaphor, structure and more. With her experience and expertise in writing, publishing and all steps between and beyond, Blaise gave us a solid grounding in writing anything from a novel to poetry. Writing exercises interspersed throughout pushed our creativity. I was challenged by some unfamiliar topics, but exercises and feedback showed that creativity can appear if given a gateway.
A timetable gave the sessions a structure and time to absorb the information, but left enough fluidity to follow any tangent of writing that emerged in our discussions. Part of the joy and the journey in the weekend was in the shared ideas and differing points of view. Through workshopping our written pieces, or discussing points raised in the sessions, participants shared their feedback generously, and sparked new ideas for future play.
The weekend became an embodiment of much that I had been missing through the restrictions in Melbourne over more than a year. It had offered a place to relax, time to learn and space to reflect. While learning is possible, and has become more common, by remote connection, nothing can match the benefits of learning in the proximity of others. Talking with people through a computer screen, though useful in its own way, cannot match the value of immediate feedback, of side-conversations over cake, and of connecting with fellow humans in real time and in real life.
As morning mists gave way to sunlit afternoons, the boats continued to navigate the waters. Some drifted momentarily. Some were fleetingly caught in a patch of turbulence. But all came together to sail in formation. By the end of Sunday, each would now sail for a different destination, but for each, their destination was now in much clearer view.
– Holly Buykx (writer & retreat attendee)
June 23, 2021
When editing, the line between improving and erasing authorial voice can be thin. An editor may find themselves curling their lip at an author’s prose, wanting to delete and start the manuscript over. The editor must set at least some of these feelings aside, remembering that they are there to improve, not to completely transform a work. As much as the editor may feel as though they are pulling teeth, the author must still be present in their work.
Failure to do this results in situations like the curious case of Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish. This is one of the most famous and most controversial author-editor relationships, with Lish often being viewed as having taken Carver’s core ideas for a story and simply rewritten them as he wanted them to be. To the betterment of the work, some may argue. Never is this more apparent than in the (in some ways positive) editorial hijacking of Carver’s Beginners, which was published as Lish’s (masquerading as Carver) What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
When viewing Carver’s original Beginners (published in the New Yorker, 2007), a reader can see Lish successfully trimmed Carver’s elongated prose into something sharper and more impactful by deleting extraneous details. For example, Terri’s overdetermined backstory is scrapped, allowing for more natural character development throughout the story. Carver had a tendency to overdetermine basic details, such as ‘leaned on the back legs of his chair’ versus Lish’s ‘tilted his chair back’. These lengthy explanations robbed the prose of mystery and blunted the reader’s interest, as no real effort was required by the reader to engage with plot or characters.
This is exacerbated by Carver’s occasionally cumbersome style that disrupted the rhythm of the prose, such as the opening of ‘My friend Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking’ altered to become ‘My friend Mel was talking’. Furthermore, Lish’s deletion of character moments such as the ‘vassal’ conversation erased discrepancies in characterisation, creating solider, more relatable presences in the narrative. Lish’s alterations to the meandering prose rhythm to something more staccato succeeded in making the story more literary, but sacrifices Carver’s voice in the process.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, for better or worse,is a case study in an editor overstepping intellectual boundaries and ostensibly hijacking an author’s work. This is seen through unnecessary alterations littered throughout the edited work, such as Carver’s ‘Well Nick and I are in love’ versus Lish’s ‘Well Nick and I know what love is’. In this example, Lish has changed Laura’s characterisation, detracting from Carver’s core vision of the story and inserting his own narrative into the work. The hijacking is perhaps most apparent in Lish changing ‘Herb’ to ‘Mel’, and changing this pivotal character into a more hyper-masculine individual that reflected what was trendy at the time of publication.
In his edits, Lish seems intent on muzzling the raw emotion coming from the characters. This rids the story of its soap-opera like quality, which cannot be emphatically labelled a good or a bad thing. Many critics argue the jettisoning of the highly dramatic final three pages of Beginners was a blessing for the story, but others argue that it erased the self-aware and ponderous nature of the work. The changes made all served to change the meandering and near nihilistic tone of Beginners, with the deletion of Carver’s writing style transforming the piece into a sharp Gordon Lish work. Even though there was successful streamlining in the edits, the lines of the creative process were crossed and it seemed as though the author lost control of his story.
The editor is present in the creation of a piece of writing to help streamline a piece and occasionally reign in the author. It is vital that they remember that the author’s voice must be preserved, or risk the author feeling as though they were robbed of their creative property. As Carver said in regard to Lish’s edits to the Paris Review after the publication of Cathedral, “In a review of the last book, somebody called me a minimalist writer. The reviewer meant it as a compliment. But I didn’t like it.”
Michaela Harden – publishing intern
June 8, 2021
Your first reaction to the word is probably apathy or disgust. Fan fiction has a bit of reputation, and the writing of it isn’t particularly celebrated – for good reason.
I write this, not to convince you that fan fiction is respectable, but to explain what fan fiction is (and can be) and why exactly authors are so wary of it.
A lot of people don’t really look past the surface of what fan fiction is. It’s easily dismissed on the premise that it is based off some other work – and often because of its generally female audience. Fan fiction is when a person decides to displace a character, idea, or overall plot, and make their own story.
Want to see the two protagonists as rivals instead of lovers? Maybe the antagonist wins that climatic fight? Perhaps a medieval setting for our modern-day characters, and vice versa, or even a fluffy crack piece that doesn’t add or take away anything from the original work.
Some fan fiction can become extremely good quality, working in universes that have been proven to work. Some are on the level of the original, or better. Some can be up to 4,000,000 words (that’s 20 times the number of words in J. K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows), while others can be short poems or introspective character studies.
Sure, some are really lame, and I won’t deny that some of them are also just written so the writer can see two characters have sex. But it doesn’t just have to be a 4,000-word piece about a relationship.
One of the biggest differences between making your own original work, and writing fan fiction, is that fan fiction already has a ‘hook’. People are already interested in the concept – they are, after all, reading fan fiction for a pre-existing narrative universe. So the writer does not need to introduce or endorse the characters to the reader.
There’re countless different ways to explore a piece. It doesn’t even need to be written. I’ve seen plenty of fan-art and even comics. There are websites including Wattpad, Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net, where people can freely upload their works, but fan-art can also be found on Tumblr and DeviantArt. Online, it becomes immensely easy to post work, and potentially undermine the original author’s intentions.
This is where copyright, and issue of legality comes in.
Put short, fan fiction is illegal.
There are only three legal outlets of taking ideas from another work: fair use (educational or critical), parody or with permission. And while some fan fiction is indeed satire, the vast majority treads a dangerous line.
Luckily, most authors will not get very involved in fan fiction hubs. For one, opinions between authors are a bit divided on it. Some, like Kristin Cashore (author of Graceling) and J. K. Rowling find fan fiction flattering. It is a sign that people love their work.
However, others like Raymond Feist (The Riftwar Cycle series) and George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) highly discourage it. This is mainly to protect their copyright, and some authors can and will resort to a cease-and-desist order to maintain it. Why? Well, here’s a case study.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the Darkover series encouraged fan fiction of her work, reading their work and publishing their stories in an anthology. However, Bradley was dropped by her publisher after a fan threatened to sue her proposed Darkover continuation, Contraband. It was too similar to what the fan had sent her. To this day, it has never made the shelves.
Fan fiction and the original author should never interact, simply just to keep their intellectual property. Most of the time, when an author doesn’t want you writing about their stuff, it’s not personal.
But that’s not to dismiss a general dislike for fan fiction. As some authors have said, it is immoral – theft of their work. They don’t want people controlling the characters and ideas they have developed.
It should be noted that fan fiction writers can all be sued if pursued.
However, it usually is not worth the effort. After all, J. K. Rowling (if she didn’t want people to write fan fiction that is) would have to chase up over 800,000 separate pieces on FanFiction.net alone. In the rare few cases that it has happened, it was mainly due to the published work competing with the original work in the market (or otherwise having any economic value) or affecting the author’s ability to continue creating content.
If you’re a closet fan fiction writer who wants to go professional, then you need to be able to separate your story from its fan fiction roots. For instance, Fifty Shades of Grey writer, E. L. James and writers Christina Lauren and Lauren Billings (under the combined penname of Christina Lauren) all started writing fan fiction within the Twilight fandom but changed names and ideas and then branched out.
Your work needs to be transformative enough that it still has a story when you knock down the original content it was based off. So overall, if you want to write fan fiction, most of the time, go right ahead! But always remember to respect the author and their decisions. If you want to publish, revise, revise, revise! Make it your own work in its entirety.
And keep writing!
Adelle Xue – publishing intern