Improving literacy, mentoring writers, and boosting reading pleasure!

Murder You Wrote: An Interactive Mystery, curated by L.J.M. Owen, Sisters in Crime’s Tasmanian Convenor and director of the recent Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival (TARWF), is no ordinary book.

It has big ambitions – to improve literacy, to mentor aspiring writers in Tasmania, and to offer untold reading pleasure – and involved a sleuth of Sisters in Crime writers. (See the ArtsHub interview here.)

It is a classic country manor murder mystery but it’s with a twist – you become the detective.

Recently launched by Ann Cleeves, the creator of Vera and Shetland and TARWF’s International Writer in Residence, this interactive novel anthology is for anyone who loved choose-your-own adventures as a kid.

Ann admitted that she didn’t manage to solve the mystery.

“I’ve read this book and it is fabulous… I didn’t work out whodunnit; Vera would have done, but I didn’t… I found it hugely entertaining,” Cleeves said.

Like the TARWF crime and mystery literary festival itself, Murder You Wrote is set in remote Tasmania, a world of stunning beauty, dark history, and deadly creatures.

L.J. says the premise is enticing.

“You are a retired police detective invited to speak at a crime fiction writers festival,” she said.

“You are looking forward to a weekend with some of Australia’s bestselling authors. You’re staying in a convict-built country manor house along with five other guests of the festival. The other guests don’t exactly get along.

“You awake to discover the homestead is cut off. Overnight, storms flooded the only road out, the internet is down…and a world-famous writer is missing.

“You discover his body in the library. Certain that one of the four remaining guests was responsible for his death, you decide to investigate. Which suspect will you interrogate first? Which clues will you follow? Can you solve the case?”

Murder You Wrote can be read as one continuous narrative, or as a pick-your-own-path puzzle. At the end of each of the 21 chapters you can choose to either read straight on or pick from a Where to Next? list of options. For those who relish a challenge, there is one special pathway where the reader-detective can collect all the clues and solve the mystery in just 10 chapters.

“I love the idea of being able to choose your own path through it. So if you’re new to reading for pleasure or you haven’t read since school, and you just want to get back into a really pacey story, you can take a shortcut through the action. But if, like me, you’re a real murder mystery buff, then you can read the whole thing,” Ann said.

Murder You Wrote would make a great Christmas present for the mystery lover in your life. Not only is it great fun, there is a ‘feel good’ factor to this book.

The creation of the interactive novel began as a mentoring project for emerging Tasmanian writers. Dr Owen, with the support of an Arts Tasmania grant, brought more than twenty established and emerging writers and editors together to contribute to various elements of the story.

Established authors such as Sarah Barrie, Karen Brooks, Alan Carter, Natalie Conyer, Angela Meyer and Eva Scott worked with unpublished writers to hone their story-telling skills.

“Each contributor added their own story ideas to the mix,” Dr Owen said.

“Readers may notice stylistic differences from chapter to chapter, which I think builds the intrigue. The plot fairly cracks along, with new details and new angles revealed in quick succession for the reader-detective. Mix in some excellent red herrings and the result is an absolute page-turner.”

The novel anthology is also suitable for emerging adult readers.

In Tasmania, and some other parts of Australia, less than half the adult population is functionally literate.

“In general, emerging adult readers have difficulty accessing novels that are locally set, aimed at adult readers, and edited to an appropriate readability level. I set out to address this gap,” Dr Owen said.

“I worked with our editing team to ensure the story is both engaging for avid mystery lovers and accessible for emerging adult readers. It is suitable for adults reading at a Flesch-Kincaid level of around 80 out of 100, or Grade 5,” she said. 

Ann Cleeves, too, is a passionate supporter of emerging adult readers and the beneficial power of reading more generally.

“Stories can be healing. If we’re drowning in chaotic thoughts of our own, to step inside someone else’s head, just for a while, is a kind of freedom. Reading saw me through tough times with cancer and periods when my husband was hospitalised in psychiatric institutions,” Ann said.

To mark the 21st anniversary of her north-east England detective character Vera Stanhope, Cleeves established Reading for Wellbeing which has established partnerships with public health, libraries, local government, and the community sector to give people access to stories and reading, including audiobooks, to help improve their health and wellbeing.

Ann explained that trained-up workers go out into the community, engaging with local organisations and individuals, and using reading as a way of starting conversations and making connections. 

“It’s not about taking the classics to the people. It’s about reading for pleasure and finding books that people are comfortable with. Talking about books can allow us to talk about other things. It can also save the National Health Service a lot of money!”

The contributors to Murder You Wrote were: Alison Alexander, Sarah Barrie, Karen Brooks, Jack Cainery, Alan Carter, R.B. Cole, Natalie Conyer, Craig Cormick, E.K. Cutting, Livia Day, Z.E. Davidson, Jo Dixon, Jacq Ellem, Jason Franks, Narrelle M. Harris, Elaine Kelso, Carys King, Angela Meyer, Allison Mitchell, David Owen, L.J.M. Owen, Matthew D. Ruffin, E.V. Scott, Marion Stoneman, Maggie Veness and Sarah White.