Outback police procedural crime story wins Sisters in Crime’s 28th Scarlet Stiletto Award

Canberra pharmacist, Hayley Young, tonight (27/11) won Sisters in Crime’s 28th Scarlet Stiletto Short Story Awards, which were presented online by multi-award-winning actor Catherine McClements. McClements’ crime credits include Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries Series, Wentworth, Broken Shore, Rush, Rake and Water Rats.

McClements first discussed her life in crime with Sisters in Crime’s ambassador at large and crime fiction expert, Professor Sue Turnbull, who compered the event.

Young, a first-time crime writer, was awarded the Swinburne University of Technology First Prize ($1500) and the coveted trophy, a scarlet stiletto shoe with a steel stiletto heel plunging into a mount. Her outback police procedural, “Monster Hunters”, also took out the ScriptWorks’s Great Film Idea Award, this year worth $500. She is the first pharmacist to win an award in the history of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards.

Young, 32, has only been writing fiction for a year, though she did a bit of writing when younger. In that short time, she has been shortlisted in five competitions – the 2020 Hammond House International Literary Prize, a UK flash fiction competition and in three anthologies by Stringybark Publishing Australia. “Monster Hunters” is her first stab at crime writing and her first win.

“I think I’ll be writing more crime. It’s such fun,” she said. “I am taking my inspiration from Jane Harper and Kyle Perry. I write every day. Now that I’ve started, I can’t stop.”

This year, 241 short stories – equal to last year’s record –competed for a record $11,910 in prize money and benefits. Over the lifetime of the awards, 4,137 stories have been entered with 30 Scarlet Stiletto trophy and category winners going on to have books published.

There will soon be another. Veronica Lando, who won the 2021 HarperCollins’ Banjo Prize in October for her debut crime novel, The Whispering, said that winning third prize in last year’s competition gave her the drive to start, edit and finish her first full-length manuscript.

Participating online at different stages were 21 of 23 shortlisted authors, together with Emeritus Professor Christina Lee, who presented the judges’ report, and Dr Carolyn Beasley from Swinburne University, the first prize sponsor.

Professor Lee, a two-time Stiletto trophy winner, said that the quite a few stories referenced Covid, pandemics and lockdowns.

“It’s hardly surprising since the pandemic continued to focus our minds all year. But as usual there was no limit to the variety and imagination of our wonderful writers. There was an abundance of well-written, shocking, hilarious and original stories. Crimes happened everywhere, at community markets and in boardrooms, in bookshops, aged care homes, country towns, libraries and, of course, at home with the cat and a cup of tea,” she said.

“People committed dreadful acts for love, revenge, or ambition, but also – charmingly – for poems or rare books. And everywhere there was a crime, there was an interesting and resourceful female protagonist.”

The Simon & Schuster Second Prize ($1000) went to Tasmanian writer, Jaclyn Riley-Smith (Margate) for,“On the inside”, a witty story about insider trading and a raid by the corporate watchdog. A freelance lawyer, travel writer and board member of TasWriters. In 2020, Riley-Smith won first prize in the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards for her short story, “Literally the Worst”.

The Sun Bookshop & Wild Dingo Press Third Prize ($600) was won by Elsternwick (Vic) author,Ellen Coates for “The Gospel of Cecily”, set in Hereford in 1200. A body in the library keeps appearing and reappearing. It also took out the Clan Destine Press Cross-Genre Award ($750). Coates is a writer, librarian, and a history nerd at heart (medieval history especially). She runs the blog, Historical Ragbag.

Caitlyn Whitbread (Sylvania, NSW), was awarded the Affirm Press Young Writer’s Award ($500), for under 19s for her story “The Braxton Mystery”, about a young woman’s search for her mother who disappeared into what seemed like thin air when she was a baby. Whitbread, 14, loves to watch and read crime, true crime and mystery.

The Melbourne Athenaeum Body-in-the-Library Library Award ($1250) went to Clare Fletcher (Summer Hill, NSW), for “Death’s Waiting Room”, where residents of an aged care home keep turning up dead in the library. Fletcher grew up in regional Queensland, a setting she returns to in her debut novel, a romantic comedy to be published next year. She manages communications for the Walkley Foundation for Journalism.

The Melbourne Athenaeum Body-in-the-Library Library Runner-Up Award ($750) was won by Susan Green (Castlemaine, Vic) for “Creativity Now!”, a story set in a masterclass run by obnoxious author, The hostess, an Agatha Christie devotee, demonstrates rule #1 of crime fiction – you underestimate a sweet old lady at your peril. Green is a children’s author, known particularly for her Verity Sparks series. For more than 25 years, she has meant to enter the Scarlet Stiletto Awards – and now she has. Like Miss Marple, she knits and gardens.

Jane Lee, who hails from Kensington, NSW, won Kerry Greenwood’s Malice Domestic Award, valued at $750, for “What I Did in Lokdown by Chloe Martin age 9 1/2”. “Lockdown can be a strange and scary place – especially if the adults around you are behaving like children,” she said. The judges found her story very amusing. Lee is a retired General Manager. She has published mystery stories in magazines and been shortlisted four times previously in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. “Viral” won the 2020 Cross-genre Award – and her non-fiction story, “Into the Park”,//// was commended in the 2019 Thunderbolt Prize.

The Every Cloud Production’s History with Mystery Award ($750), was awarded to Natalie Conyer (Mosman, NSW),for“The Séance”, about a 19th century spiritualism scam. Conyer describes herself as “a late-onset writer, Olympic-standard procrastinator and compulsive book buyer”. Her first novel, Present Tense, won the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction,and she says she wouldn’t even have tried writing it had it not been for cutting her teeth on the Scarlet Stilettos. She now has several awards and certificates under her belt – including another highly commended certificate in this year’s awards.

The inaugural Viliama Grakalic Best Art and Crime Story Award ($750) was won by another repeat offender, Caroline de Costa for “The Fragrance of the Corpse Flower”, set in a university botany school which cultivates the giant Sumatran titan arum. A retired professor in obstetrics and gynaecology, de Costa lives in Cairns, the setting for her three Detective Cass Diamond novels and her recent prequel, Hidden Lives. De Costa has also notched up several awards including the Malice Domestic Award in 2019. Last year she was awarded two highly commended certificates. The award was donated by the estate of the late Viliama Grakalic, a sculptor and long-term member.

Another new award – the Booktopia Publisher Services Best Environmental Mystery Award ($750) – went to Stephanie Holm (Riverside, Tas) for “Mystery Off the Jillawong Road”, where the Spooky Sisters solve the mystery of the dead stranger who shows up in their clubhouse— and just as mysteriously vanishes. Holm is a writer and artist whose work is increasingly crime-oriented. A one-time Children’s Literature Fellow at the State Library of Victoria, she is currently writing a mystery novel for adults. and a picture book featuring a thief with a parrot fetish.

Janet Moore (Heidelberg, Vic) won the Writers Victoria’s Crime and Punishment Award for Most Satisfying Retribution for “Cash Sale”, about the shenanigans that result from the discovery of a rare book at a garage sale. The prize is a three-month residency at the Old Melbourne Gaol worth $660: Moore divides her time between writing and her other obsession – collecting mid-20th century crime and mystery novels. After completing a writing course at NMIT, Janet has had short stories published in various online publications. She is currently working on her third novel. Another of her stories was highly commended.

The HQ Fiction Award for Best Thriller ($500) went toJanice Shaw (Belmont North, NSW) for “Put the Kettle On”, about a woman’s escape from her abusive husband. Shaw is an academic whose previous publications have been non-fiction. The lockdowns have enabled her to devote some time to writing fiction. She was shortlisted last year.

Christine Fontana (Dandenong, Vic) won the Queensland Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s Liz Navratil Award for the story with the Best Disabled Protagonist ($400) for her story, “Waiting”. Fontana splits her studio time between writing and fine art projects. She’s won and been shortlisted for “a humble number” of literary awards and been exhibited as a finalist in a number of art award exhibitions.

Highly commended framed certificates went to:

  • Christine Betts (Tweed Heads, NSW) for “Death of A Show Princess”
  • Sherryl Clark (Altona North, VIC) for “Death in Seventeen Syllables”
  • Natalie Conyer (Mosman, NSW) for “Not for Sissies”
  • Catherine Craig (Allambie Heights, NSW) for “Al Did It”
  • Melanie Hayes (Glen Waverley, VIC) for “Stormy Weather”
  • Amy McKernan (Noosaville, QLD) for “The words she left behind”
  • Janet Moore (Heidelberg, VIC) for “A Most Unusual Profession”
  • Kristin Murdock (Warooka, SA) for “The Side Hustle”
  • Emily Roberts (Heidelberg, VIC) for “The Blooming”
  • Fin J Ross (Paynesville, VIC) for “The Harder they Fall”
  • Trudi Slavin (Wyoming, NSW) for “Beating the dragon”
  • Maggie Wilkins (Bellevue Hill, NSW) for “Antarctic Days”

McClements also launched Scarlet Stiletto: The Thirteenth Cut, a collection of winning stories from this year’s competition, edited by Phyllis King $5 as an e-book from the publisher Clan Destine Press or $5.99 from Booktopia, Amazon, or iTunes. Twelve earlier collections are also available:

Prizes were kindly sponsored by Swinburne University of Technology, Simon & Schuster, the Sun Bookshop, Wild Dingo Press; the Melbourne Athenaeum Library, Kerry Greenwood, Every Cloud Productions; Booktopia Publisher Services; the Viliama Grakalic estate; Writers Victoria, HQ Fiction, Affirm Press, Clan Destine Press, Monash University, the Queensland Chapter of Sisters in Crime and ScriptWorks.

The 29th Scarlet Stiletto Awards close on 31 August 2022.