It was a dead cert that a member of Sisters in Crime would win this year’s Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction announced on Wednesday 14 October – all six shortlisted authors were members of Sisters in Crime – Susan Hurley (Eight Lives); Karina Kilmore (Where the Truth Lies); Sarah Thornton (Lapse); RWR McDonald (The Nancys); Petronella McGovern (Six Minutes); and Natalie Conyer (Present Tense).
And the winner is… Natalie Conyer.
Natalie, who is based in Sydney, is finding it hard to believe that her novel, Present Tense (Clan Destine Press), won the award.
“I’ve come to writing late – I was 70 when the book was published by Clan Destine Press late last year – and feel I have to scramble to make up for lost time. The award has given me confidence, and is an impetus to keep going.”
Present Tense was a way for Natalie to come to grips with her own past, growing up in South Africa.
“I hated apartheid and blocked out my memories of South Africa after I emigrated to Australia in the seventies. Then in 2011 two friends asked me to show them where I grew up, so I returned after an absence of nearly 40 years. I then went back every year from 2013-2016,” she said.
“They say if you want to know a country, read its crime novels. I always wanted to write and into my head came Schalk Lourens, a character trying to find his way in the new South Africa. He is an ex-Rugby player and tall and handsome in a crumpled sort of way. And he’s done some terrible things in the old apartheid days, things that still weigh him down.
“For me, crime fiction is a way of exploring what’s going on around me because it concerns, as British scholar Mary Evans puts it, ‘the fractures in the world that involve us all’. Present Tense presented a unique opportunity to think about the tensions and moral dilemmas facing South Africa today. I’m really honoured to have it recognised by the Neddies.”
Publisher Lindy Cameron said, “I knew from the opening pages that we would publish Present Tense; by the end of the first chapter that Clan Destine Press ust be Natalie Conyer’s publisher; and by half-way through that this crime novel would be award-winning.
“The action in Present Tense opens explosively on the first page with the murder of retired police chief Piet Pieterse by ‘necklacing’ (a tyre placed around his neck, doused in petrol, and set alight) and does not let up for 242 tightly-written pages.”
Natalie is currently writing a sequel to Present Tense.
Natalie has loved and read crime fiction all her life, so much so that seven years ago she gave up a perfectly good career to write it. Her short stories have won several awards in Sisters in Crime’s Scarlet Stiletto competitions. She was awarded her Doctorate in Creative Arts in (of course) crime fiction in September.
Click HERE for a link to the Australian Crime Writers’ Association which presents the Neddies.
This is what Jason Steger, the literary editor for The Age and Sydney Mornin Herald had to say.