Crime fiction writers and readers in Australia have a lot to thank the Scarlet Stiletto Awards for – they have launched many of our favourite authors. In 1991, convenor Carmel Shute set up Sisters in Crime, the organisation respnsible for finding and promoting so much new talent in Australian women’s crime fiction. I caught up with Carmel to chat about the history of this vibrant group, the latest Scarlet Stiletto Awards, and the new anthology of award winners, The First Cut.

MV: This is the 16th Scarlet Stiletto Awards – can you tell us how they started?

Back in 1994, Sisters in Crime wanted to unearth new female criminal writing talent and decided a short story competition was the best way to do that. Like many of our best ideas, it took shape over a boozy dinner. We were keen to keep the award within the tradition of the Golden and Silver Daggers presented by the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK so decided to call it the Scarlet Stiletto Award – a play on stiletto the weapon and stiletto the shoe with a suitably tartish touch! As well as receiving $750 in cash from HarperCollins, the overall winner is also presented with a trophy – a scarlet stiletto shoe with a steel stiletto heel plunging into a perspex mount.

MV: What big names in crime writing have been launched after winning a SS Award? 
A number of winners of the various categories in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards have gone on to have novels published – Tara Moss, Cate Kennedy, Angela Savage, Josephine Pennicott, Alex Palmer, Liz Filleul, Margaret Bevege, Patricia Bernard, Bronwen Blake, Jo McGahey and Cheryl Jorgensen – though in the case of Cate Kennedy, who won the first two Scarlet Stiletto Awards, it wasn’t in the crime field.

 Lisa Burnett with Scarlet Stiletto winner, Tara Moss

MV: What’s new about SS Awards this year?
This year that the prize-money has been boosted to a total of $4200 by two new sponsored awards: The Olvar Wood Late Starters Award for writers 50 or over, consisting of a $650 Weekend Package at Olvar Wood Writers’ Retreat in Palmwoods on the Sunshine Coast and ScriptWorks Great Film Idea Award ($200). Download an entry form from the Sisters in Crime website
MV: Can people read Scarlet Stiletto winners’ stories anywhere?
The first 13 years’ winning stories can be found in Scarlet Stiletto: The First Cut (Mira, 2007), now available for $30 (postage paid) from Sisters in Crime, GPO Box 5319, Melbourne 3001.
MV: What do you think makes for a winning submission in the short story competition?
Good writing! The stories that most often fail to meet the mark are ones where men (mostly husbands) get killed off for no particularly compelling reason. Sisters, if you desire to get rid of your husband, you don’t have to plunge your sewing scissors into his jugular. There is always the divorce court.
MV: You have been putting energy and effort into SinCOz and SS for years. When and how did you become involved in SinCOz and SS? What motivates you?

Women’s crime fiction exploded in the eighties and early nineties. Every time my female friends and I got together. It seemed that our conversation invariably turned to the latest ripper read. Many of the books originated in the United States where Sara Paretsky had formed Sisters in Crime at the 1986 Bouchercon crime convention to fight for a better deal for women crime writers.

In 1991, I produced a 45-minute documentary entitled “Sisters in Crime” for Radio National’s Coming Out Show. Based on interviews with US writers Paretsky, Sue Grafton and others, it explored the phenomenon of feminist crime writing and offered a free bibliography. The response was enormous (for Radio National anyway) and a group of us in met in my lounge room in St Kilda to plot. Right away, we decided our organisation would involve readers, not just writers, and offer a forum for discussion and debate. Sisters in Crime Australia launched itself (with a debate!) at the Feminist Book Fortnight in Melbourne in September 1991.  I’ve never had such fun – and the debates are our regular events in Melbourne continue to expand my knowledge (and enjoyment) of crime fiction. I just love crime fiction and the terrific organisation we’ve created.

MV: What are you most interested in at the moment in Australian women’s crime writing – trends/opportunities /industry developments? 

Sisters in Crime’s overriding mission to get women crime writers published  and debated. With the Productivity Commission report hanging over the Australian publishing industry like an executioner’s axe, we’re naturally very nervous at the moment. It’s taken a lot of effort to persuade Australian publishers to ‘risk’ taking on Australian women crime writers. We’d hate to see them just opt for the latest hot crime book from overseas.
MV: SinCOz is an amazing, vibrant resource for crime writers. Can you tell us how regional SinCOz members (or aspiring members) can connect with their local group, or with other activities? E.g. Are there plans to start recording or podcasting SinCOz Melbourne activities?

Sisters in Crime has chapters in Melbourne (where most members live and most events happen), Perth, Brisbane and Sydney where the organisation is called Partners in Crime. We’d welcome some new members to help revitalise the Brisbane chapter. We’re planning a brand new interactive website later this year. We already record events (to use as a basis for article in Stiletto magazine) but will think about podcasting. The latest Stiletto – all 88 pages of it – is just out. To join, download a form from the existing Sisters in Crime website


Join us at AWMonline tonight for the regular Writing Race, 7:45pm for an 8pm start. Enjoy an hour of dedicated writing in the company of your AWMonline Writing Race buddies.


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