10/09/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

WHY Crime Writing With Kids Is Murder


So I've just bashed a man across the head with his vintage, 1920's Gibson guitar, there's blood spurting everywhere, globs of brain matter are oozing though the crack in his skull, and there's a look of shock and betrayal in his fluttering green eyes. We're in a dank, Berlin apartment, I'm spouting Italian and he's looking crazily confused as he takes his final gasping breaths. He'd just given me a lift from Riomaggiore, he'd thought I was a good guy, so why ... why ...?!
"Muuuum! Can you come here?"

Huh? What? Who? Damn it, there goes that thread again.

Writing with kids in the house can lead to murderous thoughts, but not a lot of actual crime writing. I'm two-thirds of the way through my fifth Ghostwriter Mystery and now that the holidays have struck, it's all starting to go AWOL. Sort of like attempting to drive a manual vehicle when you've only ever driven automatic, it's a case of spits and spurts, bunny hops and splutters, and you occasionally make ground but you never really get anywhere. Not in a hurry, anyway.

"Mum! Felix can't find his money."

There he goes again. Except that's the other one. I have two sons, you see, so it's twice the battle and half the luck.

"Well, it's your fault for having us," says Son Number One, reading over my shoulder as I write this blog. He's the older one, the cheekier one, the one who should know better. "Geeze, it sounds like you absolutely hate us," he adds.

"I don't hate you," I quickly reply, trying to shield the screen with my body. "I'm just trying to get some work done, that's all."

"Muuum, I can't find my money." That's Son Number Two again. He's now joined us in my home office (oxymoron, anyone?), confused why I didn't jump to attention the second he started screaming. "What are you writing?" he asks, confusion turning to curiosity as he, too, peers over my shoulder.

"Mum hates us," explains Son Number One.

"I do not!"

"Er, yeah, you do. Says so right there on your blog."

"I'm just explaining to my readers why it's so hard to finish novels with you kids around. Now, if you'll let me get on with it, I'll stop writing about you."

"But what about my money?" demands Son Number Two.

I sigh, stop typing and turn to face him. "Why do you need your money, sweetie?"

"Because I want you to take me shopping to buy the new Ratchet & Clank PS3 game. It's on special at EB Games."

"Shopping? Really? I don't think so, Felix. I really need to finish a few chapters today."

"But Mum, I'm really bored."

"And then we'll have something to do and we'll leave you aloooone," adds the other one, the older one. Did I mention he was cheekier?

At some point, this point to be precise, I start screaming like a crazed killer and they rush out of the room knowing they've pushed me too far, and I'm left alone for a few peaceful minutes.

As I try to regroup my thoughts--Berlin, busted skull, feelings of betrayal--I can't help thinking of the 1940s crime novel titled Who Would Murder a Baby? Written by Australia's first Queen of Crime and mother of six, June Wright, it was a minor hit in its day and the author went on to write six crime novels in all, each one set in 1940's Melbourne, the era in which she was writing.

Once a telephonist, Wright turned her hand to crime writing when she became a housewife and only gave it up when her husband fell ill and she needed to start earning a regular income again. Time and a misogynist landscape ensured her books were largely forgotten.

As one recent reviewer, Lucy Sussex, wrote:

"Australia is a very sexist country and we tend to forget women's achievements ... There's always been a tradition of good women's writing but we privilege males. This is a country that's still coming to terms with women's writing, just as it was in her time."

It's sad, but true, yet that's not what I'm thinking about now. Instead I recall a comment the author herself made when one (no doubt male) reporter dared to criticise the title Who Would Murder a Baby?

In a crisp, deadpan tone, she replied,

"Obviously you know nothing of the homicidal instincts sometimes aroused in a mother by her children. After a particularly exasperating day, it is a relief to murder a few characters in your book instead."

I had to laugh.

Wright's books are currently being resurrected by a US publisher (of course), called Verse Chorus Press. The first is titled Murder in the Telephone Exchange and its protagonist is a fiery telephonist who lives in a South Yarra boarding house. The last three have, of all things, a nun-detective as their super sleuth. I wonder if Amazon have a category to fit that one?

In any case, I can't wait to get hold of them, if only to see how a woman with six kids--including one with a severe intellectual disability no less--writing in a time when you still had to get up at dawn and light the copper (whatever the hell that is), managed to pull it off.

I'm thinking now how lucky I've got it, how little I have to complain about. That is, until Son Number Two starts screeching again from a distant bedroom: "Muuum, I can't find my socks!"

I try breathing deeply. "Why do you need your socks?!" I call back.

"Because I have to put my shoes on if we're going to go to EB Games."

I growl quietly to myself, I save the pathetic three paragraphs I've managed that day, I push away from my desk and I search for the money, the socks and my car keys.

It looks like we're going shopping.