PRESENTED IN 2015 BY ANDREW NETTE (ACWA COMMITTEE MEMBER)
Everyone loves a good literary award. No one more so than the writers and publishers who are shortlisted and win.
But I’d suggest not many of us think about how much work goes on behind the scenes to make an award happen.
Sorting out the judges for the various awards, their reports.
Sorting out the books and distributing them – a massive job as the awards have grown.
Organising the prizes, the actual award statues – once described by Peter Temple as heavy and blunt enough to repel an invasion.
Organising the awards ceremony, the publicity, the MC, the venue.
Dealing with literary egos, suffering the inevitable sling and arrows over unpopular/controversial choices.
And the list goes on.
One person who knows just how much work is involved in putting together an annual event like the Ned Kelly Awards is the winner our next gong, the Lifetime Achievement Award.
This is not an award we give out every year. It is only awarded periodically, to recognise a writer, publisher, blogger, fan or reviewer that has made an outstanding contribution to the Australian crime-writing genre. It is our hall of fame. Tonight’s winner joins a group of individuals, including Jon Cleary, Gabrielle Lord, Peter Corris, Kerry Greenwood and Shane Maloney.
Tonight’s recipient has been involved in the Neddies – in one way or another – pretty much since they started in 1995. That year, a group of writers, academics and critics got together in a restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown and decided Australia needed an award that recognised the work of local crime writers.
Tonight’s winner volunteered his time as a judge in the early years, while the award ceremony bounced between Melbourne and Sydney. When the awards finally settled in Melbourne in 2000, he became the key organiser, a role he undertook for most of the noughties.
In 2000, he’d only just emerged from several years as co-owner of the now defunct specialist crime bookstore, Kill City Books. A place many of us here will remember with very fond memories.
Kill City was established in the early nineties and operated out of a two-storey building in Greville Street, Prahran, back when the suburb was still a hub of Melbourne counter-culture and the rents were much cheaper. Kill City Books had been a hub for local and international crime fiction names. James Ellroy and Kinky Friedman both did readings in the shop. The first of the Underbelly books written by John Silvester and Andrew Rule was launched on the premises, as were the tomes of many local writers. Iggy Pop dropped in. Notorious figures in Melbourne underworld scene would come to buy true crime books and complain about their treatment in the media or in the latest true crime release. Sometimes they would bring their bodyguards. Often they would demand a discount. Making the business profitable was never easy, especially after a large Borders store appeared in Chapel Street sometime in early 1999.
It speaks volumes about his commitment to Australian crime writing that no sooner had our winner emerged from the experience of running Kill City, than he became key organiser of the Ned Kelly awards.
When the Neddies started in 1995, there were two categories: best fiction, which had 15 entrants, and best first fiction, which had just 3. The numbers – and the work involved - have slowly increased. This year there were 55 entrants for best crime, 23 for best first crime and 20 for true crime.
I am not saying the recipient of our next award is the only person who deserves credit for the survival and growth of the Neddies. He was assisted for a couple of years David Honeybone – who is here tonight – during which time the awards took place at Fitzroy’s Night Cat. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the countless people who have acted as judges, no small job in itself, especially as the number of books submitted for each award has grown. We need to acknowledge the work of Lindsay Simpson who helped to establish one of our other award categories, the SD Harvey Short Story Award, in memory of her late friend and true crime-writing partner, Sandra Harvey.
Special mention also needs to be made of our many MCs, an illustrious crew including Dave Graney, Andrew Masterson, Jason Steger, Virginia Trioli and, of course, the wonderful Jane Clifton. Jane has acted as MC many times, has always done a marvellous job and has been a great supporter of the Ned Kelly Awards.
No doubt there are many others.
But while a lot of people deserve recognition for their role in building and sustaining the Neddies, I think it’s fair to say the recipient of tonight’s lifetime achievement award has been crucial. He is the person responsible for sustaining the awards, giving them their current shape, and he did it for many largely by himself and on the smell of an oily rag.
Why did he do it?
When I rang him a few weeks ago to talk to him about the award, he told me the following, which I think really encapsulates what the Ned Kelly Awards for crime writing have always been about:
“I had a strong belief in ensuring that there was some sort of acknowledgement for local crime writers. That was so important. I’ve had so many writers contact me and say how important winning an award – just getting on the shortlist - was for their career, for their esteem. The fact that they felt they had a platform for their work. That made it all worthwhile.”
Well, ironically, for someone who has helped hand out so many of these statuettes, it’s time for our winner to get for himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the winner of the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award, Peter Lawrance.