01 November 2022

Crime writer receives suspended sentence

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, UniSA Alumna Kristin Murdock would have spent much of 2020 holed up in Old Melbourne Gaol … and loving every minute of it.

Kristin Murdock
In 2021 Kristin published She is Vengeance, an anthology including the story Side Hustle which was shortlisted in this year’s Kennedy Journalism Awards for crime writing

Kristin Murdock

Teacher, Farmer, Editor, Crime Writer
Associate Diploma of Liberal Studies

Kristin Murdock’s love of the written word has remained with her throughout her career as a nurse, farmer, writer, relief teacher and editor. And her qualifications have taken her to locations the length and breadth of the state, if not in person, then by writing articles and stories about remote and rural South Australia.

Currently Kristin is teaching high school on the west coast of SA and last year accepted an extended contract at Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Situated in the far north-western corner of South Australia, learning does not get much more remote than this. While only 15 kilometres for the Northern Territory border, by road it’s still a five-hour drive to Alice Springs.

Kristin grew up in the farming community of Yorke Peninsula and today owns a 100-acre property managed by her son and cousin who run sheep and crop the land. On completing high school Kristin’s first career choice was nursing at the Repatriation General Hospital, which was then a training facility. “When I was nursing, I was more interested in the drugs and how they can kill people – that’s probably why I only lasted a year.”

Kristin’s Yorke Peninsula current home is a property once share farmed by her father and uncle
Kristin’s Yorke Peninsula current home is a property once share farmed by her father and uncle

But her love of the crime genre goes back even further to primary school when she was asked to research a famous person who shared her birthday. Once she found out it was Agatha Christie, a lifetime fascination ensued.

Looking for an education she could balance with life on the farm and starting a family, Kristin chose to study an Associate Diploma in Liberal Studies, at what was then the South Australian College of Advanced Education, “externally” – the terminology used prior to “remote” or “online”. With majors in psychology, sociology, English and literature, Kristin acknowledges her studies based at the Magill Campus as the catalyst for her desire to keep learning.

“I had to handwrite everything – with a pen! – and post assignments to the College with a green cover sheet. It was all very archaic.” The need to be disciplined and meet deadlines comes naturally to Kristin and has stood her in good stead for both her creative and copywriting across a wide range of publications, from the local football pages and tourism guides in her early days, to glossy magazines such as SALIFE and writing on farming topics for various publishers.

Kristin welcomed her first child soon after graduation from SACAE but then took on a Bachelor of Arts followed by a Graduate Diploma in Education with Charles Darwin University, again remotely, which enabled her to take short term relief teaching roles all over Yorke Peninsula (while she had three young children at home), in the south-east, Barossa Valley, APY Lands and most recently Port Lincoln.

All the while, Kristin continued her writing. Her diligence as a student paid off when, having joined the SA Writers’ Centre she discovered at one of their workshops that Pan Macmillan was looking for manuscripts for a particular young adult fiction series. Kristin wrote the 40,000-word Bad Boys “over a few weekends” and it was published while she was still a student in 2004. She has written poetry and novels in other genres, but crime remains her passion.

“I have been a member of the Writers’ Centre off and on for around 30 years or more. I was also a member of the Victorian Writer’s Centre and am currently a member of Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime.”

In 2019 Sisters in Crime presented Kristin with her second Scarlett Stiletto Award, this time for “most satisfying retribution”, for her short story Plenty More Fish. In the past decade Kristin’s work has been published by the quirkily named Clan Destine Press in three of their anthologies of various writers.

This Scarlett Stiletto included a unique residency at Old Melbourne Gaol – where Ned Kelly was hanged. “It was an opportunity to work in the cells – with access to their archives – for a few months, with the aim to have a quiet (some would say solitary) place to write,” says Kristin. Surely a crime-writer’s dream come true. Unfortunately, the pandemic interfered, and the offer was deferred. So, Kristin and her partner Billy Vincent, also a teacher, took up the offer of teaching in the APY Lands.

Already an isolated community, COVID lockdowns to protect the indigenous residents are a regular occurrence there and the teachers found themselves unable to return to Amata twice. Another time they were shut off in by a rain event that washed out the only access road.

Kristin Murdock at Amata
Kristin’s school teaching has taken her all over SA

The school day started with breakfast for the students and timetables and curriculums were often impacted by local traditions. When female elders took the kungkas (young adolescent girls) on a three-day walk out to pass on their knowledge of women’s business, the female teachers were invited to join them, and Kristin was uncertain what to expect. “We were invited to a homeland one night and it was out of this world – like going back a century – absolutely amazing.”

Whenever the women gathered for ceremonies, they would respectfully invite the piranpa (white) women but when kangaroo tail was cooked outside Kristin’s classroom, she discovered malu wipu is not to her taste.

It was while at Amata that Kristin tackled her first full length crime novel, taking inspiration from Australian author Michael Robotham who reassured the audience at Writers’ Week that when writing a novel, as long as you have a start and finish, it’s okay to meander in the middle.

Kristin conscientiously wrote 1000 words a day, not all of them great, and is now focused on reducing a 185,000-word manuscript into a tighter draft. Once that is achieved, she will be able to pitch her novel to publishers in a 10-minute speed literary dating event hosted by the Australian Society of Authors.

The novel is in two parts “just when you think it wraps up, it’s just the start of it”.

The suspense is already killing us!


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