GABRIELLE Lord reckons that crime writing and young-adult fiction are the only two areas of publishing that are growing and she has made her mark in both.
Her first novel, Fortress, was published in 1980 but she didn't think of it as crime. To her it was simply about the bonds that grow between a teacher and students in a small bush school. It just so happens that they have been kidnapped.
Fast-forward 32 years and Lord is reaping the benefits. She is writing the 16th instalment in her 365 Conspiracy crime series for young adults; her latest adult novel featuring private investigator Gemma Lincoln, Death by Beauty, was published yesterday; and with the timing of a perfect plot she was last night presented with the lifetime achievement gong at the Ned Kelly awards for Australian crime writing.
And as if to reiterate her assessment, J. C. (Jane) Burke won the best fiction award for Pig Boy, her young-adult story about the tribulations of a put-upon youth in a small country town and its dark secrets. Melbourne writer Peter Twohig won the best first novel Ned for The Cartographer, Eamonn Duff the true-crime award for Sins of the Father, and A. J. Clifford the short-story award for Summer of the 17th Poll.
Lord said that in writing for different readerships she never found herself ''writing down. They're different in the sense that the responses of the people involved are the responses of young people rather than adults.''
She admitted that Gemma was to some extent her alter ego. ''I've given her a lot of things that I wouldn't wish for myself that I certainly lived - the hard drinking and unsuitable men line was very much part of life.''
When Lord was 22 she read that Gertrude Stein had decided to start writing at 30 and filed that scenario away: ''On my 30th birthday I started writing a novel like I was under some hypnotic spell. It was my chosen career, my vocation.''
Burke took a little while longer to start writing: it was not until she was 35 and had a significant career as a chemotherapy sister behind her that she spotted a writing course to be taken by Libby Gleeson and signed up. Her first novel, White Lies, was published in 2002, since when she has produced another eight.
''I can see that Pig Boy could be seen as a crime novel but I see it as a story about the human condition, about the space between good and evil.''
Duff, a journalist with Sydney's Sun Herald, won for his account of the Schapelle Corby case that has been fiercely criticised by her family. He told The Age that he made no apology if the facts and evidence presented in the book pointed to her guilt. ''Despite a sustained campaign of professional and personal attacks by Corby supporters, they have been unable to disprove a single word in this book,'' he said.