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  • Writer's picturesamantha battams

Xmas presence

Christmas is a time I think a lot about my mother, who died on Christmas Eve 8 years ago, the year I came back from Geneva. She made sure that she would never be forgotten at #Christmas time. There were many reminders of her after she died, many strange ‘coincidences,’ like an old lady whom for a couple of years after mum's death would ring the ‘wrong number’ of my niece (who shared a birthday with my mother) and say uncanny things. These calls would frequently happen around the time of family gatherings.

The other day I was driving home from work listening to one of my favourite music artists #NickCave speaking on the ABC to Richard Fidler about his biography Faith, Hope and Carnage. He was specifically talking about grief and loss, and he was asked about feeling the presence of loved ones after their death. His interesting answer referred to how in our secular society, such spiritual connection is often looked down upon. I found that an interesting discussion as following reading books like ‘Superattractor,’ ‘The Universe has your Back’ and ‘Divinely Align Me’ this year, the ‘signs from the universe’ or messages from the departed have become stronger. As if to underline this point, just after Nick Cave was speaking about his son Arthur, I was passed by a car with the numberplate ‘Arthur2.’

Recently there have been ongoing connections with the subject of the book that I am writing, which is my great great grandmother Elizabeth Heslop, who later became Elizabeth Miller and then Elizabeth Abbott (a short story is on her here). I keep coming across people or items with one of her surnames. One example is after doing a workshop on Angel Signs by Alicia Young, I was walking along the beach on a wild weather day with few people around, when someone came up to me and asked if a lost bank card was mine. I looked at the card and the name on it was Shirley Abbott. I googled this name and found out that Shirley Abbott was a journalist, writer (like me) and editor, was a feminist (like me) who wrote history books (like me) and sociological books (I have a sociology Honors degree) and she wrote memoirs/family history books (I have written a family history), she spoke French (like me) and for many years wrote for a public health magazine (I have written many public health journal articles/chapters and researched/taught public health as my PhD is in Public Health). I was astounded at this connection, glad to have been introduced to Shirley Abbott the author, and felt ‘on track’ with my current writing.

Another Rhynie character

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with author Catherine Bishop and her partner historian Richard White when she came to launch her book 'Too Much Cabbage and Jesus Christ' about a missionary who first reported the Coniston massacre, Annie Lock (published by Wakefield Press). I came across Annie Lock as she was from Rhynie, the setting of my last book ‘The Rhynie Poisoning Case’. Catherine is an historian who is originally from New Zealand, and has written a book ‘Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand’ (as my great great grandmother Elizabeth Heslop was), as well as Minding Her Own Business: Colonial Businesswomen in Sydney. Annie Lock’s travel companion across Australia was blind Miss Mary Battams (who would be related to my step-father) – I look forward to reading more about her. The Battams family had Wesleyan origins (were supposedly related to John Wesley), with the first members to come to SA having ‘Wesley’ as their middle name.

My Book Activity

Since the last blog I have done several book talks, including two at the Northern Districts Family History Group and one at the Southern Districts Family History Group, a talk at the History Festival and a workshop on Family History at the City of Charles Sturt library and one at the Supernovas Group. I was at the Paxton Winery Market with fellow authors for the June Long Weekend, a thoroughly enjoyable day. My books are being sold at the upcoming Paxton Winery Market at a stall with the same fellow authors on Sunday the 18th December.

Aside from at the stall, The Rhynie Poisoning Case is currently available at Dymocks Adelaide, Mostly Books Mitcham and the Old Adelaide Gaol. I was pleased with Sarah Jackson’s recent book review of The Rhynie Poisoning Case here.

Sisters in Crime SA

We had a Sisters in Crime SA networking event recently – a few years ago after launching #TheSecretArtofPoisoning in Melbourne with the assistance of Sisters in Crime I set out to establish a local chapter of this organisation which promotes female crime writers and authors - it is for both readers and writers of true crime and crime fiction. We will have more events of Sisters in Crime SA in the New Year, please join the Sisters in Crime SA Facebook page or join up on the Sisters in Crime Australia website for information about upcoming events.

Sisters in Crime Australia hold awards for short story writing (the Scarlett Stiletto awards) and books (the Davitt Awards - which The Rhynie Poisoning Case was longlisted for this year). The 2022 Davitt Award winners are here.

The Scarlett Stiletto award winners were also announced at an event in Melbourne on 3rd December 2022.

Non-Fiction Crime Writing Workshop

This month I have enjoyed going to author, blogger and podcaster (of CaseFile) Vikki Petratis’s workshop in Adelaide (organised by Writers SA) on writing true crime. She encouraged us to think about what we as authors bring to the books we are writing through our experiences (‘my heart’s insight’). She also encouraged us to think about the victim/survivor experience, resilience and how surviving crimes can shape people and lead them to becoming stronger. I learnt a lot about podcasts in this genre, including #CaseFile, West Cork and Trace. An inspirational session for future crime fiction or true crime books!

Since then I have been listening a lot to #CaseFile, and in particular the South Australian crimes on there – The Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon Case, Truro Murder Case, ‘The Family’ murders and the Louise Bell Case, which in particular influenced my life as I grew up at Aldinga Beach and was around the same age as Louise Bell when she went missing. I remember my parents not allowing me to open my window too wide at night due to this case! I remember reading about some of these other cases in the paper when I was younger, now surprised at how young I would have been when reading these articles. What long-lasting individual and community trauma these cases brought about. There must be a limit to how many of these podcasts I could listen to however!

Attending this workshop motivated me to read a book that has been sitting on my shelf for a while as one attendee mentioned the author was one of her favourites. I have just finished reading this true crime book ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ by Gideon Haigh (better known as a sports journalist), about a young woman called Mollie Dean, who was brutally murdered (case unsolved) in 1930. Mollie was a young teacher (of children with disabilities) who aspired to be a writer, and was progressive for her time, having several affairs. She was part of a ‘Bloomsbury’ type artistic group based in Melbourne, whose members included artist Colin Colahan whom she was dating at the time of her death, and artist Clarice Beckett, whose Adelaide exhibition I previously wrote about on this blog site. Mollie Dean was apparently the inspiration for other works of art, such as the book My Brother Jack, as well as plays and music (a song by Lisa Miller). The book was well researched and interesting to read, I was thoroughly engrossed.

Context Writers Festival

I also attended a session of the Context Writers Festival organised by Writers SA recently, specifically an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session where we could ask a panel including a forensic scientist, a SAPOL police investigator and an AFP intelligence professional any questions. Topics covered included advances in DNA testing, the Somerton Man case, forensic genealogy, exhibit management, Ironside, trauma and PTSD as a ‘coping mechanism’ for police, creating your own luck and opportunities and knowing what you are good at and what you aren’t, how the tools of crime (and interventions) have evolved over time, and the international nature of modern policing and intelligence, and the emotion/impact of giving evidence, especially for children who now give it in a separate room.

Let them rest in Peace

This brings me back to The Rhynie Poisoning Case, as in the last six months I have had contacts with descendants of Alexander Lee/Muriel Lee and one of his brothers and sisters, as well as descendants of Muriel’s sisters. I often thought of the impact upon Amelia (Muriel Amelia) Lee of giving evidence against her father in the packed courtroom, seated by the judge in front of her father, and this was confirmed by a descendent who said that Amelia always felt responsible for the death of her father throughout her life. The impact of such a tragedy can have a multi-generational effect. Amelia must have been an incredibly strong woman, she became a nurse and ended up marrying someone older than her whom she met at the hospital when he was a patient, and she had a family of her own. When I set out to write this tale, I was told ‘let them rest in peace,’ but since the book has been published I have been thanked for writing this story by a descendent, and I hope it has led to a better understanding of the circumstances around it.

A Border Collie Puppy

In other news, the past 6 months have been consumed by my beautiful border collie puppy Louie, who will be 9 months old at the end of December. Attending puppy socialisation, obedience and agility training, amongst other things. He is the most social and joyful little (big) puppy! I hope everyone enjoys the end of year festivities and the holiday period, a well earned rest after the last few years.

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