When Honey Brown gathers with her professional tribe – women who deal in danger and death, mystery and mayhem –it's a meeting of minds with a fascination for the macabre. But it's no grim affair. Crime writers, she says, love to laugh.
"It is such a warm field to be in," says Brown. "For whatever reason, thriller writers and crime writers must pour all our angst into our work because outside of it, we have such a good time. Just getting together with that group is always such good fun, a lot of laughing and a real camaraderie which I really love about this genre. Without fail, every time you get a few of us crime writers together it's a hoot."
At Saturday's night's Davitt Awards in Melbourne, Brown had more reason than most to be happy – her fifth novel, Dark Horse, was named Best Adult Novel in the 14th annual presentation of honours for crime books by Australian women.
Presented by Sisters in Crime Australia, this year's awards attracted a record 76 entries . Other winners include Karen Foxlee, whose The Midnight Dress was named Best Young Adult Novel; Jen Storer, who won Best Children's Novel for Truly Tan: Spooked!; Anna Krien, Best True Crime Book for Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport; and Hannah Kent, Best Debut Book for Burial Rites.
For Brown, 42, her award has special meaning, given her difficult road on the way to life as a successful author. It's 14 years since an accident on the Gippsland farm she shares with her husband and two kids left her unable to walk again. She was just 29. It took a long time to come to terms with that, but years later she decided to try writing, and her first published works won immediate critical and commercial recognition, now capped by the Davitt award.
"It's important for me. It really affects me because after my accident and everything that happened in my life – it really makes a big difference. And above and beyond that, it's just so lovely to know that what I'm writing is deemed good enough."
Brown has another challenge, one that astounds people when they learn what she does for a living: she is dyslexic.
"For a long time I carried so much shame about it," she says.
"One thing that's common [among people with dyslexia] is that we are acutely aware of that failing and we constantly try to hide it – maybe that's why we're creative, because we go to whatever lengths to hide this thing that we're ashamed of.
"People are shocked and I can understand why people cant quite grasp how you can be dyslexic and a writer at the same time. But I always take comfort in Hemingway because he was dyslexic. If he could do it, we can all do it."
It has meant long hours of frustration at the keyboard, but she has come to view it as just another difference, rather than a disability – and perhaps, Brown says, it forces her mind into different ways of thinking.
"I wonder if it is a disability as such. Everyone's brain is not wired the same way. It may mean that I can come up with different ideas, I think outside the box. All those things should really be valued. How about embracing it, as [dyslexic] people might have some really valuable input because they're looking at things in a totally different way?"