Tag Archives: Kathryn Fox

May 8, 2012

Kathryn Fox – guest blog

Filed under: Murderati blogs — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 1:46 am

KathrynFoxKathryn Fox is an Aussie crime fiction author (based in Sydney), who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at a couple of crime conventions here in Australia. Kathryn’s first book, Malicious Intent, was a huge success both here in Australia (she won the 2005 Davitt Award for crime fiction) and overseas (it toppled The Da Vinci Code to become the no. 1 crime book on Amazon in the UK and Germany). Since then she’s released another four books — Without Consent, Skin and Bone, Blood Born and Death Mask.

Like certain other female crime writers you may know (e.g. Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs) Kathryn also comes from a medical background and uses this knowledge in her crime fiction.

Today, Kathryn’s draws on her medical background to talk about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Her post is a powerful one, and she will be in and out to check on your comments.

A multibillion dollar industry. Corruption, disturbing public behaviour by key players. A series of suicides and violent deaths, leads to questions. Each autopsy reveals a horrifying discovery. There are calls for the industry to stop the carnage…

It sounds like the plot for a thriller. Only this isn’t fiction. It’s currently taking place in two separate spheres at once, in real life. And it’s something I feel passionate about.

The first industry involves sport. NFL, Ice Hockey, Rugby Union, Rugby League (in the UK and Australia) and Australian Rules. No prizes for guessing where the last one is played. The one thing these games all have in common is physical contact, and lots of it. Crowds love a bit of biff, thump and robust exchanges. But at what cost?

For years now, high profile players have been the focus of media attention for all the wrong reasons. Not a season goes by without more scandalous headlines about players involved in sexual assault, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, off-field violence and betting controversies. Boys will be boys, we’re told and it’s mostly harmless fun. Harmless of course, except for the victims, families and consequences for players themselves.

With a life expectancy of 50 yrs for NFL players, it’s easy to assume that retirement, high food intake and reduced exercise are the causes. But a number of premature deaths and suicides in former NFL players and even a player who stopped after high school, shocked the medical community.  Each was found to have the unusual finding of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

What is CTE? It’s permanent and ongoing damage to the brain that was previously only ever seen in boxers after a career of blows to the brain. MRI and other medical investigations aren’t able to pick it up. Sadly, it’s only diagnosable post mortem.

CTE predominantly affects the front parts of the brain, or frontal and temporal lobes, which are responsible for decision-making, impulse control, mood, memory, amongst other things. Damage to these areas can result in depression, increased aggression, sexual inappropriateness, impaired judgement, addictive behaviours like gambling, drug and alcohol abuse. Does any of this sound familiar when you think about the football and ice hockey scandals?

It did to me three years ago, when I began writing Death Mask. Please don’t think for a moment that I’m taking credit for the surge in information or subsequent outcry about CTE, or the decision by many former players to sue the NFL, but the headlines kept on coming and a fictional novel on the topic attracted more than the crime readers.

Discussing head injuries in football on morning TV-webThe chief executive officer of a professional team contacted me after reading the novel, and asked me to help educate players and team management about the dangers of CTE. He felt that the book had really captured the culture and mentality of team behaviour. It was a huge compliment, and vindicated a ‘slight’ obsession for research, but the lines between fiction and reality had begun to blur.

As Death Mask was released in Australia, we coincidentally had a number of severe concussions during games and there was ample footage of players stumbling around the field before collapsing.

It’s unusual for a fiction author to make it to the sports pages and sports segments of TV news shows. My sports fanatic father was so proud! (Above, Kathryn is interviewed with NFL player Colin Scotts.

Some commentators argued that I was just trying to bubble wrap children and that concussions were just a part of robust gladiatorial competition. As a doctor, and parent, I am in no way against sport, but any sport that causes brain damage and premature death deserves some review. It is, afterall, sport. Thankfully, public awareness has increased the pressure on sports doctors and administrators to take action and reassess the risks.

Now, medical science is discovering that CTE doesn’t actually require severe concussions. It may be caused by recurrent, minor blows to the head and is especially damaging to developing brains. Helmets don’t necessarily protect the head and are heavy enough to cause some major damage.

At the beginning of the blog, I mentioned two spheres involving multibillion dollar industries and strange autopsy findings.

The second industry is, not surprisingly, war. Tragically, there has been an epidemic of suicides and social problems experienced by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. A newly published medical article reports that over a dozen veterans have been found to have CTE at autopsy. A 27 yr old diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder was the first recorded victim.

In no other wars have troops been exposed to, and survived, so many explosions.

Current thinking is that the number of blasts from bombs or grenades have a catastrophic impact on these young brains, and may be responsible for the high rate of suicides in veterans. A helmet might protect from the head from shrapnel, but can’t do anything about the brain rattling around inside the skull.

If CTE is occurring in people this young, the worst is yet to come. Degeneration continues to occur with age.

These people have served their countries and may end up paying for the rest of their lives, and with shortened and debilitated lives. More importantly, there is NO treatment. We all owe it to troops to prevent CTE and protect those who have already returned from active service. The potential health problem for the US, UK and Australia, amongst other nations, is enormous.

Now, if a journalist dares ask me if I want to bubble-wrap troops and stop all wars, I can unequivocally say yes.

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October 14, 2011

It’s a wrap

Filed under: Events/appearances,Murderati blogs — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 12:14 am

SheKilda signOn the weekend I attended the ten-yearly (yup, not annual, not bi-annual but once a decade) SheKilda. It was actually the second ever SheKilda, to mark Sisters in Crime Australia’s 20th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the first SheKilda. Happily, they are talking about maybe having another one in five years! I’m going to push for two years.

Anyway, having attended Bouchercon once, I was hoping that SheKilda would follow a similar format and, of course, be as wonderful and successful as the US convention. And I was NOT disappointed. It was an amazing weekend. A time for authors and readers to talk, exchange ideas and in the case of the authors complain that our partners don’t understand what we do and how tough it is.

One of the key differences between SheKilda and Bouchercon is that SheKilda was conceived and produced by Sisters in Crime and so all the authors were women. In terms of the audience, I’d say it was probably about 95% women too, but then again most crime readers are female.

The main difference between SheKilda and most of the other writing events I’ve attended (except Bouchercon) is that it was set up as a convention rather than a writers festival. The sessions and activities were centred almost entirely around the hotel venue (Rydges in Carlton, Melbourne). To my knowledge, this makes SheKilda the only one of its kind in Australia. They even served morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea in a common area near the venues, so we didn’t have to stray too far from the action or pound the pavement in the search of lunch.

SheKildaOpeningThe weekend kicked off with the Friday night gala opening. It was a chance for all the authors and attendees to mingle (with free champagne, red wine, white wine and beer – oh, and soft drinks too). There was also some extra yummy finger food! Then it was into one of the rooms for the official opening. MCed masterfully by Sue Turnbull (she’s an amazing interviewer and MC), it kicked off with a traditional welcome from Joy Murphy Wandin, who’s an elder of the Wurundjeri indigenous people. Then it was on to the entertaining (funny) City of Melbourne Councillor Ken Ong, then Mary Delahunty of Writing Australia and then the keynote address from Margie Orford, one of the three international guests for the convention. She gave a stunning speech about the setting for her novels and hometown (Cape Town). Apparently the murder rate there is so high that forensics will only be called if they think the murder might make the TV news. There have even been cases of people travelling to Cape Town to specifically arrange murder – hoping their victim will simply go into the massive pile of unsolved murder cases on some homicide cop’s desk. Margie’s police contact will often have 200 files on his desk.

Saturday kicked off with a joint session with all the international guests, Margie Orford, Shamini Flint and Vanda Symon. It was a great opening to the day’s events and was followed by Tara  Moss launching Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut, a collection of award-winning short stories by women crime writers.

For my other morning session, I attended Drawing the Line: Whatever!, which looked at how the line is drawn between a young adult novel and an adult novel. YA authors Marianne Delacourt, Karen Healey and Nansi Kunze were led by Alison Goodman. It seems violence was one key determiner, but sex was a more important one. For example, editorial notes removing the word “straddled” were discussed!

After lunch, I was on a panel with Narelle Harris, Marianne Delacourt, Alison Goodman and Kim Westwood, chaired by Tara Moss. The panel looked at bending the rules in terms of genre — mixing genres, moving genres, etc.

After my choc-chip cookie at afternoon tea it was time for my second panel of the day, Conquering the World: Heroes Abroad. This panel was chaired by Angela Savage and together with Lindy Cameron, Malla Nunn and LA Larkin we all explored setting our books overseas. Angela’s are set in Thailand, Lindy’s Redback is set in several locations, Malla’s are set in South Africa in the 1950s and Louisa’s first book is set in Zimbabwe and Australia and her second in Antarctica. And then of course mine are set in the US.

Davitt winnersSaturday night was the Davitt Awards, which were created to support Aussie female crime writers – who often seemed to be overlooked in our other crime awards. The winners that night were (from left to right):

Best true crime: Colleen Egan
Best YA crime fiction: Penny Matthews
Best fiction honourable mention: Leigh Redhead
Best fiction: Katherine Howell (who was my guest here in July)

There was also a reader’s choice award for fiction, which went to PM Newton (not in pic).

I kicked off Sunday morning with a panel called Brave New World: Or Death of the Book. As you can imagine, we spent the hour talking about ebooks in Australia and around the world. A recent stat for Australia is that the current $35million ebook market will increase to anything from $150 million to $700 million in the next three years. Big numbers!

After morning tea, I was an audience member for In the Face of Evil: Encounters with the Guilty, where true crime writers Rochelle Jackson, Robin Bowles and Ruth Wykes talked about their interviews and encounters with real-life crooks and murderers. And then I sat in on Them that Really Do it, which featured authors who used their past/present careers in their writing. Katherine Howell (ex-paramedic), YA Erskine (ex-cop), Helene Young (pilot), Kathryn Fox (ex-doctor) and PM Newton (ex-cop) were on the panel.

Manny Quinn1After lunch was Body in the Pool, which gave the SheKilda attendees an insight into how things would really happen if/when a dead body is found. The body had been on display by the pool all weekend and the experts included someone from police (actually our ex-assistant commissioner, Sandra Nicholson), a bug expert Mel Archer and a forensic pathologist. Timing (real versus that portrayed in crime fiction and crime TV) was also considered. At least 6-8 weeks for the entomology report and 10 weeks for the autopsy report.

It was an amazing, amazing weekend. A chance to talk to other authors, share stories (often complaining about how badly we’re paid!!) and expose ourselves to some great authors who are new to us. I kept my hand in my pocket over the weekend, but only because I’m sure Santa is bringing me a kindle for Christmas so I’ll wait and purchase the many fabulous books now on my ‘to buy’ list as ebooks!

What authors have you ‘found’ at a convention and then bought their books?

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