4 August 2023

Crime writing proves to be the best medicine for Canberra chemist

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with red stiletto award

Canberra writer and chemist Hayley Young with the Stiletto award she won for her crime stories. Photo: Supplied.

When your passion is writing stories about crime and your day job is as a chemist, it can make for an interesting compound.

That’s just how it works for Canberra writer and pharmacist Hayley Young, winner of the Sisters in Crime Stiletto prize for her short story Monster Hunters. Although she won it last year, as well as the Scriptworks award for A Great Film Idea, her work was recently placed on a special podcast to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Scarlet Stiletto awards.

Hayley, who has written “on and off” for most of her adult life, has also won awards for her thrillers and has been published in many Australian and international works, including four anthologies by Stringybark Publishing and had two entries shortlisted in the Hammond House International Literary Competition in the UK.

The Scarlet Stiletto awards are handed out annually for crime and mystery short stories written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist. Acclaimed writer Cate Kennedy took out the inaugural title in 1994. Since then other winners, including the likes of Tara Moss and Annie Hauxwell, have gone on to have novels published – to much acclaim.

Monster Hunters tells the story of country police chief Rose “Sprig” Collings and how she and her team cope when they are joined by rookie city cop Ernest Tickle to solve drug-related crimes. The story centres on how Rose’s father, who was in the job before her, had been so successful in shutting down a major drug ring 30 years beforehand.

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Despite working as a pharmacist with a government department and caring for her family, Hayley said she would always find time to write.

“I had written on and off over the years,” she said, “but it was probably when COVID really hit that I started writing full-length novels.

“After the first draft, I realised I needed to upskill and that writing short stories was a good way to edit my work – a good way to communicate ideas in a short space of time.”

She described the award wins and subsequent podcast posting as a “huge honour”.

“There were a lot of great entrants,” she said, “and for me, as an amateur writer, it was my first real attempt at crime writing so my first response to them was, ‘are you sure?’.

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“As a writer, you put a lot into your work, so it can feel very vulnerable putting it out there. So it was a big thing for me and great inspiration to continue.”

As a pharmacist, Hayley said she had always been interested in how drugs affect people. This theme is not uncommon in her work, particularly when it relates to the problem in country towns.

“As a pharmacist, drugs have always been part of my life,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in why some people don’t get the help they need – and it seems to happen more often in rural towns.

“As a writer, that’s a good thing to shine a light on … certainly something for people to be reminded of.

“I tend to write a lot about drugs and the harm they do in my stories.”

Hayley said she snatched time whenever possible to write, no matter where she is. Her characters, she said, are usually “out of control” to start with.

“I’ve found that the best thing to do as a writer is to let the story tell itself then go back and edit heavily. Good characters will tell you what they want to do – and there’s always a lot more going on with characters than ends up on the page.”

Entries for the 2023 Scarlet Stiletto writing awards close on 31 August.

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