22 September 2023

Murder, mystery and mayhem set to thrive under Siobhan's experienced eye

| Edwina Mason
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old-fashioned typewriter with the words "the best way is just to start" typed on paper

Young will be the scene of many murder mysteries on 30 September when a former criminal lawyer turned crime writer heads to town. Photo: Wilhelm Gurkel.

Murder, mystery and mayhem are coming to the NSW Hilltops town of Young this month and what is incontrovertibly evident is a former local woman will be at the centre of it.

This woman, born to a large and well-known family, will be guest of honour at an event guaranteed to have many a pen poised and myriad tongues wagging.

Siobhan Mullany spent two decades working as a criminal defence lawyer before turning her expertise to something she’s also particularly adept at – writing.

The daughter of Dr Michael Mullany and the late Bernadette (Bernie) Mullany, Siobhan is now a celebrated author.

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With her work published in legal journals, and her reviews of TV crime shows hotly read, she is also a winner of the national Scarlet Stiletto Award for the best crime short story written by a woman.

The current NSW co-coordinator of the Australian Chapter of Sisters in Crime – a group formed in 1991 to share members’ passion for crime writing – Siobhan is heading back to Young this month to guide and encourage people to develop their own ideas for a mystery during a crime-writing workshop.

This follows an extremely successful workshop held earlier this year in Young by the Lambing Flat Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW), which attracted 27 attendees and fuelled demand for more of Siobhan’s knowledge.

This former student of St Anne’s Infants School and St Mary’s primary and secondary schools, Siobhan completed her education at St Vincent’s College in Sydney before going on to Sydney University to study law.

woman with greying hair and prominent black spectacles

Siobhan Mullany spent two decades working as a criminal defence lawyer before turning her expertise to writing. Image: Lambing Flat FAW/Facebook.

She admits that she did the law science degree poorly at university but completed law part-time through the Solicitors and Barristers Admission Board (now the Law Extension Committee) while she was working.

Engaged as a Legal Aid NSW criminal defence lawyer for about 20 years, Siobhan says she mostly represented people charged with murder – in some trials where the facts were more incredible than any fiction.

She also spent two years in a terrorism trial.

After a brief stint at the Law Reform Commission, Siobhan worked in the forensic division of the Mental Health Review Tribunal and, although retired, now teaches law part time at the University of Technology Sydney and recently started working for the Law Extension Committee through Sydney University.

Although she has long been based in Sydney, Siobhan says Young has always been home.

Only by the luck of the Irish it is.

But the Mullany clan is as entrenched in local life as the deep-rooted grapevines it also brought to the town.

Siobhan’s parents moved to Young in 1956. Dr Mullany, an Irishman, had met Bernadette, who was brought up in western NSW, when both worked in London.

After marrying in Ireland, they decided to move somewhere neutral: the United States.

“That didn’t work out, so Dad answered an ad for a job in Young to work in Charlie Rowe’s medical practice,” Siobhan said.

“So, they settled in Young, raising 11 children in a household where dad was a general practitioner, so knew everyone, and Mum painted and was an integral part of the Young Society of Artists, so they became part of the community.”

The Mullanys, Siobhan recalls, bought their first paddock on Wombat Road when she was about 10.

“It had a nectarine tree that we had picnics under,” she said. “Dad named the paddock Ballinaclash after his family’s farm in Ireland.”

Over time, the farm grew and is today, under Peter and Cathy Mullany and their family, one of the district’s most awarded wine producers and, come summer, tops the tourism spots for people who travel to the cherry capital of Australia for that fruit.

Another of Siobhan’s brothers, Brian, helped cement the Hilltops region’s cool-climate wine grape-growing reputation through his own enterprise, Grove Estate – again, with Dr Mullany’s input – also heavily medalled.

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For Siobhan, though, cherries bore fruit for her.

“When I was growing up, the cherry season was the biggest season for the farm,” she said. “We all worked on the cherries and I knew all the varieties and how to pack a box.

“Periodically I’d come home and work on the farm.”

In 1994, she took long-service leave and worked the cherry season alongside John “Stubby” Haines.

“We talked stories and started writing them down,” Siobhan said. “That creative burst led to me winning the Scarlet Stiletto award a few years after.”

She says returning home is as much about visiting her brothers and her dad, now 96 and a resident of Mt St Joseph’s, a facility he helped to advance.

“When approaching Young, there is an indeterminate place where you become aware that the countryside is your home,” she said.

”It’s hard to know when it happens but there is something in the fall of the land, gentle hills backed by a big pale sky.”

The Murder, Mystery and Mayhem workshop will be held from 10 am to 3 pm at the Young Services Club on Saturday, 30 September. Cost is just $20 and lunch is at participants’ own expense.

This session will discuss plot development but, first, Siobhan will recap some of the points covered in the previous workshop on developing characters.

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Writers of all levels are welcome, just in time for the group’s 40th annual Short Story and Poetry Competition, which launched in August.

The competition has grown from 62 entries in 1983 to 771 – one from as far away as Sri Lanka – in 2022.

Entries, which cost $5, are anonymous and close on 13 October.

School-aged students can enter free.

To register for the workshop, or for details on the short-story competition, visit the Lambing Flat FAW Facebook page or email [email protected].

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