Mark Tedeschi QC
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Darlinghurst, Sydney, just around the corner from the Darlinghurst Courthouse where I have regularly appeared as a barrister for the last 35 years. One thinks of oaks and acorns! I was raised on Sydney’s North Shore. My first School was Beaumont Road Primary School in West Killara, and my high school was Sydney Grammar School.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
From the age of 4, I wanted to be a lawyer (isn’t that crazy?) and I never deviated from that aim. I think it was because my father was working as an Italian interpreter in court and he would come home with amazing stories about people whom he had interpreted for. Until I went overseas in my early 20s my ambition was to become a suburban solicitor. In London, I lived in a college whilst I did a Masters degree and I decided to become an academic. After two years of teaching law back in Australia, I decided that my life was too tame, so I became a barrister at the New South Wales Bar. I thought that I would get commercial law work, because that had been my area when I was teaching, but fate conspired differently, and within a year I was doing almost entirely criminal law defence work. After six years, I decided that I wanted to do only criminal jury trials, so I applied for a job as a Public Defender – but failed to get an interview. The next job that came around was as a Crown Prosecutor. I applied, even though I hadn’t done any prosecution work, and I was successful. That was almost 30 years ago. I haven’t ever regretted the move from the private Bar, although sometimes I think I would like to do some more defence work.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That if you put in enough effort, any situation will work out for the best.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
My first criminal case (the Greek conspiracy case in 1979). The births of my children. My first murder trial.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
There is something substantial and authoritative about a published hardcopy book. I have the same view about photographs. Whilst they are purely electronic and residing only on a hard drive, in a certain sense they do not really exist – until they are printed in hard copy.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
‘Eugenia’ is the true story of the life and trial of Eugenia Falleni, a woman who in 1920 was charged with the murder of her wife – yes wife! Eugenia lived in Sydney for twenty-two years as a man, Harry Crawford, and during that time officially married twice. Her first wife only found out her true identity after more than three years of marriage, and her second wife was so convinced she was a man that when police told her she was married to a woman she laughed at them and insisted she was pregnant to her ‘husband’.
The story includes: a tragic main character who believed she was a man trapped in the body of a woman, sexual deception in the dark, an allegation of murder, an over-exuberant police investigation, an erudite judge, a determined prosecutor, an overwhelmed defender, the Press gone feral, the public clamouring for blood – a mix that unsurprisingly led to a miscarriage of justice.
I believe that Eugenia Falleni’s trial was one of the most extraordinary criminal cases anywhere in the world. In October 1920, when she first appeared in court charged with the murder of her first ‘wife’, the full weight of the law and public opinion came crashing down upon her, branding her as a complete social outcast and a serious menace to the moral fabric of society. In the context of the hatred and fear that was whipped up by a voracious press, Eugenia’s chances of receiving a fair trial were very slight.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
To convince Australians that our jury trial system is one of the world’s finest systems of criminal justice. It is not perfect, but it beats most other systems.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Chester Porter QC – one of Australia’s finest criminal law barristers (now retired) – and his late daughter, Dorothy Porter – one of Australia’s finest writers and poets. In fact, my book ‘Eugenia’ is dedicated to Dorothy and her family. My literary mentor, author Alan Gold. Dick Smith and his wife Pip, for their philanthropy and other numerous contributions to Australian society. Barrister Julian Burnside. Our Governor, Prof Marie Bashir. Former Judge Michael Kirby. My former boss, Nick Cowdery QC. Photographer Lewis Morley. Artists Guy Warren and Margaret Woodward. And many others.
To remain productive all of my life.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Decide what is the most important story in the world to you, and write about it in your own style. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style, no matter how distinguished and eminent they may be. Get yourself a literary mentor. At a certain stage of your research, put it all aside and just write. Fill in the details later. Have a good overall plan before you write. Don’t write the first chapter first. Never give up.
Mark, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.