After discovering the truth about his adoption, award-winning writer, Peter Papathanasiou (Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels), 2017) has recently published his first book, Son of Mine, which follows the incredibly moving story of his reunion with his biological family in Greece. Peter also borrowed from his own life and heritage to write a crime novel – The Stoning – during his time at City, which covered issues around refugees and asylum seekers.
Find out more about Peter and his books here:
Can you tell me about your time at City?
I studied a Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels) specialising in crime fiction and thriller writing. The original City MA creative writing programme had been in literary fiction, with the crime thriller MA having been launched in response to overwhelming demand and growing genre popularity. We studied specific aspects of the crime thriller genre including the creation of suspense, characterisation, and investigations. The overarching aim of the course was to write an industry-ready novel and establish contacts with literary agents and publishers who could then take the manuscript to publication. It was a fun group of about a dozen students who were all passionate about learning the craft and dedicated to creating stories that entertained. We had an incredible array of published authors as guest speakers too, including Lee Child, the creator of the successful Jack Reacher series.
What happened after you graduated?
My book was published! Well, it wasn’t quite as easy and as instantaneous as that; it took two more years and was actually for another manuscript I’d already been working on, a memoir. But the lessons I learnt at City and the contacts I made helped me write, edit and polish my memoir manuscript to industry-standard, which was eventually published in 2019 as Son of Mine by Salt Publishing in the UK and as Little One by Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. Both publishers have been incredible to work with. Meanwhile, The Stoning – which is the crime manuscript I wrote at City for my MA – has been recognised by numerous unpublished manuscript awards. My agent is currently submitting this to publishers with a view to it being my second book.
How did the ideas for your books come about?
My memoir is all about my international adoption as a baby. My parents were unable to have children of their own, so Mum was gifted a baby by her brother in Greece to take and raise in Australia in 1974. I then grew up as an only child before learning the truth behind my adoption in 1999 as an adult; this then led to a journey of discovery, and an emotional reunion with my biological family in northern Greece, including meeting my two blood brothers. Sitting and talking with my mum, I wrote notes on all she remembered, which I then turned into chapters that came before 1974, so the story moves backwards and forwards in time, and is told through the eyes of two narrators over the course of a hundred years. I originally wrote the first draft of this manuscript from 2008 to 2011, but only returned to it in 2018 after finishing my MA at City.
As for the crime novel that I wrote for my City MA, this was inspired by the broad themes of race and migration, and specifically the plight of current day asylum seekers and refugees. As the son of migrants and grandson of refugees, my heart goes out to the way that refugees are treated when seeking asylum in certain countries. These topics tend to receive negative media coverage these days, so I thought that telling a story through the prism of a crime would be something that would interest readers and bring them to examine these issues more easily, because on their own they can be rather confronting. Borrowing from my own life and heritage, I designed a Greek-Australian detective investigating the crime, which takes place in a small outback Australian town.
What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book?
There were many challenges along the way. Writing the first draft was difficult, getting the words out of my head and down on paper. But then editing the draft and being unemotional during that time was hard too; forgetting all the work that went into writing and believing that every edit – which sometimes involved cutting several thousand words at once – actually made the manuscript stronger. In the end, my memoir needed 14 drafts, while my crime novel had 8 drafts. It was also super challenging to sign with a literary agent, and of course a publisher.
What has been the most rewarding experience?
By far and away the most rewarding experience has been having my writing connect with readers. It’s fascinating to see how different parts of my book resonate with different people, and sometimes even move them to tears. I’ve received so many messages from people with similar experiences wanting to share their stories and thank me for sharing mine. At a recent book event for my adoption memoir, I met a woman who finally became a mum at age 47 after 20 IVF treatments; she empathised with my adoptive mum, for her burning desire to have a baby, but she also wanted to give the gift of a child to help another infertile woman, as my biological mum once did. At the end of the day, that’s the power of writing – to document stories so they’re not lost forever, and to connect with readers and share our experiences of the human condition.
It was a long journey to publication for me, filled with many ups and downs. But if you connect with just one reader, it’s all been worth it.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I’ve found it especially amazing how the writing community embraces debut authors, perhaps because most writers remember how hard it was for them to get their break. No matter who, every debut author has a dogged story of struggle, doubt, rejection, and persistence behind their success. This is just my story. It doesn’t come easy; if it did, more people would do it.
Perseverance pays off. Keep at it. Keep going. Keep writing, keep editing, and keep submitting. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Keep working hard at your art, and eventually, you’ll knock on the right door.
Thank you to Peter for sharing his story!