Peter Papathanasiou’s debut crime novel, The Stoning, was published this autumn and has already received impressive reviews. The novel started as coursework at City but depicts a small community in the scorchingly hot Australian outback. To Peter, a child of migrants and grandchild of refugees, it was important to write something that went beyond the identity of a killer.
Peter Papathanasiou’s (Creative Writing, 2017) debut crime novel, The Stoning, was published this autumn and has already received impressive reviews. The novel started as coursework at City but depicts a small community in the scorchingly hot Australian outback. To Peter, a child of migrants and grandchild of refugees, it was important to write something that went beyond the identity of a killer.
“I wrote The Stoning as more than a whodunit. A whodunit thread can help propel a plot, but mine was designed as a springboard to launch into an exploration of characters and their worlds. In this respect, I wanted to write a book that tapped into my own background and said something significant about my home, Australia. As the child of migrants and grandchild of refugees, the treatment of “new arrivals” is a topic close to my heart. It was then that I began to picture a small outback town with a large immigration detention centre on the outskirts. The protagonist would be a Greek-Australian detective.”
Peter Papathanasiou began to write his “Outback Noir” crime novel as part of his Master of Arts (MA) course at City, University of London. Having earlier attained a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the Australian National University (ANU), writing crime felt natural. Traveling across London for each class, catching crowded public transport and watching it get dark in the mid-afternoon, Peter felt suddenly inspired.
“Perhaps that was precisely why the idea came to me – the feeling of homesickness and need to escape congested Central London as I stared out a rain-spattered window into the gloom. Never underestimate the power of yearning.”
In The Stoning, Detective Sergeant George Manolis travels to the remote outback town of Cobb to investigate the shocking death of a local school teacher who is found tied to a tree and stoned to death. The small community is simmering with anger and resentment at the opening of the new immigration detention centre.
“White skin, black skin, brown skin – everyone is a suspect. It ends up as a dangerous investigation of lies, secrets, and silence, and an insight into the heart of a country intent on gambling with its soul.”
Published in October 2021 (in the UK by MacLehose Press and in Australia by Transit Lounge), The Stoning has received very impressive reviews in the mainstream media.
“It means a lot; to imagine that I’ve managed to produce a compelling, topical, and well-written novel with interesting characters and an evocative setting. Over the years, I’ve admired so many authors who have this ability to transport, entertain and inform their readers. To think that I’ve hopefully done the same for anyone who picks up my book is really touching.”
It’s well-deserved success, not least because Peter worked on the manuscript for seven years.
“At times, it was exhausting and emotional, but more often rewarding. Novels aren’t meant to be easy to write, even for experienced authors, but the challenge lies in laying down the words for the reader so that it “seems” effortless because the text flows like water. Countless drafts go into that process, one sentence and then another, writing and rewriting. When it was all over, I was a bit sad because I had inhabited that world and those characters for so long. I wrote the earliest drafts at City from 2014 to 2017 during my MA, and then did further redrafting and polishing from 2018 to 2020.”
In Peter’s own mind, the experience just about ties with publishing his first book in 2019.
“Publishing every new book is a big success. It felt like an achievement to publish my first book, a memoir, in 2019; it was published by Salt Publishing in the UK as Son of Mine, and by Allen & Unwin in Australia as Little One. Publishing The Stoning in 2021 is comparable, if not a little better because it all came from my imagination.”
Also with a PhD in biomedical science from the ANU, Peter now works as a scientific advisor, but hopes to one day be able to focus fully on his writing.
“My goal as an author is to be able to keep writing and publishing books. That probably sounds almost embarrassingly unambitious, but every new book is a major achievement. To be a career writer would be very satisfying.”
Peter knows first-hand the many challenges of writing for publication, so what would he say to someone who’d like to pursue writing as a profession?
“Here, I’ll pass on some advice that was given to me. First of all: Finish your book. So many people abandon their manuscripts or lose interest or get distracted. But without even finishing your book, the rest doesn’t matter. Second: If you seek to find a publisher for your book, don’t give up. Be prepared for challenges but stay resilient and tenacious. And third: Read widely. Aside from Outback Noir, there’s some exceptional “regional” crime sub-genres out there, with Scandi Noir and Southern Noir some of my favourites.”
Peter, who wrote a lot as a child but then didn’t reconnect with fiction writing until his thirties, found the MA at City especially helpful in getting restarted.
“There were many class exercises on characterisation, plotting, tension and so on, which came with careful instruction and advice. Classes were small enough to allow for tailored feedback on each student’s novel, but also big enough for group exercises. The course was also excellent in providing information about the book industry with introductions to literary agents, publishers, and established authors. I still remember the night when Lee Child, who wrote the bestselling Jack Reacher book series, spoke with our class. The book I studied for my major presentation and essay was A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez (2012), which also served to inspire me in writing The Stoning.”
Writing “Outback Noir” has made Peter somewhat of an outlier outside of Australia, but it may have worked in his favour when promoting the novel.
“When writing, it was most challenging finding the ideas, when you stare at a blank page for hours and wait for the words to come. What happens next, who should this character be, and so on. The basic building blocks of a story, essentially, which need to be pieced together one by one. When promoting any work, it is a challenge to try and make it stand out among all the other fantastic books being published every month. But it helps to write something more distinctive.”
With The Stoning now being read on both sides of the globe, Peter can focus on new projects as an author, and has at least one wish for the future:
“I hope the next book takes a little less time!”
A big thank you to Peter Papathanasiou for talking to us about his new book and his experience writing it. We look forward to more of his work!