I have a new place www.pmnewton.com

16 02 2014

This wordpress blog is no longer being updated.


I have a new place at www.pmnewton.com – so if you’d like to catch up on all the news



(pssst new book! Beams Falling)


I’ll see you there.


George Pelecanos got it right when he said …

18 03 2010

There is no solving murders, you know. Not unless the dead are going to rise up out of the earth. Once somebody is killed, it’s forever for their loved ones and their family and the community.

George Pelecanos http://www.identitytheory.com/interviews/birnbaum100.html

That quote, from an interview with George Pelecanos, forms the epigraph to The Old School. Though it may seem redundant to talk about grief in a crime novel, it is surprising that in fiction that deals almost exclusively with sudden and violent death, grief is an emotion that is often conspicuously lacking. Psychologists and health carers use terms such as “complicated grief” and “spoiled memory syndrome” to describe the complexity and severity of a murder’s impact of the friends and families of victims.

Yet within crime fiction all too often the focus is primarily on the processes and procedures, the puzzle aspect, of an investigation into the violent termination of human life. We rarely see the consequences of violent death on those most affected by it: the family and friends of the victim.

These characters are sometimes sighted in brief sad scenes when they are informed of the murder. These are often just set pieces to allow the detective to display their compassion and empathy or conversely to stress how damaged and hardened they have become due to the horror of their job. Any real sense of the family’s grief and the on-going impact of violent death tend to be relegated off-stage. The grieving relative sometimes reappears at the successful conclusion of an investigation, in order to show their gratitude to the protagonist for providing them with justice, revenge or ‘closure’ and provide a poignant moment of closure. However, if family and friends of the deceased appear as suspects then any grief they display is harshly interrogated as a falsity.

But the grief that follows a ‘real-life’ murder is intense and real death ruptures the lives of those left behind. There are some writers who explore this dark territory. It is a constant theme in the novels of George Pelecanos, and one which he brought to the acclaimed TV series, The Wire.

Dennis Lehane’s, Mystic River is an elegiac meditation on the grief and destruction wrought on families and communities by two crimes decades apart.

Emotionally wounded and grieving characters abound in Ian Rankin’s, The Naming of the Dead; a daughter grieves for her murdered mother, a family for a raped daughter, a sister for a battered sister and a mass gathering of people who witness the shattering of their optimism as the G8 protests are swamped by a terrorist bombing.

In The Broken Shore Peter Temple’s protagonist, Joe Cashin, is also a grieving and guilt ridden character, carrying the responsibility for the death of a young colleague and family guilt relating to his Aboriginal cousins.

Each character in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost is in a state of grief, for the loss of love and the loss of lovers. In Sri Lanka Ondaatje suggests that love is being murdered by war. Ananda has taken refuge in alcohol to blot out the pain of his “disappeared” wife, while the brothers Sarath and Gamini are estranged from each other, immersed in work and wrestling with the grief and guilt about their love for the same woman, now dead by suicide.

To each one of these books, George Pelecanos’ words could apply.

A sense of Place

5 03 2010

Great sense of place …….. that’s become an expected element of crime fiction. Rebus is Edinburgh, VI Warsahwski is Chicago, George Pelecanos dissects Washington.

In The Old School, I was equally determined that Sydney would be more than just a backdrop to a story. I wanted it to be central, an important character, an old, old player, ever present, holding the secrets and the clues. Here’s a glimpse of just a few of the places that inspired some of the events.

I stumbled across this wall carving in the cafe on the country platforms at Central only a couple of years ago. It has been there at lot longer than that, but on the few occasions I’d been in there I’d never raised my eyes to the walls behind me. It encapsulates so much about Sydney’s past, and about the way we have told that past to ourselves.

Central Railway Station cafe, Sydney

The scene on the left is dated 1787, and the “noble savage” iconography is pretty clear; a simple happy life, but tough, the bare essentials, even just the struggle to make fire occupies two men. The next scene is dated a year later. 1788, and there is no trace of those original inhabitants. They simply disappear, swept away by the progress of the next scene. Interestingly there is no sign that these industrious, hearty and healthy looking men, bringing ashore barrels (of rum?) from the ship riding at anchor in the harbour behind them, are actually convicts, transported for life. No sign of a chain, or a lash, or scurvy, or despair at being transported to the modern day equivalent of the moon.

There are still a few places around Sydney Harbour that allow us to glimpse how Sydney once appeared. These are the places Ned Kelly goes running, passing the middens and rock carvings of the first inhabitants of this beautiful place.

Sand and stone on Berry Island, Sydney

A view of Berry Island from Greenwich

Beach on Berry Island, Sydney

What working in a public library taught me

12 02 2010

Spend a year working the loans desk in a public library and you will learn a lot about what people like to read.

You see who gets checked out over and over again, whose backlists get chased up by readers who, having discovered a great storyteller, then want to read everything they’ve ever written.

You notice whose backlists, though they may have departed the scene in the pressure-cooker world of the book shop, have settled into a long loan life on the library shelves.

You notice the titles and authors that you constantly seem to be re-shelving, only to be checking them out again a few hours later.

Working the loans desk of a public library taught me that people like to be told stories.  Maybe it’s in our DNA. Maybe it goes all the way back to caves and fires and who spun the best yarn about that day’s hunt.

The punters in the library taught me a few things. They’ll read badly written books that tell good stories, but they get really excited over well-written books that tell good stories.  If you think that they can’t tell the difference between those two kinds of books – you’d be wrong.

“Beautifully written” books, but ones that bring no plot to the party, or contain unbelievable characters, or where the writers seem to be more interested in being difficult, or clever, or showing off for a small coterie of critics,  well, they arrive with a buzz and sometimes a hold list, then get returned with a sigh, their spines barely wrinkled.  They sit on the shelves, pristine, to await the dreaded weeder. If they’re lucky, there’s always the chance a book club will set them as homework.

And all this is a long way of recommending a couple of interesting reads on this very subject.

For another salvo in the ever popular argument about whether “good” books = “difficult” books. Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard according to Lev Grossman in the Wall Street Journal, discovers – again – that people love plot.


James Patterson was one of those writers I’d curse as I tried to shove in yet another copy onto a shelf chock-a-block with his healthy backlist, only to find the shelf emptied out a few hours later. So if you want to know how that happened James Patterson Inc. tells the story of a man now too busy to even write his own books, he has “people” to do that!  That’s what I call writing to a formula.

Thanks to Lenny Bartulin for the Grossman link and to thanks to Call My Agent for the Patterson link.

There are other things I learnt working in a public library – and once I’ve finished therapy I might tell you about them.

Now – back to copy edit …………….  I’m just going outside; I may be away some time

The blue blue sea – or the wonderful world of Word Track.

22 01 2010

Started this one about a week ago in the flush of – yee haa – after hitting send on my structural edit.  Then got sidetracked.

But, the edit was done and dusted.  After weeks of being married to my laptop, even taking it out to the Sydney Test so I could spend the hours between securing a good seat on the bottom deck of the Old Stand and the start of play, tapping away in a corner of the stand, it was finally all finished. 

Of course, since hitting send, through the hot humid sleepless Sydney nights that have followed, all sorts of second thoughts and second guesses have emerged. 

Was such-and-such a term actually in common use in 1992 I fret, scurrying back to the net for confirmation – knowing in the back of my mind that I’ve fact-checked this time and time again. 

Would that scene work better in a different location, I wonder. 

Just how many typos have slipped through, camouflaged by the red font and red underlining of new content in Word-Track. 

And now …….. a whole new colour scheme awaits.  The wide blue sea of the Word Track line edit. 

My poor poor editor is currently grappling with my profligate and inconsistent use of things like the “…” and the “;” not to mention the  “:” and the “-“.   She assures me she loves rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck right into the language at a line edit level.  As she’s a fellow cricket tragic, I just hope the dulcet tones of “The Uncles” provide her with a soothing backdrop for the task.

I think the first slab of it will arrive next week.  From the sneak preview it looks as if me and the laptop will soon be joined at the hip once again.  And despite the encouragement and assurances that what you’ve submitted isn’t setting new lows in abuse of language,  it’s easy to start to think you’re an ignorant unlettered fool as you go through these processes!  Talk about learning curves.       

Spending the window between the blue sea arriving, poking the next book into life.  Starting to get lost in the research, (will I never learn?)  But it’s hard to resist when it translates into a fascinating morning talking to Clive Small about background for the setting of Ned’s next case.  His book, “Smack Express”  triggered lots of ideas when I read it, and the follow up “Blood Money” is due out on February 1.

Always a comfort to meet and talk to authors who have survived editing and come out the other side!

Note to self: Start a Blog

27 12 2009

Start a blog.

That was Sophie’s advice.  Sophie is my agent and unlike me, Sophie knows a lot about the publishing world.  So when Sophie said, start a blog, stake out some cyber-real estate, learn how to twitter, I had to take her seriously.

The only problem was – I hadn’t really read too many blogs, I didn’t own any cyber-real estate and I had no idea what twitter was, except it had something to do with mobile phones, and I didn’t have one of them either.

It’s taken a few months to “start a blog”.  All sorts of issues arose – such as what to call it – what to put into it – when to find the time to do it.  I procrastinated by “researching” other peoples’ blogs.  I eventually stumbled into the web spaces occupied by writers whose work I admired and had a look at what they were up to.

  • Sara Paretsky presents a webface that reflects the passions and concerns of her VI Warsawhski novels.  There are updates on progress of her new novel, sample chapters, and an engaged feisty blogger.   
  • Ian Rankins web space is chock a block full of treats and Rebus extras.  He doesn’t blog but his tweets are a delightful mix of music gigs, trips to the pub, TV and chocolate on the sofa.

So, now thoroughly intimidated and impressed by Rankin and Paretsky (where do these guys find time to write and do all this web-presence stuff?) I’ve finally set up the blog, opened the twitter account and learnt what predictive text does on the mobile.

All I need to do now is, finish the edit on the novel for a January deadline with Penguin, continue plotting and peopling book 2, whilst remaining alert and attentive for the next stage of development on the SBS crime series project based on Phillip Gwynne‘s socks-knocking-off Top End crime drama The Build Up …… oh, and blog a bit!

All in all, 2009, has been a bloody big learning curve for an ex-cop, ex-EFL teacher, ex-research librarian.  This time last year I had just delivered my MA in Writing Thesis for examination, I now have a contract with Penguin to publish the first of two crime novels featuring Detective Nhu Ned Kelly and I’m involved in developing a new TV crimes series for SBS.

It all sounds very A + B = C when written like that.   Of course it never is, but more of that later …..