Peter’s top tip for aspiring authors: First write the book.
Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece in 1974 and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His debut book, a memoir, was published in 2019 as ‘Little One’ by Allen & Unwin in Australia and as ‘Son of Mine’ by Salt Publishing in the UK. Peter’s writing has otherwise been published by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, Toronto Star, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, ABC, SBS, Meanjin and Overland. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing from City, University of London; a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences from The Australian National University (ANU); and a Bachelor of Laws from ANU specialising in criminal law. He is currently working on screen adaptations of his books and writing his new novel.
Why do you write? There are so many reasons why I write. I write to share my experiences of the world. I write to share my thoughts on certain topics. I write to educate based on my knowledge and special topics. I write to entertain, to take people on an adventure. I write to feel less alone. I write to ground myself, to bring my focus to scattered energy, and bring my satisfaction and joy at the sight of something I created. There are so many reasons why I write. But in short, I write because I cannot not write.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I imagine I would be needing some other creative outlet to stay sane, so perhaps a visual or graphic art, or performing art.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself. Don’t let anyone tell you that publishing is easy; it is very, very hard. Some people are fortunate and have opportunities come to them readily, but for most writers, it is a long and difficult grind. The secret is to stick with it, to have resilience and not give up. And in succeeding at that battle, your only major obstacle is yourself.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I was very involved in the development of my book, which included working with an excellent editor who both gave and was receptive to feedback, having my author photo taken professionally, and working with my publisher on the back-cover blurb and most eye-catching and appropriate cover. I was presented with numerous designs which were whittled down to a shortlist. The final cover features a photograph by a Western Australian artist, and I am very proud to have this image on the cover of my book and support another local artist.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The feeling of pride that comes with executing an entertaining story. And I also love receiving reader feedback, especially when it is filled with praise and gratitude. Never underestimate how nice this is to receive as an author! It makes all those hours at the keyboard and moments of self-doubt worth it.
—the worst? Rejection! I know it is part of the game, but even after all this time, it is still hard to face, though I am hopefully getting better at processing.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Two things: first, I would be more open to feedback from others; and second, I would have started writing earlier in life because the more you practise, the better you become.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wished I’d been told how indirect and circuitous the journey would be, that it wasn’t just a case of A to B, and that I needed to think outside the box to both create opportunities and make my writing stand out from the crowd.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? First of all: finish your book! So many people abandon their manuscript or lose interest or get distracted. But without even finishing your book, the rest doesn’t matter. And second: if you seek to find a publisher for your book, don’t give up! Be prepared for challenges, but stay resilient and tenacious.
How important is social media to you as an author? I think that unless you’re a superstar author, social media is an essential part of the modern publishing process. It shouldn’t supplant your primary focus, which is your writing, but social media still needs some oxygen in order to help publishers with their book promotion, and also as a channel for readers to interact with their favourite authors. I get lots of messages via social media from people who have enjoyed my writing, which I genuinely appreciate – to know that my writing has made a connection – and always take the time to reply.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I think any writer who says they don’t experience writer’s block is lying! Like rejection, it is a part of the game. Overcoming it is a matter of staring at that blinking cursor until your eyes want to explode. Stay in your writing seat, in other words! When that fails, I have no choice but to step away, so will usually go for a walk or ride. It’s incredible how many ideas have come to me on the back of a bike.
How do you deal with rejection? I don’t very well! I usually fall into a deep pit of despair for about a day. But then I wake up, the sun is shining, the pain is less and growing ever smaller in my rear-view mirror, and I refocus and go again. But there needs to be a grieving process too, you can’t deny yourself that. For some people it is minutes, for some it is weeks.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Evocative. Accessible. Thought-provoking.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? My debut novel is a work of outback noir crime fiction which was especially inspired by the late Peter Temple, who died in 2018. He was the first Australian crime writer to win the Gold Dagger in 2007 for ‘The Broken Shore’. In a first for a crime novel, Temple’s ‘Truth’ then won Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin, in 2010. The name of my secondary main character Sparrow is actually an intentional doff of the cap to Temple and his own Indigenous cop named Paul Dove. So, it would be great to sit down with Temple for an hour, tell him all about his influence, and also hear about his own inspirations as a writer.
A small outback town wakes to a savage murder. Molly Abbott, a popular teacher at the local school, is found taped to a tree and stoned to death. Suspicion falls on the refugees at the new detention centre on Cobb’s northern outskirts. Tensions are high between immigrants and some of the town’s residents.
Detective Sergeant Georgios ‘George’ Manolis is despatched to his childhood hometown to investigate. His late father immigrated to Australia in the 1950s, where he was first housed at the detention centre’s predecessor – a migrant camp. He later ran the town’s only milk bar. Within minutes of George’s arrival, it is clear that Cobb is not the same place he left as a child. The town once thrived, but now it’s disturbingly poor and derelict, with the local police chief it seemingly deserves. As Manolis negotiates his new colleagues’ antagonism and the simmering anger of a community destroyed by alcohol and drugs, the ghosts of his own past flicker to life. His work is his calling, his centre, but now he finds many of the certainties of his life are crumbling.
White skin, black skin, brown skin – everyone is a suspect in this tautly written novel that explores the nature of prejudice and keeps the reader guessing to the last. The Stoning is an atmospheric page-turner, a brilliant crime novel with superb characters, but also a nuanced and penetrating insight into the heart of a country intent on gambling with its soul.
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