The Footpath Library is delighted to have author P.M. Newton as one of our Sydney-based ambassadors. Pam brings a wealth of experience to the role having spent thirteen years with the NSW Police Force—first in uniform, then as a detective—where every day she met people facing the very worst that life had to throw at them. After resigning from the Force and travelling the world, Pam picked up her pen and began writing. Her first novel, The Old School, won the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award and the Asher Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the Indie Award for Debut Fiction and the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. With a new novel due to be released early in 2014, we thought we’d catch up with Pam and find out a little about the new novel, her views on crime and the current Ashes series.
Your new crime novel, Beams Falling is due out in March, can you tell me what it is about and the inspiration behind it?
The new book follows on closely from the first one, The Old School, and picks up the story and characters in early 1993.
My ambition with the crime series is to revisit Australia in the 1990s, a time where a lot changed in this nation and in this city. It is twenty years ago but so much of what happened then is still reverberating through Australian society today. There were big historic changes such as the MABO decision; big political changes with the election of the Howard government and the growing influence of the social agenda of Pauline Hanson; there were big institutional changes as both ICAC and the Wood Royal Commission exposed decades of corruption. Crime fiction provides a wonderful vehicle to engage readers with a strong story that takes them on a trip through this maelstrom of social, cultural and political turmoil.
As a crime writer and an ex – police officer, you must be a pretty tough judge of crime writing. Who are your favourite authors in the genre?
It bothers me that a lot of really superb writing is getting drowned in a sea of blood as expectations of what crime fiction can be, or should be, is skewed to the ‘kill all the women and make ‘em suffer’ end of the market. Some of the fine writers I’d like to spread the word on include – Malla Nunn who writes a superb series set in 1950’s South African just as apartheid is being legislated and raises the question of how to solve crime when trapped in a criminal society, Angela Savage draws on her own experience living in SE Asia and working on sexual health to write a series is set in 1990s Thailand and Sulari Gentil has created a cosy crime series that channels P.G. Wodehouse if he was to write about 1930s Australian social history.
What sort of research do you do before writing a story?
Because the books are set very firmly in real time and place I do a lot of research on what was happening during the days, weeks and months of my story. I use newspaper archives to re-establish for myself that sense of time and place. I generally have an idea of the crime but that’s just the start, it’s what the crime reveals about the time and the place and the people that interest me most. I look then at integrating that crime so deeply into the social, cultural and political times that by the time I finish you couldn’t really extract it without the whole thing falling apart. To me, a test of a great crime novel is that you couldn’t imagine the events happening anywhere else, at any other time.
Writers are famous for having rituals or quirky habits. Where do you write and do you have any quirks or rituals?
I am hopelessly random. I do like to write in a notebook particularly at the start. I like the freedom to take notes, write down ideas about plot points and characters, bits of research, scenes, dialogue, descriptions … and then only once I’ve got a fair bit in there do I take it to the screen.
A notebook also means I can go for a walk and a think and just stop and take notes, walk somewhere lovely down by the harbour and find a nice spot on warm sandstone and just sit and write a bit, wander off into a coffee shop and sit and noodle ideas, whip it out on the train and make a plot breakthrough.
As a mad cricketing fan, what’s your prediction for the Australians this season?
I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In a perfect world, I’d like to see Michael Clarke make a ton of runs, another triple century perhaps? I’d like to see Ryan Harris stay fit and Ben Hilfenhaus take a big bag of wickets and make KP his bunny. And as this is probably Brad Haddin’s last Ashes lots of catches and some big scores would be a fine way to say thanks.
In reality I’ll probably be doing line edits on my laptop in the stands for some of the tests. The distraction may well be a blessing (as will the PIMMS tent).
Interview by Meredith Jaffé
Editor, Books thehoopla.com.au &
Ambassador Program Coordinator
The Footpath Library