P.M. Newton worked as a cop in NSW for 13 years. In 2010 she published her first novel, The Old School, set in Sydney in the early 1990s featuring Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly. The follow up, Beams Falling has just been released and P.M. Newton will be talking about her books at Mosman Library on Monday March 17. She kindly answered a few questions:
1. Can you remember the first story you ever wrote and, if so, what was it?
When I was a kid I made up a lot of stories in my head but I never wrote them down. Then when I left the police force I was writing a bit of non-fiction, travel type stuff, and I tried to start some short stories but couldn’t get much past the first paragraph. The first story I ended up writing with a beginning a middle and an end was for a 800 word story competition on Simon Mahoney’s Weekend show on ABC local radio. It was about an old scientist remembering being a little boy watching The Leonids meteor shower with his aunt. It was selected and read out on air, which was a great thrill and delivered a much needed boost of confidence.
2. How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?
I wrote but was unable to finish a crime novel which featured my protagonist Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly, but as a much older, hard-headed detective sergeant. The story was going on and on and I could see no way of paring it down into a manageable size. I abandoned it and started writing a huge sprawling space opera, and ran into a similar problem of how to finish it. When I returned to the crime novel and tried to fix it, I realised – eventually – the problem was that what I thought was ‘back story’ was actually another book set at an earlier time and it needed to be written first.
3. What sorts of books do you love to read?
Books that have a strong sense of place and people. I want to know about a place, all about it, so that means for me a sense of the period, the politics, the society, the culture. If it’s a crime novel, then the crime needs to reflect all that. And I want to feel the people who inhabit it are authentic and I want to care about what happens to them. I love books that move me, not necessarily sentimental books, but books that have heart. I love the beautiful use of language, I get a thrill reading something described or expressed in such a way that it feels new and yet familiar at the same time, but I get cross with books that seem to be trying to be all about style without ever engaging the emotions. I read crime but not a strict diet of it, I enjoy speculative fiction and there’s great pleasure in returning to favourite books, such as Wide Sargasso Sea or The Quiet American and absorbing them anew.
4. If you were forced to co-write a novel with someone (as we’re not presuming that you’d want to co-write with anyone necessarily) who would it be?
I don’t know about co-writing a novel, but I’d give my eye teeth to write on a TV series with David Simon (The Wire, Treme), Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly), Jane Espenson (Buffy, BSG, Once Upon A Time) or Ronald D Moore (Star Trek DS9, BSG). The gestalt of working with creative people to conjure up something that becomes greater than the sum of its parts, because of all the creative energy being brought to it must be a truly exhilarating experience.
5. What are you working on now and next?
Now, just finishing the final touches on the follow up to The Old School; the title is Beams Falling, which, for anyone who has read The Maltese Falcon will be instantly familiar! It features many of the same characters and is set a few weeks after the first book finishes in early 1993. I’m very excited and nervous as, although it is a sequel, it is quite a different book to the first novel. As for next? I can already see where the characters will be in the mid 90s when the Wood Royal Commission starts, and I can see a pair of books that explore that time. I also have a few other ideas ticking away, not related to the world of the police series. So I guess I’ll have to see which idea sets up camp in my head and my heart because I’ll have to live with it and love it for a few hard years if it’s going to become a book.
Author website: www.pmnewton.com