Very pleased to welcome Peter Papathanasiou to discuss the inspiration behind his brand new crime novel The Stoning.
Plus, thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have 2 ebook copies of The Stoning to giveaway – entry open to Australian & New Zealand residents.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Peter Papathanasiou on writing The Stoning
The inspiration for writing my debut outback noir crime novel The Stoning was hatched in a one-bedroom flat in West Hampstead at about four in the afternoon on a wintry Tuesday in late 2014. It was already dark outside. For a writer from Australia who’d never seen the sun go down that early and thought to write about a scorchingly hot outback town, it made for an interesting contrast. But perhaps that was precisely why the idea came to me – the mild feeling of homesickness and the need to escape congested Central London. Never underestimate the power of yearning.
I was working at Imperial College at the time and had been accepted into the Master of Arts (MA) program in Creative Writing at City, University of London. They had two streams: literary and crime thriller. I’d had an idea for a thriller novel percolating for a while, had tried to map out the entire story and even written the first chapter. But for some reason, it wasn’t quite working. So I ended up at home with my wife on a Tuesday afternoon brainstorming ideas. We both have law degrees: she worked in human rights and immigration, while my expertise was criminal law.
With this as background – the desire for space and isolation, for sun and heat, and with the backdrop of human rights and migrants and asylum seekers and crime – the idea for The Stoning began to crystallise. A small mythical town with no specific geographic location so that readers could potentially picture it in their own backyards. A largely white township, tensions with the Indigenous community, and an immigration detention centre plonked on the outskirts to stimulate the local economy.
“As the child of migrants and grandchild of refugees, the treatment of ‘new arrivals’ is a topic close to my heart. “
The book blossomed in my mind. And then, without thinking, I blurted out:
‘Well, what if someone was stoned to death?’
The Stoning is actually the third book I’ve written. The first was a memoir about my international adoption as a baby in 1974; it was published in 2019 by Salt in the UK and by Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). The second was a fiction thriller about a road trip through the Australian outback; it is yet to see the light of day, but it did help hone my writing skills for The Stoning. I was awarded a Distinction grade for my MA when I submitted the manuscript in 2017.
In discussing Australia’s treatment of new arrivals, I knew I needed to be true to the nation’s original inhabitants. To do so, the book needed the voice of a First Nations character. So I created Constable Andrew ‘Sparrow’ Smith, who became the main secondary character to Detective Sergeant George Manolis, the novel’s protagonist. Writing Manolis was relatively easy: he was Greek-Australian, like me. But I knew that writing Sparrow would be harder.
In order to properly research all aspects of Sparrow’s character, I read widely, both fiction and nonfiction. I consulted protocols for producing Indigenous writing, and also had my manuscript read by sensitivity readers representing the Indigenous writing community. They are acknowledged in The Stoning, along with representatives of the asylum seeker community who also read the manuscript. As another vulnerable and marginalised peoples, their insights into my characters and story were equally important to me.
As a crime writer, I’m 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 deuteragonist Sparrow is actually an intentional doff of the cap to Temple and his own Indigenous cop named Paul Dove.
“The Stoning is more than a simple whodunit. A whodunit thread can help propel a plot, but mine is designed as a springboard to launch into an exploration of characters and their worlds. “
I’m thrilled The Stoning is finding a global audience seven years after I first began the project in 2014. But I also know I’m taking a bit of a risk with writing and publishing this book. It is designed as a book that speaks to the world from the island continent down under, and the depths of its vast and ruthless outback. It touches on many hot-button issues within society that can be both controversial and divisive. I credit the distance away from Australia as giving me the clarity and headspace to write boldly and without apology. This is not a story of which Australia will be proud, but which I feel must be told.
The Stoning Synopsis
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.
‘A crime novel with a difference; gritty and menacing with a terrific sense of place. A highly relevant examination of racism in an outback town. Detective Sergeant George Manolis is a great new addition to the Australian crime scene.’ – Emma Viskic, author of the award-winning Caleb Zelic crime series
‘The Stoning repels and compels at the same time, laying bare the festering secrets of a small town one by one. A thoughtful and confident debut.’ – Sulari Gentill, award-winning Australian author of the Rowland Sinclair crime series
(Transit Lounge, October 2021)
Get your copy of The Stoning from:
More thought-provoking crime fiction:
Doom Creek by Alan Carter / Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty / Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic / The Night Whistler by Greg Woodland / Man at the Window by Robert Jeffreys
About the Author, Peter Papathanasiou
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. Peter’s writing has otherwise been published by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, ABC and SBS. He holds a Master of Arts 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.
The Stoning eBook Giveaway
We have 2 ebook copies of Peter Papathanasiou’s The Stoning to giveaway. Entries open to Australian & New Zealand residents only; closes 19 October 2021.
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SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – See winners announcement.