At last week’s writing race, we were joined by one of my favourite authors, PM Newton. As an undoubted fan of the crime-fiction genre, I relished the opportunity to hear PM Newton’s advice on the art of writing, as well as the story behind her award-winning novels, The Old School and Beams Falling. She didn’t disappoint. Here are some of the brilliant insights she shared with us…

…on writing a novel…

With a novel the ideas come fairly slowly, and come together kind of slowly. I don’t map the whole thing out in advance. I have a lot of it in my head for a while—the sort of big picture idea of who the people are and what will happen to them. That’s story as opposed to plot. Plotting sort of takes place as I write. By then I have a fair idea of the story (where I’m going) but I need to work out how I’m going to get there (that’s the plot). I find walking, swimming, doing things where I can think a lot helps.

…on crime writing…

I was not a big reader of crime fiction when I was in the police force… When I realised the book I was writing was a crime novel, I started to read around in the genre. It’s a cliché but it is actually a VERY broad church—and there’s a lot of crime fiction that I am not a big fan of. In Australia we have some spectacularly good writers, including Malla Nunn, Sulari Gentill, Angela Savage, and a new author here tonight, JM Peace.

…on its popularity…

Why it’s so popular—I don’t know. Sadly I think for the same reasons that Romans like watching violent games, executions used to be in public, and people slow down at car accidents. I’m more drawn to crime fiction that is about the ripples rather than the splash.

…on writing an authentic story…

The procedural chunks only really bother me if the rest of it isn’t working. If the characters are strong, if I have invested in them and their story, I tend not to even notice the procedural aspects. If the book is just so dependent on the procedure, or on the forensics, or on some tricksy reveal, I’ve probably put it down already.

…on writing a story out of order…

Write out of order if that’s the story coming to you. I find Scrivener a really good writing tool for doing this. You can “see” the outline, but just zoom in and out to do the bits, click and drag them around, and see what’s missing that has to be linked up. Scrivener have a good trial period if you want to give it a whirl.

…on setting goals…

Writing whilst tired is hard. No question. As JM Peace says, words on a page are words you can make better in another session. Setting realistic goals is good too. That can be as small as 250 words a day. Justine Larbalestier says she sets VERY small daily word counts. That way she ALWAYS hits them and generally always writes more but she never has a day of feeling like a failure either.

…on writing itself…

You have to convince the first reader—you. We want others to read, but really, anyone else who ends up loving your imaginary friends is a bonus.

This week’s writing race will be kicking off at 8:00 PM on Wednesday Night over on Facebook. Come join us!


Tristram Peters is a sports-loving wheelchair-user, currently studying a Masters in Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Queensland. He has written for ABC Online’s ‘Ramp Up’ and many disability-related charities, but really he just wants to finish a long-gestating Marx Brothers play.

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