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Peter Papathanasiou’s new book addresses lack of Greek representation in black outback


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A son of Greek migrant milk bar owners had yet to feature as the protagonist of an outback noir novel.

Until now.

Peter Papathanasiou’s first detective novel Stoning break that glass ceiling.

He follows Detective Sergeant Georgios Manolis as he attempts to investigate the murder of a teacher in the town of Cobb.

Rather, Manolis uncovers the secrets, traumas and prejudices of a “city gone to hell” in a “dark” and “gritty” but honest way.

Greek migrants played a central role in the development of the Australian hinterland, but Stoning captures a time when it was not part of the public attitude.

Papathanasiou explains to The Greek Herald why it is important to stay true to this historical context, why the Greek representation is important and how it helps us to feel “more human”.

Q&A with Peter Papathanasiou

Q. Tell us about the “late nights, weekends, sacrifices, joys and anguish” that went into writing? Stoning.

Needless to say, it takes a long time to write a book. And you have to find that time … somehow. Since I have a growing family with three energetic little boys and still work full time during the day, the time spent writing is usually pushed to the periphery: late at night and on weekends. end. I’m pretty sure almost all Stoning was written after midnight when the weather was nice and calm; the words checked that the coast was clear of all distraction, then gradually crept onto the page. But I’m improving at multitasking now as there seems to be even less time to write, and my sons are probably now used to seeing me perched behind my laptop in different places around the house.

The sacrifices involved giving up other things that I could have done when I was sitting and writing: going out, socializing, exercising, vacations and also time spent with family when I had to go. focus on a particular chapter. The joy came from seeing each chapter completed, the sense of pride I felt and, of course, when the book finally came together as a whole and found publishers. And the angst was to overcome the writer’s block and also to find the right publisher. But now there’s even more joy in seeing such positive reviews, and also developing a screen adaptation, which is already in the works.

Q. Your second book marks a break with the non-fiction writing we know you for – what brought you to the black outback?

For my Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from Australian National University (ANU) I wrote my thesis in criminal law, so I have always been interested in exploring the darker side of life, the motivations behind people have to commit crimes, the nature of events, investigations and evidence. I also previously worked in criminal intelligence which was perhaps the most interesting job I have had.

Detective writing is also a very popular and marketable genre, both in book form and on screen (TV and movies), so the readership is strong. A crime exposes what is going on in society, it allows a writer to explore many topics and themes through the prism of a bad event.

In Stoning, the major themes that I explore include immigration, culture, race, religion, identity, assimilation, masculinity, sexuality, drug addiction, history, colonization and nationalism. And when you combine my LLB with my Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing from City, University of London, you get a detective writer!

I have generally found the outback to be a much more evocative setting for telling a story and creating interesting new characters than an urban setting, and lends itself particularly well to a crime story given how the environment can be. to be dangerous. All of the Australian literature I read growing up seemed to take place in the country, which probably influenced me as well.

Q. “Dark” and “gravitous” were used to define Stoning. How would you define the book?

Dark and grainy are descriptions accurate enough to Stoning. I would also describe the book as disruptive, disturbing, confronting, crude, divisive, human and necessary.

Q. How does the story frame stay true to the historical context of the Australian Outback?

It was difficult to give much more than a glimpse into the history of the outback in my novel; the focus has remained more firmly on crime and current history. During the 1950s, local indigenous communities were loaded onto tractors, taken from their ancestral lands and moved to rural communities; many died as a result of these forced migrations.

Another prominent feature of the Australian country was the tradition of Greek milk bars and cafes that were the centerpiece of many small towns from the 1930s to the 1970s. Businesses gave Greek migrants an economic and social foothold in their new homeland. and the ability to maintain family culture and catering traditions within a shared workplace. More recently, immigration detention centers have been established in remote areas of the hinterland to stimulate struggling rural economies.

Q. How Stoning portray the prejudices and racism experienced by the Greeks in the Australian hinterland? Georgios Manolis, the protagonist of the book, is the son of a Greek migrant in Australia and owner of a milk bar. Is this a deliberately realistic approach to Greek Australian representation? Why is representation important?

The character of Georgios Manolis draws some characteristics from my brothers in Greece, but I wanted to base his story on that of typical Greek immigrants in Australia after WWII. It was not uncommon for them to set up businesses in Australia, with milk bars very popular in the towns of the hinterland. On the one hand, these companies were very profitable and popular. But on the other hand, there is always a level of suspicion and prejudice that accompanies the introduction of an unknown entity; they didn’t even serve Greek food!

The subject of racism in Australia goes far beyond the scope of this interview, but Europeans have faced their fair share of experiences during this time as “New Australians”. These unpleasant experiences have now been largely transferred to other ethnic minorities, which I still find a little funny because the real original Australians were Indigenous Australians; everyone is technically a “foreigner”.

This is also why it was so important for me to have the voice of an Indigenous Australian character in my novel, and why I created Agent Andrew “Sparrow” Smith, who is the main supporting character alongside Manolis. “It doesn’t matter where you come from,” Sparrow said dryly in Stoning. “You are all bloody invaders.” Using both the migrant perspective of Manolis and the indigenous perspective of Sparrow, I knew that I could explore the themes of culture, race and migration more fully and precisely in my book.

Q. Is your work generally aimed at de-stigmatizing or confronting problems, especially in the Greek community? Whether it’s towards topics like adoption, infertility, and even – as you recently wrote in the ABCs – awkwardness?

I had a writing mentor who once told me that he liked me to write about “important things”. It was just said, almost casually, but I think it reflected the fact that they read a lot of stuff that didn’t try to tackle issues they faced, and my writing wasn’t like that. By writing about such topics and sharing our experiences, I think we make more connections, we feel more human and less alone in the world and, hopefully, can even overcome some of the challenges in our life. If there is anything I can do to help this process, and at the same time entertain, that is a very satisfying result for a writer.

Q. What can we expect from The stoning successor? Are you currently working there?

Yes, I’m working on it now! He will see Detective Sergeant Georgios Manolis return for another investigation. Detective novels tend to lend themselves to the series format, which is then easily adaptable to the screen, but I’m also seeing more and more stand-alone detective stories these days.

Q. I know you said before that Small might not hit our screens for a few years, but is there an update you can give us?

With my creative team, I worked hard on the screen adaptation of my first book, a 2019 dissertation on my international adoption titled Small. The project is directed by the famous Greco-Australian filmmaker Peter Andrikidis, who fell in love with the story. We have prepared a detailed breakdown of the project based on scenes and characters, tone and style, audience and themes, and we are now preparing to write the script.

Small showcases the strength of Greek culture and the massive contribution to Australian society. The story of the Greeks arriving in Australia as post-war migrants has never been seen onscreen as a drama. Small is a working class story about the growth of Australia’s workforce fueled by migrants. It’s the story of a family, but it’s also the story of the Greeks in Australia and how they helped build the country.

If the generational community of Greece does not come together to tell our stories, no one else will and the story of Greek immigration will be faded from memory. The history of Greek immigration to Australia has not yet been fully realized; Small is a great opportunity to ensure the record is accurate. The project will increase awareness of the contribution of a diversity of cultures to modern Australia by highlighting the significant contribution of migrants to the growth of our society, and strengthen the strong bond between Greece and Australia. We hope that the Greek community in Australia can support this project and show their support.

READ MORE: Canberra author Peter Papathanasiou announces the publication of a new book in October.

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Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson