Andy for Michael - ThursdayAndy Muir is a successful television screenwriter in Australia. He says that while he was a writer for the hit Australian true-crime franchise Underbelly, crime stole his heart. As he explains in his guest blog, he wanted to write about somewhere different and someone different, and he's done just that in his debut novel Something for Nothing released a couple of months ago by Affirm Press. I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad to hear that there will be more crime fiction novels from Andy's computer between the scripts.
I grew up in Melbourne. I now live in Sydney. So why did I set my debut crime fiction novel Something for Nothing in the New South Wales town of Newcastle? It’s a question a number of people have asked me and one that I needed to dig a little deeper to answer.
The simple reason is I fell in love with the place after a visit. But that isn’t a satisfactory answer. I love many parts of the world. That doesn’t make me want to write about them.
It was only after a fellow screenwriter asked me a question, that I worked out my reasons why. He was flummoxed because he’d been asked what sort of stories he liked to tell. And he didn’t have an immediate answer. Like him, I’d never thought about it until then either. But a clear pattern in my work emerged when I took a moment to think about it. What became apparent was that I liked to tell stories about outsiders.
For me, outsiders, the ones who don’t fit in, the ones having to work outside a system, living on the fringe; these are the stories and characters that have always been far more interesting for me as a reader and a writer than the insiders. It just feels a more relatable position.
|Coals from Newcastle|
For those that don’t know, Newcastle is about two hours’ drive north of Sydney. It’s a coastal city, a port that exports Australia’s mineral resources to the world, with an industrial history stretching back to its genesis as yet another Australian penal colony that saw a use for its convicts to dig the rich coal deposits from the ground and carve an ocean swimming pool from the rocky shore for the governor.
Usefully for me, as a city, most Australians know Newcastle only as a point on the map and nothing more.
Geographically, it’s an outsider to the debatably more glamorous cities of Sydney and Melbourne. But for me, Newcastle offers all the benefits of those places while providing a new location. Newcastle has spectacular beaches, wilderness areas, industry, a deep water port, mining, a long blue collar history, landed gentry, speculators and the working poor. It’s a perfect cross section of Australia offering the ability to represent the macro in the specific, a microcosm of Australia as a whole. Not that I thought about any of that while writing Something for Nothing. I just thought it was a pretty cool place I hadn’t seen or read about before.
Knowing that I didn’t want to add to the Australian crime fiction landscape by writing another tale set in Melbourne or Sydney, the Outback or join the booming crime fiction scene of Western Australia, Newcastle landed in my lap. Not being a resident there, the more I saw, explored and discovered, the more interesting it became. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but I’d found another outsider that had captured my interest.
If you ask an Australian what they know about Newcastle and they’ll mention the 2007 stranding of the Pasha Bulker cargo ship on Nobby’s Beach, or if you’re lucky, the 1989 Earthquake. If they know a little more then they might make mention of the murder of the schoolgirl Leigh Leigh that became the inspiration for a successful play and then the feature film Blackrock. They probably won’t be able to remember that the murder and the earthquake took place within about a month of each other, a piece of coincidence a writer loves to give causality to. Except life is random, unlike a story. Things happen because they do, not because they are part of a wider plan. Maybe this is why we love crime fiction as much as we all do; because we can give order and meaning to things unlike life.
Crime fiction is often the story of justice; justice being done, served or executed as evil is thwarted, stopped, and or overcome. Having spent the past few years working on the hit Australian true crime television drama franchise Underbelly, I was a little tired of telling stories of dogged cops, investigations and court cases. I didn’t feel I had it in me to write another story about cops and robbers. There are better writers than me out there who tell those tales better than I could. What I did want to explore was the crooked. From my television work, I had a theory that there were two sorts of criminals – those that were raised in a crime family that provided them with no doubts as to what they would do with their lives, and those that made a silly mistake that got them in over their head before they worked out they were trapped.
|Lachie gets a bit too friendly with these...|
This is where my house painting anti-hero Lachie Munro came from. Poor Lachie though suffers from both. His father is a violent armed robber and Lachie makes a couple of stupid mistakes that sees him way in over his head. Again – outsider on every level.
Writing the story, I gave myself a rule. As much as I love Scandi-noir and the other darker crime fictions out there, I didn’t want to write something that used those crimes as a plot point. I wasn’t interested in telling a story where violent or sexual assault against women or girls was a feature. No women were to be hurt in the plotting, writing and or construction of Something for Nothing. It is a fun exercise to do, giving yourself rules to work creatively.
So now you are probably working out that Something for Nothing is not your regular crime story. It is an outsider in a field of Detective Inspectors, Private Eyes and vigilantes. It harks back to the books I love to read, the stories of Elmore Leonard, and Donald Westlake that told the stories of the crooked, the dodgy and criminal. It is set in a city that provides a unique and unusual backdrop representative of the Australia I know told from the view point of an everyman trying to escape his past as he stays one step ahead of the law and other crooks in a situation of his own making.
If that wasn’t enough, the book itself is an outsider. Unlike a lot of other crime fiction out there, Something for Nothing is funny.
Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events
Panel: The British Empire
(FYI- Sujata and I will be on the same panel!!!)
Thursday May 25, 6PM
Wednesday May 31
Janet Rudolph Literary Salon:
"The History of Hot Places: Clashes between Colonialism and Local Cultures”
Joint appearance with Michael Cooper
Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, comes out June 6, 2017.
Paper back of Rat Run published 28th March.
"The Olive Growers,” appears in BOUND BY MYSTERY, an anthology edited by Diane DiBiasi celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, out in March.
Dying to Live (Kubu #6) to be released in May in UK & South Africa and in October in USA
18:00 – 20:00
Orenda Road Show (Stanley)
Waterstones Piccadilly (London)
Crimefest in Bristol UK (Stanley)
Thursday, May 18
Panel 14:40 - 15:30:
What Are You Hiding? - The Dark Side of Human Nature
Friday, May 19
Panel 12:30 - 13:20
Panel 12:30 - 13:20
Panel: Power Corrupts - Who Can You Turn To?
Franschhoek Literary Festival (Michael).
Saturday May 20
Panel 11:30 – 12:30:
One Voice, Two Authors with Alex Latimer and Diane Awerbuck
Sunday May 21
Panel 11:30 – 12:30:
The Author as Chemist with Joanne Harris and Ekow Duker