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Crime writer Peter Klein on his novel Punter

Peter Klein talks about plotting his novels...

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you learn to plot novels? Punter’s Turf has a lot of threads going. I know people draw blueprints like architectural drawings, but can you explain some of the engineering/ mechanics of writing a long story in Punter’s Turf?

PETER KLEIN: I don’t go into a lot of detail in terms of what’s going to happen early. I like to start with a ‘what if’ in my mind – what if so and so was assassinated or blackmailed or whatever… what would be the consequences and who would profit? That might form the central plot.

I generally have an ending in mind and work back from there. But every chapter can take you on a completely different journey. Sometimes you get three or four sub plots that come out of nowhere and threaten to hijack the central theme!

The one thing I demand from my writing (or anything I read) is that it must grab me in the first page – no, make that the first paragraph! I can’t stand books that waft on aimlessly and take a chapter for the main character to get out of bed and get dressed. I like to put the reader right smack, bang in the middle of the problem. Let them think, ‘hey, there’s something going on here, I better read on…’

RV: When Punter was working on the kidnapping of the bookie’s daughter, he travelled a fair bit around Melbourne. I was wondering if you walked and drove all the routes he took to make sure it was all correct and possible?

PK: I grew up in Melbourne and I know all the areas I’ve written about fairly well, especially Caulfield Racecourse. I don’t think you have to describe exactly the name of the shop on such and such a corner, but you need to leave the reader with a feeling of what it’s like to be there. Quoting the number 67 tram or talking about the pawn shop in Smith Street all helps familiarize the reader with the setting.

RV: Did you choose locations because you’d seen them at some stage in your life and they’d struck you in some way?

PK: A lot of the locations all very vivid in my mind as teenager when I was strapping at Caulfield.
RV: Were Big Oakie and Sheamus O’Reilly based on particular people, bookies or trainers you met at the track, or do a lot of bookies and trainers have these sorts or temperaments?

PK: Some might say Sheamus O’Reilly has a resemblance to a fiery trainer I once worked for. You’ll have to read A Strapper’s Tale to see if you can spot it! Big Oakie’s based on no one in particular, although I’ve seen plenty of bookmakers match his physical dimensions. I’ve got a lot of racetrack characters I’ve met over the years that I draw from. You take a bit from here and there, or sometime’s a character’s so strong you don’t change a thing.

RV: Can you give a brief, or long if you want, description of what Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings were like to talk to when you worked with them?
PK: Tommy was known as the ‘Little General’ for the rapid high pitched way he’d yell out orders in the middle of the track each morning. He was all hustle and bustle, a machine and you didn’t get a lot of time to talk to him at track work. But back at the stables he’d come into your horse’s box and have a chat.

If you asked him the right questions, he’d often open up and talk expansively. But it was difficult to talk to Tommy about anything other than horses, that’s all he was interested in.

Bart was the opposite in personality. Shy, almost giving the impression of shunning the limelight if he could, which is pretty difficult when you’ve won as many cups as he has.

While Tommy would be rushing around barking orders, Bart would saunter into track work munching an apple. Nothing worried him and nothing could hurry him. That’s probably reflected in the relaxed nature of his horses. Two wonderfully successful trainers with very different styles of training.

RV: What’s your weekly routine entail now?

PK: I live on the West Coast so I commute by train to Melbourne each day for work. I write on the train each morning and afternoon, so its very productive time for me. I’m heavily involved with racing and managing a racing website in my work. On the weekends I like to surf or fish.

RV: What are some lessons you’ve learned about writing, from reading about writers or from talking to other writers, from maybe your mother’s writing perhaps, that particularly struck you?

PK: You’re always learning something new, picking up techniques or ideas. The more you read the more you can compare. I think even reading what you think is rubbish can be beneficial, trying to work out why its bad and how you would change it. My mother was very good at describing someone’s personality and that’s something I try and get across in my characters. I think the thing most writers share is they all have a routine of sorts. For most of us, that involves writing for a certain time or page quota most days of the week.

RV: What projects are you working on now in your writing?

PK: I am busy finishing another Punter novel, the third in the series. I’ve got plenty of ideas for future Punter novels, but might give him a holiday for a while and do something different next year.

Punter’s Luck by Peter Klein is published by Pan MacMillan.