Newton, Robert 1965–

views updated

Newton, Robert 1965–


Born 1965, in Australia; son of an army officer; married; children: three daughters.


Home—Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Agent—Booked Out Speakers Agency, P.O. Box 580, South Yarra, Victoria 3141, Australia.


Author and firefighter. Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, firefighter, 1990—. Also cofounder of Newton Brother's Rubbish Removal Company.

Awards, Honors

New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards shortlist, for The Black Dog Gang.



My Name Is Will Thompson, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2001.

The Khaki Kid, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2002.

The Punjabi Pappadum, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2003.

Saturday Morning, Mozart and Burnt Toast, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2004.

Runner, Penguin Books (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2005, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

The Black Dog Gang, Penguin Books (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2007.


Robert Newton, a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, Australia, is the author of several well-received novels for young adults, including The Punjabi Pappadum and Runner. "I love it, the double act of firefighting and writing, because writing is a very solitary thing, while firefighting is very team-oriented," Newton told Australian contributor Rosemary Neill.

The son of an army officer, Newton moved frequently during his childhood, and his family lived in Singapore for a time. Settling in Melbourne, Newton began playing the trumpet and joined the Melbourne Youth Symphonic Orchestra. After finishing school, he started a trash collection company with his brother; when the business failed, Newton turned to firefighting and, with the encouragement of a family member, writing stories. His debut title, My Name Is Will Thompson, centers on a thirteen-year-old boy with learning disabilities who enlists the help of his friends to prevent state officials from closing a popular learning center. The Khaki Kid, Newton's second novel, concerns Kevin Penfold, an ambitious, imaginative eleven year old who struggles to make sense of his world after his parents' marriage falls apart.

In The Punjabi Pappadum, three Australian teens attempt to save a small Indian restaurant that is losing business to a glitzy new burger joint. Veejay, the restaurant owner's son, and his two pals decide to form a boy band to raise money, and they also find themselves involved in ridding their small town of a criminal enterprise. Lucy Sussex, writing in Australia's the Age, called The Punjabi Pappadum "a good-natured romp, where endings are happy." Saturday Morning, Mozart and Burnt Toast focuses on the comic misadventures of Wolfgang, an Australian teen with a penchant for classical music who heads to Tasmania to meet the girl of his dreams. "Newton treads on the familiar territory of feeling out of step with one's peers," wrote School Library Journal critic Ronni Krasnow.

Set in 1919, Runner offers a fictional look at the life of Squizzy Taylor, a Melbourne crime boss. "My mother used to tell stories about Squizzy Taylor when I was younger and I was always fascinated by him," Newton stated in an essay on the Read Alert Web log. "She would describe him as ‘flash as a rat with a gold tooth’ or ‘he was a nasty piece of work,’ and I loved that and

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

I think it stayed with me over the years." To escape the loneliness he feels since his father's death, sixteen-year-old Charlie Feehan runs through the streets of Melbourne at night. He catches the attention of Taylor, who offers the youth a job delivering illegal alcohol and collecting debts. When his friend is badly wounded during a gang war, Charlie uses his athletic talents to turn his life around. "Newton's writing teems with bright, engaging dialogue, a compelling historical setting and fully developed characters," observed a critic in Publishers Weekly, and Vicki Reutter, reviewing the work in School Library Journal, remarked, "Rich dialogue in Australian dialect creates a colorful picture of the historical urban setting, suspenseful plot, and warm characterizations."

The Black Dog Gang, Newton's sixth title, "is a warmly funny, vivid tale set in Sydney's once-notorious slum, The Rocks, during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900," according to Neill. The work centers on the efforts of two boys who develop a plan to breed rats after learning that authorities are offering reward money to eradicate the creatures.

Despite the dissimilar nature of his two occupations, Newton observes that they do have something in common. "I start a shift at the fire station and never know what's going to happen," the author remarked to Chris Johnston in the Age. "Same with writing. I shut myself in my room and I'm never sure what's going to come up on the computer screen."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Australian, April 19, 2008, Rosemary Neill, "The Face: Robert Newton."

Booklist, April 15, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of Runner, p. 50.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2007, review of Runner.

Publishers Weekly, May 14, 2007, review of Runner, p. 54.

School Library Journal, April, 2004, Alison Follos, review of The Punjabi Pappadum, p. 160; February, 2005, Ronni Krasnow, review of Saturday Morning, Mozart and Burnt Toast, p. 139; April, 2007, Vicki Reutter, review of Runner, p. 144.


Age, (May 26, 2003), Lucy Sussex, review of The Punjabi Pappadum; (August 27, 2003), Chris Johnston, "The Fireman Who Found Stories."

Booked Out Speakers Agency, (August 1, 2008), profile of Robert Newton.

Read Alert Web log, (August 9, 2005), "Doing a Runner."