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29 June 2016

Jane Harper: ‘It helped me a lot to know ‘whodunnit’ and why before I started writing’

by Eli Keren Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Another of the students from our online writing courses is now readying herself for the publication of her debut novel. We interviewed Australian author and journalist Jane Harper in September 2015, after she finished her online creative-writing course with us and quickly went on to secure herself several publishing deals for her Outback-set crime novel, The Dry. Keeping it in the family, former Curtis Brown Creative student Jane found representation at Curtis Brown Australia with literary agent Clare Forster, and in the UK with Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens. The Dry – a tense and stylish first outing for Jane’s protagonist, policeman Aaron Falk – has already been a bestseller in Australia and was winning awards even before it was published; and now that it’s in the hands of readers abroad and is preparing for publication here, we thought we’d catch up with Jane again to see how things have changed since she first secured that deal almost a year ago.

So what does the future hold for The Dry? What languages is it being translated into, which countries will it be hitting?
I’m really so excited about what’s ahead for The Dry. It’s got off to a really strong start in Australia, entering the top-10 bestseller list in its first week of publication. It will be released in the UK and the US in January, and has been sold for translation in more than 20 countries including Germany, France, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands.

What about your next novel? What does the future have in store for reluctant detective Aaron Falk?
Aaron Falk will return in the next novel, which will be released about a year after The Dry. The second novel is again set in Australia and is similar in tone and feel to The Dry – so it has a mystery element and a few twists and turns. It will build on Falk’s character but can be read in its own right rather than as direct sequel.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wanted to write a crime novel?
It helped me a lot to know ‘whodunnit’ and why before I started writing. I had the start and the end before I had almost anything else, including most of the key characters. I also had a handful of anchor points with a crucial clue or character point that needed to come in around the half- and three-quarter mark. A lot of other things changed during the writing process, but those points have remained almost fully intact. I knew how I wanted the book to end, and I used those points as stepping stones to help get me there.

Your coursemate Fernanda Lyra has also found representation at Curtis Brown – with agent Rebecca Ritchie. Are you still in contact with your cohort? Do you still read one another’s work?
I’m so thrilled for Fernanda, and I’m not surprised she has found representation. We did keep in touch for a while after the course finished and some people continued to swap work. Fernanda and I don’t swap work anymore, but I genuinely loved reading extracts of The Other Sister during the course, and I’m so excited that I’ll have the chance to read it in full in its published form one day.

Can you explain how writing your second novel was different to writing your first?
Writing the second novel, I didn’t worry so much about the fact that the first draft is usually pretty terrible. I’ve learned to trust that just the act of getting things down on paper helps so much to realise what isn’t working and why. Working on the second novel, I just took a deep breath and pushed through from Chapter One to The End. I didn’t let myself go back and rewrite until I’d finished a complete first draft. I made reminder notes for myself, but essentially I just powered through from start to finish. Getting to the end made it much clearer to me what I needed to look at for the second draft, and meant I didn’t waste a lot of time fiddling with scenes that ended up getting cut.

Has your experience as an author changed how you write as a journalist?
The main change is that I was actually able to leave my journalism job at Easter in order to work on the novels full-time. It was a big decision because I loved being a journalist and without the skills I learned on the job I would have struggled to write a novel at all. It taught me so much about meeting deadlines, treating writing as a job rather than an act of inspiration, and how not to be afraid of a blank page. I do miss it in a lot of ways, but I’m so lucky to be able to focus fully on writing novels instead.

What’s been the best part of the road to publication?
There have been so many fantastic moments. But my dream was always to try to write a novel that would get published, so one of the absolute best things is just being able to pick up a finished copy of the book and see my own words printed inside.

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