When we first began running online creative writing courses as well as in our London offices in 2013, there was always a hope and expectation it would give international writers who’d previously been unable to join our London courses the opportunity to work with us. So it’s hugely exciting for us to see Australian former student Jane Harper, who took one of our online writing courses taught by Lisa O’Donnell in 2014, on the verge of such huge success with her debut novel The Dry – published today in the UK.
The Dry looks set to be one of the most exciting genre releases of the new year. Even before it came out last summer in Australia to critical and commercial success, it won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript, and film rights were snapped up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company Pacific Standard.
Harper’s debut is a taut, pacey thriller, set in Kiewarra, a poor farming community in Victoria struggling under the pressures of an unending drought and a baking hot sun. Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk, a native of Kiewarra, who has lived most of his adult life in Melbourne, is called back to the town after an appalling tragedy.
Falk’s one-time best friend Luke Hadler – now estranged – has brutally murdered his wife and young son (his baby daughter was spared), before apparently turning his shotgun on himself. Though there’s no clear motive, the case looks cut-and-dried, and Falk hopes to make a brief and reluctant appearance at his old friend’s funeral. But, after one of the local officers investigating the killings produces evidence that suggests all is not quite what it seems, Falk becomes quickly embroiled in investigating the murders.
As Falk delves deeper into the ugly heart of a small town scarred by poverty and violence, Harper skilfully weaves in flashbacks from his teenage years. Falk has secrets and demons of his own – a drowning and a false alibi that forced him and his father out of town many years ago could be at the heart of the murder of the Hadlers.
It’s become something of a publishing cliché to say that a novel hooks you in from its first paragraphs – The Dry undoubtedly does this, but it does so much more. The horrific murder at the centre of the book is not just a plot device. The deaths feel real, their impact ricocheting through this already hugely damaged community, affecting each member of the town in different ways.
Harper’s depiction of rural Australia doesn’t pull any punches. Kiewarra is a town riddled with addiction, jealousy and an instinctive suspicion of the outsider. It’s also a subtly political portrayal; a vision of a town with ever-rising temperatures that lies abandoned, underfunded and turning in on itself.
The writing is filled with a confidence and clarity that belies its debut tag. Harper manages to navigate a number of smart twists and turns which will keep even seasoned genre fans guessing, while packing a real emotional punch.
The Dry offers not just a compelling, knotty mystery, but finely drawn, well-rounded characters and a unique, vivid setting. It’s an unforgettable read – and a fine antidote to our wet, cold January weather.
Jane Harper’s debut The Dry is available to order here.
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Sunday 21 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sunday 28 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sunday 4 February).
We are also offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ online courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).