5. Bound for glory

First at­tempts at writ­ing a novel usu­ally land in the slush pile. Not so for Jane Harper, whose de­but book won her a global pub­lish­ing deal and is a film adap­ta­tion in the mak­ing.

VOGUE Australia - - Vogue Arts - By Cushla Chauhan.

It was a nor­mal day at the of­fice for Jane Harper, a jour­nal­ist at Mel­bourne’s Her­ald Sun news­pa­per. Then the phone rang. “I an­swered a phone call from my Aus­tralian agent, who was say­ing: ‘I’ve got some re­ally good news,’” re­calls Harper, who had only re­cently se­cured a book deal with Pan Macmil­lan for her first novel, The Dry. “The line was quite bad, but she said: ‘Some­thing, some­thing film stu­dio has picked it up’ and I was like: ‘Sorry, whose stu­dio?’ The line crack­led again, so I said: ‘Sorry, who?’ And then she was scream­ing down the phone: ‘Reeeeeeese Wither­spoooooon!’” says Harper, laugh­ing.

Find­ing out that Pa­cific Stan­dard, the film pro­duc­tion com­pany co-founded by one of Hol­ly­wood’s most inf lu­en­tial stars along with Aus­tralian film pro­ducer Bruna Pa­pan­drea, had se­cured the rights to her book for film adap­ta­tion, cul­mi­nated a re­mark­ably fast tra­jec­tory for the newly fledged author.

The Mel­bourne writer had only de­cided to pur­sue her longheld de­sire to write a book two years ago, en­rolling in a cre­ative on­line course that re­quired par­tic­i­pants to pro­duce a novel. As a jour­nal­ist of 13 years who thrives on dead­lines, she also en­tered the Vic­to­rian Pre­mier’s Un­pub­lished Man­u­script Award to boost her mo­ti­va­tion. A mere seven months after start­ing the course her man­u­script was com­plete, she won the award, and soon after pub­lish­ing houses were bid­ding for her book which now, along with a three-book deal, has been sold to 22 other pub­lish­ers glob­ally. Not bad for a first go.

The plot of The Dry has the hall­marks of a story ripe for film adap­ta­tion: a grip­ping crime thriller with an enig­matic pro­tag­o­nist and in­trigu­ing cast of char­ac­ters; its ru­ral Vic­to­ria back­drop height­en­ing the sus­pense. “I felt ru­ral Aus­tralia is such a rich set­ting and it was quite easy to draw on that for the at­mos­phere and that sense of claus­tro­pho­bia in a small town,” ex­plains Harper.

Jug­gling full-time work with fin­ish­ing her novel wasn’t easy, though, which is why ear­lier this year Harper gave up her job to fo­cus on writ­ing. “It was such a hard de­ci­sion be­cause I love the peo­ple and that buzz of the news­room, but it was get­ting very hard to do both well,” she says. Her next draft is due in Oc­to­ber, so while she’s ad­just­ing to a new rou­tine work­ing from home, she’s main­tain­ing her reporter’s dis­ci­pline of writ­ing a cer­tain num­ber of words each day.

The film adap­ta­tion, mean­while, is pro­gress­ing in­de­pen­dently of Harper, who is happy to leave it in the hands of the pros, although she was ex­cited to chat to Pa­pan­drea on the phone from LA. “She was re­ally, re­ally, great. I’ve seen Wild and Gone Girl and they’ve done a great job with both films. I think they show char­ac­ters in a very three-di­men­sional way.” The Dry by Jane Harper (Pan Macmil­lan, $32.99) is out now.

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