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.
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 As a journalist of 13 years who thrives on deadlines, she also entered the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award to boost her motivation.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.