A mod­ern twist to 30s Amer­ica

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By JOE DAW­SON

NEW nov­el­ist Ben Atkins was born in the 1990s but his first book looks back to a time of gang­sters and boot­leg­gers in de­pres­sion-era Amer­ica.

Mr Atkins, 20, sent the man­u­script for his noir novel Drown­ing City un­so­licited to Ran­dom House at the end of 2012.

He had no real ex­pec­ta­tions of where things might go but the pub­lisher house got in touch sev­eral months later to say it was in­ter­ested.

The novel hit book­shelves on March 7, mak­ing Atkins one of the coun­try’s youngest pub­lished authors.

It’s no mean feat but the sec­ondyear me­dia and pol­i­tics stu­dent is tak­ing it in his stride.

The for­mer Avon­dale Col­lege stu­dent says the novel took about five years to write.

The fi­nal draft was com­pleted at the end of his sec­ondary school­ing at a time when he was sup­posed to be study­ing for ex­ams.

‘‘I was much more into writ­ing the book than sit­ting ex­ams,’’ he says.

The story charts one night in the life of a boot­leg­ger in an Amer­i­can me­trop­o­lis in 1932.

Atkins says he has long been in­ter­ested in the noir genre and was keen to delve fur­ther into that world.

‘‘I was taught how to watch old movies by my Dad when I was young – black and white, slow­paced ones with lots of di­a­logue – and af­ter watch­ing early clas­sics from the 30s, 40s and 50s I was fas­ci­nated by the era.’’

The hard-boiled genre is known for its dark and moody tones cut through by sharp jolts of hu­mour and Atkins says he largely stuck to that style.

He also did his best to give it a mod­ern twist.

‘‘Af­ter the ini­tial stage of ex­pan­sion of the genre af­ter the end of the 50s, peo­ple started tak­ing the mickey out of it and satiris­ing it, which is funny.

‘‘It’s easy to make fun out of it now be­cause it so strongly re­sem­bles a par­tic­u­lar time and ways of think­ing and see­ing the world, but you can put a con­tem­po­rary spin on it and that is what I tried to do.’’

The young writer says he is now con­cen­trat­ing on his stud­ies.

He plans to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing as a sto­ry­teller and as­pires to work in film as both a scriptwriter and in pro­duc­tion.

Photo: JOE DAW­SON

Hard boiled: Here’s how the pub­lisher de­scribes Drown­ing City: In a city of elu­sive agen­das, it’s hard to find the truth. It’s harder to find what’s right. A boot­leg­ger’s dream in 1930s Amer­ica is rocked by an at­tempt to de­stroy his lu­cra­tive busi­ness. What be­gins as a cu­ri­ous evening snow­balls into a night-time odyssey as Fon­tana searches for an­swers he never thought he’d have to find. The city is sat­u­rated with crim­i­nal and po­lit­i­cal ex­trem­ism – is there any­one he can trust.

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