Clues to My Crime: Jane Harper’s THE DRY

Mystery Month 2017In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. Jane Harper inaugurates this new feature by telling us about the painting, song, TV show, book, and place that informed the writing of her award-winning, reader- and librarian favorite novel, The Dry.

Jane Harper and The Dry

 

The Australian setting is at the very heart of my debut thriller The Dry, but the inspiration for the novel and its characters was far more varied. Here are a few things I drew from that helped me along the way:

 

PAINTING: “Lost,” by Frederick McCubbin, painted in 1886

"Lost"

“Lost”

This painting has haunted me since the first time I saw it in a gallery in Melbourne. It shows a young girl in Victorian clothing, alone, hand over her eyes, surrounded on all sides by the dense Australian bushland. For me, it epitomises isolation and the subtl—but very real—danger of the natural landscape. My fictional town of Kiewarra is a community cut off in many ways from the outside world, surrounded by bushland very much like McCubbin’s. Like the girl in the painting, many of my characters are locked in an unwinnable battle with the land, and I tapped into the desperation in this painting to help understand their fears.

 

MUSIC: “The Gravel Road,” by James Newton Howard, from the soundtrack to The Village

I regularly listened to this piece on repeat while writing The Dry. The solo violin melody is plaintive and eerie, but with a fast rhythm that is constantly driving forward. It’s a beautiful piece, but one that I feel also hints at uncertainty and regret, and for me it captured the atmosphere I wanted to bring to the page. Sometimes when I found the writing difficult, I would imagine the characters playing out the scene with the music in the background, and it helped me focus on the sense of tension I was trying to build.

 

TV SHOW: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

Talk about cliffhangers! I loved this show, and what I particularly loved was the addictive nature of it. It wasn’t just the fact every episode left me wanting more, but I admired the way the writers used cold openings to hook viewers right from the start. I shamelessly tried to bring those techniques into The Dry, and to constantly give readers a reason to turn the page. But I do think for a cliffhanger to be effective, the pay-off has to be genuine and the reader or viewer must not feel tricked or cheated. I always felt Breaking Bad was fair in this way, and I tried very hard to do the same in my novel.

 

BOOKGone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

I had wanted to write a book for a long time, but it was while reading Gone Girl that I made the conscious decision to seriously try to achieve that goal. I was on a nine-hour flight with a broken in-flight entertainment system, but luckily I had Gillian Flynn’s brilliant novel in my hand luggage. It swept me away—the pacing, the characters, the way the story unfolds and of course, that fabulous twist. The long-haul flight passed in a heartbeat thanks to that book, and I remember thinking what a gift it is when you find a novel in which you can completely escape. My book is very different from Gone Girl, but while writing it, I kept that novel in mind and tried my best to recreate a little of that magic that captures a reader and doesn’t let go.

 

PLACE: Anakie Gorge in Brisbane Ranges National Park, Victoria, Australia

Anakie Gorge

Anakie Gorge

Of all places in Australia that helped inspire Kiewarra, the drought-stricken town at the heart of The Dry, Anakie Gorge was the most striking influence. I used to visit the picnic spot regularly as a child with my family and it was always a place of lush greenery, native wildlife, with a creek running through. I moved away in my teens for more than a decade and didn’t return to the spot again until my twenties. When I finally did, I was devastated to find bushfire and drought had ravaged the area. The trees were bare, the wildlife was gone and the creek had disappeared. The shock I felt that day fed directly into a scene in the novel where the main character Aaron Falk returns to his hometown and discovers the river that was the lifeblood of the community has run dry. It is one of the very few scenes in the book that directly mirrors a personal experience, and when I read that chapter, I still think of Anakie.

 

jane harperJane Harper is the author of The Dry. Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, The Dry is Jane’s first novel, with rights sold to over twenty territories. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.

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