Hi Jane! It’s great to welcome you to You’re Booked, and congratulations for being shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year.
The Lost Man is dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, with a rather unuusal setting. Can you tell us a little about the circumstances of how this storyline came to be?
While I was planning the book that would become The Lost Man, I became very interested in the lives of people who live in far flung outback communities. The book is set on a remote cattle station, where the nearest neighbours are three hours away. The intense isolation faced by people who live and work in that part of Australia has a huge impact on their day-to-day lives and I realised it offered a beautiful — and brutal — backdrop for a story with a strong element of mystery and suspense.
Carrying out research for The Lost Man was fascinating. I wanted the outback community to feel authentic so I spent months learning about the area before I started writing. I spoke to dozens of people and read widely around the subject, then travelled to outback Queensland to do on-the-ground research.
While there, I spent time with a retired police officer named Neale McShane, who single-handedly policed an area the size of the UK for ten years. He and I drove 600 miles together across the outback while he provided an incredible insight into life in that part of Australia. Along the way, I spoke to locals about their lives in a remote community and they shared their experiences of everything from childbirth to long-range radio maintenance.
You were previously longlisted for this award in 2018 with your debut novel The Dry, we are thrilled that reached the shortlist with The Lost Man. What does being shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year mean to you?
I loved writing The Lost Man, so I’m delighted that readers enjoyed it enough to vote it through to the shortlist for this award. It’s an honour to see my book included on the shortlist for an award which has over the years celebrated so many writers whose work I enjoy.
What are your feelings on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year more generally?
The term ‘crime fiction’ covers such a variety of writing, and the mix of styles that regularly appear on the longlist and shortlist for this award demonstrates that. It’s an excellent opportunity for all of us as readers to discover and champion new books and authors within a genre we enjoy.
Looking back now, what piece of advice would you have given to yourself at the beginning of your writing career?
I worked out pretty early that planning works for me, but I would have reassured myself that time spent researching and planning is never time wasted. It saves a lot of words and effort in the long run.
Can you remember the catalyst for you beginning to write your first book, whether that was picking up a pen and paper or making a firm start on your laptop?
I had worked full-time as a newspaper journalist for 13 years before I wrote my first novel, The Dry. I had always wanted to write a novel, so my work as a journalist meant I developed a lot of good writing habits that helped a great deal when I decided to try writing fiction. I wanted to write a book set in Australia, because the landscape is inspiring, and to tell a story around characters that felt authentic and believable to me. When I sat down to write my novel, I drew heavily on my tried and tested journalistic techniques, such as setting deadlines, expressing ideas as clearly as possible and structuring the story in a way designed to grab the reader early and keep them engaged.
We’ve heard of some unusual writing habits over the years, what would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t consider it a quirk, but a lot of people are surprised by how much time I spend planning a novel before I start writing. I usually spend several months working out the ideas, characters, structure and red herrings before I write a full draft. For me, knowing where the story is going allows me to be much more creative in the way I choose to tell it.
To put you on the spot, we have to ask, apart from your own, do you have a favourite book on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year Award shortlist?
It’s a tough choice, so my congratulations to them all and I’m delighted to be alongside them on this shortlist.
In this time of pandemic, books, reading and the arts have come to prominence in society with more people turning to crime fiction as their genre of choice than ever before, why do you think this might be?
My guess is as good as anyone’s but this has been such a turbulent year that I understand why people might find some comfort in turning to books and genres that they know they enjoy. Perhaps the fact that crime novels traditionally have a clear resolution and sense of justice restored by the end is appealing in these uncertain times.
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is not just a celebration of writers, but of the readers too, and of course to be a writer you have to enjoy reading. What does the pleasure of reading mean to you?
Like many people, reading has always been a valued part of my life. I find it relaxing and interesting to be transported to another place and time for a few hours, and it’s a great way to unwind, no matter how exciting or challenging the content is.
And finally, what’s next for Jane Harper?
My new novel, The Survivors, comes out in the UK in January. It’s an Australian mystery set along the rugged coastline of Tasmania in the distant aftermath of a storm, where the sudden death of a young woman threatens to bring long-hidden secrets to the surface. It’s a stand-alone novel, full of small-town intrigue and old sins revisited. It’s set in a beautiful and dynamic part of Australia, and was a lot of fun to research. I’ve really enjoyed writing this book and it came together exactly as I hoped when I first had the idea, so I hope readers enjoy it too.