Australia is as much a character in Jane Harper's impressive debut as Federal Agent Aaron Falk, our hero who returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his best friend, who died, as it turns out, under dubious circumstances. Here, Ms. Harper explains how a disappointing return to a cherished childhood haunt inspired the writing of The Dry.
Of all the experiences that helped me create the drought-stricken town at the heart of my novel The Dry, one in particular has always stood out for me.
The Dry follows federal investigator Aaron Falk as he reluctantly returns to his claustrophobic home town in regional Australia after the horrific death of his childhood friend.
As events that have shocked the struggling community intertwine with an unsolved mystery from two decades earlier, the township continues to bake under an oppressive heat.
One point in the novel sees Falk return to the river that flowed through the town. He is devastated to find it has run dry.
As a child growing up in Victoria, Australia, my family used to regularly visit a lush bushland area called Anakie Gorge in the Brisbane Ranges National Park.
With trees full of koalas and native birds, and a creek where visitors could pan for gold (and often find fragments!) it was a beautiful place to enjoy the Australian outdoors.
When my family moved to the UK, nearly 15 years elapsed between visits to Anakie.
When I finally returned, it was with a head full of fond memories, but instead the sight that greeted me left me genuinely shaken.
Bushfire and drought had ravaged the place. The green eucalyptus trees stood brown and bare. The wildlife was gone and the bird calls had been replaced by an eerie silence. The creek that had run through its heart and kept the land fertile and thriving was gone.
It was horrible. I had driven two hours to get there and couldn’t bear to stay more than 20 minutes.
I hope after some years of decent rainfall, the area is now rejuvenated and flourishing. I’ve never been tempted to go back to check.
I drew directly on that experience for Falk’s river scene in The Dry, but it also informed the novel in other ways.
The delicate balance of nature and how easily that can be disturbed is a driving force throughout the novel.
And the sense of a return to something both disarmingly recognisable and completely alien is one that Falk is made to confront time and time again.
I wanted to bring the inimitable energy of Australia to life in The Dry, but I hope many of the themes in the novel are far more universal.
Homecoming always comes with a burden of expectations, some of which will be met and some disappointed. But the sense that even the most familiar of places can hide surprises is something I hope all readers of The Dry will relate to, whatever their own hometowns may look like.
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