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North Melbourne Books: The Lost Man is set in cattle country, rural Queensland. Three brothers – Nathan, Cameron and the youngest, Bub – are all dealing with their inner demons. Raised by a brutal father, the wounds still linger, even long after he has died. When the middle brother, Cameron, is found dead from exposure to heat by a mysterious old stockman’s grave, it confounds everyone. Cameron knew the land, knew what risks to take and what to avoid. It’s a mystery that will eventually reveal some dark secrets from his past.
How did you come up with the story idea?
Jane Harper: I love writing about the Australian landscape and I became fascinated by the lives of those in far flung outback communities. I was particularly interested in the way the relative isolation impacts people’s day-to-day lives. I wanted to write another Australian mystery and a cattle station in outback Queensland offered such a beautiful -- and brutal -- backdrop for a story with a strong element of suspense.
NMB: The novel has a lot of tough, blokey male characters. The dialogue and descriptions are brilliantly real and bracing. How did you find the tone for these male characters? Were they based on people you’d met?
JH: All the characters are fictional but I hope they feel like real people on the page. When writing dialogue, I pay close attention to people’s pattern of speech and the vocabulary they use. I visited outback Queensland as part of the research for the book, so I listened closely while I was there. I also worked as a journalist for 13 years and interviewed a lot of people during that time, so that experience helps me enormously in paying attention to the various ways people speak and then quoting them accurately.
NMB: The writing process for The Dry has been fairly well documented. What was the writing process like for this new novel? Are you finding it an easier process, or are the challenges the same?
JH: I absolutely loved writing The Lost Man, and that was partly thanks to the experience I gained writing The Dry and then Force of Nature. Over the three books, I have developed my writing process into one that works well for me. I spend a lot of time researching elements of the story, and then I draw up a plan for the novel. I work on the plan for several months, expanding it and refining it until I’m happy with the storyline and the characters. It’s only at that point that I start writing, and I find it is a much easier process with a solid plan in place. There are always challenges that come up as I write, but the experience I gained on the previous books means I have more tools at my disposal to tackle them.
NMB: The Lost Man deals with a lot of timely themes – drought, farmer debt, mental health problems in rural Australia. Was there a conscious effort to try and address some of these issues?
JH: My books are always character driven and a big part of that is considering what issues they would realistically be facing and the impact on their lives. I want the characters and the scenarios to feel authentic so I try to capture the various pressures people are under and present them in a way that is believable and and recognisable to readers.
NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?
JH: I’m cleaning out my bookshelf at the moment, so I’m enjoying discovering a few old favourites. Bill Bryson’s humorous travel books have easily earned their place on the shelf, as have Lee Child’s Reacher books and Marian Keyes’s romantic comedies. The next book I plan to buy is Liane Moriarty’s new novel, Nine Perfect Strangers.
The Lost Man, by Jane Harper. Published by Macmillan. RRP: $32.99