IN 2017, Jane Harper’s debut, The Dry, was picked by the Queen of Crime, Val McDermid for her annual New Blood panel at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. A couple of years on, Jane is heading back to the festival as an international best-selling author.

With three novels under her belt – The Dry, Force of Nature, and The Lost Man – her books are sold in 35 territories worldwide. She’s been profiled by The New York Times and dissected by aspiring writers desperate to unlock the secrets of her phenomenal success. The Dry sold over a million copies, and is currently being adapted to film, starring Eric Bana.

A reporter for 13 years, Jane began her career on our doorstep. “I really wanted to be a journalist," she says. "I did a six-month NCTJ course at Darlington College with one day a week work experience at the Darlington & Stockton Times. When I finished that course, I got a job there. That was in 2003.”

“I started out in Darlington and then got the opportunity to go to the Northallerton office. I was a trainee, so a lot of it was about learning the ropes, and learning about the issues that were important to the community; getting the skills that you need to be a good, solid reporter. I remember feeling very lucky at the time, but also in hindsight, the quality of the journalists and the newspaper was so high. I was very lucky to have had that base to build my career on.”

At the age of eight, Jane's family moved to Australia, coming back to North Yorkshire when she was 14.

“It was quite an interesting age for me to live out here," she says. "I arrived when I was still very much a little kid, and even though I was only out here for six years, it felt much longer. It really felt like a formative period for me.”

She returned to Australia in 2008, ready for a change and a challenge, and for six months worked on The Dry for an hour before and after her working day as a reporter on Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

“For me, the journalism was the most significant factor helping me write the books. That’s something I use every day writing fiction," she says. “I always loved being a journalist, all the way throughout my whole career. Part of the reason I got into it in the first place was because I loved writing and it was one way to do that professionally.

"I had been very career-focused, but it got to the point where I really was ready to try to become an author full-time. It really is a dream and wasn’t something I really expected when I set out.”

Jane took a short online creative writing course, but says her time as a journalist in the North-East gave her the real skills.

“A big lesson I learnt was how important it is to really listen to people and try and get a really good understanding of whatever they’re telling you. Whatever the story is, you need to really try to understand what their experience is to be able to relate that in a way to readers who haven’t had that experience. That is something I learnt as a reporter at the D&S Times and it’s something I use so much in my fiction writing. It’s been a real blessing to have that background.”

Her meteoric success has led to countless people asking her how she did it.

“I always feel what they’re really asking is how can they do it? – what secret have I discovered that can help them write a book? I feel like having a shroud of mystery doesn’t help anyone.” Which is why she gave a TED Talk on ‘Creativity in Your Control’.

“The answer is often quite practical, it’s maybe not very glamorous, but it’s genuinely how I approach the work. It’s about finding the time, the consistent time to work on your novel, and finding that motivation when you’re feeling a bit discouraged. Also, allowing yourself to make mistakes, working on those practical skills and improving your writing, and giving yourself the time and space to do that.”

Unlike crime novels that attract controversy for violence or gore, Jane’s books are more a mastery of storytelling, as plot, landscape and character become the narrative drive.

“I’ve always come back to writing the kind of books I’d like to read. That’s my main criteria when I’m making decisions about the books: is this something I’ll keep turning the pages for and I’d enjoy? I like characters who feel believable and who act in recognisable ways.”

She also keeps her young daughter in mind when writing too. “One day I hope she’ll read the books, and I try and create stories and characters and themes are something I’m happy and proud for her to read one day.”

No doubt she’ll also watch the movies. The Dry is currently in production and Jane was off to visit the film set.

“It’s such a long road from being optioned to a movie being made that it’s really exciting," she says. "So many people need to be prepared to invest the time and the money and the effort.”

At last year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Lee Child battled the usual barrage of fans saying Tom Cruise was miscast as Jack Reacher – does she have similar concerns fans will be over-protective of her hero, Aaron Falk?

“Obviously it is something that you’re aware of, but Eric is such a wonderful Australian actor and an actor people can really get behind, and really believe in. I can’t think of anyone better.”

Currently, she’s adapting her latest novel, The Lost Man, into a screenplay after interest from the movie world, and well into planning book four, another Australian mystery.

With dual nationality, Jane is looking forward to returning to Harrogate and says her proud parents, who still live in North Yorkshire, will be in the audience for her appearance. “Last time, I thought the atmosphere was wonderful. It was such a great opportunity to talk about your work to such a dedicated and engaged group of readers."

She seems genuinely flustered when I tell her of the many crime authors in Harrogate who rave about her books; one established author said reading her made him want to ‘up his game’.

“I didn’t realise. It’s really nice to hear because I guess when you write the books, you hope that people enjoy them. That’s the main reason for writing, isn’t it? It’s really fantastic to be invited back to the festival and be part of that group of authors who have paved the way with such amazing crime novels and created this genre people love.”

The 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, from July18-21. Special Guests include James Patterson, Jo Nesbo, Jeffery Deaver, Val McDermid, Jed Mercurio, Eva Dolan, Belinda Bauer, Erin Kelly, Ian Rankin and Harlan Coben.

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