The Crime Writers’ Association

Into the River: how a last-minute decision led to an award-winning bestseller, by Mark Brandi

In a river, on the outskirts of an isolated country town, two young brothers discover a wheelie bin, partly submerged beneath a fallen tree.

Curious, the older brother goes closer to investigate. He steps carefully across the tree’s smooth trunk, worried he might slip and fall into the treacherous waters. As he goes nearer, and rain begins to fall, he notices something strange – there’s bolts screwed into the top of the bin. There are a lot of them, all around the edge of the lid.

It looked like someone wanted it closed up really tight. Like they didn’t want it ever to be opened. Like they didn’t want what was in there to ever come out.

This discovery – and what’s inside the bin – sit at the heart of my debut literary crime novel, Into the River, which will soon be released in the UK by Legend Press (March 2019).

But just three years ago – with the completed manuscript locked away in my bottom drawer – I scarcely imagined this was possible. While I might have daydreamed, the reality of a publishing deal seemed a forlorn hope.

Something changed all that.

Late one night, in early 2016, a reminder popped up in my calendar – the closing date for entries in the CWA Debut Dagger.

I read (then re-read) the judging criteria – and I decided my manuscript wasn’t eligible. It was a crime-writing prize, after all, and while my book was about a crime, I wasn’t entirely sure it fit the ‘rules’ of the crime genre (or even if such rules existed).

But with little time left until the competition closed, I bit the bullet and sent in my entry – after all, I figured, what did I have to lose?

In hindsight, of all the steps in my publishing journey, hitting send on that email was the most significant. To my surprise, in October of that same year, I won the Debut Dagger – it was a huge moment, which quickly led to a publishing deal.

The book went on to become a bestseller here in Australia. It also won Best Debut Novel at the Indie Book Awards (as voted by booksellers), and has been shortlisted for a number of literary and crime writing awards.

While these accolades (especially the Dagger) have been wonderful, the best part of publication has been hearing from readers – it’s always heartening to know people are connecting with the story and its characters. On the eve of Into the River’s UK release, I’m excited it will now reach a new audience (and I’ll hope to hear from those readers too!)

And my advice for aspiring writers considering whether to enter the Debut Dagger? Go for it – send in your entry. You never know where it might lead.


Mark Brandi

Mark won the Debut Dagger with Wimmera – to be published by Legend Press in the UK as Into the River.



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