Winner of the 2016 Debut Dagger Mark Brandi
Mark Brandi is the winner of the Debut Dagger 2016. Here Mark tells us a little more about himself, about the novel Wimmera for which he won the award – and how it was the Debut Dagger helped him win a publishing contract.
Wimmera is a story of crime and vengeance, set in a rural Australian town.
It’s about Ben and Fab, childhood friends in the 1980s, enjoying the easy freedom of country life. Then, a mineworker named Ronnie comes to town. He is darkly charismatic, but secretly monstrous.
Fab and Ben are fascinated by this mysterious newcomer, but he will inevitably cast a long shadow over both their lives.
For those who might wonder, the title, Wimmera, derives from an Aboriginal word for boomerang, and while this holds meaning for the story and its characters, it also resonates with my journey as a writer.
I was born in Italy, then raised in a remote Australian pub. There, I was exposed to all walks of life – farmers, backpackers, and travelling workers from the local mine. Such diverse characters infused ‘Wimmera’, and much of my writing.
My immediate family also offered a rich vein of inspiration. My three older brothers work in policing, prosecutions and forensic science, so dark stories were often traded (laced with a healthy measure of black humour).
Unsurprisingly, I also pursued work in the justice system, ultimately as a political adviser to the Corrections Minister.
But a serious bike crash four years ago was a catalyst for change. I’d always loved writing, so I made the leap to creative work.
Curiously, I found my focus drawn to the rural landscape I’d left behind. Despite spending more than half my life in the city, my published pieces are mostly set in the country.
So for me, there remain unanswered questions about the vast, internal heart of Australia. And these are the concerns I attempt to explore and understand in my work.
After completing the manuscript for ‘Wimmera’ in 2015, I had some success in literary competitions, both in Australia and the US.
In the UK, two long-listings in the Caledonia Novel Award followed, and a short-listing for the Impress Prize. Then came the Debut Dagger.
Needless to say, the Daggers are one of the most prestigious prizes for crime writing in the world. So I gave myself little chance.
But in May of this year, I was shocked to discover I’d been longlisted.
Then, in July, I learned ‘Wimmera’ had made a shortlist of five.
Still, I gave myself little hope. After all, no Australian had ever won the Debut Dagger, and competition is fierce.
At this point, I reluctantly declined a number of subtle invitations to attend the Gala Dinner in London, where winners are announced, thinking the CWA were just being polite.
And so I sat, on the morning of October 12, half asleep with a bowl of porridge, absently watching my Twitter feed.
A photo appeared from Gala Dinner, announcing the winner of the Debut Dagger, replete with an enormous projection of my face on stage.
I was completely, bloody, thrilled.
The interest since has been surreal, and a little overwhelming. But I am delighted to share the news that Hachette Australia will be publishing ‘Wimmera’ in 2017.
And although I never could have known it, entering the Debut Dagger back in February was a pivotal moment in my writing career.
So if anyone has a manuscript ready, or gathering dust in their bottom drawer, I’d highly recommend giving it a crack.
Mark Brandi is the 2016 winner of the Debut Dagger. His first novel, ‘Wimmera’, will be published by Hachette Australia in 2017. Visit www.markbrandi.com for more about his work.