Ned Kelly awards: When a Dry run turns into a publishing force of nature

When Jane Harper was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's award for an unpublished manuscript she realised she was close to her goal - possible publication of her novel. Fast forward a couple of years and not only has her outback crime novel The Dry come out here and in many other countries, but it is a bestseller that has won a host of prizes.

On Friday she added the Ned Kelly for best first novel at the Australian Crime Writers Association awards to the best novel and the people's choice awards she picked up last weekend in the Sisters in Crime's awards for women crime writers. Only a few months ago she won the Australian Book Industry book of the year award. The book has also been optioned by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea's production company.

"If anyone had told me that two years on this is where The Dry would be, I couldn't have believed them. I still can't really," she said.

Harper's second novel, Force of Nature, is due out in a couple of weeks and she concedes that writing it was a different experience. "When I was writing The Dry it was just my own private hobby really. With the second there is the expectation and anticipation. The Dry did better than I expected so it did add an element of pressure."

The Ned for best novel went to an author with slightly more titles under his belt - Adrian McKinty for his 18th book, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly. The real mystery to McKinty's fiction is not whodunnit but how he gets it done as he confesses to considerable procrastination. Something works, though, and it was the sixth in the series about Sean Duffy, a catholic detective in Belfast during the Troubles, that won him his second Ned. The previous Duffy book won an Edgar award in the US.

Unlike Ian Rankin, whose series hero John Rebus seems to go on and on, McKinty reckons Duffy has limited life because the Royal Ulster Constabulary in which he serves was wound up as part of the Good Friday Agreement. "I like the milieu, it's the Troubles and it's the '80s or the very early '90s. But I've definitely got one more in me," he said.

Duncan McNab and Brendan James Murray shared the true-crime award for Getting Away With Murder and The Drowned Man respectively.

McNab's is the story of the many unsolved murders of gay men in Sydney during the 1980s and the inept investigations by the police.

"It was primarily stupidity, disinterest and homophobia," he said. "No one has ever been charged over the failings in the investigations although one policeman was chastised very strongly by the coroner. It's an interesting line - was there actual criminality by the police involved or was it just disinterest and incompetence, either wilful or accidental."

Murray investigated the death of a sailor on HMAS Australia that had been deemed an accident but, as he discovered, was far from that.

The awards were presented as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which continues this weekend.

This story Ned Kelly awards: When a Dry run turns into a publishing force of nature first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.