Jane Harper was working as a business reporter when one decision landed her a “dream job” – and sparked a global bidding war.
Jane Harper was working as a business reporter when one decision landed her a “dream job” – and sparked a global bidding war.

Secrets behind Aussie’s six-figure deal

When Reese Witherspoon loves a novel, you know it's going to be a smash hit.

Jane Harper was working as a full-time business journalist back in 2015 when she decided to finally get serious about her lifelong dream of writing a book.

A competition for unpublished manuscripts was just six months away, so she set herself that tight deadline and got to work, signing herself up for a novel-writing course.

Half a year later she won the prize, and her story - The Dry - ended up launching a global bidding war that ended in a six-figure, three-book publishing deal.

Then, her winning streak stepped up a notch when Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon's ­production company secured the film rights before The Dry even hit shelves - and the movie version starring Eric Bana is now slated for a 2021 release.

The novel, which is set in a struggling, drought-affected Australian community, centres around the brutal slaying of an entire family in what appears to be a murder-suicide, and it became a sensation in 2016, with more than a million copies sold worldwide.

Her follow-up novels, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, also became bestsellers and her fourth, The Survivors, has just been released this week.

It's a phenomenal success story, and one Harper never expected in her wildest dreams.

"I remember being asked very early on what I would love to happen, and the answer was that I would love to write professionally full-time - that was the goal but not the expectation, and I was quite realistic about what my prospects would be," the mum-of-two told news.com.au.

"I just wanted to finish a manuscript I could be proud of, so to be able to do this now is fantastic, it's a real dream job."

RELATED: 'Offensive': Dan's fans attack Leigh Sales

Jane Harper (centre) on the set of The Dry, the film adaptation of her best-selling novel, with Eric Bana and Genevieve O’Reilly. Picture: Supplied
Jane Harper (centre) on the set of The Dry, the film adaptation of her best-selling novel, with Eric Bana and Genevieve O’Reilly. Picture: Supplied

Ms Harper, who was born in the UK before moving to Australia as a child, was working at the Herald Sun in Melbourne when she decided at age 34 to commit to writing fiction.

She realised she was "never going to find a big block of time" or have a "lightning bolt" of an idea, so she adopted a disciplined, methodical approach, setting aside an hour a day after work to write.

"I set a routine and mini deadlines and targets - I was used to a newsroom environment with daily deadlines so six months felt quite luxurious to have a draft completed," she said.

"I had no expectations of winning the competition - I just wanted to use it as a deadline for myself."

She said seeing her book on shelves for the first time was a "thrill" she'd never forget and that it "never loses its shine" even with four novels under her belt.

Another major perk of her metamorphosis into a globally renowned author was the chance to not only visit the set of The Dry film adaptation, but to meet Eric Bana and other cast members - and to make it on-screen herself as an extra.

"I was invited in early 2019 to northwest Victoria to see the set and to be an extra along with some of my family and friends," Ms Harper said.

"It was so fun - they were filming the funeral and wake scenes and they needed extras to fill up the church, so it was a really surreal moment to see and hear characters that I sat at my desk creating.

The Survivors by Jane Harper was released on September 22.
The Survivors by Jane Harper was released on September 22.

"Seeing Eric Bana walk in was unbelievable - it was such a special moment and I'll never forget it."

She said Bana was "perfect for the role" and lived up to his nice-guy persona, and that all the cast had managed to bring her story to life.

Harper also played herself in a cameo appearance on Neighbours - a show she had loved since childhood - which she said was yet another "surreal moment" in a long line since securing her life-changing book deal.

Despite being born in the UK, Ms Harper's four novels have all been set in distinctive Australian locations, and she said the Aussie landscape had always been a "really important" theme of her books for one key reason.

"The Australian landscape has so much opportunity for writers because it is a diverse, really beautiful backdrop but at the same time, there are brutal elements where it doesn't take much for things to go wrong," she said.

A virtual book tour for The Survivors kicks off tonight, with full details on Harper's website.

Originally published as Secrets behind Aussie's six-figure deal



Wally’s brutal message: ‘It won’t save your life’

Premium Content Wally’s brutal message: ‘It won’t save your life’

‘Do I want to be around to enjoy it again next year?’”

Leaders’ last-minute dash through swing seats

Premium Content Leaders’ last-minute dash through swing seats

Qld election 2020: Leaders’ last-minute dash through swing seats

New cancer treatment trial begins in Bay

Premium Content New cancer treatment trial begins in Bay

It is investigating a ‘lighter’ form of chemotherapy