Mark Brandi’s bestselling novel, Wimmera, won the coveted British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and was named Best Debut at the 2018 Australian Indie Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year, and the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year. His second novel, The Rip, was published to critical acclaim by Hachette Australia in March 2019.
Mark’s shorter work has appeared in The Guardian, The Age, the Big Issue, and in journals both here and overseas. His writing is also sometimes heard on ABC Radio National.
Mark graduated with a criminal justice degree and worked extensively in the justice system, before changing direction and deciding to write. Originally from Italy, he grew up in rural Victoria. Mark now lives in Melbourne and is working on his next work of fiction.
The Rip is described as an urban crime novel that slowly and masterfully hooks you in… then shocks with the horrific crime and the dread that the characters you care about aren’t going to make it out alive. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
I’ve heard both my books described as stories about crime, rather than crime novels per se – I reckon that’s pretty accurate. I suppose I’m interested in exploring why crime happens, as much as how.
But at the heart of The Rip is a girl sleeping rough in Melbourne, with her best friend, Anton, and her beloved dog, Sunny. While life isn’t easy, and addiction colours their existence, they find comfort in each other, and in their dreams for the future.
Then a bloke named Steve enters their world. Anton seems to know him from way back, and he offers them a place to stay in his flat. It looks a good deal at first, but there’s this strange smell that neither she nor Anton can quite place. And over the days and weeks, Steve becomes increasingly erratic.
Pretty soon, both she and Anton are caught up in something they couldn’t have imagined, something which will threaten both their lives.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I’m never entirely sure of what sparks particular stories or characters – it’s an amalgam of experiences, interests, and imagination. And I can usually only see it in hindsight.
That said, my natural interest is in people living at the margins of society, those shunned or outside the mainstream. It then evolves fairly naturally that my writing features crimes – it’s never a planned thing.
My actual writing process is fairly chaotic, and varies from story to story. But the one consistent aspect is that it always starts with a voice – in this case, a girl waking up in a park not far from where I live. At that point, Anton didn’t exist – and neither did Sunny, Steve, or the flat. It was only as I followed her, and her story, that this world started to take shape.
Looking back, it was probably also a reaction to what I’d seen on the streets of Melbourne, and other cities, with homelessness becoming more visible. Though I wonder too if films like Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream (both favourites, and both adapted from books) played a role.
What do you hope the reader will take away from this book?
I’m reluctant to attach any particular message to my writing – I’m just happy enough if people read it!
And my experience with Wimmera showed me how each reader brings something of themselves to a story, and understands the characters (and their world) slightly differently – so I’m hesitant to say anything which might influence that.
You have worked extensively in the justice system. Did you still have to do much research for the novel?
As someone who writes about crime, I’m pretty fortunate to have worked and studied in that field – there’s been plenty of material to draw from.
That said, my writing tends to reflect my interests. I’ll read articles in newspapers, magazines, and even court judgements – I never really know if they’ll become part of my writing, but it’s just the stuff I’m into.
One thing I learned from my work and study is that when people come into contact with the justice system, it’s usually the pointy end of many events and circumstances in their lives. The path which brought them there (as offenders and victims) is rarely simple, and that complexity interests me as a writer.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
It’d be overstating it to call it a routine!
At the moment, I’m still happily touring events for The Rip (and surviving some home renovations), but I do squeeze a couple of hours each day for work on my current manuscript. If I’m honest, I also tend to procrastinate with whatever tasks need doing (or not) around the house – I’ve generously decided to call this part of my process.
As for what I’m working on, I’m one of those annoyingly superstitious authors who is reluctant to discuss a book until it’s finished. So you’ll just have to wait and see …