The vivacious Dinuka McKenzie!
I haven't yet met the vivacious Dinuka McKenzie in person but, after lots of online chatting, I truly look forward to the day that I do. Not only is she a talented writer and an environmental planner, she is such a sweet and humble lady, qualities that are going to endear her to readers far and wide.
As you all know by now, I love nothing more than to stalk a writer and then invite them on my blog. But something that gives me a huge thrill is when an author actually reaches out to me and asks if I would be interested in having them as a guest!
That someone wants to be on MY little ol' blog still blows me away. So when the lovely Dinuka messaged me about being on The Author Stalker, and I read the blurb for her upcoming debut, I couldn't say yes fast enough!
That book, The Torrent https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460760192/the-torrent/ hit the shelves on February 2nd this year. It was the winner of the
Harper Collins 2020 Banjo Prize https://www.harpercollins.com.au/thebanjoprize/ a competition launched in 2018 'in a quest to find Australia's next great storyteller' and, after turning the final page, it's not hard to see why.
This fast paced, gripping story had me holding my breath at times. I love losing myself within the pages of a riveting crime novel, trying to guess what actually happened, from the threads that are subtly woven throughout the narrative. The Torrent kept me guessing until the very end.
I loved the main character, Detective Sergeant Kate Miles, whom we meet when she is a week away from heading off on maternity leave. With one case on her plate, a simple request to take a look at the closed case of man drowned in recent summer floods seems no big ask. Until it is. Not happy to take everything at face value, Kate follows her gut and realises that there is more to the story. And she leaves no stone unturned as she searches for the truth, despite putting herself in harm's way.
Dinuka is a bright new voice amongst our already stellar pool of Aussie crime writers, and I can't wait to see what she has in store for us in her next novel, Taken, the second Detective Kate Miles novel, which was long-listed in the Richell Prize and is due for release in 2023!
(If you want a sneak peek of Taken you can read all about it at the end of The Torrent.)
So now, without further ado, I will hand you over to the gorgeous Dinuka.xx
Q1: What was your inspiration for this story and how long did it take you to write the first draft?
A: I started writing Detective Kate Miles, the female lead at the heart of my debut crime fiction novel, The Torrent, https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460760192/the-torrent/ at a time when I was in the midst of parenting little people and juggling work and motherhood, so the inspiration for her character very much reflects the issues I was trying to grapple with at the time.
I know how challenging I found it to strike the right balance between the needs of my family and my career, so I was interested in exploring what that would look like for a female police officer, with the added complications of that profession.
In writing Kate, I wanted to go beyond the traditional crime fiction trope of a male detective, usually single and childless or with a relationship breakdown, and see if I could make a crime narrative work that centred around a relatable, everyday woman jugging family, parenthood and work.
I put down the first draft of the manuscript (or the ‘vomit draft’ as it’s fondly referred to in the industry) in 2017 over around seven months, often whilst my then one-year-old daughter sat beside me watching The Wiggles.
Looking back I’m not sure I could do that again, but at the time it really felt like something I needed to do for myself. To prove to myself that I could achieve this thing that I had set out to: write a novel.
Little did I know then, the massive learning curve that exists between laying out a first draft and completing a novel. It was actually just the start of a very long apprenticeship.
'The best thing about cooking is that you get to eat it, right? Here’s me trying and failing to get a proper foodie shot of my latest effort at baking: a lemon curd and almond meal tea cake. And before you ask: yes, the lemon curd was most definitely store bought!'
(Oh Dinuka, that is making my mouth water! And I am SO jealous of the pizza oven your hubby built...I may have been Instagram stalking...and that is how I know you have a pet chicken too! Shelley.xx)
Q2: You are hosting a spectacular dinner party. Name four dream guests you would love to have seated around your table, and what would they be dining on and drinking?
A: Wow! That’s a big question. I’ve been watching The Beatles documentary series, Get Back, and there is a nostalgic part of me that wants to say John, Paul, George and Ringo, assuming of course, the rules somehow allow me to go back in time.
But if I’m honest, the reality and logistics of hosting a meal for any kind of celebrity or historical figure, strikes me with nothing but apprehension! The food. The conversation. Will everyone have different dietary requirements? Will they all like each other? Will they hate the food? Will they be bored? And most importantly, will I end the night still liking these people who I so admired?
To avoid potential massive disappointment, my dream guests would more likely be a gathering of close friends, ideally in a restaurant where someone else is in charge of cooking and cleaning up, and with the kids happily enjoying a sleepover with family.
We would be drinking cocktails and probably happily grazing on a menu that we would otherwise never get to sample, if our beloved children were eating with us. And we would have a few blissful hours of conversation free from kid-related interruptions.
Q3: What is your favourite book of all time and why?
A: The Broken Shore https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/the-broken-shore by the late great Peter Temple would have to be one of my all-time favourite crime-fiction books and books in general. He had a very sparse, terse way of writing, where not a word is wasted and yet he manages to capture the Australian landscape so incredibly well.
He had a real ear for the Australian vernacular, and could somehow evoke the hard-nosed, masculine culture of the police force with all its vulnerabilities, flaws and compromises in such an understated way.
I think he really was one of the best writers for dialogue, and for being able to paint a word picture of the gritty underbelly of both urban and rural settings in just a few well-chosen sentences.
Q4: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write for a year, where would we find you?
A: To ensure that I got any words down, it would have to be a fairly nondescript place, to ensure that I stayed inside with my laptop and got my work done! Knowing me, if I was in any kind of idyllic spot that I had always wanted to visit, I would feel torn between writing and getting my fill of the place that I am visiting.
Whilst it sounds like the dream, I honestly think travelling to a different spot to write (a tropical retreat, a villa in Lake Como) will probably involve way too many distractions and the kids will just be annoying me because they don’t have access to Netflix!
'I don’t have a formal office space. You will most often find me
writing on my laptop on the couch or in bed!
So instead, here’s a photo of the ad-hoc space we created in
the back shed to undertake virtual events for The Torrent.
After each event, everything gets packed away and the desk gets pushed back against the wall, so my hubby can continue to use it as his working-from-home space. And that door you see, leads to the laundry!'
Q5: Describe your go-to reading spot at home and what book/s would I currently find there?
A: My go to reading spot is my bed, because I tend to read for an hour or so most nights to fall asleep. Currently I have a pile of fellow 2022 debut releases sitting on my bedside table waiting to be devoured.
I just finished Fiona Robertson’s collection of award-winning short stories, If You’re Happy https://fionahrobertson.com/tag/if-youre-happy/ which was just as wise and beautiful as I expected.
Also on the pile is fellow crime writer Michael Trant’s action thriller, Wild Dogs https://www.penguin.com.au/books/wild-dogs-9781761046773 set in Western Australia, as well as Found Wanting, by Natasha Sholl https://www.ultimopress.com.au/foundwanting a memoir exploring grief and loss, and The Keepers by Al Campbell a novel that goes deep into the life of a carer and explores a mother’s fierce love and advocacy for her children.
Each of these books have been getting incredible reviews and I can’t wait to read them all.
Q6: Tell us a bit about a typical writing day…
A: A typical writing day for me involves getting the kids to school in the morning and then sitting down around nine am and writing for at least three to four hours, followed by an hour or so of admin involving replying to emails and attending to social media.
On a good day, I will try and get a walk in before heading back to school to pick up the kids, and then focusing on the after-school routine of helping the kids with homework and getting dinner and school lunches sorted.
I don’t tend to write at night as I am very much a morning person. If you find me writing at night, it probably means I have a deadline to meet!
'Here’s a photo of me capturing the moment, just before joining a digital event! It still blows my mind that I get to do this, and that people actually tune in to watch me. What a complete spin out!'
Q7: As a lover of words, is there a special quote you would like to share with us?
A: In late 2020, I attended a writing workshop run by the South Coast Writers’ Centre. The tutor for the day was author Dr Michael Mohamed Ahmed who said words to this effect: Not everyone can be a great writer. But everyone can be a great reader. So do that, and work at being a writer.
These words really resonated with me, because to me reading is such a fundamental part of writing and of working on your craft, not to mention, one of the most enjoyable. I can’t imagine my life without books and reading.
I think Dr Ahmed’s words also just made me stop and realise that I can spend all my time worrying about never being good enough, or just be grateful for the fact that I get the opportunity to write and just keep working at it.
(I LOVE that quote too Dinuka. Thanks for sharing. Shelley.xx)
Q8: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A: I love to cook when I am not writing. Looking back, I think cooking and food were very much my creative outlet before my kids came along and I probably spent way too much of my spare time thinking about food: what to cook next and what new restaurants to try.
I think once the kids came along, my pleasure in cooking certainly took a bit of a dive, as my children were fussy eaters, and we went through quite a long period of very plain eating and the same tedious rotation of dinners that the kids would eat. That’s slowly changing now with the children getting older and more willing to try new things.
My favourite type of meal to prepare, when I have the time is Sri Lankan or Thai food, especially curries from scratch, but I also love simple unfussy deserts, like crumbles and tea cakes, which don’t require precise measurements.
Q9: Any advice for aspiring authors?
A: I think writing what you would love to read has really held me in good stead. I adore crime fiction and particularly love detective fiction, so it never occurred to me to write anything other than a story in that genre.
I think writing the stories that you love to read in whatever genre and topic that may be, will help you find your narrative voice quicker, and your genuine interest will come through in the writing.
The thing with writing a novel is that you will have to be with that story for a long time, sometimes years. There will be a lot of time spent drafting and redrafting, even once you are lucky enough to achieve a publishing deal. So you might as well spend that time inside a story that you love, and want to keep working on and coming back to over and over.
Q10: In a few lines, which debut/emerging Aussie author should we look out for?
A: Two debuts that I absolutely adored in 2021 were Song of the Crocodile by Yuwaalaraay author, Nardi Simpson https://www.hachette.com.au/nardi-simpson/song-of-the-crocodile who writes about resilience and ongoing connection to country against the backdrop of generational trauma, and The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-silent-listener-9781761046735 a cracking thriller that threads a twisty murder mystery around themes of coercive control and domestic abuse.
There are several rural noir debuts that I am particularly looking forward to in 2022, which I think are going to be huge favourites with crime-fiction readers are Dirt Town by Haley Scrivenor https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781760987190/
I also can’t wait to read The Whispering by Veronica Lando https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460714966/the-whispering/ which won the 2021 Banjo Prize and is out in July.
A loving husband lost to devastating summer floods. A teenage girl injured during a robbery. Two seemingly unconnected cases that will push a detective to the brink.
An atmospheric, compelling new voice in Australian crime fiction. Winner of the 2021 Banjo Prize.
'Such a good read' Val McDermid
In Northern New South Wales, heavily pregnant and a week away from maternity leave, Detective Sergeant Kate Miles is exhausted and counting down the days. But a violent hold-up at a local fast-food restaurant with unsettling connections to her own past, means that her final days will be anything but straightforward.
When a second case is dumped on her lap, the closed case of man drowned in recent summer floods, what begins as a simple informal review quickly grows into something more complicated. Kate can either write the report that's expected of her or investigate the case the way she wants to.
As secrets and betrayals pile up, and the needs of her own family intervene, how far is Kate prepared to push to discover the truth?
Thank you Dinuka for being my March 15th Author Stalker victim. xx
The Torrent is available now for pre-order through bookstores and online.
If you would like to find out more about Dinuka, you can find her here: