Dinuka McKenzie was a busy working mum when she decided to start writing as a creative outlet. The more she wrote, the more she loved it, so she decided to complete a few courses at the Australian Writers' Centre to hone her craft. After finishing her first crime manuscript, she entered it in the Banjo Prize for unpublished fiction – and then came the extraordinary news that she had won!
“Winning the Banjo was the day when in a single stroke all my publishing dreams came true,” Dinuka told us. “Out of nowhere after years of trying and countless drafts, revisions and rejections, my manuscript had stumbled across the desk of the person who absolutely got what I was trying to do and was willing to champion my words. Honestly, there’s no feeling quite like it.”
Dinuka’s winning manuscript has now been published by HarperCollins as The Torrent. Her follow-up novel, Taken, was also published by HarperCollins in February 2023. Dinuka's novels will be published in the UK with Canelo Crime in late 2023.
Dipping her toe into the world of writing
Dinuka had always been a reader, but hadn’t really thought about writing anything herself. As a new parent, she was juggling the needs of small people with her work and home commitments. She knew that she needed to carve out time for herself, and so she turned to writing.
“My first attempts at writing were carried out in a vacuum with just my own ideas and the laptop, an instinctive exercise based on whatever knowledge I had consciously and unconsciously absorbed from being a lifelong reader,” she says. “In the process, I fell in love with writing and the mechanics of building an entirely new world and characters that felt as real to me as my friends and family.”
With her newfound love, Dinuka started to explore the world of writing in earnest.
“I was interested in writing resources that would help me better my craft and learn more about the industry, and most importantly those that I could fit in around my work commitments and family. It was … while looking for online writing courses to pursue that I discovered the Australian Writers’ Centre.”
Dinuka was drawn to Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder because it was packed full of tools and resources especially for crime writers. The fact that it was created by bestselling crime writer Candice Fox was also a major drawcard!
“For me, the course really opened my eyes to the level of research crime writers need to undertake to authentically depict the procedural aspects of law enforcement, the legal system and prison life. Throughout the course Candice points out how research and small details can be incorporated into your writing so that the story comes alive for readers, without getting bogged down in too much technical detail or turning a reader off with overly detailed descriptions around violence and gore,” Dinuka says. “The strength of the course is that it provides a deep dive into the realistic portrayal of crime with a detailed perspective on the research involved.”
As well as getting down and dirty with crime writing, Dinuka felt that she needed to work on her social media presence, so she turned to our course on building your author platform.
“I ended up making genuine connections and becoming friends with writers all across the country and even overseas, both emerging writers like myself as well as much more experienced writers,” she says. “The result was that by the time my own book came out some two years later, there was already a community of writer friends around me who were ready to support and cheer my book on and who I could rely on for advice and guidance through the process. The support of the writing community has made a huge difference to the release of my book as a debut, and I can trace the start of that journey to commencing a course named Build Your Author Platform with the Australian Writers' Centre.”
A torrent of opportunities opens up
Having well and truly caught the writing bug, Dinuka decided to send off her manuscript to the Banjo Prize.
“I entered the Banjo Prize because I figured that there is more chance of your submission getting read within the timeframe of an unpublished manuscript competition, compared to the standard ‘slush pile’ submissions process. I entered with no expectation of winning, only to be certain that I could safely cross HarperCollins off my list of publishers to submit to once the inevitable occurred. Instead what happened was the exact opposite.”
Winning the Banjo Prize gave Dinuka the confidence to cut back on her work commitments in the environmental sector. She now works on a contract basis and is able to devote three to four hours a day to writing.
“This writing routine was not always the case. When I first began working on the manuscript that would become The Torrent, it was absolutely a case of finding the time to write whenever I could, whilst working part time and looking after small children,” Dinuka says. “It was still very much a case of finding pockets of time to dedicate to this extra profession that I had decided to take on and make a go of.”
In The Torrent, heavily pregnant Detective Sergeant Kate Miles is exhausted and counting down the days to her maternity leave. 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. The book has been getting rave reviews with legendary crime writer Val McDermid calling it ‘such a good read.’
As well as publishing The Torrent, HarperCollins also signed Dinuka on to write two more Detective Kate Miles books. The next instalment is Taken, which was Longlisted for the Richell Prize in 2020 and is out now.
“I am very fortunate that the situation has now flipped, and I can write full-time as my day job,” Dinuka says.