Growing up in Stawell, getting to know the locals and observing strangers passing through town inspired former resident Mark Brandi’s debut crime novel, Wimmera.
Set in the summer of 1989, Mr Brandi said the story is about two best friends enjoying the freedom of country life, until a stranger arrives at Stawell and casts a long shadow over both their lives.
Mr Brandi lived at Stawell for almost 20 years. He left in 1998.
“I came to know a lot of different characters,” he said.
“There were also a lot of strangers passing through and coming to town to perhaps escape their past and start a new life- I was always intrigued by this and I think a seed was planted there for the story years later.”
Despite living most of his life in the city, Mr Brandi said a lot of his writing was drawn back to his experience growing up in the Wimmera.
“There are so many interesting characters and stories in the town,” he said.
“Also the landscape is quite unusual- you have the flat Wimmera plains and then the Grampians looming over that, so the contrast is quite strong.”
Wimmera was awarded the 2016 Winner of the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger (UK).
Mr Brandi possess a degree in criminal justice and his three older brothers work for Victoria Police.
“I have always been surrounded by crime stories,” he said.
“Also, being in the only Italian family in town I always felt like an outsider on some level.
“This helped in my writing too- I could have that distance that allows you to observe others and how people interact.”
Mr Brandi said his inspirational grade 6 teacher at Stawell 502 Primary School, Andy McCann, believed in and encouraged his writing.
“He sent me on a writers retreat at the time- in those early days having someone to show that confidence in you was really important to me,” he said.
“And now with the book getting recognition overseas and winning prizes, people from other countries are attracted to my writing and the rural Australian experience.”