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Inspiration on a country road: How Bryan Brown came to pen his gripping first novel

It started with just three characters, but Bryan Brown's second work of fiction could easily get snapped up as a feature film.

It started with just three characters, but Bryan Brown's second work of fiction could easily get snapped up as a feature film. Photo: Allenandunwin

With more than 80 films and television shows under his belt, it’s no wonder beloved Australian actor Bryan Brown has dusted off the old typewriter and ream of A4 (figuratively speaking) to pen his first full-length novel.

At age 75, Brown has pivoted from his 2021 series of short crime stories with Sweet Jimmy to “pressing the pedal” full throttle with a thrilling murder mystery in The Drowning.

“I really didn’t think I had a novel in me … but for me a lot of ideas come from just driving in the car … I’ll be driving along and the beginning of The Drowning came to me,” he tells The New Daily on a hot sunny day from his NSW farm.

Spending time between the Nambucca farm and Sydney, Brown said he would occasionally see properties on deserted roads with “Do Not Enter” written on the front gate.

That alone captured his imagination.

“If you find a ‘do not enter’ on a gate, it’s probably not a creche! You figure someone’s up to something they don’t want you to know about … or they are hermits and don’t want to know about anybody – they’d rather sit on a computer and get into conspiracy theories,” he mused.

For The Drowning, he started with just three characters and, over the next few months, the list grew organically into a cast of a dozen dysfunctional, likeable, creepy, adorable and dangerous types.

Set in a small town on the coast around a cafe called The Basin, there’s an Indigenous boy, crooked bikies who traffic young women from Brazil to Australia, an evil loner who buys a back block, the local women in search of love and companionship, a Norwegian backpacker and a local undercover cop.

Other themes, more characters

“I do like them all, I gotta say,” he laughs.

The novel starts with David, a young Indigenous boy, whose curiosity gets the better of him. He goes over the fence of one of those “do not enter” properties and witnesses the unforgivable.

“I wrote as it started to come to me,” he says.

“I did like the idea that he was a young Indigenous fella out on his pushbike, out in the bush, exploring everything that he came across.

“It gave me other themes and more characters. I’ve got quite a lot of different people in this … Norwegians, Iranians … I’ve got the bloody lot!

“As I’d go along, it became natural those people should be there. A lot of people who’ve I’ve met along the way [in real life], I wanted them to be part of the tapestry of my stories.”

His good buddy of 40 years, New Zealand actor Sam Neill, who is battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, praised his friend’s storytelling.

‘My friend Bryan Brown, quite apart from his other manifold talents, turns out to be an excellent writer. An authentic voice; highly imaginative yet completely believable, with a flair for fully realised characters and a gripping narrative … a great storyteller.

“This is utterly baffling. I’m furious,” he jokes.

Brown’s reply: “He’s always been jealous of me”.

‘Adrian’ and ‘the fella’

Amid the various subplots interwoven throughout, at its heart The Drowning focuses on a man referred to only as “the fella” and his relationship with Adrian, who we come to realise is an undercover cop hoping to blow up an illegal human trafficking operation.

The fella lives on one of these isolated properties near the bikie gang’s remote HQ.

At the book’s climax, the tension is palpable.

Brown talks about his passion for the crime genre, and the idea that there’s “good and bad” in all of us, but most people never go down the rabbit hole and commit crimes and end up in the clink.

“We see ourselves in everything … but we’ve learnt to make value judgements not to go to certain places. Some people do, and we’re always intrigued by that.

The Stranger starred Golden Globe nominee Joel Edgerton and BAFTA Award winner Sean Harris. Photo: Netflix

So who is Brown selling the movies rights to?

And who gets to play the lead characters?

When it does get snapped up by a streamer – for Australian original content quotas – maybe Russell Crowe or Eric Bana to play the good guy, Adrian.

Brown reckons Adrian “is a bit younger than me old colleague” Crowe (who is 59 years old).

Luke Hemsworth for the bad guy?

” … hmmm … who plays the fella … he likes cars, he’s capable … but he’s damaged, isn’t he? It’s a terrific part to play because there are areas where you feel for him but what he does is hard.

“If I was 30 I’d have liked to have played him.”

He thinks about it and reckons the lead actor alongside Joel Edgerton from the 2022 Australian psychological crime thriller film written and directed by Thomas M Wright, The Stranger (Netflix).

Sean Harris “was very good” at playing the bad guy, he says.

Meanwhile, once his Allen & Unwin book tour wraps, Brown is always on hand to help out his wife, Rachel Ward, on their regenerative farm, or help his daughter with the Good Farm Shop which supplies ready-made organic and ethically sourced produce.

It’s on the cards he’ll link up with Greta Scacchi for another series of Australian crime comedy-drama television series, Darby and Joan. 

And he’s also talking to film director Bruce Beresford.

With a second book published, solid family, upcoming roles in feature film Anyone But You (starring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney) and Trent Dalton’s adaptation of Boy Swallows Universe, how would he describe his life at the moment?

“Hot!”

And on a more spiritual level? “Hot!!,” he laughs.

Topics: Books
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