A modern twist to 30s America

19:48, Mar 20 2014
Ben Atkins
HARD BOILED: Ben Atkins has published his first novel, Drowning City, a noir thriller set in prohibition-era America.

New novelist Ben Atkins was born in the 1990s but his first book looks back to a time of gangsters and bootleggers in depression-era America.

Mr Atkins, 20, sent the manuscript for his noir novel Drowning City unsolicited to Random House at the end of 2012.

He had no real expectations of where things might go but the publisher house got in touch several months later to say it was interested. 

The novel hit bookshelves on March 7, making Atkins one of the country's youngest published authors.

It's no mean feat but  the second-year media and politics student is taking it in his stride.

The former Avondale College student says the novel took about five years to write. 


The final draft was completed at the end of his secondary schooling at a time when he was supposed to be studying for exams.

''I was much more into writing the book than sitting exams,'' he says.

The story charts one night in the life of a bootlegger in an American metropolis in 1932.

Atkins says he has long been interested in the noir genre and was keen to delve further into that world.

''I was taught how to watch old movies by my Dad when I was young - black and white, slow-paced ones with lots of dialogue - and after watching early classics from the 30s, 40s and 50s I was fascinated by the era.''

''I've always been into history as well and I was interested in immersing myself in that era because I found it so appealing in different works of fictions and in history.''

The hard-boiled genre is known for its dark and moody tones cut through by sharp jolts of humour and  Atkins says he largely stuck to that style.

He also did his best to give it a modern twist.

''After the initial stage of expansion of the genre after the end of the 50s, people started taking the mickey out of it and satirising it, which is funny.

''It's easy to make fun out of it now because it so strongly resembles a particular time and ways of thinking and seeing the world, but you can put a contemporary spin on it and that is what I tried to do.''

The young writer says he is now concentrating on his studies.

He plans to continue developing as a storyteller and aspires to work in film as both a scriptwriter and in production.


Here's how the publisher describes Drowning City:

In a city of elusive agendas, it's hard to find the truth.

It's harder to find what's right.

A bootlegger's dream in 1930s America is rocked by an attempt to destroy his lucrative business.

What begins as a curious evening snowballs into a night-time odyssey as Fontana searches for answers he never thought he'd have to find.

The city is saturated with criminal and political extremism - is there anyone he can trust. 

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