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Crime fiction writer Natalie Conyer wins a Ned Kelly Award!

Natalie Conyer Ned Kelly Awards Present Tense

By Natalie Conyer

Writer Natalie Conyer 2021 Ned Kelly Award Winner for Present Tense

Winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction for my first book, Present Tense, feels…it feels very…it's…I'm trying to think of the phrase! An out of body experience! That's it, that's what it feels like.

Even though my impostor syndrome is up and running, I'm truly gobsmacked. When I was writing the book, I didn't give any thought to who was going to read it, I just wanted it to be authentic in terms of the South Africa I know, I didn't think of awards.

Getting the award I feel incredibly thrilled, but I have to say again, quite gobsmacked, I feel a mixture of shock and delight. It's making me second-guess my next book, where I think, "Well the first one succeeded because of this, and my second book won't have that, so it can't be as good, oh and what about the virus," and so on. My critical mind is sticking its leg out for me to trip over every five minutes.

One solution to that is to write rubbish, knowing that no one will see it, that I can write what I want to and fix it later. Another issue is that many crime writers write a book a year and somehow I assumed I had to as well but my agent said "No, no, you write at your own pace," and that helped, too. I also have a friend who's a well-known novelist and she's a great role-model, she says she starts writing without overthinking anything.

Book peek inside Present Tense
Besotted by a book
Cape of Talent

I was asked if awards really mean anything and I have to say, this award has improved my confidence out of sight. I feel like a real writer now. Even when I had my own book in my hand…I just kept thinking 'there's all these writers out there and then there's me.' I can't describe it, I can just tell you that it's extraordinary winning it.

Present TenseThough the award is a great spur, it's also made me feel I need to write something extra good for my second novel, whereas there might not have been the same pressure before. Peter Temple, he was an Australian crime novelist, actually he is one of the best international crime writers, and he wrote a novel called Truth, which won Australia's Miles Franklin Literary Award and after that he didn't publish anything, because he felt nothing he wrote would live up to that standard.

So I feel anything I write now has to be worthwhile. But the award is also thrilling. I've been telling everyone I ever met in my entire life about it, it's extraordinary.

Natalie Conyer grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and now lives in Sydney. Her debut crime novel, Present Tense, is set in Cape Town.


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  • Sandy Curtis on

    Huge congratulations! Try not to put any expectations on yourself for the second book, just write what you love and enjoy it. Best wishes.

  • Ken Thornton on

    Congratulations, I am so pleased an early-career writer such as yourself was recognised. Just go for it with your second novel, and third, fourth etc.

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