His debut novel, Wimmera, is fresh off the press. The novel was the first Australian thriller to win the prestigious Debut Dagger award in the UK in 2016, before it was even published.
Wimmera tells the story of two boys on the edge of adolescence in 1989 - Ben and Fab.
While they never talk about it, they struggle to come to terms with the darker side of life in their small town, experiencing physical abuse, the suicide of a neighbour, and the arrival of a stranger who will change their lives forever. Twenty years later, a body is found in the river, and nothing can stop the past from unravelling.
Brandi’s prowess in crime writing has landed him a spot sharing his experience at the upcoming Melbourne Writers Festival, which takes place from August 25 to September 3.
Yet through all the work and the recognition, Brandi is clear that his writing is a labour of love. That before the publication, before the accolades, it simply felt like something he was “meant to be doing”.
Brandi’s love of writing can be traced back to his childhood.
As part of the only Italian family growing up in a country Victorian town, he was used to feeling like an outsider and having to use his imagination to entertain himself.
The Brandi family - four brothers and mamma and papa - moved around a great deal before settling in the countryside.
Originally from the comune of Ortezzano in the region of Marche, the family decided to move to Melbourne before Brandi was born.
They then returned to Marche for a few years, where Brandi was born in the town of Ascoli Piceno.
The family ultimately decided to settle in Australia, yet their move to the country was something of a twist of fate.
Brandi’s father had been working as a train driver in Melbourne when he suffered a car accident that left him unable to continue his livelihood.
Fortunately, his doctor happened to be selling a “derelict hotel” in the country, and so, with no experience running pubs, and no experience in hospitality, the family set out from Melbourne to start a new life.
Brandi’s mother didn’t even speak English at the time!
For Brandi, growing up in the country as a migrant would turn out to have many highs and lows.
The town had only a sprinkling of different migrants—a Greek family ran the fish and chip shop and a Chinese family ran the only Chinese restaurant. Then there were the Brandis and their hotel.
In this quiet town, Brandi recalls that “growing up Italian made things more difficult; acceptance was tough and you copped your fair share of racial abuse, and it was kind of something you had to deal with”.
It was certainly a different experience to life in the city, where Brandi’s cousins lived. While Melbourne had its own share of discrimination, Italian culture came to be “accepted and celebrated” there more quickly.
Yet with the gift of hindsight and the keen reflection of a writer, Brandi is quick to see the good in the bad.
While the quest for acceptance was difficult, his position as an outsider sharpened his observational skills, which would later prove invaluable for the long hours at the writing desk.
There, his encounters with different personalities, habits and attitudes came to life in his characters.
Being an outsider himself, Brandi also became interested in other outsiders, and so his writing has come to explore the experiences of those “on the fringes of society”.
While there were also limited work opportunities in the country, Brandi grew up with a sense of freedom and adventure and went fishing often.
Yet perhaps most important of all to Brandi’s childhood was growing up in a family that valued passion and persistence.
Reflecting on his parents’ decision to buy the pub, Brandi recalls that “there was really that entrepreneurial spirit among migrants to give things a go, and they weren’t afraid to try new things”.
It’s a spirit that helped Brandi make the “big jump” into a writing career, and it has remained with him ever since.
Brandi worked in the justice system after completing legal studies, before deciding to pursue his passion full-time.
For a number of years things were tough as Brandi wrote small pieces, worked with other writers and tried to make ends meet.
But from his parents’ experience, Brandi learned that if you put in enough work, you could achieve almost anything.
Now, after the publication of his first major work, he is keen to continue writing and is working on his next book.
It is certainly an interesting chapter in his life. With roots in rural Italy and rural Australia, Brandi now calls Melbourne his home.
It’s a place where he can follow his passion, and connect with other readers and writers.
Brandi thrives on the challenge of writing and having a particular project at a given time, and he believes that “just to dedicate yourself utterly to that is a great feeling”.
Yet it’s helpful to get out from behind the desk once in a while, and Brandi is grateful for the chance to do just that in Melbourne; he’s featured at the Emerging Writers Festival and is set to speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival as part of the “Readings Recommends: Australian Crime” session on Saturday, September 2.
Being around other writers and readers at festivals reminds Brandi that he’s not alone, as his job can be a “very solitary pursuit”.
And of course, there’s no better feeling than seeing your book in a reader’s hands.
And Brandi’s advice for aspiring writers? It’s all about staying true to your vision and keeping up the momentum.
When composing Wimmera, Brandi would write for a few hours a day, taking no more than a month off between drafts.
Not only did this help him be detached enough to critique his own work, it also allowed his characters and their stories to develop on their own in the subconscious.
This was especially important for Brandi, as the power of the story is in how naturally the characters act, and how true to life and to themselves they are.
The result of his labour is a dark and haunting tale that should have readers wondering about the story even after they’ve reached the back cover.
Brandi’s writing may be dark, but it is earnest and refreshing. As the author himself says, “We shouldn’t be afraid of stories that are dark because it’s part of humanity, and we all find those stories quite fascinating.”
Ultimately, Brandi advises that “you have to be able to enjoy the process, and if you’re not enjoying the process of writing, if you’re just writing to be published or for commercial success then it would be hard to sustain”.
Perhaps the most remarkable element of Brandi’s journey is his combination of courage and humility.
Thinking about the bold step to pursue writing full time, Brandi says, “While it was very difficult, I’ve never regretted it, it’s just been one of those things where I’ve been very fortunate to have the book published. I think it was just the best decision, really, that I ever made.”
It seems the spirit of adventure may never leave Brandi, as he light-heartedly admits he still keeps the door open for another dramatic career shift!
Yet his growing readership need not worry—Brandi is more than content to ply his trade with words for the time being, producing work that challenges himself and his readers and shedding light on the dark and hidden parts of the human mind and heart.