Q & A with Hannie Rayson

Q & A with Hannie Rayson
2015 Harold White Lecture
9 November 2015

Hannie Rayson, playwright and screenwriter, is coming to the National Library Sunday 29 November 2015 to deliver the inaugural Harold White Lecture, reflecting on the public role of the writer and the reality of having to blog, post, be liked and followed, while really being ‘the head-marketer for the brand called You.’

Why do you write?

Lots of my writer-friends share Dorothy Parker’s view: ‘I hate writing, but I like having written.’ I actually enjoy the typing part; shaping the perfect sentence. Fiddling with the order of the sentences so the joke pops up sweetly at the end. I am forever trying to catch the puff of an idea, before it wafts away. If I’m working on a play, crafting the perfect put-down is very satisfying. It compensates for all the times in life you wish you could have thought of something gloriously withering to say. Being a playwright is a bit like being an archer shooting arrows at a target. Then you have to run up the other end and shoot one back.

Being funny is more enjoyable than being angry. Sometimes with the plays, I have to work myself up, emoting so hard; I’m like a dead dog by mid afternoon.

Writing is elusive and mysterious and I never get it right, so I have to show up the next morning.

I also like being a writer.

When I am going out, I sometimes say to my husband, ‘Do I look all right?’

He says, ‘You look like a writer.’

I don’t really know what that means, but I always feel happy and reassured by it!

What are you reading right now?

Tony Birch’s Ghost River. I’ve just finished Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. They are both spectacularly good. My bet is that these two novels will be slugging it out on every shortlist for the major literary awards. 

How would you describe your latest book/play?

My memoir Hello, Beautiful! is the story of my life in 43 vignettes. I thought about you, the reader, tucked up in bed or sitting in an armchair with a glass of wine. I imagined we were mates and you would find the same things funny and shitty and interesting, as I do. I didn’t write much about my professional life in the theatre. In truth I wrote my memoir so I could get away from the theatre for a while. The working title was, My Year Without Drama.

What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?

Finishing. Truly, I loved writing it so much.

Who is your favourite literary hero or heroine?

Anne of Green Gables. I haven’t read this book for 50 years, but as I remember, Anne was plucky and big-hearted and I loved her like a bestie.

What’s the strangest piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

Write about what you know. That credo consigns you to a life within the comfort zone. You never have to venture beyond your own bedroom if you take that advice.

Writing about what you don’t know, opens the world. If you sign up to that, you get a passport where your occupation is listed as adventuress.

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?

Do you regret not becoming a social worker? And doing good?

Where is your favourite place to write?

The Domed Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria. If you were ever going to think a great thought, it would happen there.

What do you love about libraries?

I love everything about libraries. The smell. The sense of quiet purposefulness. The democratic values: everyone is welcome. Libraries are built on the belief that curiosity is one of the great virtues.

What are you working on now?

A short play for the Sydney Theatre Company.