Working with Words: Hannie Rayson

Hannie Rayson is a playwright and screenwriter best known for Hotel Sorrento, which was also produced as a feature film. She made history when her play Life After George was the first play to be nominated for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. She has also written for television, including SeaChange. In 2006, she was nominated for the Melbourne Prize for Literature.

What was the first piece of writing you had published or produced?

My first play was produced at Grant Street theatre, when I was in my final year at The Victorian College of the Arts in 1978. It was called Please Return to Sender and it was about a postman who discovered a pregnancy in his testicle.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Being on the tenth draft of a play and not being confident of whether you are making it better or worse.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Hearing my latest play read at The Manhattan Theatre Club, three weeks ago.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Write about what you know. (worst) How many plays would you like to see about me typing in my room? Being a writer is a passport for an adventurous life. Write about what you don’t understand, then set out in order to make sense of it. (Advice to self)

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

My play Two Brothers was a ‘smug vomit of hate’ according to Andrew Bolt.

If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Working in some sort of welfare outfit – I was training to be a psychologist – all the while dreaming of a time when I could be a writer.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Oh yes. I learn something new every day. There are so many little tricks that can be passed on. I look at this new breed of graduates and I think these writers are so much more assured in style and form than we were as we muddled our way forward.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Curiosity is your most valuable asset.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. I use a Kindle for traveling, but it is second best.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I would like to go out with Dina Dalal from Rohinton Mistry’s novel A Fine Balance. I would ask for her to show me India; we could rhapsodise together about Rohinton Mistry’s genius, but over dinner I’d just be happy to gaze into those wise and worldly eyes.

What’s the book or play that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller teaches us to open the doors to the street and let ordinary life blow into the theatre.

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