THE RETURN OF SCOBIE MALONE
Jon Cleary's new book
"Ransom," our next serial
"The two-fisted Aussie detective-sergeant is really getting around the
global village as his creator has been doing these many years . . ."
You may have met the two-fisted Aussie detective-sergeant (played by Rod Taylor)
in the movie, "The High Commissioner."
You may even have met him in "the book of the film." set in London: or that other thriller. "Helga's Web."
"Helga" is set in Sydney (beautiful corpse found in bowels of Opera House).
Now, by popular request, there is a third Scobie Malone, lt's called "Ran-
som": it's again published by Collins, and film rights have been promptly sold.
"Ransom" is our new
serial, starting in next week's issue. Its setting is New
Scobie's really getting around the global village as his creator, Jon Cleary, has been doing these many years.
Scobie's younger and bigger than Jon and a lot
less articulate. But the two have a lot in common, for all that.
Says the bearded, nuggety Sydney-born author, now so
successful: "There's more than a bit of me in Scobie.
"We both come from
fighting Irish stock, we're both from Erskineville, the wrong side of the tracks, and both of us slugged our way up."
There's not much sign of the "slugging" in Jon Cleary, a quietly assured, quietly
erudite citizen of the world.
"Mind you." he says. "I'm always Aussie, even if I dine
with dukes. Not
professionally, aggressively Aussie, but still, unmistak- ably Australian."
That's Scobie, and always will be, no matter how much he jets around.
Like Jon Cleary, he comes from a working-class Irish Australian Catholic family.
"Ours was more Irish than Catholic." says Jon. "My dad — he was a truck-driver at the Sydney zoo — had all the dichotomy
of the Irish.
"He sent the whole seven of us off to Catholic schools — but he wouldn't have a
priest within cooee of the place."
One suspects that Jon's
dad was the model for Scobie's.
Jon was a depression kid. The family were dirt poor,
and he had to leave school as
soon as it was legal. But there's none of the Angry Young Man syndrome when
he remembers his childhood.
For one thing, his mother was a joyous woman. His
childhood was marvellous.
(His marriage has been marvellous, too. "Maybe." he suggests with a broad grin. "I haven't suffered enough to be a writer?")
He began writing around 1940, on war service with the A.I.F.
From then on, the way has led pretty much onwards and upwards.
Right after the war, he
took himself off to London
(meeting nurse Joy Lucas on the ship and speedily marrying her.)
Since then, though Australia was always "home," his bailiwick has been the world.
He not only carefully
researches his exotic back-
By KAY KEAVNEY
grounds. He and his family (daughters Catherine and Jane) generally live there.
"The Pulse of Danger" was set in Bhutan; "The Fall of an Eagle" in Anatolia; "The Forests of the Night" in
Burma: "Mask of the Andes" (one of his latest and "artistically" his best) in
He's both a disciplined (his strict daily output is 1500 words) and a compulsive
JON CLEARY... "There's more than a bit of me in him. "
He's constantly seeking to improve his craftsmanship,
and after a hundred-odd books, various screenplays and television scripts, reckons he still has a lot to learn.
His models, he admits
when pressed, are Conrad, Hemingway, and Graham
("Greene's right in the front rank of 20th-century
writers." he considers. "He deserves the Nobel Prize.")
He's extraordinarily pro- lific, always mentally a couple of books ahead of the one he's writing.
He says, "The themes creep up on you. I mulled
'Andes' over for about ten
years, but I didn't know how
to handle it. After that came
to me, it was straight ahead going.
"I don't calculate my themes. I get them from all over the place, often from an item in the newspaper.
"I got the idea for 'The High Commissioner' one day
in London, when I met an
Australian policeman walk- ing out of Australia House.
He was on six months'
"We got talking, and then
I walked on down the
Strand. And suddenly it all jelled ...
"With 'Ransom', I began with a situation. I got
concerned about the use of
force and violence in politics.
"Obviously the U.S. was the logical location. I started working it out. Generally I make notes, over maybe two or three months, then I sit down and block out four or five chapters.
"Then the characters themselves take over.
"With "Ransom", it went
something like this. What if a prominent politician were kidnapped? Or what if his
"How to bring Scobie in?
What if he were in New
York on his honeymoon, and his wife got accidentally involved in the kidnapping?
" I liked that. It brought in an interesting moral dilem-
ma — a strict law-and-order
cop in a helpless and seemingly hopeless situation, involving someone he loves.
How would be react? What would be learn about himself?"
Like all Jon Cleary's
books. "Ransom" is a book for the bedside rather than the coffee-table.
"I don't profess to be an artist." he said. "I take pride in being a craftsman.
" I'm no genius. But in general I think a work of art is more likely to come — by
accident from a man who knows his craft than from a
"Anyway. I'm getting more confident in the things I'm writing. They may not be the big themes — the ones that come to you in the middle of the night.
"But — well —in
'Ransom' I got interested in
that moral dilemma, even
while I was sticking to my last — trying to tell a good
"Even more so with "Mask of the Andes."
"I don't want to get
self-conscious about it.
though. Even Graham
Greene calls a lot of his books 'entertainments.'"
I asked. "Does a theme come to mind that
particularly excites you?"
"Something about a woman." Jon said promptly. "If I had to pick the greatest
novel ever written, it'd be "Anna Karenina."
"My first editor was a woman — Beatrice Davis.
She used to say. "You write your women the way most
men do. From outside. You make them do what you as a man want women to do."
"But Tolstoy didn't. He
wrote Anna from inside, I'd like to try to do that.
"And the emergence of women is one of the great
20th-century revolutions. The dilemma of women is intensely dramatic."
I asked. "Have you
thought how to handle it. and still stick to your last?"
Jon wouldn't say, which could mean that he's mulling it around, along with the
book he's on now, and the couple more to follow.
As I was leaving though,
he murmured in that
neatly-greying beard of his:
"Take Golda Meir,
holding together a country of belligerents, in the midst of belligerents."
There's a theme if you like, which (handled by an honest craftsman) could turn quite accidentally into a
work of art.