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"I'm disenchanted with Sydney...but ¡t's home"
. Wandering author
Jon Cleary has plans to settle down at last
By GLORIA NEWTON
JON CLEARY ... "a waterfront home at Kirribilli."
JON CLEARY, one
of Australia's most successful authors, with 18 novels to his credit, five of them produced on the screen, is vitally
interested in a new career - playwriting.
His 18th book, "Remem- ber Jack Hoxie," is to be re- leased in Sydney at the end of this month, and a play adapted from his wife's novel, "Strike Me Lucky," opens at the Independent
Theatre next month.
"Playwriting excites me tremendously, and I hope a producer will look on this one as my first and offer to teach me how to write a second one," he said.
"I wrote this play by instinct and that is not good enough. You can bring off a hit like this once, but only once. Playwriting, its fascin- ation of building drama within a scene, needs crafts- manship and that is some- thing I haven't got - yet."
It was late afternoon when I called to see Jon at the large, elegant flat, part of an old Woollahra home, which is the Clearys' temporary headquarters until their house at Kirribilli is built.
He had, he told me as we settled ourselves comfortably in two armchairs by thc fire, just completed his novel "Helga's Web," a follow-up book on Scobii Malone, the detective herc of "The High Commis sioner." He was off to Mel bourne in the next few day for a holiday, because whei he finished a book he wa "mentally wrung out."
An engaging talker, Joi Cleary is a youthful, beardei 52-year-old, urbane, cosme politan, yet unmistakabl
It doesn't come through i the accent, which is a "notf ing" accent, but rather in h realistic approach to life an work, and in the careful!
weighed opinions offered in
the two-hour discussion we had on many subjects.
Added to these is a kind of toughness and brashness, tempered by an unassuming,
He started his writing
career with short stories when
he was in the AIF during World War II. On his way to England by boat in 1946 he met his wife, Joy, and married her in London just before he wrote his first book, "You Can't See Round Corners."
Since then the Clearys have led a "nomadic exis- tence," travelling the world, setting up homes wherever they happened to be, and, in the process, sending their daughters, Catherine, now 21, and Jane, 20, to nine
Yet, despite the fact that Jon says he is "disenchanted"
After eighteen novels, now a play
with Sydney each time he comes back to it, this is where he and his family have finally decided to make their permanent base.
They have bought a water- front block at Kirribilli and are building a two-storey
"We'll never really settle down anywhere. We are all restless types, but we do need a base to put our roots down
and we decided it would be here.
"We thought about other places, especially London, which to me is stimulating, exciting. That is no deni- gration of Sydney, but in London something is going on all the time and I feel I am part of it.
"But Sydney is home and I value friendships very much, especially the ones you have the longest, the people to whom you are
closest. One friend here has
known me for 47 years - that's quite a time, isn't it? We can meet after an absence of, say, three years and simply pick the friend- ship up with the words 'How are you?'
"I hate things that change. That's why I only buy a suit every five years. I grow attached to things. When my daughters say, 'Oh, Dad, your clothes are out of fashion,' I don't worry. I'm in fashion every five years and that suits me very well.
"You ask if I am still dis- enchanted with Sydney? Yes," Jon said in his cautious way after a second's delibera- tion. "Yes. In 1966, when I stepped off the plane at Mascot, cold, drizzly, with the airport looking like a
scene from the end of the war, I was disenchanted.
"And I still am. There is
not enough history here for me. I have a special feeling for history, political history. I can walk along some old historic spot, in some old building in London or Rome and hear the ghosts of the old political intriguers, feel the whole period come alive. When I go for a walk here, all I get is exercise."
Knowing his reputation as a researcher-he says he can- not write about any place, any thing without having seen
it - I asked him about
"Remember Jack Hoxie," his book on the world of pop music, and the young people involved in its making.
"That book was the result of a sudden inspiration I had when faced by a scene I wit- nessed at Mascot the last time I left here for London.
"A young Australian pop star was off to England to try his luck, and there he was surrounded by hundreds of squealing fans, reporters,
photographers, and TV cameras. The TV kept zoom- ing on to the faces of his parents, who stood a little away, looking totally bewil- dered by the whole thing.
"This intrigued me. How did ordinary parents feel when their son was caught up in a world far beyond their understanding?
"It haunted me so much that when I got to London I made arrangements to travel on a series of one night stands with a pop group. Six weeks of it and I ended up with haemorr- hoids of the eardrums.
"But, believe me, I found another world. I remember the first time I met the group at a recording session, the arranger, Ron Richards, and myself were the only two over 25. I felt as though
I had walked into a Mafia meeting.
"They looked at me as if to say, 'Here's a middle aged writer come to take the mickey out of us.' But when I came to know them they couldn't have been nicer.
"There is so much tragedy in their world. They all
dream of success. A little known group can make a record which, with luck, will hit the top 60, stay poised there for a few weeks, and then, pouf - forgotten.
"A group can be plugging along earning a mere $10 a night, split four ways, and then be promoted up to $500 literally overnight, usually to go on as warmer-uppers at a show featuring a top star.
"This usually lasts a year and then they are dropped back into oblivion.
"But this is better than if their star burns for, say, three years. When, after that period, they are swept away into obscurity, that is bitterly cruel. Most of them come
from backgrounds that make
them unstable and unfitted
for such a period of adula-
tion and wealth and then nothing.
"Oh, yes, I learnt a lot about the kids on these tours, but I still don't understand what makes them tick. They don't know themselves.
"They kick against the pres- ent state of the world, but ask them for an alternative
and they can't give you one. Even the thinking ones say, 'Knock this way of life down and start again from scratch,' but they can't produce any blueprints for the rebuilding."
Although we didn't get down to the actual amounts of money he commands today - I heard he turned down $50,000 to write a Hollywood script - he did
intimate he was financially well off, well off enough not to have1 to worry about money and to choose to do just what he wants to do.
"I don't mind script- writing. I wouldn't mind doing some here for the bud- ding film industry, but I haven't been approached. But I like it only if I like the people I am working with.
"I am 52 now, and a script in Hollywood or London can take anything from six to nine months to complete. I don't want to waste those months working with people who are nothing but pain-in
"I am at the stage now when I want more than money for my nine months. I like money, of course, but I don't like to think I have ever been greedy about get- ting it."
Despite his research into the world of the young music-makers, Jon Cleary
has no desire to see the musical "Hair." Musicals, he said, leave him cold and he will never understand
middle-aged people who say they have to keep up with "the young."
"To me there must be
something wrong with any- one who has to go to the
theatre or read a book to understand today's happen- ings. If you want to know what is going on go out and talk to the people doing it.
"Don't just sit on a theatre seat and have a stranger give you a flower and say, 'Join me.' That's too darned easy."
Jon is off to South America soon to research for his 20th book, which he will write on his return and then take to London for publish- ing.
"Writing to me is not a chore. I really enjoy it,
"Do I put anything of my- self in my books? When I first started writing I made a point of being objective, of leaning over backwards to avoid any part of me com- ing out in my writings be- cause I thought: What could a young man of my age know? But now my friends tell me they can see me coming through strongly. There is a lot of myself in 'Remember Jack Hoxie.' "
How did he feel when fellow Australians asked him what he did?
He considered the ques- tion in his matter-of-fact way. "I'm becoming quite used to it." He smiled. "People don't seem to
remember authors' names. A woman asked me that ques- tion at a dinner party the other night, and when I told
her she asked me what I had written.
"It is, I find, a difficult question to answer. For in- stance, if you act offended you are labelled conceited and if you snap at them you sound as though you are insulting them. So I just smile."