Name Ray Mooney.
Where are you from
A little about yourself, i.e. your education Family life etc.
I still lecture in Screenwriting at Holmesglen Institute and The VCA Television and Film School. Wrote my first play, A Blue Freckle in 1974 before doing a three-year drama course in directing (Company 78) at the VCA , established two theatre companies, Governors Pleasure, mainly ex-prisoners and ZAP Community Theatre comprising marginalised youth, wrote fourteen full-length plays, dozens of one-act plays, directed more than forty plays, written numerous screenplays, including Everynight Everynight, 1994, which won awards throughout the world, wrote my first novel, A Green Light in 1988, which became Penguin’s second best seller in Australian drama for that year, written numerous magazine and media articles and lately two non-fiction books, A Pack Of Bloody Animals, with crime writer John Kerr and The Ethics of Evil – Stories of H Division, an ebook about the infamous punishment division within Pentridge Prison. I’m probably best known as an ex-prisoner writer, having served nearly eight years for rape in 1968.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’ve been working on a stageplay, Cerutty vs Stampfl, about two remarkable Australian athletic coaches who feuded for decades last century. Recently, I totally rewrote A Green Light into three stand-alone ebooks: A Green Light – The Kingdom of Children, A Green Light – The Kingdom of Men and A Green Light – The Kingdom. I’m in the process of writing the fourth book, A Green Light – The Writing on the Wall.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I decided to become a writer in 1973, when I served four months in H Division, Pentridge, for acting as a spokesperson during a riot. As a result of the brutality I underwent, detailed in The Ethics of Evil, I decided the best way to ‘get back at them’ was to reveal what was really happening. Upon release from prison in 1975 I wrote my second stageplay, Everynight Everynight.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I wrote and directed my first play in 1974, A Blue Freckle, in Pentridge.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, A Green Light was published in 1988. A close friend and ex-prisoner, Christopher Dale Flannery, disappeared in 1985. He had become Australia’s number one hitman and was suspected of being murdered by police. As Everynight Everynight was based on him, I was encouraged by Penguin to write a novel about his experiences and disappearance.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
No, I design my style to suit the story. For example, A Green Light is written the way I talk, as is the non-fiction book, The Ethics of Evil. However, because The Ethics of Evil is also historical many sections are academic and the voice becomes factual rather than prose.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Different reasons for different titles: A Blue Freckle refers to the mark left on a dead body by a small entry bullet wound, Everynight Everynight refers to prisoners dreaming everynight of revenge on warders; A Green Light is an Aussie term I invented in the seventies to describe police giving criminals permission to commit crimes. It’s become part of the Australian vernacular.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Hopefully I develop genuine and meaningful subtext. Most of my stories concern social injustice.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Everything in A Green Light happened in real life, though some of the characters are composites. For example, the main character, Johnny Morgan is a composite of Chris Flannery and myself.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
During the sixties and seventies I read hundreds of popular novelists like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Harper Lee, Harrold Robbins. But the writers who most influenced me were black activists: James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Alex Haley. I was mentored by the late Peter Oyston, an Australian theatre director who established the drama course at The Victorian College of the Arts in 1976.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I encourage my students to read Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) to understand the art of keeping everything in dilemma, Gillian Flynn (Gone girl) to understand first person point of view and Stieg Larsson (The Millennium Books) for techniques of incorporating detail into suspense and drama. My favourite author is Alex Miller an Australian writer who has won two Miles Franklins, Australia’s highest literary award.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The Melbourne Writers’ Theatre of which I’ve been a member for more twenty-five years.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Always have and always will, supplemented by teaching.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
That’s a terrific question. When I wrote A Green Light in 1988, although it sold well and received high praise, I was still learning the craft of writing, and while I’ll forever be learning the craft of writing, I realised my earlier works could be improved. So I totally rewrote A Green Light because my attitude is, if you know something can be improved, improve it. Whenever I had a play performed I always rewrote at the end of the production not just to improve it but to develop the discipline of rewriting and pushing my creativity. While that can be frustrating for publishers who have ‘signed’ off, it’s a good attitude for personal development.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I mentioned earlier it resulted from being in H Division. But prior to being in H Division I was part of the prison drama group where we performed known plays for outside audiences and I was always encouraging the prisoners to write their own plays. Their response was that if I felt so strongly I should write a play myself, so I wrote A Blue Freckle which was about police verbal, i.e. police fabricating admissions by accused. At that time, prison authorities vetted plays we chose and performed so instead of calling my play, The Verbal, I called it, A Blue Freckle, and told authorities it referred to a genus of Antarctic penguin. By the time they realised the subject matter, it was too late to cancel. Peter Oyston saw it and asked me to audition for the first intake of the VCA Drama College. And the rest is history.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Cerutty vs Stampfl, is about two remarkable Australian athletic coaches who constantly feuded last century. Cerutty coached Herb Elliott, Olympic champion unbeaten over the 1,500 meters, and Stampfl orchestrated the first sub-four minute mile.
Recently I totally rewrote A Green Light into three stand alone ebooks: A Green Light – The Kingdom of Children, A Green Light – The Kingdom of Men and A Green Light – The Kingdom. I’m in the process of adding to the series by writing a fourth ebook: A Green Light – The Writing on the Wall.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I find most aspects of writing challenging though exciting. Genuine subtext is always difficult, as is empathy arising from believable character change. I would add, ensuring events don’t happen too conveniently.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not really, except for when I wrote A Pack of Bloody Animals and The Ethics of Evil and needed to interview people face to face. I haven’t travelled overseas so all my stories are located in Australia.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My Son, Wilde Mooney, who is a computer wiz.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
In A Green Light it was being truthful. The main character was based on Australia’s number one hit-man and because he and his family were close friends it was difficult truthfully revealing events.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned the discipline of hard work when writing A Green Light. I wrote eight hours a day for eighteen months. During that period I learned writers need to be ‘fit’ for writing.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
Anyone who’s more than a competent actor and believable in appearance.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’m always giving advice to my students, mainly, that good enough is never good enough, and don’t give anyone writing that you know can be improved. I would add that you must back yourself in to make it, and that the rest of your life needs to be a writers’ trip; no matter what, never, never give up. I’m seventy-one and intend ‘making it’ before I die. By ‘making it’ I mean achieving universal respect as an important writer. Commercial success is irrelevant, though I’m aware it’s often synonymous with ‘making it’.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
There are events in A Green Light that might be difficult to believe really happen but apart from the way Morgan’s family acquired their hotel, everything happened as is written.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Why Die by Graem Sims, a boigraphy of Percy Cerutty.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I usually laugh when writers put diametrically opposed characteristics in the one character, such as needing to be liked but hating people, like Melvin Udall in As Good As it Gets, or diametrically opposed attitudes in a situation, such as Mash where you have the most undisciplined people working in an environment that demands discipline. I always ‘cry’ when stories have powerful arcs such as starting out with disrespect but ending with respect, for example, A Few Good Men, An Officer and a Gentleman, Top Gun.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Anne Frank. She started writing The Diary of Anne Frank when she was twelve and although it was heavily edited by her father, her empathy and understanding had a profound influence on me.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Died 2045: because it might mean I was still writing when I turned one hundred.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I compete in athletics – Master’s Athletics – and usually win my age group in Javelin, Shotput, Discus and Pentathlon.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Television: The Newsroom, True Detective, The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, The Americans, Homeland, Fargo, The Wire, The Sopranos, Prime Suspect, Borgen, The Bridge, The Killing.
Films: The Godfather series, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Goodfellows, Silence of the Lambs, The Usual Suspects, Casablanca, Psycho, City Lights, Apocalyspe Now Redux, Amelie, Clockwork Orange.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Roast chicken, protein smoothies: all colours: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, The Doors, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, Petula Clark, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Eminem.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Become an inventor.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Had one but it’s being redesigned. www.raymooney.com
A Green Light – The Kingdom of Children
A Green Light – The Kingdom of Men
A Green Light – The Kingdom
The Ethics of Evil – Stories of H Division
A Pack of Bloody Animals
Livia York said:
Fascinating interview, I love true stories, and this one has captured my attention. I will have to invest in your books. Well done and said Ray Mooney. Regards, Livia York
Ray Mooney said:
Thanks, Livia, for your generous comments. If you leave an email address I’ll send you files of ebooks – all the best – Ray
Andrew Silverman said:
Interesting read. I remember throwing the javelin against you as a young 20 year old competing for Malvern harriers in the 80’s. Time flies,
Ray Mooney said:
Only just read this, Andrew – hope you’re healthy and still throwing.