Joanita Wibowo


5 minutes with author Rachel Givney

5 minutes with author Rachel Givney

In 5 minutes with authorOver60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Rachel Givney, a writer and filmmaker based in Melbourne. She has written and edited scripts for television shows such as Offspring, The Warriors, Rescue: Special Ops, The Young Doctors and All Saints. Her debut novel Jane In Love is out now.

Over60 spoke to Givney about Jane Austen, discipline, and the enemies-to-lovers trope.

Over60: What is your best writing tip?

Rachel Givney: “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Get the first draft written down – it doesn’t matter if it’s terrible, just finish it. The old cliché is true, any art is 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration. Once you have that first draft written, it’s much easier to go back and edit.

After years of screenwriting, you finally wrote your first ever book. How did you approach this novel compared to your other work?

Writing a novel required me to include greater sensory detail, to set the scene for the reader in a way not needed in screenwriting.

For example, a part of the book is set in 1803, where the character Jane travels to London. The polluted Thames would have smelled rotten as the industrial revolution dawned; London’s inhabitants would have churned the streets to mud with their boots, Jane might have expressed shock and horror at the squalid scenes. I described these for the reader, whereas if I were writing a screenplay, I would have left it to the production designer, the director, the actors, to bring it to life through audio-visual choices. With the book I also had greater opportunities for introspection, to describe characters’ thoughts, and express feelings which they keep to themselves. 

What book do you think more people should read?

Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Austen wrote it towards the end of her life, to me it feels sadder and quieter than her other more popular works, though it still contains the astute observation of her earlier novels. The moment where the hero, Wentworth, estranged for many years from the heroine, Anne, lifts her into a carriage, is filled with quiet erotic tension, quite striking for an Austen novel. The way he holds her and the way she responds shows neither of them has forgotten what they once had; that real love, while it may lay dormant, never dies…

What was the last book that made you laugh?

Unreliable Memoirs, by Clive James. A hilarious, heartfelt tale of suburbia.

What book do you wish you had written?

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, I loved this Gothic masterpiece.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Writing for film and television deadlines for 15 years has taught me good lessons in discipline and routine.  On a good day, I rise at 6 or 7 and go for a run around the park. Then I will have breakfast and shower and get to my desk at 9am-ish. I will write for four hours, taking a 15-minute break every hour. Lunch is at 1 to 2pm, then another two hours of writing in the afternoon, stopping at around 4pm. I write whatever is next to be written.

On a bad day, I get to my desk and nothing comes, or it comes out badly, and then I hate everything. And this is the time when I hope I have the discipline to forge on, to “don’t get it right, get it written”.    

Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?

Jane Austen! In reading Austen’s letters while researching Jane in Love, I sensed great wit and cleverness, but also sadness. Austen’s an enigma, she wrote around 3000 letters in her life, upon her death, her sister Cassandra burnt all but 161 of them. I’d love to hear her talk about her writing, but only if she wanted to, I wouldn’t want to pry. If she didn’t want to talk about that I’d ask her if she had a good recipe for elderflower wine, I believe she liked making it!

What trope can’t you help but love?

I love the website! My favourite trope is any romance between two seeming enemies who are forced to spend time together, where hatred changes to respect, and respect turns to love, like Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones.

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