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Author is on a role

Guest Dan F

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Quite an interesting read - I knew she was an author years ago but I never realised just how big she was until I was in Oz this time around - I even got a Judy Nunn bookmark with a book I bought which is being put to good use :P

Author is on a role

THE Australian culture has not proved kind to tall poppies, so Judy Nunn is keeping her head down.

But, not without something of a sheepish smile.

With her ninth novel, Floodtide, another bestseller, a solid body of stage and mainstream television work behind her and a new house with sweeping water views, Nunn's life so far has been something of a success.

"I have earned my living in two different careers," she says.

Anyone who has worked on the Australian soapie sets with Judy Nunn will vouch for that.

The West Australian-born actor was the most famous multi-tasker in the television industry, writing busily as she waited for her scenes in the long-running Home and Away.

She worked on Home and Away for 13 years, and her face became familiar as the much-loved maternal disciplinarian Ailsa Stewart.

The only problem was that people began to think she was Ailsa, greeting her in the street under that name.

"I've done a lot of soaps in my time -- a couple of years in Sons and Daughters and a very long time in The Box a million years ago," she explains.

"Home and Away was a very good soap. I am very proud of it and I don't believe in biting the hand that feeds you, but if you are in a soap for any length of time, even a year, you can lose your identity."

Things have changed.

"Now people stop me in the street and say, 'Aren't you the author Judy Nunn? I just love your books'. And, you, know, I just want to marry them. I just love it. It's such a change from 'G'day Ailsa' or 'Look, that's that bird from television'."

But there is just a hint of regret that, with writing to the fore, acting is behind her.

"Of course, for women over a certain age, it is not a matter of giving up acting but acting giving them up," she says. "These days, I'd have to say my career as a novelist was more important to me. But, it sticks in my craw to say that I have given up acting.

"I have actually knocked back a couple of theatre roles because theatre is hard work and it would impede my working on my next book."

Nunn likes to play the unwritten novels close to her chest, revealing as little as possible of her ideas for fear of quicker writers stealing them. She takes two years to write a book, having six months off as "fallow" time in between.

She does reveal, however, that her next book is to be set in South Australia and that she, with husband, fellow actor and author Bruce Venables, will be spending some time researching in the state.

Floodtide, the first Big Book Club selection for 2008, is set in Western Australia, her home state.

"It is different from my previous books in that it is almost entirely character-driven, not an intricate cliffhanger plot carrying it, but a sense of 'Gee, what's this character going to do next?'," she says.

The book sprawls over four decades -- crucial not just in the lives of its four leading characters but also in the history of Australia -- depicting the euphoric excesses of the West Australian mining boom and its fall into the shame of WA Inc.

Nunn sets the scene in the 1950s: "In that lazy, hazy ignorance of the '50s, we were a country living off the sheep's back and taking it all for granted.

"Then there came the radical '60s complete with the Vietnam War, Make Love, Not War and promiscuity, and then came the mineral boom of the '70s and then the greed of the '80s -- and not just in Western Australia."

Nunn makes no claims to special prescience but she is vastly amused at the uncanny good timing of the book.

"It has been headline news in WA -- not only the mining boom and history repeating itself but even politically," she muses. "Brian Burke and Julian Grill, who feature briefly in the book because they were involved in WA Inc, are in deep trouble again. In some of my radio interviews I have been saying, 'Will you tell Mr Burke and Mr Grill that their cheques are in the post'."

Nunn pauses to relish the odd synchronicity.

"Seeing their pictures in the papers has made me think I must have gone back to the 1990s," she laughs. "That was not happening when I was writing the book! I didn't know it was going to happen."

Writing about Australia's recent history was a departure for her. Most of her books have been set further back, requiring a denser form of research.

Her primary research assistant is her husband. A former policeman, he worked in screenwriting before making an acting name for himself on Water Rats and Blue Heelers.

"We're very supportive of each other's work," says Nunn, adding that Venables' third novel is just out.

"And, we're the envy of all those who walk the lonely path as a novelist. We are not writers alone. We keep our heads in each other's novels. And he helps me with research. He is far more diligent and thorough about research than I am."

In the new house on one of the less-discovered bays of Brisbane Waters, near Gosford, the couple both have a writing room. Nunn's has views on three sides.

This was once their getaway shack, and much writing already has been done there, albeit from a little veranda, and often rugged up against the elements.

Nunn's world may have become very comfortable, but her urge to work has not abated.

She is a great believer in "application". She says she has watched many talented people who have not made it -- "98 per cent of other actors" -- and often reflected on what makes the crucial difference.

"Tenacity, hunger and drive," she concludes.


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