Shortlisted as one of three finalists in the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards for true crime writing (3 August 2011)
Sydney Morning Herald’s non-fiction BOOK OF THE WEEK (13 Nov 2010)
“An artfully constructed…well-researched biography that invites readers to turn the pages with alacrity” (Murray Waldren)
“A fine, nuanced narrative – this is a remarkable road trip movie of a book” (Bob Ellis )
“My god, what a story! A hugely enjoyable read and SUCH a great tale.” (Marieke Hardy)
“Honeywill is a great storyteller…this engaging narrative wil have you turning pages vigorously” (Corrie Perkin)
“It’s an important story to tell and Honeywill tells it so very well” (Mark Rubbo)
is the true story of Jim McNeil – a man jailed for armed robbery who would become one of the most important Australian playwrights of the twentieth century.
Jim McNeil quit school at thirteen. At fourteen he was introduced to Melbourne’s underworld by his lover, the madam of a notorious brothel. Despite his love of reading and philosophy, McNeil relished his life among thugs and thieves, becoming one of Australia’s most feared criminals.
In 1967, having jumped bail and fled to New South Wales, the 32-year-old McNeil shot a policeman during an armed robbery. He was convicted and began a seventeen-year prison sentence, leaving behind his pregnant wife and five children.
In Parramatta maximum-security prison, surrounded by the worst criminals in Australia, McNeil joined a reform group known as the Resurgents, where he soon discovered his talent as a writer. Locked up for what seemed a lifetime, he also discovered prison sex, became involved in a prison break and outwitted Australia’s underworld legends.
When he wrote his first play, McNeil had never set foot in a theatre. Just four years later he was a celebrity, freed ten years early thanks to David Marr, Katharine Brisbane and a powerful group of Sydney’s elite, who declared him one of the country’s most important writers.
Within months of his release, McNeil had married actor and director Robyn Nevin, won the Australian Writers’ Guild award for the most outstanding script in any category and was commissioned to write the screenplay for My Brilliant Career. Charismatic, dangerous and charming, he was at the height of his powers.
But McNeil never wrote again. Pursued by Sydney society and lost in a world that lacked the strict regimen of prison life, he fell back into alcoholism and violence. He returned to the streets and died within a decade. His four plays stand as a testament to a remarkable talent sadly wasted.
This is a story of triumph and tragedy; a sometimes funny and always emotional exploration of human cruelty, frailty, strength and tenderness.
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