Raquel Stevens

Visitors to Clunes Booktown Festival are going to be in literary heaven with seasoned storyteller Jane Clifton joining this year’s event.

Describing herself as a smartarse crone, know it all, big mouth, won’t be told, singer, actor, poet, and now budding artist, the ‘Jill of all trades’ performer says it’s never too late to pursue your creative dream.

Jane, you must be looking forward to Booktown, one of the most loved events on the literary calendar.

It’s such an amazing event that takes over the whole town. Everyone’s committed to it. Clunes is a beautiful town, almost like the English town where I think the original Booktown, Hay-On-Wye, started.

Clunes has embraced the spirit of reading and writing, words, and literature, so everyone is going to be passionate about all aspects of writing. It’s also free this year too.  There are some ticketed events, but it’s free to go and absorb everything. There’s going to bookstalls and music as well.

People might know you best as a singer and actor, but you have also penned three crime novels.  Is that your favourite genre?

I love crime. I’ve written three crime novels. Also, a memoir called ‘The Address Book’, ‘The Anthology of Poetry’, and ‘A Day at a Time in Rhyme’, which is now a show.  So, I’ve written a few things.

What advice do you have for any wannabe writers?

You’ve got to love doing it, just do it to entertain yourself. That’s how I wrote my first novel. I was reading a lot of crime and would get to the end of a story and go, ‘oh is that who did it? That’s daggy’. Then I thought, well you know so much about it, do it yourself.

I was having a great time writing it and that’s the number one rule for people who are thinking of doing anything creative. You’ve got to really enjoy it! It’s important you read a lot so that you’ve got a sense of the genre that you’re writing about.

I tried to write a romance novel once and everyone thinks, ‘oh they’re so easy.’ Let me tell you they are not. I read about five romance novels, and it was really a chore. So, it wasn’t my genre.

It’s a tough market, you don’t do it for the money.

It’s a fiercely competitive world to A, get a deal and B, then you’ve got to sell books. There’s a great poem ‘if you don’t love it, don’t do it.’

You were the lead vocal of alternate band, Stiletto, back in the 70’s.  Many of the lyrics were about women. You were singing ahead of your time, describe those years.

We were kind of ‘femo rockers’, as we used to say. Femo rockers on Countdown.

It was Janie Conway, sister of Mick and Jim, who were Captain Matchbox. Our voices blended well.

We got together with a bass player, Marnie Sheehan, and we wanted to be Joni Mitchell, we wanted to be up there holding guitars and singing songs and not be chick singers just bopping around or backing singers.

Virtually every song of Janie’s had either woman or man in the title. Woman in a man’s world, working for the man. We wrote songs that meant something to us.

I’m toying with an idea of writing a book about that whole period.

I’m sure you have some great stories. Has much changed, do people still assume women are with the band and not in the band?

I see girls getting up on stage and bringing their guitars and thinking, wow, we couldn’t get through the door carrying equipment because they thought we were groupies.

There’s been lots of battles fought and won and we were sort of there at the beginning of that. It was an important period back then.

You have said that women can be your biggest critics, that’s brutal.

Yeah, particularly live, there’s no one more critical of women than other women.

If it was straight women out in the beer barns who thought you were too fat or you weren’t dressed properly, or women who were feminists who hated you being up there playing with men, saying ‘why are you playing with men?’

We’d get criticized from both sides, whether they’d be hardcore feminists or straight girls who just thought we were slags and moles basically. I use those terms advisedly.

A part of my childhood I remember vividly hiding behind the couch to catch a glimpse of Prisoner. What was it like to be part of such an iconic show?

It was great. I loved having regular work. Because of the way I looked, I was definitely not Lynda Stoner.

I had a gold tooth in the middle of my face and so most of the roles I’d had in Homicide and Division 4 had been as prostitutes or criminals, which was fair enough. Then Prisoner came along, and it was full of prostitutes and criminals.

Thank you, Jesus.  We were not glamazons. Some of them were, obviously. Sigrid Thornton, Kerry Armstrong and all the beautiful girls. Just about every actress in Australia had either a guest role on that show or did a few weeks.

Here was a show where pretty much 80% of the roles were female. It’s Iconic, and people are still watching it 45 years later.

Five decades in a tough industry. How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

No job too big, no job too small. That’s my motto. I’m a bit of a Jill of all trades.

I’ll try anything.

If you were sent off to Wombat State Forest, what three items would you take?

I’d die of fear. A gun, obviously.

No, it’s the lovely Wombat State Forest. I would take a very large notebook, a pencil, and a sharpener.  Actually no, I’d take a pillow instead of the sharpener, and see how long the pencil lasts.

Speaking of sleep, what is currently on your bedside?

A box of Panadol Osteo, because I’m of that age and I had a knee replacement last year.  A box of tissues and a notepad.

I always have a notepad and pencil because in the middle of the night you might have an idea, and unless you write that down immediately, it won’t be there in the morning.

I’m also reading two books, ‘The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.’ I have a degree from Monash and one of my subjects, my sub-major, was Classical Civilisation, so I’ve always been interested in the ancients.

It’s written in 5 BC, they could be live recordings from Washington DC today.

Nothing has changed.

I’ve also gone back to read Peter Carey’s novel called ‘Theft,’ which is great, I’m a big fan of Peter Carey.

You took up painting during those COVID years, what is your inspiration?

I mainly paint still life, flowers, leaves in vases. I have an exhibition coming up at Mario’s Cafe in Fitzroy on the 9th of April for three weeks. I mostly work with acrylic, and I did some small paintings of shoes.

I used to be the Imelda Marcos of Fitzroy and was known for my fabulous shoe collection. I’ve been doing red shoes on black backgrounds or black shoes on red backgrounds in very ornate gold frames.

I didn’t do art at school, never studied art. It’s a solace, it’s a joy, I love it.

You are also a civil celebrant, there must be in a book in that surely?

I’m in the middle of writing one, what do we call it, hatches, matches, and dispatches. There are a million stories, particularly in funeral land but in wedding land too. I decided that I would write a memoir of that time and those stories.

I’m reading at Clunes with Helen Garner and Wayne Macauley, it’s called ‘Read to Me’. I’m going to read one of the pieces from the memoir.  It’s about how I found my mother’s unmarked grave and how significant that was. Both my parents died very young and neither of them have a gravestone, so this is the story of how I found where my mum was. So, I’ll be reading that on the Saturday.

Literary lovers will be in for a treat.  Enjoy Clunes, and we look forward to seeing what Jane Clifton has next on her ‘I’ll try anything’ agenda. www.janeclifton.com.au

Clunes Booktown Festival will be held on March 23 and 24. www.clunesbooktown.com.au

Listen to a podcast of Raquel’s interview with Jane Clifton on the Hepburn Radio SoundCloud. There’s more on the podcast!


Raquel Stevens is a former Network Ten News Journalist. She has been a part time local for more than 25 years, and one day hopes to be a full time local.