Jennifer Paynter


Jennifer Paynter portraitI was born and brought up in Sydney and my first job on leaving school was as a cadet reporter on The Sydney Morning Herald. This was in the early sixties when female journalists were automatically relegated to the ‘social’ pages, writing about the doings of fashionable women—their parties and clothes and so on. At first, I thought it was all very glamorous but after a few months I found it pretty trivial, and I resented having to work nights and weekends which interfered with my own trivial teenage social life. I lasted less than a year on the Herald, and it was at least ten years before I again tried to write professionally.

After a couple of short stories and a novel - long since burnt - I concluded that I was better at writing dialogue than narrative prose, and in my mid-thirties (I’m a slow writer!) I wrote a stage play, God’s People, which I submitted to the Australian National Playwrights’ Conference. The play was accepted, and although it wasn’t picked up by a theatre company afterwards, I learnt a lot from watching a cast of professional actors working on it. My next play When Are We Going to Manly? was produced by the Griffin Theatre Company the following year and was nominated for the 1984 Sydney Theatre Critics' Circle award and the 1985 NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

In the 1980s it was easier to get a new Australian play produced, or at least workshopped, and an autobiographical play I wrote about my Dickensian boarding school experience, Balancing Act, was produced by the Canberra Theatre Company in 1990, and afterwards adapted for ABC Radio. I also wrote a few more short stories, one of which, The Sad Heart of Ruth, won the State of the Art Short Story in the ABC Bicentennial Awards.

I spent the early 1990s studying for an arts degree at Macquarie University, and during that time wrote very little fiction. I began writing Mary Bennet in 2001, and an early draft of Part One of the novel was serialized in Bikwil, an online magazine edited by Tony Rogers. I’ll always be grateful to Tony for giving me those first deadlines to meet. If I’d not had to meet them, I might still be researching Regency bonnets (any excuse) and it might have taken me a further ten years to finish The Forgotten Sister!