Three Minute Squiz With… Jane Allen

We came across Jane Allen when we got in touch to find out why her email had bounced – and got an out of office message with a difference. That is, she was OOO and could we send our email to her ‘shipboard’ address while she travelled to and from Antartica… No worries, we said. When we enquired further, we found out she’s one of Australia’s leading TV screenwriters/producers. What a find! Please welcome Jane to the Three Minute Squiz.

How and where do you Squiz?
First thing in the morning with a coffee. At Mawson Station that meant in the mess, Squizing while gazing over (frozen) Horseshoe Harbour to the iceberg-dotted horizon.

What took you to Antarctica?
I was the joint Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow for 2018/19, along with novelist Jesse Blackadder. We submitted a joint application to write a kids book set in Antarctica, and to develop a TV series about living on a research station. We sailed on the icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, from Hobart in October 2018 to Mawson Research Station (a two-week voyage across the Southern Ocean), and lived there as expeditioners for three months, along with 26 others.

What’s it like and is it as cold/beautiful as we imagine?
We had our own office and worked the same hours as everyone else. When not writing we completed survival training, climbed mountains, rode quad bikes across the ice plateau, watched penguins and seals, and gloried in the incredible beauty of the place. The station consists of a number of brightly coloured buildings – they look a little like lego blocks – and was warm and comfortable, complete with its own library, small cinema, and even a microbrewery. Oh, and a dress-up collection – dressing up (and cross-dressing) being an Antarctic tradition. We had vast horizons all around us, featuring a frozen ocean beyond the frozen harbour, pale blue ice cliffs, and mountains in the distance. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We were there for the summer season, and were a little disappointed to not have one single blizzard. It was cold, especially when the katabatic wind was blowing (wind chill!), but we had been kitted out with all the right gear.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen or experienced?
Very hard to choose one thing! Being part of a closed community in the most isolated spot on earth with a really great bunch of people felt like a real privilege. And a surprising amount of fun. But I’d also have to mention visiting the emperor penguin rookery at Auster (think Happy Feet), and sleeping outside in a bivouac bag at the foot of Rumdoodle Mountain in 24 hour light.

You used to be a lawyer. Was a writing career always calling you?
Yes, writing was always calling. But I have to say that lawyering and writing are not as far apart as they might seem – each is about using language to create a convincing story to move an audience.

Your background made you the perfect fit for ABC TV’s Crownies and Janet King. Please tell us Marta Dusseldorp as great as we think she is…
She is even greater! Super smart, super talented. She was exactly who I imagined Janet would be.

You’ve also written and produced so many of Australia’s favourite shows – The Secret Daughter, Cleverman, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, McLeod’s Daughters, The Secret Life of Us, Blue Heelers. And the list goes on… Do you have a favourite?
This is like asking me to choose my favourite child. McLeod’s will always hold a place in my heart because it was a show focusing on six women who weren’t related and weren’t in competition with each other. Who is making shows like that now?

We imagine screenwriting requires a talent for understanding and observing people. Should we expect to find you in a cafe listening in to our conversation?
I’ll be the one in the corner, wearing sunnies, reading The Squiz on my iPad, tuning in to everything that’s going on. But names will be changed to protect the guilty.

Do you ever walk away from conversations thinking “I wish I said X” because surely you’ve thought of all the killer lines?
I’d like to say the writer always thinks of the killer lines at exactly the right point in the conversation, but that might not be as often as we wish…

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
Sally Wainwright (British screenwriter, and creator of shows like Happy Valley, Scott and Bailey, and Last Tango in Halifax), Nora Ephron (American screenwriter – Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), Elizabeth Gilbert (her book The Signature of All Things is one of my favourites) and Oscar Wilde.

Your favourite book?
The House at Pooh Corner. Whenever I am stuck in my writing, I take Pooh down from the shelf, open it at random and read, and I always find something completely delightful, thoughtful and moving.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
To play the piano.

The best piece of advice your mother/father gave you?
Be kind.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patriotism when it becomes jingoism. 

What’s your worst and best habit?
I’m a very early riser – I would say this is my best habit, but I know some people who think it is my worst.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
It’s not overlooked, but we can never be reminded too often about the perilous amount of waste we are all creating every day. It was horrifying to discover just how much plastic turns up in seabirds in Antarctica. 

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