Christine Croydon is a Melbourne playwright and novelist. Her latest work The Cat's Paw is set in the world of prostitution and is a response to raunch culture.

She spoke to Australian Stage's Simon Piening about the play, which opens this week at Melbourne's Carlton Courthouse.

Christine CroydenYou worked as a nurse and a midwife for 10 years before making the move into professional writing.
I began training as a nurse at seventeen and worked in Australia and overseas during the eighties - also travelled a lot during that time. When I came home and started a family I worked part time as a nurse for a while but by then I was already at university and my study took over.

So how/when did you get started as a writer?
I’ve always written - I’d rather write down how I feel and what I think of something than talk about it any day. My first short story was published in 1998 but I’d spent many years writing and crafting short stories prior to that and still love the form. I read a lot of short stories.

What prompted the change in career?
I was compelled to study. I wanted to commit to it full time and had three kids in five years so had to make a choice. I took them to uni with me when they were babies - they’re teenagers now.

Has your earlier career in nursing been useful in your writing?
Yes, being up close and personal with the physicality of life (and death) when you’re young does something to you. I was an immature, introverted sort of kid so it brought me out of myself. I also became quite politicised while nursing.

You’ve written works in a range of styles, including short stories, novels and full-length plays. So what’s the interest/connection with theatre?
I love theatre - always have. The first thing I remember seeing was a production of Hedda Gabler, I was around fifteen and it affected me for ages afterwards. I still respond to certain productions that way - for me theatre can arouse intense emotions, and I hope it always does. Which is not to say I don’t feel things in my everyday life but it’s a different experience.

What are the differences between writing a novel and writing for performance?

Plenty. It has to be in the moment and very tight there’s no room for waffle. I also think theatre has to be about something - a novel can be pure self-expression, a play cannot. If you want to occupy public space you have to be saying something.

Your latest play, The Cat’s Paw, opens at the Carlton Courthouse this week. It deals with the sex industry in Melbourne...
My play deals with an imagined world that could be St Kilda or a red light district anywhere in the world. The set reminds me of Amsterdam …where you walk down little laneways and the people are in the windows.

It was reportedly inspired by your time working as a volunteer at the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. You were also involved in Project Respect, where you ran a creative writing class for women wanting to exit the sex industry.
What exactly is Project Respect?

Project Respect is an organisation that works with women who currently or have in the past worked in the sex industry. They provide support and various programs, and have outreach workers who visit brothels. They work on the coalface to try and stop trafficking. They believe one victim of trafficking is one too many (I also believe this). They can be contacted on 03 9416 3401
{xtypo_quote_right}I think theatre has to be about something - a novel can be pure self-expression, a play cannot. If you want to occupy public space you have to be saying something{/xtypo_quote_right}
Tell us about The Cat’s Paw...
The Cat’s Paw is an exploration of one young woman’s experiences on the street. What it means and what it does to her head. I hope the play challenges stereotypes and reveals some of the paradoxes because it’s impossible to analyse such conflicted areas of human experience so, for me, a play seemed the way to go. In essence it is my response to raunch culture, which I believe has somewhat desensitised us to the sex industry (and helped it expand). This may also be why more young women than ever before are entering this area of employment. It’s also worth mentioning that for some of them (men and women) this is a choice, and I have no interest in putting my ideas of what is good for people above their own ideas of what’s good for them. This is a play not a public service announcement, or a polemic. I hate polemics disguised as plays.

You’ve been working with director Wayne Pearn on the script for quite a while. Can you tell us a bit about that process?
I showed an early draft of the script to Wayne Pearn, who is the artistic director of Hoy Polloy and he liked it immediately and said we’ll do it. We then organised a professional reading through Melbourne Writers’ Theatre.

How long have you been working on this project?
About eighteen months, we’d meet for coffee discuss the latest draft and the characters how they were developing and that sort of thing, then at the beginning of this year I suggested the time was ripe for this play and, luckily, he agreed. Hoy Polloy are committed to producing new Australian plays that are socially relevant - plays that the mainstream heavily funded companies show absolutely no interest in. They have been around since 1993, and to survive as an independent theatre company for so long you just have to care about the work, and they do.

So what’s next for you?
I want to see how the audience responds to The Cat’s Paw. It opens tonight so I won’t have to wait long. I have a reading of my new play, The Fallen Tree scheduled at La Mama on the 5th of December at 2pm, directed by Lucy Freeman and I want to work on it some more before then. Beyond that who knows?

Hoy Polloy presents the world premiere of The Cat’s Paw by Christine Croyden at the Carlton Courthouse, from Wednesday, 16 September 2009. Further information»

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