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Synopsis

At thirteen, Jim McNeil quit school for good. At fourteen, he started an affair with a brothel madam and was introduced to Melbourne's underworld. Despite his love of reading and philosophy, McNeil relished his life among thugs, thieves and whores, becoming one of the city's most violent criminals. In 1967, having jumped bail and fled to New South Wales, 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. Survival in jail meant negotiating a path between the wardens' abuse and the inmates' violent gangs. McNeil joined a reform group known as the Resurgents, where he was encouraged – for the first time in his life – to write. 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 a powerful group of Sydney's elite, who declared him one of the country's most important writers. McNeil soon married actress Robyn Nevin, won the Australian Writers' Guild's script award and was commissioned to write the screenplay for My Brilliant Career. Charismatic and charming, he seemed 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 was dead within a decade. His four plays stand as a testament to a talent sadly wasted.  For the first time, this is the story of Jim McNeil's tragic, mesmerising life.

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