The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
A Few Right Thinking Men,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Sri Lanka though I didn’t stop there long. My family migrated when I was still a baby, and we embarked on what seemed like a trek around the planet. I started school and learned to speak English in Zambia, and we arrived in Australia when I was six. That’s longer ago than I care to admit. For the most part I grew up in Brisbane, at a time when it was still really an overgrown country town. I attended my local school, built cubbies in the mulberry trees by the Brisbane River and plotted world domination with my friends.
In time, I went to University to study Astrophysics and came out with a law degree. Whilst practising law can, on occasion, be creative, they don’t really like you to just make things up…or admit to it anyway. Writing seemed liked a better way to indulge my fondness for fabrication.
Nowadays I live on a small truffle farm in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains with my husband, and two wild and fearless boys whose plans for world domination are more advanced than mine ever were.
When I was twelve I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a movie star, a poet, an astronaut, a dictator of some sort, and a dozen other things. That’s the glory of being twelve—the world is full of possibilities and your courage is boundless.
When I was eighteen I was studying astrophysics at University and I desperately wanted to be doing anything but studying astrophysics.
When I was thirty, I think I wanted to be twenty-nine again. I’ve gotten over that…I’ve had a few years to do so.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
There are so many. I believed that science had all the answers. I was convinced that shoulder pads were a good idea and I thought I looked cute in hats. All wrong…so completely wrong…
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
· Book : Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird…it moved me as a lawyer, a writer and a human being.
· Painting: I most admire artists who are sparing with the marks they make on the canvas; who know when a line, a shadow, a stroke is enough; who can still their brush at that precise moment and place where the mark conveys what’s needed but nothing more. Suggestion is such a moving technique, and I think so much more powerful than explicit detail. I try to do this when I write, particularly when sketching characters.
· Piece of Music: A Mystery Writer’s Lament by Parnell Hall… I just found it on YouTube a few days ago.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Writing allows you to achieve all sorts of things vicariously. Rowland Sinclair, the protagonist in my latest novel, paints like I wish I were able to. Other characters of mine have been actors and orators of acclaim. I may even write a character who can sing—an artistic avenue that is closed to me for good reason. A fiction writer needs only one talent to lay claim to all the others.
A Few Right Thinking Men is a crime fiction set in the tumultuous world of NSW in the 1930s. It was an amazing time of extreme politics and social upheaval. Communism appealed to the unemployed and working classes and the establishment gathered in secret fascist armies.
The story follows Rowland Sinclair, artist, gentleman and unrepentant black sheep of Sinclair pastoral dynasty. Rowland blithely flouts the expectations of conservative Sydney, courting scandal and keeping company with entirely the wrong crowd. Adamantly indifferent to politics, Rowland walks a fine line between his conservative birthright and his more libertine associations, until a brutal murder embroils him in treason and conspiracy as Australia moves to the brink of revolution.
Hopefully, the feeling that I’ve taken them away for awhile. I’d also be ecstatic if they took a line or an expression that made them think, or laugh, or both.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Harper Lee, for her ability to capture the deepest passions subtly. Oscar Wilde, for the genius and wit of his dialogue.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
One day, I’d like to have an office with heating.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Try and figure out what it is about your writing that you really love, what makes it truly yours… that’s harder than it seems. Take advice on everything else, be willing to change everything else. Always, always, always be polite. Artistic temperament gets old very quickly.
Sulari, thank you for playing.
Thank you for having me.
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About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.