John M. Green
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 spent my childhood in Kings Cross, Sydney. Back then, it was a village… a strange village: blue collar Aussies, migrants, prostitutes, bohemians, eccentrics, communists, bikies, strippers and drag queens. Everybody knew everybody.
Where else could a 7-year-old boy have a prostitute pay him? I was on my way to the Saturday matinee movie when, feeling my pockets, I discovered I’d lost my money. Crying, I retraced my steps along Darlinghurst Road until Shirley called me over from her regular doorway. When I explained my catastrophe between sobs, she handed me enough money for a ticket, a drink and a snack, patted me on the bottom and sent me back to the movies.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve: a fireman, a writer, an explorer and an inventor.
At eighteen: I wanted to save the world.
At thirty: I wanted to save for my mortgage.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That flared pants looked great on someone trying to save the world.
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?
Brancusi’s sculpture Bird in Space captures the essence of things by paring back adornment. Great writing can be the same. It also exemplifies the age-old question ‘what is art’. When Brancusi sent this bronze to New York with Marcel Duchamp for an exhibition in 1926, the US Customs Office refused to exempt it from import duties as a work of art, instead imposing a 40% rate for manufactured metal. When Brancusi protested in court, Customs brought in expert art critics who pooh-poohed Bird in Space as art. Abstracts were new back then. Yet the judge waved them off, saying it may not look like a bird, but it was beautiful. Writing is similar: in one person’s drivel someone else can enjoy a great story.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Fantastic story-telling with the ethics of science theme woven in seamlessly. (A contrast to State of Fear where Crichton’s tirade against global warming drowned out the story.)
Midnight Oil’s Power and the Passion. I wrote a chapter in Nowhere Man listening to it over and over. You’ll know which one when you read the book.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’ve always loved stories, and always hankered to write them.
I’m a hungry and eclectic reader, as happy to devour non-fiction or a novel by such great story-tellers as Geraldine Brooks, Dave Eggers, Philip Roth, Kate Grenville, JK Rowling, PJ O’Rourke, Ron Chernov, Ian Rankin, Peter Carey, Marele Day, Matthew Reilly, John Grisham, Michael Connelly or Michael Crichton.
And I’ve been writing for ever but until now, it’s mostly been short and non-fiction: from when I edited my school paper, to articles in professional journals, business publications and newspapers.
It was when I was an investment banker – a fast-paced world of deals, drama and deceit – that I really got the itch to write a novel. I started developing the plot for a thriller embracing what I knew about markets and business as well as my fascination with science and technology. This became Nowhere Man.
Wealthy but lone stock trader Michael Hunt is a secretive man with a past he’s not even shared with Sonya, his university professor wife. But Sonya is forced to start piecing it together when Michael suddenly goes missing leaving her with millions in debt, a bank foreclosing on their Sydney beach house, and many unanswered questions. When the global financial crisis erupts, Sonya’s world gets even bleaker… until she stumbles on some strange files… files that will change her life forever... They’re the key to repaying her debts, and to finding Michael… at least to why he left… and why he lied. Using these files, Sonya risks everything. Her journey through reeling stock markets, a love-triangle murder and conspiracy takes her from Sydney to Princeton University to ask a famous physicist to help her unlock the mystery. But Sonya’s hunt for Michael becomes a search for herself.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
The best outcome? That people think it’s such a good read they tell all their friends. If they also want to ponder the book’s deep and meaningfuls about the deception in relationships, how adversity creates opportunity, that hubris kills and that we humans don’t know everything, that would also be great.
Proust. Anyone who can write something that so many smart people lie through their teeth that they’ve read and enjoyed must be admired.
Most of all, I admire any good storyteller who sucks me into their fictional world.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To have readers who enjoy my writing.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read… lots, and widely. And aim to write what you love reading.
John, thank you for playing.
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.