The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
a Harlequin Mills and Boon author,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself-where you were born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in the north western suburbs of Sydney in a little market garden community called Schofields. I went to school at Plumpton Primary (which no longer exists) and then to high school first at Rooty Hill and then from year nine at Riverstone. I hated high school. I desperately wanted to go to a private school but my farming parents could never afford it. I felt frustrated by being at school with students who didn’t want to learn and who were disruptive. It was probably the makings of me but I hated every minute of it!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I can always remember wanting to be famous. I am not sure why. It wasn’t about ego or anything. I just felt I was called to do something important with my life. I guess I couldn’t see myself eking out a fragile living off the land like my parents. I always wanted to be a writer and wrote my first story as soon as I could read and write. But for most of my childhood I wanted to be a nurse. I was always looking after sick animals on the farm. But at eighteen I changed my mind and decided to teach. At thirty I started to panic as I really wanted to write but wasn’t sure if my family commitments were going to allow it. I had two lively little boys and a surgeon husband whose working hours made it impossible for me to do anything but back him up at home.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was a devout Christian who believed anyone who didn’t believe the same why I did was going to hell. I can’t believe how bigoted and ignorant I was. I am a naturalist now. I am uncomfortable with the term atheist. It alienates people of faith and I don’t want to do that. I admire those who can sustain their faith in the absence of evidence and evidence of absence of a loving God.
4. What were three works of art-book or painting or piece of music, etc-you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I have three answers to this: The book I think of as most influential is Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. I read it first when I was eighteen and fell in love with Ms Stewart’s voice. She wrote across genres but my favourite was always her romantic suspense. I have yet to find a writer who even comes close to her command of the English language and her ability to characterise.
The painting I love best is Elioth Gruner’s Spring Frost. It hangs in the NSW Art Gallery in Sydney. It is so reminiscent of early frosty mornings on the farm when I used to help my Dad milk the cows.
The piece of music that is like a soft feather stroking my soul is Allegri’s Miserere. I have heard it performed live by the Tallis scholars some years ago and it lifted every hair on my scalp. The soaring perfection of boy sopranos always gets to me.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
There is a lot of creativity in my family of origin and now in my own family. Most of them are artists of some sort but I always was a reader and writer. I just love words and the worlds you can make with them. I love characterising. It’s a grown up way of playing with dolls!
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
I have just finished some revisions on Book Three of a Trilogy I have done for Harlequin Mills and Boon Presents. Because I write for two category lines (four Presents/Modern/Sexy and two Medical romances each year) I am now working on my 40th novel, a Medical.
7. What hope do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Writers write because they have something to say. I think it is no surprise I write romances with a guaranteed happy ending. I believe in the power of love to overcome the worst life can throw at you. I like exploring difficult issues in my novels and watching as my characters grow and develop as they overcome them. I would hope that people would not just read my books for entertainment but also to think about life’s bigger questions as they do so.
Of course Mary Stewart as I said earlier, but in the present I would have to say Nora Roberts. I am often called prolific but she is off the scale! Does she even have a life apart from writing?!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I come from an athletic background so I am competitive by nature. I would love to win more awards for my work. I love getting 5 out of 5 reviews and number one spots on the best seller lists, but then who doesn’t? I guess a RITA nomination would be brilliant. Winning one would be even better. But also I am keen to write a television series. I have some ideas floating around so when I set aside some time I will get down to it. I think it is tremendously important to set goals. If you aim for nothing you hit it every time.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to read and not just your preferred genre. I never used to read crime fiction or thrillers and then one day I decided I would and I have read thousands since. I am addicted!
Also, it is terribly important to write. Writing is like a sport. If you don’t train you don’t improve. There is no magic bullet workshop; there is no writing guru who can tell you a sure fire way to do it. You just have to WRITE. In fact I have an acronym for it:
Interest in people-listen and learn, be inspired by friends, family or even strangers
Tenacity of spirit (you’ll need it for the submission rejection rollercoaster!)
Enjoy the journey of writing; stop thinking of publication as the destination
Melanie, 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.