The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
author of Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch
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 West London and grew up in North London, two stops from the end of the Piccadilly Line. I went to Catholic schools my whole life. My secondary school was all-boys. I left at the age of 16. Eventually I took and passed two A-levels through home study, then went to Watford College for a one-year course in Advertising Copywriting.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I always wanted to be a novelist. At 12 I wanted to be the next James Herbert because I had just read The Rats. At 18, I wanted to be the next Graham Greene because I was devouring his work at the time. At 30, I wanted to be the next Joseph Heller, because someone at Time Magazine in New York told me I was doing the same promotion copywriter job he had once done.
At 18 I had a very socialist, punk rock, “Us vs. Them” mentality. Today, I have a liberal, alternative rock, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” mentality.
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?
In terms of music, (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes by Elvis Costello hooked me with the line “I said, ‘I’m so happy, I could die’/She said, ‘drop dead,’ then left with another guy,” which not only struck me as lyrically brilliant but summed up my then 14-year-old life pretty succinctly. It’s probably impossible to calculate how much influence Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Morrissey, Lloyd Cole and Jarvis Cocker have had on my life, seeing as I listen to some or all of them almost every day.
In fiction, I’d like to think there are a few echoes of Joseph Heller’s Something Happened in my own novel. And I love the P.C. Vey cartoon that was used in the 98th New Yorker cartoon caption contest, because it inspired me to write the caption that beat out about 10,000 others to win that week’s contest! (See the cartoon here.)
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Because nobody wants to hear me sing.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch is the story of a 37-year-old who works at a business newspaper in New York City and is finally realizing that his life isn’t quite as sexy and glamorous as it used to be. As the novel begins, he’s getting no love at work or at home, and he’s starting to question all of the things he once believed in. When his wife’s ex-boyfriend comes to town, things start going from bad to worse. And that’s before he makes a major, potentially career-destroying screw-up at work. The novel is a satire set in the media business, but I hope it will connect on a broader level with anyone who can relate to the idiocies of the corporate world and the challenges of modern relationships.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope readers will be entertained and enjoy a few laughs. I hope people will be able to relate to the characters and business situations. And I hope they’ll gain a few insights into the specific challenges facing the media business today. Ultimately I’d like readers to take away the idea that, in a changing world, adversity can be the springboard to creativity and new possibilities. That sometimes the solutions to your problems can come from unlikely places. And that, even in the face of disaster, if you can move beyond your fears, it’s still possible to have a little fun.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
For similar reasons, I always enjoy the novels of J.P. Donleavy -– especially The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman and Leila. William Trevor’s novels and short stories are superbly observed and devastatingly subtle. I particularly like Two Lives, Fools of Fortune and The News from Ireland. Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is fantastic.
My girlfriend Amanda Filipacchi has written three brilliant contemporary novels -– Nude Men, Vapor and Love Creeps — which are funny and outrageous and thought-provoking in equal measure. And because she is often compared to Muriel Spark, I have recently read several of Spark’s novels too — The Ballad of Peckham Rye was particularly cruel, but in the nicest possible way.
My most ambitious future goal would be to finish my second novel. But right now, as a 47-year-old début novelist, the goal I’ve set myself is to have as much fun as possible during the launch of this one.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My girlfriend Amanda Filipacchi has taught me that the most important thing for any novelist is to finish your projects. I used to have a tendency to try and juggle many different stories or novel ideas, and bounce from one to the other whenever I hit a wall. I’ve learned it’s best to invest in one main project and stick at it. There may be many obstacles along the way, but it’s important to finish what you start!
Richard, thank you for playing.
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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.