author of Mercy,
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 Singapore but raised and schooled in marvellous Melbourne, Australia. I speak a kind of terrible, pidgin Mandarin Chinese around my relatives, but I think and dream in English.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I wanted to be a picture book writer and would hand deliver wonkily-drawn picture book manuscripts to the Melbourne offices of imprints that have slowly disappeared from Australia over the years (remember Methuen, anybody?).
At eighteen, all I knew was that I didn’t want to study Medicine (partly because everyone thought that would be an excellent career choice) but I did want a job that revolved around ideas, words and writing. So I picked law. Go figure.
At thirty, I discovered that my legal writing brain and my creative writing brain were slowly parting company and going in opposite directions. So at thirty-two, I put the day job on hold to have a stab at writing, and it’s still on hold.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That all people are essentially good. What a dope.
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?
Suite Bergamesque by Claude Debussy
Raoul Dufy, La Baie des Anges à Nice. He did hundreds of images, but I’ve owned a dog-eared and faded Met Museum image for decades now and I’ve always loved it.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It’s something I’ve always, always, always wanted to do. It’s such a privilege to be given the chance to connect with people and tell them a story that (hopefully) might move them, or make them think, or make them want to read just one more chapter before they turn out the light. Plus, my needlework is lousy.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My latest book for young adults – Mercy – brings together some of the genre-mashing I enjoy as a reader. It’s a YA mystery/crime novel – but with angels and Latin, choral music, school bullies and a whisper of romance thrown in.
Its heroine is an exiled angel who constantly finds herself shifted into an unbroken chain of human lives – she keeps “waking” to find herself inhabiting the body of a stranger and is forced continually to think on the fly, seek to find meaning, and adapt, just to survive. Despite possessing shattered memories of who or what she once was, she always remains true to her essential nature, regardless of what is thrown at her. I tried to imagine what it would be like for someone with extraordinary powers to be suffering from a bizarre kind of amnesia where she only has prismatic flashes of memory and insight. The inklings of more than one past life, and of what she’s truly capable of, would (hopefully) make things interesting and keep the reader guessing, because the character would always be a little off balance. She’d be experiencing pretty much what the reader would be doing – trying to join the dots so that things make sense.
I consciously set out to create a female heroine who can, literally, do anything if she puts her mind to it as an alternative to those YA novels that have female protagonists who kind of lose sight of themselves and their goals at the slightest hint of romance or personal difficulty. I wanted to show that it’s okay to be a smart-mouthed, think-on-your-feet, strong and abrasive, yet empathetic character, who also happens to be female. It’s not something that should just be the province of male hero-types.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’d hope that they read it as a kind of cautionary tale, or revenge fantasy that allows the small, insignificant-looking female victim to triumph over her persecutor. For once.
With us in spirit? Will Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Patrick O’Brian, Hans Christian Andersen, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, James Joyce, T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bruce Chatwin
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Global domination? But in a good way.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Swallow rejection as if it has the power to do you good, keep working on those pitch letters and story ideas because someone, somewhere will like them. Writing and reading are such personal things. Don’t ever give up, because if you work hard enough, it shall come to pass.
Rebecca, 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.