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 Cambridge and raised mainly in North West London by parents who were (although not Australian born) Australians. I went to the local comprehensive school, then onto a London art school for foundation year, spent six months in Carrara, Italy, carving marble, then migrated to Australia at 17 (these were punk years) finished my BA in sculpture at the Victorian college of the Arts, then did the playwrights course at NIDA then screenwriting at Australian Film, Television and Radio School.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Actress when I was twelve, sculptress at eighteen and actually was a playwright at thirty. I had a fairly extreme childhood and teenagehood – my parents were left-wing intellectuals and very liberal. It was not a sheltered childhood, my father was killed on a motorcycle when I was sixteen and I withdrew, at that age I was living in a squat in Harlesden, (then a very working class part of London) struggling to complete my A levels so Art took over English and I ended up going to art school. Within two years however (as I came out of my grieving) I ended up making performance art and founded my own small fringe theatre company. I always had the drama, art and English, I was terrible at mathematics, which was ironic as my dad was a mathematician.
I was very fierce and very driven at eighteen. But my basic philosophy I think has stayed the same, I’m still an atheist, I still believe strongly in the power of free will (despite the mysticism in my prose). I don’t believe in the notion of a pre-ordained destiny, and I think because of the sudden death of my father at sixteen I learnt then that it is essential to live life to the fullest as it could be snatched away at any second, having said that, I’m a far empathetic person now than at eighteen!
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?
When I was a small girl I spent a great deal of time escaping either into C.S.Lewis or Robert Graves’ Greek Myths – there was something about the way those myths wove the epic into the personal (and sometimes mundane) that was both escapist and transforming, their plot-lines have definitely influenced my own writing. Music wise I’m addicted to the Finnish composer Sibelius – the imagination soars on his wings.
As for a painting it would be Guernica by Picasso, the thriller I’m currently writing (The Map) is around a man who fought in the Spanish Civil war and I was taken around the Basque country by a man who grew up in Guernica, in the ruins of that bombing.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write short fiction?
YEARN- tales of Lust and Longing is my seventh book and my third collection of short stories. I have two writing personas – Tobsha Learner – author of historical fiction and erotic short stories and T.S.Learner, the muscle-flexing thriller writer. When I have my T.S.Learner hat on (SPHINX) I get to travel to exotic places and interview extraordinary people – from Basque separatists to Egyptologists and Coptic priests, while the short stories allow me to indulge my imagination not only into the erotic but also into the magical – I love the format, Maupassant, Dahl, Greene are Gods at my desk.
YEARN follows QUIVER and TREMBLE and is again a collection of nine sensual and emotional fable-like stories that cover the paradoxes of sex, lust, jealousy, love and all the absurdities of relationship that make you and me tick (or should I say throb?). Like in the other collections all the stories are interlinked either through character or object and I have period drama mixed in with contemporary. This format is really liberating as I get to flex my craft plus it allows me to set the stories around my world – I’m really a global citizen as I divide my time between Sydney, San Diego and London.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’m primarily an entertainer who hopes to illuminate and emotionally move (as well as excite) my reader – I take my research extremely seriously, so I hope they learn a little on the ride.
Oh, and I love it when readers tell me I made them cry!
This changes all the time, I’m a very eclectic reader (loathe literary snobbiness) but currently I have a big thing for Roberto Bolano – there were sections of 2666 that were genius, no other word for it. I really enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom– particularly his characterisation, I was thrilled with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (a novel unabashedly commercial and literary) and loved the pace of Ian McEwan’s Saturday – and the political audacity of Solar, but I guess on the thriller front I’m a big fan of Robert Harris, Le Carre and Stieg Larsson (who isn’t!) I also love Daphne du Maurier, Atwood, A.S Byatt and early Margaret Drabble – like I said eclectic.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To move as many readers as possible.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write because you are driven too, not because you like the idea of being a ‘writer.’ Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, don’t be precious about your first draft, it’s an architectural blueprint to a whole building, be your own worst critic, confront your weakness and remember it’s a craft.
Tobsha, thank you for playing.
Visit Tobsha: here
The following clip is a little old (2007) – but enlightening, nonetheless…
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.