The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of A Beautiful Lie
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Hello Booktopia Book Guru – I was born and raised in a small city in England right in the middle of the country called Leicester. “The Jewel of the Midlands” – That’s my name for it anyway, although I definitely think it should be adopted by the Leicester tourist board . . . It’s a cool city, very diverse, with people from everywhere which makes for a really interesting mix.
Well, it was at the age of twelve that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’ll be honest – I didn’t really think I would be or was a writer, but I didn’t care. In my mind, I was one and that’s all that mattered. The funny thing was, I then kept the fact that I wrote secret for almost twenty years.
At eighteen, I began studying English Literature at university, and this just made me more determined to be a writer. I was reading a lot by this time, and although inspired by so many great writers, I was also intimidated by the prospect of ever writing something good enough for anyone to want to publish it.
By the grand old age of thirty, I had spent almost ten years sitting on ideas and filling stacks of notebooks. I’d started talking more about my writing and finally I was confident enough to share some of it with people. My dream to be a writer hadn’t changed, if anything the desire had grown. During this time, I’d qualified and worked as a literacy teacher, librarian and project manager for a prominent literacy charity promoting reading to families and children. All these experiences had just reinforced how important reading and books are to people. It made me more determined than ever.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Well at eighteen, my world was still mainly etched in black and white – I thought people were one thing or another. I don’t believe that now of anyone or any one thing. I know that a lot of the complex issues in our lives occupy the grey areas in the middle, and until you’re able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and really empathise with them, having a value judgement on what they think or feel doesn’t work. This belief and need to investigate these “grey areas” feeds into my writing and informs the motivation behind all my characters, the plot and the essence of the story.
I grew up reading Dickens, and Great Expectations I think is a work of art – A social commentary, multi-layered and complex. I would say lots of things effect and influence me all of the time. I’m able to listen to Jay-Z, Miles Davis, Nick Cave or Beethoven and will always takes something different, but just as important, from each. I’ve always been like a sponge, absorbing all kinds of works of art and storing little snippets, images and ideas away. I think the most memorable always manifest themselves in my writing in one way or another. For instance, I’m currently in Sydney, and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art yesterday, and saw an exhibition by, Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO – I was fascinated by his rock art – beautiful images impressed into the rock. I know the feeling I had when I looked at his work will in some way feed into my writing, even if I can’t understand how. I know this is why art is important to me.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It felt like the most natural thing to do. I felt that if I wrote about something that was important to me, and that if I did it right that it would last forever. I don’t know now if it will last forever, but I do know that no-one can take it away from me now. I’d also grown up being obsessed with reading and books, always dreaming about having my name on the cover of one. Now that it’s happened, I can’t believe it. I still catch myself looking at the cover thinking, Irfan you fool . . . that’s your name on the book! Luckily that all plays out in my head, so no one thinks I’m crazy.
A Beautiful Lie is a story of a boy and the love he has for his father, at a time in India when everything was changing. It’s a story about the lengths a courageous boy is willing to go to in order to make sure his father dies happy regardless of the consequences for himself. I wanted to write this story because it was a terrible time and those that lived through the worst of it understandably are reluctant to revisit it. But, it did happen, and it affected millions of ordinary people, the effects of which are still felt today. Sample chapter
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
An understanding of how difficult partition was for so many people who had lived in relative peace for generations. A sense of place and story but set in a larger historical context, and an empathy with the central character, and the burden he takes onto himself for the one thing that we can all relate to, love.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Now that’s a difficult question Book Guru . . . I admire so many authors it’s difficult to know where to start. I guess I most admire Harper Lee, and her one and only book, To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s such a poignant story – compelling, political, cultural and still relevant and read today. I don’t think you could ask much more from a book. I also love David Almond’s work; especially Skellig, which I think has such resonance. His writing is so simple but so very beautiful and effective.
My plan is to visit lots of schools, libraries, festivals and work with lots of young people and budding writers – to encourage them to tell their stories, whatever they may be. As for writing goals, principally, I want to finish my next novel. The other remaining goals would be to make sure the story comes together in the way I want it to, and to tell a story that’s interesting, compelling and important.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read a lot. Read for the story first and if you enjoy it, then read for the language and you will see patterns emerging. This will feed into your own writing. Keep a notebook and pencil on you at all times to scribble things down. Simple I know, but still very important. Watch people – on the bus, in the cafe, on the street wherever, and write down little snippets they say – or don’t say. Make stories from these interactions; use them as your characters. Join a writer’s group if you can. There’s nothing like sharing your ideas and feeling inspired by other writers and their ideas. Finally, keep writing, keep dreaming – both are equally important and it’ll come. Probably when you’re least expecting it – the story you want to write will open up in front of you like an oyster – what’s inside is yours to keep.
Irfan, 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.