Hannah Holmes, author of Quirk, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |March 6, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Hannah Holmes

author of Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality

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 the American Midwest, home of the Jell-O salad, while my biologist parents were in graduate school. As soon as possible, we returned to my mother’s home town on coast of Maine. The insular community of my youth rarely encountered a conflict that couldn’t be settled with the judicious application of coffee brandy or buckshot. I fled to college in “the city,” and learned that conflicts are meant to be resolved with an anonymous phone call to the dean.

2.     What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

12: a pony
18: a pony
30: a pony
Why: Just born that way.

3.     What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That a VW van could make it across the United States.

4.     What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

As I whispered and quaked through a college “public speaking” class, I realized I was probably not cut out to be a rock star. Shortly thereafter, college professors began lauding my writing ability. So, college was key. Next, I would say that a sentence by Tim Cahill in Outside Magazine made me realize that funny writing is fun. (It was a sentence about noisy cheese.) Oddly, learning to write funnily spilled over into my real life, leavening what had previously been a deadly-earnest persona. And thirdly, when the Discovery Channel hopped onto this new thing called the Internet, I discovered that science writing, which tends to be leaden, when combined with humour, can actually pay the rent.

5.     Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Well sure, they’re obsolete, but only for young people and all generations to come. There are still a bunch of old people like me who prefer to kill a tree so that we can carry around what is essentially a single-use product that weighs three pounds and fouls the planet with its manufacture and shipping and eventual disposal. We’re on our way out, so please be patient with us. A couple more forests, and we’ll be gone.

6.     Please tell us about your latest book…

QUIRK grew out of the question: If personality evolved (and it did) that means every type must be useful. That begs the question, what is a mean and obnoxious personality good for? Not to mention a doormat personality, or a leaping-before-looking one? Well, when considering mice, who evolved the same fundamental personality types as people, it becomes clear why various orientations toward danger or opportunity evolved: The world is a chaotic place.

Equally obvious is the realization that if all mice, or men, reacted to the chaos in the same way, we’d all – mice and men, as well as rabbits and even cabbages – be far less fit, as species. In diversity lies strength. The old platitude that soothes your irritation at family gatherings is true: It takes all kinds.

7.     If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

My anxious and empathic personality has fixated on the waning vitality of our planet, and all thereon. I would really love it if every species of plant and animal, along with some key water bodies and rocks, could be allowed to continue this astonishing experiment. My work generally attempts to highlight the links between our my species, and the Rest Of It. It’s my hope that familiarity breeds affection, and that affection begets action. So that’s my one thing: global enlightenment and planetary salvation.

8.     Whom do you most admire and why?

My dog Emma. Tremendous napping skills, and optimism that doesn’t quit.

9.     Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I would of course like to save the world. But as that’s not a reasonable goal, I endeavour to do good work every single day.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Start young, while you still believe in ramen noodles. (BBGuru: Translation – All you’ll be able to afford to eat is Maggi noodles, so you’d better like them (I think… could be WAY off the mark))

Hannah, 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.

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