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 Sydney but my family moved to Melbourne when I was three and I lived there until I was 23. I’m still a Melbournian at heart! I attended St Clements primary school and King Khalid Islamic College.
At age twelve I wanted to be a writer. I would visit bookshops and feel a little lump in my throat as I stood before the rows of bookshelves lined with my favourite books. My father used to take me to Caribbean Markets every Sunday morning to visit the same second-hand book stall. Every week I would buy books (at that time I loved The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series and anything written by RL Stine and Christopher Pike).
At age eighteen I wanted to be a writer and a lawyer. I had two clear career paths in my mind. At the age of thirty I was living my dream, juggling a writing career with a legal one.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would never leave my dearly loved home-town of Melbourne!
1. My teacher encouraging me to read my first ‘book’ called Ronald (a total rip-off of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and likely to have breached all manner of copyright laws!) to my class in Grade Six and feeling an absolute conviction then that story-telling was my utmost passion.
2. The First Gulf War. The coverage of that war by the media introduced me to the relationship between community prejudices and misconceptions about Muslims and Islam and the media’s role in constructing a negative image of Muslims and Islam through stereotypical and sensationalist reporting. It set me on a path to challenging such misconceptions by writing counter-articles, letters to the editor and engaging in inter-faith dialogue.
3. Winning a local writing competition in Year Nine and attending a writing workshop with John Marsden as the prize. It was a validation of my own efforts and a huge privilege to meet such an adored and admired writer.
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?
Writing for a newspaper article or blog or commenting on radio or TV serves a different purpose. My impulse and joy is to write novels which I think will never become obsolete as the drive to tell stories and read them is, I believe, innate to human nature.
6. Please tell us about your latest book.
The Friendship Matchmaker is about a girl called Lara Zany who is in Grade Five. Lara has appointed herself Potts Court Primary School’s official ‘Friendship Matchmaker’, making it her business to help the student body ‘make and keep’ friends by following her guidelines and protocols (acceptable conversation topics in the bus line; how to avoid getting picked last in sport; rules for the bus etc). Then a new girl, Emily Wong, arrives at the school, and challenges Lara’s rules and system.
I have vivid memories of primary school and can recall with excruciating detail the agonies and joys of making and keeping friends, feeling I belonged. I wrote The Friendship Matchmaker to tap into the emotional rollercoaster of pre-adolescence that I remember so well.
I would hope to have offered my readers the chance to acknowledge that there are many different narratives and that people are far more complex than the stereotypes and caricatures we construct around them.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
It is impossible for me to answer this question by singling out one person. There are so many people I admire, just within my own family: my mother’s father who turned his back on his affluent, comfortable life in the country he was born in and lived for most of his life (Egypt), risking everything, in order to give his family a better future. My father’s mother who defiantly stayed in her village in Palestine despite the brutality and hardship of the Israeli occupation. I could go on and on!
To continue juggling a legal and writing career, pushing myself to my full potential with both. To do so while raising my children in the best way possible and offering them all I can. To continue my human rights advocacy and, one day, return to university to pursue a doctorate.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read, write, observe the world and be attuned to the stories around you.
Randa, 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.