The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
Thank you. Chasing Odysseus is a retelling of both the Iliad and the Odyssey from an alternative perspective – a new story written into the world’s oldest one. It is the tale of a terrified girl and her three brothers who set out in pursuit of a legendary king, and in search of a truth which will vindicate their people. It is a story of monsters, sorcery and warring gods, of courage, loyalty and friendship.
I wrote Chasing Odysseus for my teenage self. Into it I tried to pour all the sense of adventure, the humour, the courage, the drama and the idealism that was so much a part of me then (not that I’m entirely devoid of those things now…they were just rampant then). Writing Chasing Odysseus allowed me to be sixteen again for a while.
2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?
Best Moment: Discovering that A Few Right Thinking Men had been shortlisted in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book, whilst I was randomly surfing the net. It had to read the list a few times before I fully accepted that yes, that was my name, and yes, that was my book. It was a wonderful way to find out…although it did reward my compulsion to procrastinate by googling.
Worst Moment: I did trot up for a pre-arranged booksigning once, to a bookstore which had forgotten to order in any of my books. That was embarrassing…and very awkward. You can’t really sign anyone else’s book. It’s just not done.
3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.
Pan smiled slowly. “I am not a powerful god,” said he, “but I do have a ship. It is much smaller than the vessels of Odysseus, but it is Phaeacian.”
The sons of Agelaus sat up. The Phaeacians were the greatest ship builders of the known world. Their vessels were faster than anything built by the Greeks or the Trojans, and, it was whispered, they were navigated by thought. It was said that the ships had no rudders, but understood where it was the traveller wished to go; they knew all the lands of the world and traversed a sea covered with mist and cloud as easily as when the day was clear.
“Are the legends true?” asked Cadmus.
“Of course they are,” replied Pan. “We live in an age of legends.”
“Why do you have a ship?” asked Lycon looking pointedly at Pan’s cloven hooves.
The god snorted. “You are right, Lycon. The roll of a wooden deck does not suit me.” He grinned slyly and winked at the sons of Agelaus. “It is a long story, which
I may tell you one day when your sister is asleep … suffice to say, it involves a couple of comely nymphs, and a great deal of music and some dancing … and ends with an extremely grateful young Phaeacian giving me his boat.”
Cadmus laughed. “We have the best god,” he said, shaking his head.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
Oh no…I’m charming…a veritable joy to live with.
My day…well I have sleeping pyjamas and working pyjamas…that probably tells you a great deal. Occasionally I’ll venture into my laundry, scale clothes mountain, dig through the strata for clean clothes, get dressed and go buy groceries… but not until we’ve been surviving on Cornflakes for at least a couple of days. My sons believe my laptop is some kind of life-support-system without which I’ll perish fairly quickly, and my husband is quite used to chatting about fictional characters as if they were our personal friends.
But as I said…I’m charming…really.
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
To be honest, I abdicate concerns about trends and sales to my publisher. I trust them completely to keep an eye on that sort of thing, and I just sit here in my pyjamas a write.
I do read my reviews and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t occasionally play on my mind when I’m writing a particularly trying passage…Funnily it’s the complimentary reviews that haunt me then, and I find myself wondering if what I’m writing now is as good as what I wrote before. A readership is hard won, and you don’t ever want to disappoint those who have chosen your book from the many hundreds on the shelf.
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?
Hmmm…my husband’s a teacher….he doesn’t think this scenario is unlikely at all. In fact he’s pretty sure it’s his job description. I’m assuming these “ill-educated adolescents” can read or that I have some way of restraining them while they’re being read to….
The Importance of Being Ernest (Oscar Wilde) …because it’s witty and charming and timeless.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) …because it’s inspiring and moving.
Lord of the Flies (William Golding)…because I want them to be afraid of each other…it’ll discourage them from joining forces against me.
Carter’s Criminal Law (M.J. Shanahan) …because it’s big and heavy and I could use it as weapon if I needed to.
And Chasing Odysseus…because it’s my book and I’m not above misusing my power.
Sulari, thank you for playing.
A pleasure. Thank you for asking me.
Want more? Read Sulari’s answers to my Ten Terrifying Questions
Why do you think the Greek Myths have such a hold over our imaginations?
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.