The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author The Laws of Magic series, The Doorways Trilogy, Quentaris and more
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 Swan Hill, country Victoria, but left when I was only two. Our family moved around the state a fair bit before settling in Geelong when I was 10. I attended high school there, and then went off to Melbourne to attend university. I’ve lived here ever since.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve, I wanted to be a scientist. When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a teacher. When I was thirty, I wanted to be a writer. I like to think that the first and last were about using imagination and creativity, discovering new things, wondering what’s on the other side of the horizon and then trying to find out. Teaching was about helping others to do the same thing.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was eighteen, I firmly believed that we were on the verge of an era of extended space exploration and colonisation. I thought we’d be on Mars before too long, and after that the rest of the Solar System wasn’t far away. I thought we’d have busy space stations, proper moonbases and ordinary people going into space would be commonplace.
I was sadly mistaken, and I think it’s one of the greatest examples of global short-sightedness in history.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
The Lord of the Rings was crucial in my development as a writer. When I first read it at age 12, it was as if the whole world had suddenly become larger, grander and more magnificent. Dali’s surrealist masterpiece The Persistence of Memory, which I first saw in a book when I was 14, made me appreciate how imagination can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary – and how imagination has no bounds. I discovered William Blake’s The Tyger when I was 18 and the poem literally made me gasp when I first read it. It opened my eyes to how intensity, power and stunning use of language can be coupled with concision to overvault the words on the page and become something of its own, a perfectly crafted imaginative piece that lives and breathes wherever it finds a reader.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Words and language appeal to me, so I was always moving toward a literary expression of my creativity. I began with short stories, but as a reader, my real love has always been the novel, being lost in a story, so it was almost natural to gravitate toward this form. I enjoy the elbow room, the chance to develop multiple plot threads and to journey with my characters in an extended mode.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My latest novel is Hour of Need, the sixth and final book of The Laws of Magic series, a historical/fantasy/adventure/comedy/romance set in a world like ours at the beginning of the twentieth century – but with the addition of magic. It concludes the adventures of young Aubrey Fitzwilliam – magician, trainee spy and budding politician – and his friends.
Since the first book of the series (Blaze of Glory) events have been moving toward war, despite all that Aubrey and his friends could do to prevent this, and in Hour of Need they are deeply caught up in the conflict. Aubrey and his friends learn that the malevolent Dr Mordecai Tremaine, the rogue sorcerer who has plagued them since the beginning of the series, has plans that will make the horrors of the war seem almost insignificant.
Because it’s the last book of the series, I’ve felt considerable pressure to bring all the multitudinous plot threads together, while giving the final book its own narrative integrity. It’s been a challenge!
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I want people to enjoy my books.
I want them to be thrilled, entertained, startled and/or tickled by what they read. At the end of the book, I want them to feel both satisfied and saddened. Satisfied, that they’ve had a read that makes them think and feel, and saddened, that the story is finished and there isn’t any more.
And, of course, I want people to take away an overwhelming desire to read more Michael Pryor books.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire Neal Stephenson and Tim Powers for their erudition, the depth of their research and their understanding of the importance of narrative. I admire Terry Pratchett because he knows how to make me laugh one minute, and then on the next page, he makes me think very deeply about humanity.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
There is no higher goal than to be referenced on back cover blurbs. That is, for the blurb on another writer’s book to say ‘in the grand tradition of Michael Pryor’ or ‘the new Michael Pryor’ or even ‘following in the giant footsteps of Michael Pryor’. Once that’s achieved, what’s left, apart from having a species of animal named after you?
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Persevere. Finish something instead of having a dozen unfinished projects. Read a lot. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Be prepared to rewrite.
Michael, 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.