Winner of The 2011 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award
with The Roving Party
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Well, I was born and raised in Launceston, Tasmania. But Tasmania is an undersized sort of place, so living in one part of the island doesn’t necessarily disconnect you from the other places. I have connections to Bicheno, Hobart, parts of the north coast and the central highlands. Likewise I have connections to Japan, as that’s where I met my wife. As for schooling, I got that all over the place too. Tasmania, southern Queensland, Melbourne. And that is the best way to do it.
Twelve: an architect. Eighteen: a writer. Thirty: a writer. Seems like, when I look back, the desire to create stuff on the page was always there for me. I used to express it through drawing. But as my language skills developed, that mutated into a desire to write.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Gee, tough question. As a kid, I always thought getting a job and working full time would be a soul-crushing experience. But I’ve had a a few different full-time jobs now, and very few of them really broke my spirit. Perhaps only café work – that was misery.
First: a computer game called Pool of Radiance. That game introduced me to a universe of fiction which I had previously never known about – the genre of fantasy. It was like an interactive novel. Brilliant for its time.
Second: A book called Gould’s Book of Fish. It really is the greatest Tasmanian book ever written. The layers of meaning within it, the way it favours the fictional over the historical, the grimey humour – I just love it to bits.
Third: A TV series called The Wire. Who can ever forget how the kids in the street run away and call out ‘Omar comin yo’ whenever Omar shows up? David Simon made characters so compelling that I loved them even when they murdered people. I want my readers to feel that about my characters.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
The novel format is the most important artistic form we have. It is the only form which can fully embody the moral complexity of human life. Long TV series have approached this complexity at times, but rarely do they ever achieve what novels routinely achieve: an utterly believable view of humanity.
The Roving Party covers a period in 1829 in Van Diemen’s Land, a period often called the Black War by historians. In particular, it focuses on the actions of a band of men tasked with subduing the local clans. The band, the roving party as they were known, is led by John Batman, a man perhaps better known for founding Melbourne in the 1830s. He is brutal and violent. He murders and captures clansfolk for bounty. Yet, he is not without some aspect of the familiar.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’d like to think that people are reflecting on the nature of human interaction. It can be violent, it can be kind. But it is always fascinating.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
An easy question. Richard Flanagan. Not only has he written a series of mind-blowingly good books, but he also wrote an article about state government corruption in Tasmania which helped bring about a change in government. He speaks for the anti-pulp mill movement in Tasmania as well and delivered a startling, stirring speech to a huge crowd of protesters. He is the real deal.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Simply, to live happily. I spent so many years as a miserable drunken fool that I now understand how bad the other side is. To be happy is the highest of goods, but also one of the hardest to attain. Writing is integral to my happiness. Doing it literally makes me feel good. That might not sound very ambitious, but believe me, it is.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Start writing every morning at the same time. Nine, ten, whenever. But it must be the same time every day. Then your inspiration will follow as your body will slips into the pattern.
Rohan, 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.