Chris Womersley, author of Bereft, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |June 8, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Chris Womersley

author of Bereft, which has been shortlisted for 2011 Miles Franklin Award,
and The Low Road

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 Melbourne in 1968, and have lived in that city for most of my life, aside from periods travelling overseas and living in Sydney and the UK. I went to a few schools, but ended up at Melbourne High School where I did my HSC.

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

At 12 I wanted to be an archaeologist because I liked the idea of hanging out in Egypt. At 18 I wanted to be a rock star because I liked the idea of hanging out in mansions in the south of France. At 30 I wanted to be a writer because there seemed there was little else I could actually do.

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

When I was 18 I tended – as many of us do at that age – to view the world in rather black-and-white terms. Since then I have learnt that the world is actually more complex and harder to pin down, which is necessary for a novelist, because it helps me create more interesting characters and stories.

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?

I vividly recall seeing the Sergio Leone film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which had a great effect on me as a 12-year-old or so.

Wuthering Heights was also a great influence, a story of intense love and violence.

I also loved The US band The Velvet Underground, who produced music that was by turns beautiful and terrifying. It’s often said The Velvet Underground only sold 1000 copies of their first album in 1968, but every person who bought it was inspired to start their own band.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

The novel still strikes me as the most involved art-form we have, the narrative form that can still go deeper and take people further than any other.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Bereft is set in the immediate aftermath of World War One during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. A returned soldier named Quinn Walker returns to a country town in rural NSW where he meets a young girl he comes to believe is the ghost of his murdered sister. Bereft is about loss and longing, the way families and communities deal with grief. It is a ghost story and a love story.

(BBGuru: Here’s  the publisher’s synopsis –

It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging through Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.

In the NSW town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets a mysterious young girl called Sadie Fox, who encourages him to seek justice — and seems to know more about the crime than she should.

A searing gothic novel of love, longing, and revenge, Bereft is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind. Read the Prologue here)

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I want readers to be compelled by the hook of the narrative, moved by the emotion of the story and intrigued by the possibilities of longing people back to life.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

That’s very hard to narrow down. I admire Joyce Carol Oates’ productivity and her ability to write in whatever genre the story needs to be told, without fear or favour.

(BBGuru: Click here for an incomplete list of Chris’ favourite things.)

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

Each time I set out to write a novel, I try to write something that has never been written before. I usually try and write the novel that I would like to read but hasn’t yet been written.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on, write a lot and persevere.

Chris, 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, 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.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • June 8, 2011 at 11:30 am

    In the slim hope that Chris himself will come back and read this- Chris, my bookgroup in Melbourne did Bereft this month. When I started reading it I thought it was such a simple- if beautifully told- story… I wondered if we’d have much to talk about. As I read on though I was amazed and impressed and drawn into the many layers in the novel, and we had a spirited 1.5 hours pulling them all apart when we did meet. If you could attend next month to answer our many remaining questions, that would be great. Thanks!

    • June 8, 2011 at 11:38 am

      You forgot to let Chris know that your bookgroup meets in the nude.

      • June 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

        That’s true, but as a serious author I know Chris is far more interested in our minds.

      • Serena

        June 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        Very inappropriate comment Booktopia Book Guru, but very funny!

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