author Dolci di Love 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 the tiny Central Otago town of Alexandra in New Zealand and raised all over the place but wherever I went I was schooled by nuns. When my high school teacher Sister Eulalia died, I did somersaults down the aisle of the St Mary’s Chapel. If I could have down cartwheels and rung a couple of ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead bells, I would have done that too. Although I would do things differently now, of course, because I’m all grown up and know that the nuns weren’t evil they just had itchy scalps from wearing all that headgear. I had an itchy scalp myself recently and it all became very clear to me. I worked in Sydney and London and all around New Zealand, and am now based on the wild west coast north of Auckland. Luckily for me, my novel research and my day job as Travel Editor of a weekly magazine mean that I get to spend a lot of time travelling the world. I’m particularly in love with the US at the moment as I’ve just worked out that speaking the same language means you get all the jokes.
When I was 12 I wanted to be a vet because I was good at science and mad about horses plus heavily influenced by All Creatures Great and Small…the TV series based on the James Herriot books.
When I was 18 I wanted to be a journalist because we dissected a rabbit at school and I nearly passed out I was so disgusted. It had not occurred to me that vets dealt with the insides of animals until that point. My school subjects were maths, physics, chemistry, biology and english, which led me away from vet studies and towards journalism.
At 30 I was working for a magazine in London and loving it but my husband-to-be was struggling to find work so we had to head back Down Under and I was less than impressed with just about everything but soon found my feet as editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought my then-boyfriend, who was my first, would love me forever but actually he didn’t even love me till my 19th birthday. I also thought, at 18, that this was the end of the world, but happily that turned out not to be true either.
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?
Well, I suppose you could say that All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot influenced my development as a writer because it steered me in the direction of being a vet and left me no other option when that failed to fire.
Regarding music, when the boyfriend above dumped me, by phone, and left me heartbroken, I used to play Chuck E’s in Love by Ricky Lee Jones over and over and over on the record player. Yes, record player. This didn’t develop my writing, in particular, but it did feed my heartbreak and I have come to realise over the years that being overly sensitive is a real gift to a writer because it allows you to plummet the depths of your despair, and everyone else’s, and imagine all the ways your life will end or never be the same and how you’ll take them with you, or at least wreak your revenge, or orchestrate a tearful reunion, or wait while they beg for forgiveness then shoot them. In other words, a sensitive soul feeds the imagination so bring it on, Ricky Lee.
Finally, I remember reading the book, Watermelon, by Marian Keyes before she was a number one bestseller and thinking it was something different to what else was already out there. I felt that I had made a friend rather than read a book, and that the friend I had made was someone very much like me. It occurred to me then that writing books that gave readers that feeling was a real skill, and I started to explore whether I had it or not. I subsequently met Marian Keyes and she was a complete and utter delight: exactly as I had imagined. And if I lived near her and it wasn’t considered stalking, I would be her friend.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I wrote a lot of dreamy short stories as a child, but working in journalism you are gravely discouraged from making things up so I got out of the habit of it. However, I was made redundant from two different magazine jobs then fired from another one in radio and I found myself ever so slightly without employment which was annoying in some ways, but extraordinarily freeing in others. I decided then I would take the time off (although strictly speaking it had already been given to me) to write my first novel, Finding Tom Connor, and I’ve not worried about facts ever since.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Dolci di Love is the story Lily Turner, a busy executive with no children of her own who discovers her perfect husband is keeping a secret family in Tuscany, although when she goes there to find him she instead gets caught up in a web of interfering old widows who are bungling their biscotti baking business as much as their behind-the-scenes matchmaking.
(BBGuru: Publisher synopsis – Nothing tastes sweeter than a second chance
The Tuscan town of Montevedova is famous for its rolling green hills, long lazy lunches and delectable cantucci biscuits. It even has its own patron saint. But Manhattan workaholic Lily Turner is not interested in any of that. She’s only there to find her cheating husband. What Lily doesn’t know, however, is that beneath the cobbled lanes of this charming hilltop village, an underground network of ancient widows is working tirelessly on finding her a happy ending – whether she wants it or not.
Suddenly everything she loved about her old life goes up in a puff of smoke – just like the cantucci the widows are getting too old to make. Then a mischievous six-year-old girl, full of the joys of baking, skips into Lily’s world – igniting the demons of her past … and the promise of the future.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
That there are two sides to every story, that forgiveness is always an option, and that families come in all shapes and size. Oh, and that Tuscany is the jaw-dropping gem in the crown of Italy and you should go there immediately, or at least bring out all the photos from that trip you took there all those years ago and do a spot of top shelf reminiscing…
Honestly, I admire all writers. It’s not an easy job, although as your own boss it has its advantages, but for the most part a writer spends a year on his or her own sitting in front of a computer working diligently on a massive project that they don’t really know if anyone else will like. This takes courage, and sometimes a lot of gin, not necessarily in that order although that order is definitely more likely to be productive.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I just want to keep writing novels. Sometimes that seems outrageously ambitious. Sometimes hardly ambitious at all. It depends on the gin/courage levels.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. It’s very easy to talk about writing a novel and it’s even pretty easy to start writing a novel, and actually quite manageable to get half way through writing a novel, but finishing it and having it make sense – and not just to you – is really where the skill lies and that involves sitting on your own in front of a computer working diligently etc. It’s not very romantic but I can never stress enough the importance of a bum on a seat.
Sarah-Kate, 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.