John M. Green, author of Born to Run, answers Six Sharp Questions

by |July 15, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

John M. Green

author of Born to Run
Nowhere Man

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Thank you. Born to Run is a rags-to-riches political thriller, with murder, terror and treason.

Isabel Diaz, born in squalor in America to a Bolivian widow, shakes off poverty and shocking abuse to become an inspiration to the nation, and is set to be the first woman to win the White House.

But her chances plummet when a Muslim protégé is accused of syphoning funds to terrorists and, seemingly unrelated, an Australian software whiz is tossed off a London skyscraper. Then, an investigative journalist digs up a dark secret from Isabel’s past, and her presidential hopes shatter.

With the public stunned, and only days before the vote, terrorists use the Australian’s software to launch a daring attack on New York City.

Isabel Diaz is born to run. But can she ever win?

What does Born to Run mean to me? I’ve long followed American presidential politics, often wondering why so few presidents were blessed by the charisma genie, and why those few have mostly been Democrats and, of course, men. I wanted to crack that apart, not with a glib Sarah Palin-type, but a truly inspirational, thoughtful, minority woman. A really good woman. But hey, it’s a thriller, so maybe she’s too good to be true. Click here to read an extract of Born to Run

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you’ve experienced in the past year or so?

The worst and best moments were when a reader at the Sydney Writers’ Festival approached me after a talk I’d just given and made my spirits slump when she said, “I didn’t like your book…” but they lifted when she added, “No, I really loved it.” Yes, it really happened.

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.

There are heaps, but my current favourite is from 19th century novelist, George Eliot:

“It’s never to late to be what you might have been.”

This was the sentiment that inspired me to ditch my day job to focus on writing.

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.

I’m a pussycat. The easiest, sweetest workaholic you’ve ever met. Just ask my wife. (Actually, please don’t.)

You can find me writing everywhere. My laptop is virtually glued to me, so it might be on planes, in hotels, on trains, wherever. I’m writing this in St Petersburg, Russia where I’m setting a scene for my third novel.

But I do have some habits. Just like Isabel Diaz in Born to Run, I regularly slip out of bed between 4 and 5am with my blood already pumping through my fingers anxious to hit my keyboard. With its absence of distractions, this is a special part of my day. But it gets even better when my wife is up and we go for our ritual trek along part of Sydney Harbour’s magic foreshore (as Sonya Wheen does in my first novel, Nowhere Man).

Later in the day, my writing might get shoved into the backseat if I have to deal with some business or book things. I’m a director of some public companies and not-for-profits, so I can often get tied up with board papers or board meetings, some of which involve travel. I’m also lucky enough to get to work with other Pantera Press authors, like the effervescent Sulari Gentill (A Decline in Prophets) and salt-of-the-earth, B. Michael Radburn (The Crossing).

I also steal idyllic days writing in total solitude on my boat. I could say the inspiration was Terry McCaleb, Michael Connelly’s Blood Work character who lived on his boat Following Tide. But who needs any inspiration for wanting to write overlooking Sydney Harbour other than being there.

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!).

Marketplaces are fabulous, aren’t they? I can’t forget one in Auxerre, a tiny French town where many years ago I bought the sweetest, reddest strawberries. As I bit into the first one, the juices drizzling down my fingers… but I digress.

Really, ‘the marketplace’ is code for ‘readers’. I’m a pretty eclectic and ravenous reader myself, but I especially love ripping through a crime novel or a thriller. As a writer, I aim to write stories that I think readers like me would enjoy.

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?

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If these kids are going to party, they have to know how to do it in style.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was one of the books that motivated me to study law. (Another was Woody Allen’s Without Feathers.)

3. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Not for its titillation or shock value, but as a reminder that Australia once banned books, and did other crazy things that would be unimaginable today. These adolescents, and all of us, need to remember so it doesn’t happen again.

4. Born to Run by, er, me. Not just as a hopefully good read, but for one of its hints that education is an equaliser.

5. The 20-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary to hit each of them over the head with, if all else fails.

John, thank you for playing.

Read John’s answers to my Ten Terrifying Questions here

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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.

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