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 Ireland. Six months later my parents moved to England where we lived until I was 18. Then my father got a job back in Ireland working for the Duke of Devonshire, and we moved into the East Wing of Lismore Castle. I went to drama school in Dublin and became an actress. I later moved to London, gave up acting and worked for Britain’s first left-wing think-tank before 15 years ago coming out to Australia.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wrote my diary everyday and wanted to be a writer. At eighteen I wanted to be an actress, in retrospect probably because it was an acceptable way to express a broad range of emotions. At thirty I wanted to be a writer, but had no idea how that would be possible.
I thought that life happened to me, that I had been dealt my cards and had little say in my destiny. Now, I believe that I have a great choice as to what I want in life, and although I may have no control over some events or outcomes, I can choose how I react to them.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
Going to see Peter Pan in the London West End aged six. I cried in the interval because I was so terrified of the crocodile. Then when the curtain came down at the end I burst into tears again because I thought the play was so wonderful and couldn’t bear that it was over. This was my first experience of the theatre.
When I was eighteen I met the Irish novelist, Molly Keane. She was in her late 70s and her book, Good Behaviour, which was later short listed for the Booker Prize, was about to be published. In her youth she had 10 novels published and three of her plays performed in London’s West End. But the combination of some bad reviews and the death of her husband meant she hadn’t written for 20 years. She told me that she was telling the media she was 80, in the hope that they would feel sorry for her and be kind about her work. It was so inspiring to meet her. She became a family friend and she always made me feel that anything was possible.
And reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way opened up the possibility that I could write.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
I wanted write a book, rather than use a different medium. I can’t imagine that books could ever be obsolete. Good books are like good friends. They demand time and your full attention, transport you into another world and make you question your ideas and beliefs.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
‘Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers’ is about walking Ireland’s St Declan’s Way, an age-old pilgrim route and ancient highway which runs 100km from the Rock of Cashel to the seaside village of Ardmore. During the wettest summer for 150 years I battle the undergrowth and get lost innumerable times. Along the Way I go to a horse fair, stay with a silent order of nuns, am caught up in an All-Ireland hurling final and get lost in the Bog of Hags. The book weaves history with visits to holy wells and moving statues, eccentric households and stories of fairies, ghosts and goddesses.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
Perception. It’s easy to get locked into the idea that there is only one truth, or that something is either right or wrong. People are complex and within us all is both good and bad.
The wonderful Irish travel writer, Dervla Murphy. She is now nearly 80 and she’s still travelling and writing books. She is incredibly disciplined, extremely well read and so informed when it comes to current affairs. She’s also very fit. When she was in Cuba a few years ago researching her book, The Island That Dared, she walked 20 miles carrying her backpack, and here I am over 30 years younger than her and almost at a standstill when I have to walk 20km carrying mine.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal is to have Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers published in Ireland, England and America. Also, I have plans for two more books – one about an Australian journey and the other about an Indian adventure. And I’ve written a children’s book which I would like to get published.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Persist. Write everyday. Even if you don’t write much and you don’t think it’s very good turn up tomorrow and write some more. Keep taking small steps and eventually you’ll have written a first draft.
Rosamund, 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, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.