author of Hinterland
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 Hobart but my family went back to live in Melbourne when I was very small, and that’s where I grew up and went to school.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I don’t have specific memories of what I wanted to do at those ages, though I did want to be a writer from very early on. But first I wanted to get some experience of the world, and being a journalist seemed like a great way to get a front row seat on events. So I took a very round about route to novel-writing, even though I was writing all the time.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That real life happens somewhere else.
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?
Film is a big influence – I loved The Lives of Others, whose subtlety and emotion reverberated on so many levels.
In music, the Latin Americans and the singers from West Africa have had a big impact, particularly the lyrics of the former and the way the voices of the latter go right through you. (I’m thinking of the Brazilians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, the torch songs of Mercedes Sosa, and some of the nueva trova singers from Cuba; and the Senegalese and Malian singers, like Ismael Lo, Salif Keita, plus the music of Ali Farka Toure.)
In art – Van Gogh, of course – because he stuck at it when nothing sold, because of the necessity to him of what he did and the intensity of his commitment to it, how it rescued him and connected him to the world, and for what his painting taught me about artistic truth existing in non-literal ways.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Well actually I can’t sing and I can’t paint … and fiction is a way of doing both by other means.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel HINTERLAND.
Hinterland is the story of two kids crossing Europe in pursuit of a dream, putting as much distance as they can between them and the conflict in their country that has destroyed any hope of a normal childhood.
It is another way of telling what I believe is an immense story that cannot be contained in journalism. It was inspired by my conversations with a rollcall of lone children from Afghanistan who I encountered at a several crossroads in Europe; I wanted to open up a quiet space where I could say to readers: this is happening, we have to talk about it.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Can one hope for awareness, some shift in the human heart?
Where to begin? David Mitchell for his daring, Michael Ondaatje for the fine-tuned poetry of his prose, Cormac McCarthy for the rhythm and cadence of his language, James Salter for his subtle shifts of emotion, Javier Marias for his dialogue, Tim Winton for his sense of place, Amado, Marquez and Allende for opening the doors to the fantastical in everyday life, Shirley Hazzard for charting human emotion in the grip of historical forces, Tolstoy and Kundera for their elemental themes, Hardy for his love of character and place, Proust for plunging you so completely into another world, the Brontës for their emotional pull …
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
That would be telling.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice… except to say that the most important thing is to just do it.
Caroline, 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, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.