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 Bethesda Hospital overlooking Enmore Park in Sydney. On the day I was born I was given the last rites because my lungs collapsed, but I survived after spending six weeks in an oxygenated crib. After that things slowly improved.
At 12, a fireman, because their uniforms consisted of burdensome navy woollen overcoats with big brass buttons and huge, and gleaming metal helmets in the shape of rams’ heads. I flirted with the idea of accountancy in my mid teens, when I was weighed down by questions of financial security. By 30, I needed to become a foreign correspondent in order to see life in all its extremes, and ended up doing that for a decade in India, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I was right about everything and the world needed to get with my program.
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 love jagged, sometime atonal music, and languages with oomph like Russian. The Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was a strong influence, and I still adopt is cadence sometimes in my writing. In music I like similar punchy dynamics, good reggae, The Beatles Revolver album, The Clash or Beck or moody classical works like Vaughan Williams’, and Shosktakovich’s string quarters. A touch of gothic pleases, Nick Cave, and vespers at the Brompton Oratory. Spiritual works like the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita are deeply significant to me, and I consider the art of Lloyd Rees, Fred Williams, Sidney Nolan, Modigliani, John Brack, Arthur Boyd, and the indigenous artists as meditations mandalas.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Because the novel, done well, engages the reader completely in the production of meaning. Every novel has as many different versions as there are readers and imaginations. It’s a form of mutual meditation that we can’t afford to lose.
6. Please tell us about your novel…
My novel The Chase is about drugs, horses, chemistry, royalty worship, the criminal culture of New South Wales, and the long, hard slog we must undergo to grow from hope to acceptance, and youth to maturity.
(BBGuru: Publisher synopsis – They’re all doing it… It’s not so much a contest between horses, as a race to find the best recipe.
When young scientist Jean Campbell is invited help root out drugs in sport, she enters a murky world where power, privilege, money and illicit practices mix easily. It is Australia in the 1940s, the war is over, and Jean and her charismatic boss Howard Carter risk everything to expose the cruel underbelly of the ‘sport of kings’.
But old-school racehorse trainer Martin Foley refuses to go quietly, and his influence and ‘connections’ go straight to the highest echelons of polite society. Success or failure turns on a surly young stable hand from a broken home named Frank Littell, and the fateful decision he is forced to make…
From the acclaimed, bestselling author of The Carpet Wars comes a brilliant new novel full of sin, iniquity and unforgettable characters.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
The whole world, recreated, reimagined and reinterpreted from a particular point of view.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Today it would be Julian Assange. He works hard and has a mission. Most other writing seems decadent and bourgeois by comparison. Coetzee for his intelligence, Rushdie for the musicality of his language, Patrick White for his unfailing search for the complete sentence. And the writers of Mad Men, The Wire, and True Blood.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To hone my craft, and myself, and do a better job of appreciating the beauty of life and the world before its too late, and to drag myself out of my garret and re-engage with the flesh and blood struggles of society and existence. And to stop fence sitting.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Whether it’s a novel or a poem or short short story, minimum ten drafts before publication.
Christopher, 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.