author of Adventures in Correspondentland
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 Bristol, England, where I went to the local comprehensive school. Then I set off on a university crawl that took in Cambridge, Oxford and MIT. Very self-indulgent, I know, but I loved the student life. Journalism is the next best thing.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I still thought I might captain England at cricket. At eighteen, I was trying to decide between becoming the next Frank Lloyd Wright or the BBC’s Washington correspondent. At 30, I was the BBC’s Washington correspondent, and the issue had been settled.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought curries tasted vile. Three years living in India later……
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?
The assassination of Yitzak Rabin was my first major international story (it happened on day 4 of my BBC career). Reading Clive James for the first time probably set me on the path to journalism (I had not realised until then what fun could be had with words). 9/11, because it ultimately set me on the path to South Asia to cover the Bush administration’s war on terror, which is where I met my Australian wife.
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 sometimes think that twitter and blogs are the Twenty20 form of the journalistic game but that books are still the test format. No way are they obsolete. In this era of pinched and immediate thought, they are more important than ever
Adventures in Correspondentland is quite a few books rolled into one. A memoir, a travelogue, a history, a polemic and, towards the end, a love story. First and foremost, it’s a journalistic romp around the post-9/11 world, from America where I was that day to Afghanistan and Pakistan where I went to cover the war on terror.
It takes in the West Wing, Ground Zero, Guantanamo, Kabul, Islamabad and the tribal badlands of Afghanistan, and features a cast-list that includes Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, John Howard, Barack Obama, Steve Irwin, Shane Warne, Princess Diana and even Kylie Minogue.
Towards the end, it also gets a little Eat, Pray, Love when my search for an Indian bride reaches its fruition and I hightail it to Australia, where I seek refuge from the frontline of news.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
To help break down the ignorance that breeds racism, xenophobia and any form of discrimination.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
I greatly admire the writing of Christopher Hitchens, who features quite heavily in the book and who was kind enough to say nice things about my first one. From a literary standpoint, the same is true of Clive James. But the people are most admire are found in the book; brave, selfless, little-known types who do extraordinary things in extraordinarily dangerous places with little fuss or reward.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’ve never got the architect out of me. I’d love to build something that people would travel thousands of miles to see.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Get something on the page and don’t sign up to twitter. It could have invented with procrastinating writers in mind.
Nick, 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.