Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Sydney, Sydney and Sydney. The North Shore to be precise at Turramurra High School. Where do I still live: the North Shore! But I did spend 16 months living in the UK where I worked and researched research. It stood me in good stead for my future writing career.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Age twelve: a professional ballet dancer – even though my parents did not let me learn ballet! Fortunately they relented when I turned thirteen. To anyone who loves dance, I have no need to explain why. To anyone who doesn’t, no explanation will suffice. Age eighteen: a professional genealogist even though there wasn’t really such a career in Australia. But at age 24 I managed one better: Project Officer of the Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, a job in my hobby. Who could ask for more (now I have two jobs in the same hobby – how many people manage that?!). Why? I had discovered a love for detective work and I was too short for the police force and not good at staying up late at night looking in nightclubs for people wanted by Interpol (yes, I actually applied to a private detective agency and that was my assignment). I discovered that dead people and written records are much more my forte. Aged 30: anyone who managed a good night’s sleep. I had young children!
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I could grow taller than 5 foot nothing. I was deluding myself.
I read Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time at school and we had a mock trial of Richard III, which was when I first discovered my fascination with determining historical truths. It was also the time of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and books on the Bermuda Triangle and the mystery – in particular, finding the answers to these mysteries – intrigued me. These were the pivotal moments that led me to take the first steps on the pathway to researching and writing true stories.
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 have always been a bookworm – reading four books in a day is my record. Oh, I had such a headache afterwards! Give me a bed in the bowels of the State Library with the miles and miles of books and I would be in heaven. The smell … the feel … and the words. Books are entities – they have a permanence that nothing else shares. In 200 years, my books will still be around but the blogs and online newspapers and TV programmes and radio reports will all be long gone.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady: the true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg tells the story of “gentleman bushranger” Fred Ward and his lover Mary Ann, who helped keep him safe from the troopers sent out to capture or kill him. Two intriguing characters, a fascinating true story – every author’s dream. Well, mine, anyway! It was one of those goosebumps-all-over moments when I discovered it.
(BBGuru: The publisher’s synopsis – He was the gentleman bushranger … she was the woman who rode with him. This is the true story of Captain Thunderbolt and his lady.
‘Bail up!’ demanded Captain Thunderbolt before he shouted the bar with the inn keeper’s own profits. Driven into banditry by injustice, this colonial Robin Hood, magnificent horseman and skilled bushman was celebrated by his victims as vigorously as he was hunted by the law.
She was his chief lieutenant, his eyes and his ears. Intelligent and beautiful, Mary Ann Bugg dressed as a man, rode like a man, and helped keep Thunderbolt ahead of the troopers and trackers intent on pursuing him to his end. Until one day…
Compellingly written and richly detailed, Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady has it all – action, drama, and two protagonists who defied social conventions for freedom. This is an unputdownable story of an extraordinary partnership and a fresh retelling of one of Australia’s greatest bushranging stories. )
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
After watching Miss Congeniality, I always laugh at this question. I too want ‘world peace’ – although I am realistic enough to know it is against human nature. But otherwise, to make people realise that if we truly understood history we would at least know what not to do even if we didn’t know what to do. Otherwise we are inevitably doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past – over and over again.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Simon Winchester. He writes the most beautiful prose while telling fascinating true stories. His skills leave me in awe.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To have large numbers of people in Australia and overseas wanting the next Carol Baxter book because they love how I tell true stories, because they know they will be both educated and entertained by reading my stories.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read and write … and keep reading and writing. I am a self-taught historian and a self-taught writer yet I managed to have my first manuscript picked up by the first publisher I approached (Allen & Unwin). All I had previously done was read lots of books and research and write family histories. I am not kidding. Yes, I might be the exception to the rule, but I am the proof that there are exceptions.
Carol, 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.