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 am a Melbourne girl in my late 40s who spent primary school in the suburbs and high school by the bay, and formative years in the inner city being a “baby” journalist for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. I started my working life when I’d just turned 18 and left school. The other places I’ve loved living for a while are Sydney and Darwin. I’d say I was professionally schooled by the sub editor’s desk at The Age. They were so loomy and terrifying, you made sure you didn’t make a mistake or use an unchecked source. They taught me the fear of inaccuracy, the fear of missing a deadline. I already had the terror of being dull.
At 12 I wanted to be an archeologist.
At 18 I fiercely, avidly, greedily wanted to be a cartoonist and a journalist. As a teenager I’d worked in a second hand book shop in a suburban shopping centre, and I’d fallen crazy-in-love with the satirical school novels of Geoffrey Willans, illustrated by the amazing cartoonist Ronald Searle (starring Nigel Molesworth in the How to Be Topp series). They were my first, and maybe biggest ever, influences.
At thirty, I think, looking back, I wanted to work out how to be a happy grown-up in control of her own life. I’d been with a succession of blokes who were wrong for me: the sort I would have advised my friends to leave. And so I worked out I’d be better off on my own, came home to Melbourne, joined a baseball team full of most amusing lesbians and accidentally fell in love with the coach, who is now my common-law husband. How excellent. That went surprisingly well, come to think of it.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was 18 I was utterly sure that society would just keep getting fairer, that now people had worked out racial discrimination was wrong, and sexism was counterproductive to fun and progress, in the future women wouldn’t have to rely on their appearance for approval, wouldn’t have to behave and perform like strippers to get a recording contract, would soon make up half the workforce and the parliament. What a preposterous fool. (BBGuru: You made me snort loudly in the office!)
Big Three career events. Getting the cadet journalist job at the Age at the end of my year 12, at the start of 1981. Following the visionary editor Michael Gill to a new independent newspaper Business Daily in 1987: the paper didn’t survive but my spirit of independence did. The ongoing success of my pregnancy book Up the Duff which has paved the way for my other books, and meant I’ve been able to make a career working from home in my ducky pajamas.
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 like books. I think a lot of other people like books, too. And for a book like Girl Stuff: Your Full On Guide to the Teen Years, reading it in secret and having in hidden under the bed is important. I like the online world too (it’s easier to research things and contact people now, although one must resist the temptation to replace real research with lazygoogling. Is that a word?
Books that are beautiful and have a wonderfully clever design will always delight people – my publisher, Julie Gibbs, at Lantern, part of the Penguin Group, is a pioneer and an inspiration in this field. I can’t tell you how many hours that become weeks spent with clever designers making sure the book serves the reader by being easy to read and navigate. There’s a trick to doing it so the reader doesn’t even notice how much work has gone into it. In a way it’s easier to see when the extra care and skill and experience is missing. Open any recipe book with an unreadably groovy font in white reversed out of grey, with dull photos ripped from a website elsewhere, something just slapped together and rushed out or a large book with a useless or missing index. I guarantee you it won’t be a Lantern book. I’m grateful for all the top class editors I’ve worked with at Penguin, too, to save me from terrible typos and clumsy sentences. I think that quality shows, and that people appreciate it. (And no, don’t tell me if you find a typo. It’s always my fault, and I will cry.)
When I worked in commercial radio you could see that most of the people in management held their listeners in contempt. I’m so happy to be back in publishing in an environment that respects readers. I just hope they’ll keep respecting us back! As the journalism world has shrunk and the outlets for independent journalism have disappeared, I feel Penguin has really supported me in my independent research and writing of women’s issues. So much online is written by commercial interests who try to make women feel bad about themselves so they’ll spend more, or new-age extremists who want to have their special interests believed even when they have no evidence for their claims. That’s what my new book Women’s Stuff is all about – giving women independent info, with the slogan “without the fibs, faff, or fakery”.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Women’s Stuff is by far the biggest book I’ll ever write, 770 pages of fun and step-by-step practical advice for any challenge or passion. It’s not meant to be read like a novel – it’s to help you with any situation that relates to appearance, esteem, mental health, physical health, finances, friends, family, relationships, or life change. It really does cover everything, including in the round-up grief, eating, flirting, getting out of debt, body hair, escaping a controlling relationship, what to do with misbehaving bosoms, getting into a new career, being at home, and control-top underpants. And in the Lantern tradition, it’s beautiful, sturdy, easy to use, and has two marker ribbons in hot pink and black. Va va voom.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s synopsis – Whether you’re starting or ending a relationship, a friend has found a lump in her breast, you’re in debt, your partner’s lost interest in sex or you don’t know whether to believe the moisturiser label, Women’s Stuff is your must-have guide, from leaving school to menopause and beyond. It’s a best friend in book form, a complete guide to how to get your life together and face any challenge at any age. It’s also the ultimate fib detector – Kaz has sifted the facts and tested the claims, exposing the lies women are told about cosmetics, other products and their health, and explaining which info you can trust and how to find the truth about everything. It covers the practical side of life, including work, money and homemaking, as well as getting to know and make friends with your body, family, mental and physical health, and sex and relationships.
Three years in preparation, this guide book to making the most of yourself and your life includes the quotes and comments of more than 7000 women from all over the world, sharing their innermost thoughts on everything from sex to housework, drinking problems and hopes for the future. Providing info at your fingertips, if and when you need it, whichever stage your life is at, Women’s Stuff will save you money and make you happier. )
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
Erm, can I admit I don’t want my work to do only one thing? I would like Women’s Stuff to be a best friend to women who can’t possibly be expected to be experts on every aspect of their lives, but will now have access to the advice of top experts in every field and more than 7000 other women whose quotes are in the book, because they participated in the online research survey. And I hope people will have a laugh while they’re reading. Also, it should be able to prop open a door in a high wind.
Hmmm. Thinking about those I admire, I think the theme might be fearlessness, or to be more accurate people who do things even if they’re scary. Ruth Gruber, pioneering photojournalist who first publicised what was happening with Jewish refugees after World War 2. My pal Judith Lucy for the candour and skill in her work. Women in the public eye who decide not to inject Botox into their face. Or women who do use Botox and don’t lie about it. Women on the land. Mums. Involved Dads. Good teachers. The actor Peter Dinklage, who raises the standard of everything I’ve ever seen him in. The way Russell Brand handles interviews. Barbara Cartland for wearing false eyelashes the size of fruit bats.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I would like to design a postage stamp while there’s still postage. I would like to see Venice. I have given up my ambition of learning to walk in high heels. I want to keep making a living out of writing as long as I can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My advice to aspiring writers sounds simple but can be hard. Write. You can’t tinker with a blank page or screen. Get something down. And don’t let yourself be intimidated. It’s a cliché now, but the first Harry Potter book really was rejected by 12 professional publishers, all of whom are still rocking and sobbing in a corner now. Don’t listen to snobs who say “fantasy”and graphic novels aren’t ‘real’ literature or that funny writing isn’t as important as other stuff, or “literary” writing and poetry is too “boring” or out of fashion. Every kind of writing can be great. And every kind of bookshop is good, too. Connect with and buy at local bookshops, and also make sure you ferret around in online bookstores. And go rummaging in blogs and podcast for like-minded folk talking about writing and reading and publishing, there’s so many more connections to be made online and in the digital world now.
Kaz, 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.