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 Melbourne, but my family moved to Papua New Guinea when I was six years old, and I spent most of my childhood there. My father worked as a pilot in the New Guinea Highlands. It was a strange, wonderful and occasionally scary place to grow up. When we moved back to Melbourne, I went to an all-girls secondary school. I was very happy there, but it had the unfortunate side-effect that I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation with a boy until I was about twenty-five years old.
At twelve, I wanted to be an author, and had wanted that since I was four. My whole life was inside books, and in my imagination.
At eighteen, I wanted to be a lawyer. At least, I was studying law, so I guess I must have wanted to be a lawyer, though that seems incomprehensible now. Or possibly a diplomat. Or a historian. Maybe an actor? Or an archaeologist. Or a philosopher. Or a waitress at the Swagman.
At thirty, I was working at a record company, but writing was my real job. I hadn’t had any novels published yet, but I was having some modest success with short stories – enough to encourage me to plug away.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I was a fervent communist. I was very romantic about the transformative powers of revolution. Now I’m not so sure. These days I’m more of a blushing pink than a glaring red.
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?
It’s not really a work of art, but The Heart of The Matter – a documentary film about the work of Carl Jung – had a profound effect on my imagination. It encouraged me to look beneath surfaces, and to find meaning everywhere.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin inspired me to try my hand at fantasy.
And a (not very good) fantasy novel, which shall remain un-named, gave me the courage to believe that if they could do it, so could I!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Can’t sing. Can’t draw. Never learned an instrument. Too lazy to persist with ballet. Too unco for gymnastics.
Making up stories is the way I try to make sense of the world. It began when I was about three years old, making up stories in bed before I fell asleep, and I’ve done it ever since.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Crow Country is the story of Sadie, dragged by her mother to live in the tiny country town of Boort. Exploring in a dried-up lake bed, Sadie finds an ancient and secret site, and discovers that she can understand the language of the crows. The crows have a task for her: they throw her back in time, to solve a mystery from long before she was born. Sadie must find a way to right old wrongs without repeating the mistakes of the past.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I desperately wanted to write an Australian fantasy novel that explored the connections of both Aboriginal and non-indigenous Australians to our landscape and the magic it contains. I want to thank Gary Murray and the Dja Dja Warrung people for their generosity in helping me to tell the story of Sadie and Crow, and setting it in Dja Dja Warrung country. I hope readers will find something to think about – about our history, and our future. And I hope they enjoy a really cracking story.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Helen Garner is probably my favourite writer. She is so ruthless with herself, the opposite of self-indulgent, and the way she weaves together observation, truth and narrative is so bold it takes my breath away. The precision and beauty of her prose is simply stunning.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To finish my next book. I don’t look much further than that. My career as a published author has coincided almost exactly with my life as a mother, so I’ve learned to have very small goals. Get out of bed. Get the kids to school on time. Write two hundred words. Come up with a dinner everyone will eat. That kind of thing.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read as widely as you can. Write as often as you can. Be hard on yourself, but not too hard. Find something you care about, and write about it.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. It won’t.
Kate, 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.