author of The Night Circus
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 and raised in Massachusetts, about halfway between Boston and Cape Cod, so I’ve always been a coastal, ocean girl even though I prefer night-time beaches to sun-soaked ones. I went to Smith College in Western Massachusetts where I studied Theatre and Studio Art.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At eighteen I was deep into my theatre phase, doing a little bit of everything from acting to lighting design and while I didn’t know exactly what role I wanted to play long-term I figured it would involve theatre in one way or another.
At thirty (which was only three years ago) I had finally figured out that I wanted to be serious about my writing, but I’m not sure I admitted to myself that I wanted to be a writer even then.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I think I’m more of a believer now than I was at eighteen, actually. Back then I was more of a skeptic, still trying to figure out what, if anything, I believed in. Now I believe in a number of things, including impossible ones.
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 hard to limit what is likely a very long list to three, but the first that come to mind are Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams, René Magritte’s painting “The Empire of Light” and Punchdrunk’s immersive theatrical production of Sleep No More.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I had too much stuff in my head and it insisted on being written down and was far too long and involved to consent to being a short story or a novella. I have dabbled in other artistic avenues and I still paint but there is something extraordinary about creating an entire world to be held in a book. I’ve always loved books so it was a familiar artistic avenue even when it was daunting.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Night Circus is a story about a nocturnal Victorian-era black-and-white traveling circus that contains astounding sights and performances, a clandestine competition with consequences unforeseen by the players, an extroadinary bonfire, several complicated love stories, and mice made of chocolate.
(BBGuru: publisher’s synopsis –
A magical love story set to be the publishing sensation of 2011
In 1886 a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, the Cirque des Rêves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. There are contortionists, performing cats, carousels and illusionists – all the trappings of an ordinary circus. But this is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the rêveurs – the dreamers. And who is the sinister man in the grey suit who watches over it all? Behind the scenes a dangerous game is being played out by two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who, at the behest of their masters, are forced to test the very limits of the imagination – and of love.
A feast for the senses, a fin-de-siècle fantasia of magic and mischief, and the most original love story since The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Night Circus is an extraordinary blend of fantasy and reality. It will dazzle readers young and old with its virtuoso performance, and who knows, they might not want to leave the world it creates.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’m not sure, the reader/book relationship is such a personal thing. An increased sense of wonder, maybe. I’ve noticed that so far different things about my writing speak to different readers, which I think is marvelous.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I think it would be impossible to choose just one writer I most admire. I admire writers who surprise, writers who break rules and stretch boundaries. Writers who make me think.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I don’t set specific goals, really. Mostly I would like to continuously improve, to push myself with each new step I take.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
The best writing advice I ever heard was to keep writing and finish things, which I believe was from Neil Gaiman. I agree, especially the finishing things, which is sometimes the most difficult part but also incredibly important.
Erin, 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.