The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself where you were born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Sydney Australia, 1942 and lived in the southern suburb of Beverly Hills, when the streets had few cars and it was possible at 8 years of age to leave home in the morning and not return till late afternoon.
I had a broad education. At Beverly Hills Primary the teacher Mrs Jones told me I could aspire to anything I wanted in life, and Miss Hardman hit me over the knuckles for drawing under the desk.
At twelve I wanted to be both Jacques Cousteau, the French diver, and Emile Mercier, the Sydney daily news cartoonist.
At eighteen, I wanted to surf Waimea Bay.
At thirty, I wanted to be anywhere but a golf club and carrying drinks for golfers.
“Why?” didn’t occur to me at the time.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I had no strongly held belief at eighteen. My life was just fine. Food on the table, a roof over my head and the promise of a sunny weekend at the beach would have been almost taken for granted. Perhaps in my isolated upbringing I had an idea that life was fair and equitable for everyone. In Australia it’s called “ a Fair Go.”
I don’t believe that now.
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?
The Daily Newspaper. Emile Mercier, (already mentioned,) drew vignettes, snapshots, of everyday Sydney and it’s people with insight and great economy of line. I greatly admired them and copied them with some accuracy I’m told.
Popeye. I loved all the comics with their little floating balloons of speech, and for a while at least I could suspend my belief and think that bullies could be defeated by a hearty meal of spinach.
Voltaire. Not his written works, but a plaster cast of his head of which I spent many months at art school making a tonal painting. As the days passed I watched the light from Sydney harbour changing and with the passing of weeks, the dust settling over his features. I learnt patience and a certain resilience as the trains thundered overhead on the harbour bridge. I think it taught me to be quiet.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write for children?
Most good things in my life are not the result of a definable choice. I just let them happen. When our children were still young, and me about 40, a small bird flew over our back fence, stayed with us for a while and flew away again. I made a picture book of this fleeting encounter because it seemed a good idea at the time.
I never made the story as a career choice, I made the book as it was a quiet story which I thought worth telling.
My life and work have continued in much the same vein.
6. Please tell us about your latest book… A Bus Called Heaven
Young Stella takes her thumb from her mouth, pushes the back door open , steps inside and brings change to the community. The rest of the story is told in pictures.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that after reading my book the reader might think that it was a pleasant way to spend fifteen minutes.
I tend to avoid books whose covers offer me “Breathtaking prose of heart aching beauty,” and prefer to read books where I am not aware of the writing and where I can concentrate on the story and characters within it. I love Anne Tyler and Colm Toibin.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Ambition is not part of my thinking. I feel that ambition is a burden. I do have aspirations when I begin a book. I have words and pictures at my disposal and my hope is always that I can use them in the right combination and to the best of my ability to fashion a story which might be of interest to a small child and, (as an added bonus) her mum and dad too.
10. What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
Look around you. Ask questions rather than give answers. Read. Write.
Bob, 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.