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 the Clare Valley wine region of South Australia, where my Dad was the railway stationmaster and my Mum looked after the seven of us before fleeing the house for a quieter job in the local library. I went to primary school at St Joseph’s in Clare and then to Clare High. After I matriculated, aged 17, I left Clare for the bright lights of Adelaide (and my first job as wardrobe girl on the Here’s Humphrey children’s TV program.)
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was 12 I wanted to run my own restaurant. I set one up on the side verandah at home but quickly went bankrupt when my family refused to pay for their meals. When I was 18 I wanted to be either married to Bono from U2 or be U2’s backing singer. When I was 30 I wanted to be a fulltime writer.
That I could stay up all night, dancing and going to gigs and not suffer any ill-effects the next day.
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 Chrysalids by John Wyndham was my bridge book between a childhood diet of Enid Blytons and ‘adult’ books. I read it as a 12-year-old (34 years ago) and can still recall details of the dialogue, characters and landscapes. It made me realise there was a whole world of stories out there waiting for me.
The first time I heard the instrumental Lake of Shadows by Irish group Moving Hearts it was as if a light switched on inside me. I was 17 and it set me thinking about my own Irish background. Over the past twenty years, I’ve moved back and forth between Australia and Ireland and that piece of music still feels like my soundtrack song.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
From the moment I started writing, I couldn’t believe the fun and freedom of it. Before I wrote my first novel at the age of 30, I’d worked in many ‘creative’ jobs, in children’s TV, the music industry, the publishing industry. I’d helped run tourism festivals and also staged concerts and musical events, which I loved doing, but there was so much work involved. In an early chapter of my first book, my fictional winery needed to be painted. It took one sentence. A character flew from Australia to Dublin in five words. A tour around Ireland took three pages. That first novel showed me that writing fiction meant I could make anything happen in just a few words. Nine books later, I still feel that sense of wonder and anticipation when I start writing.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Lola’s Secret is set in a family motel in the Clare Valley of South Australia, and centres on the matriarch, 84-year-old Irishwoman Lola Quinlan. She sends her family away for Christmas and invites a series of mystery guests to come and stay instead. What she doesn’t realise is her plans will set a series of unexpected events in motion… It’s the sequel to my fourth novel The Alphabet Sisters, but is also a stand-alone story. I loved writing it.
(BBGuru: publisher’s synopsis –
At the Valley View Motel in South Australia’s picturesque Clare Valley, eighty-four-year-old Lola Quinlan is up to her usual mischief. She’s sent her family away for Christmas and invited a number of mystery guests to come and stay. But who are all these people, and why aren’t they spending the festive season with their own loved ones?
As the big day draws closer and Lola’s personal family dramas threaten to unravel her plans, she discovers that at a special time of year, magic can happen in every family – especially your own.
From the bestselling author of At Home with the Templetons comes a funny, sad and moving novel about memories and moments and the very meaning of life.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope anyone who reads my books will be entertained, be able to relate to at least one of the characters and also feel touched in some way. I also hope they’ll have a few good laughs.
John le Carre. He’s a master storyteller, combining so many elements in his novels – politics, history, love, family relationships. He says something new and important with each book. I also like how he keeps himself to himself.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Simply to keep writing. I’m working on my new novel at the moment, as well as magazine and newspaper articles, short stories, a children’s novel, a TV series… The ideas keep pouring out of me. I want to try to write everything I can for as long as I can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit.
Monica, 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.