Peter Popham, author of The Lady and the Peacock: the Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 16, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Peter Popham

author of The Lady and the Peacock: the Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

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 a village in County Cork, Eire, then moved to England when I was a baby and grew up in Richmond, south-west of London, famous for its glorious park. I went to a London grammar school where I edited the school magazine and had my first encounter with Australia via Richard Neville when I became one of the schoolkid editors of a notorious issue of Oz magazine.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Writer, writer and writer. Like my dad. It was what I was good at, and I liked his lifestyle of staying home all day, smoking his pipe and occasionally firing his catapult at the pigeons.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the United Nations was going to save the world.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

My parents’ divorce, unfortunately, which brought home the impermanence of ‘home’. Reading Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry and beginning to appreciate what prose could do, and what style was. Encountering Zen Buddhism when I was teaching English in Japan, and learning a little about silence.

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?

Not yet!

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

A woman in her early forties with an academic husband, two sons and a comfortable life in England dreams of one day emulating her heroic father, who fought for and won his nation’s independence. But it’s just a dream – until she finds herself plunged into the thick of a mass uprising and discovers her destiny. It sounds like a novel and I hope it is as gripping as one, but it is the true story of Aung San Suu Kyi, a true heroine of our times.

(BBGuru: from the publisher –

The definitive biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader.

Until she was released in November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi had been under house arrest in Burma for fourteen of the previous twenty years. She was already confined to her home when the party she co-founded and led, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in a general election in 1990. The result was never acknowledged by the military regime in power for many decades.

Yet, headline, tragic events have happened in Burma in recent years: the brutally put down uprising of the monks and nuns in 2007, the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and then Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial following the entry into her home of an American intruder who swam across a lake to reach her. Since then there have been sham elections held in November 2010, and ‘Daw Suu’ (as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is known) was released into an uneasy stand off with the junta.

Praised all over the world for her martyrdom, a matchless emblem of Buddhist fortitude and good humour to her people, there is no public figure in the world today who can compare to her. Yet no book has yet been written that does justice to her extraordinary story: brought up mostly in India, settled in N. Oxford with her English scholar husband and two sons, called back to Burma to look after her sick mother, then caught up in a revolutionary uprising for which she became leader, yet trapped inside the country – never to see her husband again.

The Lady and the Peacock is the first, accessible biography of Aung San Suu Kyi. It will become the definitive work on this extraordinary woman, of whom Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said: ‘Aung San Suu Kyi is a remarkable and courageous human being. Listen to her voice and be inspired…’ )

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

To enable at least a few people to see that, while life can be futile, it doesn’t have to be. It’s up to us.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

The Dalai Lama. Who has transformed the shit of humiliation into spiritual gold.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I have written a good book. I would like to write another.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

If you like it, just do it! And never slacken your standards.

Peter, thank you for playing.

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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, 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.

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  • glen smith

    January 26, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I have read your biography of Suu Kyi. You air brush Aung San’s alliance with the Japanese in WW2. You should read more widely namely Louis Allen book “The Longest War” 1941-45. Aung San changed sides on the 27/3/1945. (fought with the japanese from 1941 till then) Remember Rangoon was liberated on the 3/5/1945. Bill Slim of the 14th Army asked San why he changed sides. He stated “because you wre winning” Suu kyi in her book also airbrushes her fathers involvement. His army not only fought with the Japanese by day but raided his own people at night and pilaged their goods

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