author Murder and Redemption
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
My first novel is set in WA, though I’m a Queenslander at heart. My parents lived their early lives in western Queensland, and the stories they told, on the lawn, under the stars, about the west during the Great Depression have stayed in my memory forever. They instilled in me the conservative values; work hard, be honest, cherish your friends, stand up for what you believe.
I was taught by the Christian Brothers, and left school feeling only respect for those who taught me. I had a completely different, and much happier, school experience than did the characters in my novel.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At age twelve I thought that I had the necessary attributes to become the Prime Minister of Australia.
At age eighteen I had decided that I would become a barrister, until a guidance counsellor rejected that ambition because as he said, ‘To become a successful barrister, you would first have to marry a wealthy woman.’ Since he did not seem to have any interest in introducing me to appropriately wealthy women, I sought my future as an Engineer.
At or about the age of thirty, I made up my mind to become a millionaire, because the environment in which I worked was heavily weighted towards the wealthiest people in Australia and it seemed churlish of me not to take a crack at it.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Boys of eighteen have not had time to formulate strong beliefs, except that they should continue to run the world that their parents have gifted to them.
At age 24 they have many beliefs, most of which are based on misconceptions of what the real world is about. That is unless they are TV stars or sporting celebrities, in which case, they know for certain, that everything impinging upon their own world, is of vital importance to every person who inhabits the earth.
At age 45, a man is likely to have built up a dangerous confidence in his ability to run the world, (always providing that he has had a good woman beside him to keep his eyes to the front), and may well go on and try to do just that.
At age 60, he has come to a realisation that, despite his best efforts, the world runs itself, and he may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.
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?
Because I had an interest in historical novels, I found James Michener and first read his ‘Chesapeake’. That book led me through his historical themes, and eventually to The Fires of Spring and to The Drifters. The characterisation in Spring and in Drifters made a very real impact.
Another favourite author in my early years was Winston Churchill, who had both a grasp on history, and a very elegant style of writing. For humour and dialogue I enjoyed all of Elmore Leonard’s books. I loved the characters and imaginative romance in The Vivisector by Patrick White.
My favourite music is in the operas, and particularly the Italian operas, Rigoletto, LaBoheme, Tosca et al.
I can’t say how the visual arts have influenced my writing, but I am certain that my visits to The Picasso Museum and to the Rodin Gallery, both in Paris, had a profound impact upon me as a person, in particular, the intensity of the figures in Rodin’s The Burghers of Calai. The way the artist could breathe real life into cold hard iron, appealed to the Engineer in me.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
During my life I have met some extraordinary people; clever people, funny people, weird people, some arrogant, some humble and some criminals.
I knew from an early age that I would write, so when the time came my first thought was to write a true story. A history of my parent’s life in outback Queensland during the depression; or the stories of people I have known, who, having survived the gas chambers, came to Australia and succeeded in business and as people.
Those are projects that I may well do, one day. Meanwhile I was driven by one particular character, who on the one hand was a comedic figure, but on the other a fully fledged tragic. He quickly took over my thinking, and he came alive in my mind, but as an extension of that real person.
My character was not the real thing, but better, and I knew that I had to write a novel, rather than a biography. He eventually dominated my story as the gangster, Uncle Romulus, a swashbuckling, piratical, loveable murderer, and certainly not everyone’s uncle.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Now, having survived a tour in Vietnam and a spiral into alcoholism, he is a man, emotionally scarred and violent. As he pursues a murderer, through the mines and ports of WA, he discovers that Ivan is on the wrong side of the law, is equally violent, and is suffering no remorse for the terrible crimes he has committed.
Struggling to control his stormy emotions, and his own conscience, Syd concedes that some people, Ivan for one, are beyond legal process and rationalises that murder is the only way to bring justice to his world. After all, when right and wrong, good and bad co-exist in every person, who deserves to live, who to die?
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that, while they read my book, they laugh out loud and shed some tears, as I did when I was writing it. I hope that they are entertained.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I could not choose between Winston Churchill and Gore Vidal. Churchill was a great warrior and a great leader. As a writer, he ranged from interesting and entertaining true stories, of his life as a soldier and politician, to enormous projects such as a history of the Second World War, and a history of the English speaking people.
While doing those things, he found time to run the world, and to paint extraordinarily well.
I have to say that is admirable.
Gore Vidal has been described as an all-round man of letters. He wrote books on American history for example Burr, and Lincoln that are full of mystery, romance, humour and even crime. That’s something to admire in a history. He wrote film scripts, TV series, stage plays. Many of his books, Myra Breckinridge for one, rocked the world. I have read some of his books multiple times, and they remain enjoyable. So much writing in one lifetime.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal was to write one excellent crime story, and now it is to write another excellent crime story and then a comedy and then a real life story, and then even more.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
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.