author of The Cartographer
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 Melbourne on a rainy night only to discover that the Lord of Reincarnation had plonked me down in Richmond (I still don’t know what I did wrong). When I was seven the whole family packed up and moved to Dandenong. But I found them.
School was a Catholic affair. Now I know why bouncers wear black.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be a writer. I was already an accomplished raconteur (‘Dear Mrs Twohig, Peter tells stories,’ was my first and fairest review). My mother explained to me that bullshit, when written down, is actually worth money. It was an easy leap from performing art to literature. During my De La Salle years I wrote quite a bit, and published in the school magazine, the Eagle. Getting published was easy; getting censored was even easier. Back then, you didn’t get rejection slips, you got rejection beatings.
When I was eighteen I wanted to be a writer. And in fact I became a prolific diarist with a view to publishing a novel. But the Lord of Reincarnation intervened (again) and sidetracked me. At least, that’s my story.
When I was thirty I wanted to be a writer, but by that time I was just plain discouraged. I eventually became a naturopath & homoeopath, but really, I was a just a disenchanted artist.
Now I am what I always wanted to be – with bells on. It is the artist’s dream.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I believed that science was inherently good; that it was born of good wishes, and sustained by a love of knowledge. I believe that the hope of humanity lay with the scientists, who would figure things out, like Superman. I felt this most strongly in the case of medical science.
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?
Choosing influential music is more difficult. I think my artistic literary sensitivity was awoken very early in life by a particular piece, Terry’s Theme from Limelight, which has haunted me ever since. There are two other milestone numbers that seem to rejuvenate me every time I hear them, both created by great artists: The Theme from Picnic, The Theme from Route 66.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It was always going to be a novel, though I took music seriously in my teens. The novel is the storyteller’s vehicle. In the novel, the artist can create not just the story and the effect, but true intimacy.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Cartographer is about a boy who is stuck in the middle of a terrible time: the violent loss of his twin, with no satisfactory way forward. Then suddenly, all of his guilt and loneliness is amplified when he witnesses a shocking event that forces him to reinvent himself as a superhero, The Cartographer, not only to preserve his sanity, but his life. Throughout the novel we hear the kid’s own voice, cocky and devilish yet innocent and beautiful, belying his inner tension.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb:
Set in Melbourne in the 1950s, a 11-year-old boy witnesses a murder when he is spying through a window of a strange house.
In the following weeks he comes to map out all the significant adventures he has in the labyrinthine city, trying to make sure he doesn′t cross the path of the murderer, who he believes wishes to silence and dispose of him. Comics and superheroes inform his strategies for avoiding the bogeyman, as does the memory of his twin brother, Tom, who recently died in a tragic accident.
THE CARTOGRAPHER is a touching novel for readers captivated by the stories of Jonathan Safran Foer, Mark Haddon, Craig Silvey and Markus Zusak.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that people will disappear completely during the reading, and be transported…somewhere. And remember later only that they experienced something magical, though they can’t remember just what it was, like being abducted by aliens. Or being abducted by kids. I want them to know the pure joy of reading
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Relax, my goal is not at all ambitious. I intend to be remembered a writer of beautiful literature.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
It is this: don’t wait for a grand idea or a Big Production story to come to you. Just write. Don’t wait for life to hand you exciting experiences. Just write. And deeply care about it.
Peter, 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.