Peter Allison, author of How to Walk a Puma, answers Six Sharp Questions

by |January 31, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Peter Allison

author of Whatever You Do, Don’t RunDon’t Look Behind You, But…  and now How to Walk a Puma

Six Sharp Questions


1.    Congratulations, you’ve a new book – How to Walk a Puma – what is it about and what does this book mean to you?

This book shakes me out of my comfort zone (the frequently uncomfortable wilds of Africa) and recounts my travels in South America. I really believed that as I am now in my thirties I wouldn’t have the same spirit of adventure that led to so many misadventures in my teens and twenties. I was convinced that in South America I would be a dullard. A week after arriving I was in Bolivia running 16 to 25kms a day through the jungle, tied to a puma who bit me if I ran too slow. I thought “Hmm, maybe there is a book here…”

As to what it means to me, it is the most important thing of all. After years of merely existing, I am alive again. And loving it.

(That sounds very wanky, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it is exactly how I feel.)

Click here to buy How to Walk a Puma from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

2.    Times passes. Things change. What would be the best and worst moments you’ve experienced in the past year or so?

It does. They do. The best would be finding a job that pays me to travel and go to extraordinary places from China to the Congo (I work once more in the photographic safari business). The worst is that I had my heart broken. Twice. Thanks for asking though. Really sensitive of you.

3.    Do you have a favourite quote or passage you’d be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

Great question, but be ready for a rubbish answer. No I can’t share it with you. That would mean reading the book. Once one of my books has gone off to be printed I never read them, not as some affectation but because it is only then (and never during editing) that I see every small mistak, every misplaced word, every poorly phrased passage. You know how awful it is hearing your voice on an answering machine? Multiply that by 65 000.

4.    Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life…

Of course not. I’m bloody lovely. And if you don’t agree I’ll flick you in the tits.

Um, there is really now way of answering this without sounding awful is there? Writing to a deadline is very stressful for me, and as due date approaches I am undoubtedly a whiny pain in the posterior. However I am always aware that it is the most wonderful of luxuries that someone pays me to put words on a page so hopefully don’t become too intolerable.

5.    Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it, would you please describe how the marketplace effects your writing

According to a bandana wearing friend of mine who happens to outsell me by a Brazilian to one, I am not aware of market need at all and need to put myself ‘out there’ more. I’m not sure what that means. Do I need to strip out of my khaki and don some sequins? Does anyone still own a Bedazzler so I can stand out? This is why I prefer to be in the bush, or jungle, or desert…

6.    Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

I’ve taken many Americans into the African bush so have some experience here. In the bush environment with no television nor internet reading a book suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. You don’t have to force someone to read once the horizon goes dark. Lions and hyenas keep them inside with nothing else to do. (Insert the evil laugh here of someone who loves books and animals).

i.       Boy by Roald Dahl. Ease them into reading with a book that is literary yet accessible, and has aged incredibly well. It is also far from intimidating at only one hundred pages or so.

ii.    The Delta by Tony Park. Often described as the new Wilbur Smith, Tony has written a story with a strong female lead, a story of environmental threats, but also plenty of stuff blowing up and a healthy lashing of sex to make sure the book is not put down. (Hang on, how old are these adolescents? Should I stick to Roger Hargreaves?)

iii.   A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. No better way to teach science.

iv.   The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. If they can make it through the slumping middle of this otherwise brilliant book, they are well on their way to being civilised.

v.      No idea. In the selection above I pretended to understand how to define civilisation, but having lived naked with a tribe in the Amazon (the happiest people I have ever met) then gone directly to London all I know is that I still have so much to learn.

Peter, thanks for playing!

Click here to buy How to Walk a Puma from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Booktopia Book Guru says… I have read Peter’s first two books, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run and Don’t Look Behind You, But… : More Tales from an African Safari Guide and can recommend them both. If you like to laugh, and who doesn’t, then Pete’s books are for you. If you love Africa, animals and roughing it, then Pete’s books are for you. If you want to taste a life entirely foreign to your own, if you want to be wander through the wilds of Africa from the safety of your armchair, then, once again, both of Pete’s books are for you. That should about cover everyone. Now get to reading them!

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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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  • jasmine lawrence

    February 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    a review of your book interested me. i would love to read it even though your facebook comments sound as trivial as most facebook comments!mine too. but then i am ninety and the world has changed. i have got left behind, but not as much as the villagers you write about!
    still hope to get to read it

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