Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born and raised in Melbourne, schooled in an anachronistic convent school, which my sister used to describe as the school where they sent old nuns to die.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, a philosopher, because I’d already been having arguments with teachers at my school about the whole god problem but knew I didn’t have the rhetorical tools to slam dunk them.
At thirty, I was really starting to believe I wanted to write, but I didn’t think of it as being a writer. I thought of it more as a verb than a noun, and knowing my own mastery of procrastination I was doubtful about whether I could do it, let alone be any good at it. I think my official occupation now is Procrastinateur. (Procrastinateuse?) It’s a miracle to me that I manage to produce books.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I was fully convinced that I would be dead by forty. In contrast to my actual dull suburban existence, I knew that any day soon I would metamorphose into a glamorous, thrillseeking, fast living rebel whose crazy artistic lifestyle couldn’t be sustained past the decrepit age of forty. I have now passed the decrepit age of forty. And anyway, Keith Richards is still alive, so there goes my theory altogether.
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?
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake – when I first read this in my early teens I think I forgot to breathe for the first twenty pages. I had never encountered a mind like that. Peake wrote an epic that mocked itself, a deeply intelligent melodrama, a book in which the language may be describing a world of Gothic shadow and ritual but at the same time it is language so precise that the world springs from the page in terrifying imagery. It’s a book that can’t be categorised.
The portrait of Samuel Beckett by Louis le Brocquy, one of a series of portraits of writers and artists where the brute essence of the subject is portrayed in cadaver-like bruise-coloured brush strokes, the complexity of a character expressed as much by what is not there as what is there.
An album of Vladimir Horowitz playing Chopin, which still makes my heart race. It taught me that art can affect you down to the cellular level.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
You know how in some computer programs they have icons that are supposed to indicate the purpose of buttons or keystrokes? I stare at those funny little pictures in despair, because if there’s no text beside them, I am flummoxed. Words are my thing.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Fine Colour of Rust is a novel about a single mother in a country town fighting to save her kids’ school. I’m publishing it under the name P. A. O’Reilly (the A is for Anne) as opposed to my usual writing name, Paddy O’Reilly, because it’s a little different to my other works. In this one I let the narrator loose and she turned out to have a cracking sense of humour that made me laugh aloud – even when I was editing passages I’d read a hundred times. There are serious themes in the work, but they are woven through with Loretta’s wry observations and so I think the book carries them lightly.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb-
Single mother and dreamer Loretta Boskovic lives in Gunapan, a town lost in the scrubby Australian bush. She has fantasies about dumping her two kids in the orphanage and riding off on a Harley with her dream lover. Her best pal is a crusty old junk man called Norm. She needs a lawnmower; he gives her two goats called Terror and Panic.
Loretta’s a self-dubbed ‘old scrag’, but she’s got a big heart and a strong sense of injustice. So when the government threatens to close down Gunapan’s primary school, and there’s a whiff of corruption wafting through the corridors of the local council, Loretta stirs into action. She may be short of money, influence and a fully functioning car, but she has loyal friends. Together they can organise protests, supermarket sausage sizzles, a tour of the abattoir — whatever it takes to hold on to the scrap of world that is home.
THE FINE COLOUR OF RUST is a wryly funny, beautifully observed, life-affirming novel about friendship, love and fighting for things that matter. In Loretta Boskovic, Paddy O’Reilly (writing as PA O’Reilly) has created a truly endearing heroine who gives us all permission to dream.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A desire to read more. Whenever I’ve read something inspiring, a piece of powerful and engaging writing that has moved me, I either want to read it again immediately, or rush to the next book. And I think that’s the same for readers of literary fiction, or avant garde fiction, or SF, or any genre. I hope my work can do that for people too, because besides being a wonderful and pleasurable thing to do, I believe that reading makes us braver.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire poets who spend a very long time crafting poems of exquisite beauty and meaning, knowing that they will be read by only a few people (mostly other poets). For poets, the long term prospects of consistent publication and reaching a wide audience make the prospects of the aspiring novelist seem full of hope and light. But they keep doing it and I thank them, because reading a great poem breaks me apart and remakes me.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write fiction that is utterly true.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
You can listen to all the advice you want, but what you need is already inside you. It has come from the books you have read, the life you have led, the people with whom you have laughed and cried, and even the ones you have passed in the street. Allow yourself to find that and you will write what you need to write.
Paddy, thank you for playing.
Thank you for having me in your playground!
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.