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 raised in Bundanoon, which, unlike Wagga Wagga, isn’t even imaginary. We lived in town, but mum and dad managed to somehow sneak bees, chooks and cows into the family, which is not only impressive but potentially illegal. I went to public primary and high school, and am dismayed to admit tracksuit pants were classed as acceptable school uniform at both of these institutions.
Nonetheless, I loved my childhood and teen years immensely. Even if at the time all I wanted was to live in Sydney and audition for Heartbreak High.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, a dancer. I spent an inordinate amount of time prancing theatrically in front of reflective surfaces, and bemoaning the fact that mum and dad wouldn’t drive me to the local dance school on Saturdays, because it was too far and Saturdays were their day off, too. (A philosophy I will now obviously emulate when I am a parent.) I settled for local cricket and was predictably appalling.
At eighteen, I was convinced I would be an advertising copywriter. (This might explain my fixation with Mad Men, but a brooding Don Draper might be more accurate.) It seemed like a profound, important career to want, and dissing advertisements with claims I could do better provided the perfect foundation for what would later become fully-fledged arrogance.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
‘Midriffs are cute to show off!’, would be one. So too, ‘Sambucca is best drunk with Sprite, and extremely quickly.’ Back then I was also a real cool cat when it came to boys and relationships. For example, I was convinced the best way to win an ex-boyfriend back was to show up at his house unannounced, and then sit and wait for his return for SIX HOURS, while his poor flatmate awkwardly tried to hint he might not be back til “pretty late, hey.” Obviously I would never do that now. I would leave after five hours.
Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (series) was instrumental in showing me just how terrifically funny and entertaining and brain-bendingly innovative grown up books can be. Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales was equally influential, and as well as my dad, I credit him for introducing me to satire. I also took a lot of enjoyment and inspiration from the Monty Python crew, who taught me in their own wild way how amusing playing with known forms can be, not to mention the power and joy that comes from pure nonsense.
I must also mention The Simpsons and The Family Guy, which are probably my most beloved source of entertainment, and also my favourite form of comedy writing, too. They are the masters of economical, elegant self-reference and the kings of one-liners, and I openly worship at their animated altar.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I heard the money was fantastic. Also, because I am a crazed fool without a project, and a project that involves 100,00 words is going to keep me 100 times more busy than one that demands only 1000. But exciting multiplication aside, I thoroughly enjoy writing books. I’d produce three a year if I could (and by that I mean, ‘if I didn’t waste so much time on Twitter and Tumblr and the innernette in general.’) They become like a friend to me – they are the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. They’re always there to hang out when my friends are busy, and they never eat the last piece of Haigh’s. It’s thrilling to push them out onto the world, but then sad when A Newer Shinier Book comes along and knocks them off their perch. (Literally.) There’s a tiny chance I am too emotionally attached.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel… The Younger Man
It’s about Abby Vaughn, a confident, fun woman in her early thirties who is quite happy being single, thank you very much. She hooks up with a dashing young (“embryonic”) hunk, Marcus, and before she knows it, is accidentally falling for him. This causes her some distress, because while her head is telling her what she is doing is ludicrous, and that to invest in a man so young is foolish, her heart is bouncing along happily, whistling and clicking its heels and just quite thrilled in general.
I was inspired by the several million women I know who date or have dated younger men. Some of these relationships worked, some of them failed, some should’ve worked but didn’t, but every one of the reasons behind these outcomes intrigued me. (Sicko.)
(BBGuru: the publisher’s blurb – Abby runs her own agency, providing beautiful girls for promotional events. She needs a new website and when she calls in the web contractors, none other than the gorgeous, sexy, young Marcus turns up.
Abby had met Marcus at a party a few weeks earlier and they had an amazing one-night stand. Abby is not unhappy to see him again. He is rather divine, after all. It’s just that she’s 33 and he’s 22, so how can she ever expect anything to come of this relationship.
But Marcus is determined and sets out to prove to Abby that he is wise beyond his years and knows what he wants. Abbie is not so sure and when she escapes to Italy and meets someone else, she must decide whether to follow her head or her heart.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
It probably won’t be anything too profound with my books… What I genuinely do hope though, is that they had fun. I certainly had fun writing them, and it would be very selfish if the fun ended there, wouldn’t it?
My mind automatically screams to children’s authors, because they’re playing with such delicate, susceptible minds, and have the potential to cause a life-long impression on the reader. (If they’re lucky and by “lucky” I mean “shockingly talented.”) The grand emperor of these in my eyes is Roald Dahl, whose books I read and re-read as a child, and now buy for children (ones I know, not just random kids in the street) with evangelical passion. I loved his subversiveness, the way he empowered his child protagonists, and of course, his fascination (and mastery of) the disgusting, the dysfunctional and the dreaded.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I used to have age-based ones, but no longer care for racing myself in that fashion. I’d love to really cement myself as a fiction writer, something which will hopefully come with solid, interesting content, life experience, and swift output so as to keep the masses slaked. And, like so many other writers, I’d love to try my hand (or both hands, to be accurate; typing a book with one hand seems terribly inconvenient) at children’s books. But not for a long while yet. (Sleep easy, Jeff Kinney.)
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Get it down, get all your ideas and anecdotes down, no matter which order and in what shape. There! You’ve inadvertently just written half your book! Well, maybe not half, but, you know, a good whack of it. I think it makes it a lot easier to write a book when you’ve already got the bones there. Also – just give me a second to get up onto this soapbox conveniently placed to my left – please stop talking about how you want to write a book, and write a book. It’s no more impressive telling people you “want to write a book,” than it is to say you “want to climb Everest.” You gotta take action! Action is the thing! Action is the thing.
Zoë, thank you for playing.
Thank YOU for providing the monkey bars!
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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 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, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.