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 Brighton on the south coast of England – so windswept promenades and piers are in my soul. I was raised in Brighton too and it was a fabulously trendy place to grow up because it was just 50 miles south of London and very sophisticated. It had terrific shopping, nightlife, restaurants and brilliant ‘discos’ and clubs for older teenagers. I was schooled at the Hove County Grammar School for Girls and was one of those irritating people who really enjoyed school despite not being academic.
At 12 I wanted to be an ‘air hostess’ as we called them in the late ‘60s, because they were so incredibly glamorous and flew off to exotic places everyday and because I dreamed of travel. I’m glad to say I pursued that dream and was involved in the travel industry for most of my working life up to around 45 years old. Now, as a full time writer, I still seem to be travelling more than ever for my work. Isn’t life curious!
At 18, I wanted to have my own business – I wasn’t sure in what sort of business but I was showing a strong marketing and promotional sense so I figured I should go into public relations, which was quite the buzz in London during the late ‘70s. I had it in mind that I’d open my own consultancy, which crazily enough I did six years later and that morphed into a travel publishing company.
By 30 and a bit more experienced with life and business, I wanted to be a mother and a full time writer. I became a mum the following year to our twin sons who are turning 21 as I write this and even though I was working full time in our business, I was beginning to think about what I might write if I could make my dream come true to write a book. Just one…that’s all I had in mind by the time I had twin babies.
I believed that winning is everything. Actually I’m lying, I still believe that.
Umm… I felt that team players were weak and being fearful of facing challenges needed others around them. I’ve drastically changed that opinion and now believe that without team players the world would grind to a standstill and be a far less pleasant place.
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?
The Four Seasons – Vivaldi…I still love to write with it playing or just in my mind, often catch myself humming it. But I did my final senior year of English Literature and History study to this addictive music.
Le Mort de Marat – Death of Marat. Painted by Jacques-Louis David in the late 1793. I studied the History of Art for two years and this was a painting that captivated me. At the time I probably couldn’t have told you why but now when I look at it, it has definitely wrapped up with what I write….it’s historical, it’s dramatic, it’s brutal, it speaks of mystery and conflict, of heroism and martyrdom, there’s horror and there’s beauty. I think I read so much into this painting when I was set an assignment to not research it so much as react to it that I realised I could easily build a story around this moment of death without having to know anything about it. Perhaps that was a subconscious nod to my future as a storyteller two decades later?
The Dictionary. A serious work of art and something I love to browse and certainly couldn’t write without.
No, I was only ever average at art. I could draw a bit, I could colour rather well within the lines , and I could throw a mean pot on the potter’s wheel! When you take the attitude that I did from very young that being the best at something was important and you grow up watching genuine artists developing around you, where they are creative in everything they touch, you stop playing with the idea of being arty. I am not arty at all. I can’t arrange flowers, I can’t make cards, I can’t knit or garden, I can’t sew or make things, I can’t even wrap a present terribly well. My kids can pick out my Christmas gifts in a blink because they are always the awkward looking ones with shocking packing and crooked ribbon. And here’s the thing, I’ve never EVER thought of myself as an artist in my writing.
What I recognised within myself was a storytelling ability that every novelist needs as a fundamental in their skill set. Now when it comes to imagination I become highly creative and I can visualise stories with terrific ease, but to me that’s not art. Maybe I’m wrong? Anyway, I didn’t see any artistic avenues open to me and I clearly went down the corporate path. However, I became a novelist because I had been a storyteller since I was old enough to speak…I just hadn’t ever bothered to write down a story whether it was make believe or taken from true life. And I didn’t bother writing a story until I was hitting 40. When I tried it, I loved it. And because I loved it, I became passionate and more adept with each attempt. I was incredibly fortunate to get my first manuscript off the ground and because of that early success I guess I fell in love with the notion of becoming a writer of fiction. Why did I want to write? I am an escapist – I’m not fond of real life because it’s full of responsibility, too many dirty dishes, too many thankless tasks like washing clothes, vacuuming, tidying, etc. Books and movies allow me to escape life and as I had no intention of starring in a movie, I decided to write a book instead.
It’s about a young lavender farmer, forced to take an heroic pathway as the Nazi war machine takes France, just as he makes a shocking discovery into his past; and a dislocated but incredible woman with a dark past of her own. They meet as the world they know is disintegrating into WWll. They each have missions their hearts are set upon, but then an enigmatic German enters their lives…
The setting is Occupied Paris, Vichy Provence and bomb blitzed London.
(BB Guru Publisher blurb:
‘Are you German or are you French? Are you working against Germany or for it? Are you telling me the truth, or are you a very accomplished liar?’
Lavender farmer Luc Bonet is raised by a wealthy Jewish family in the foothills of the French Alps. When the Second World War breaks out he joins the French Resistance, leaving behind his family’s fortune, their home overrun by soldiers, their lavender fields in disarray.
Lisette Forestier is on a mission of her own: to work her way into the heart of a senior German officer – and to bring down the Reich in any way she can. What Luc and Lisette hadn’t counted on was meeting each other.
When they come together at the height of the Paris occupation, German traitors are plotting to change the course of history. But who, if anyone, can be trusted? As Luc and Lisette’s emotions threaten to betray them, their love may prove the greatest risk of all.
From the fields of Provence to the streets of wartime Paris, The Lavender Keeper is an extraordinary, moving story of action and adventure, heartbreak and passion, devotion and treachery from an internationally bestselling author.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A genuine sense of escape from everyday life and having been totally absorbed and entertained by a story.
I love the stories of George R. R. Martin because his tales are huge with big stakes…exactly how I always want my books to be. I read Game of Thrones in 1996, three years before I wrote my first book, Betrayal. I had been inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin Hobb to write fantasy but it was GRRM who gave me permission, I suppose, to write my brutal style of fantasy. George punishes his characters, kills them ruthlessly and constantly keeps his readers guessing. His tales sprawl and he knows how to make readers invest their emotions as they read. His stories are addictive. So while I love many of the classics – I do admit to admiring a contemporary writer who has helped to keep the fantasy genre at the forefront of the reading and viewing audiences and shows the world how imaginative and powerful these stories we write are.
I am a natural born goal-setter. I began writing a dozen years ago but I wanted to fill a bookshelf fast because a publisher once told me that you need book space in the stores to get noticed by readers. I grasped the concept immediately – one book does not attract much attention but nine or ten do. So I had a goal to write two books a year. I’ve now written 12 big fantasy volumes, two children’s fantasy novels, two crime novels, a quartet of younger readers’ fantasy novelettes, and a big family saga. In 2012 I’ll have three new novels released – an adventure romance, a new adult fantasy and a new middle readers’ fantasy. So by the end of this year I’ll have 23 books on that bookshelf and that feels rewarding. I’ve delivered the 24th novel by the way – the sequel to The Lavender Keeper.
Other goals include writing a screenplay – big or small screen! And perhaps getting involved in a cookery book.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Perhaps the most important suggestion I can give all aspiring writers is to finish what they begin. It’s very easy to get diverted, distracted, disillusioned…but unless you finish the story you’ve begun, you may remain a writer who is aspiring rather than one who is published. And we all want our work published, right? …so we can share our stories.
Fiona, 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.