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 a very small town in Ontario, Canada called Grimsby. After my father died, my mother (being a NZ’er) travelled on a war boat bringing us (four children under the age of five) back to her hometown of Dunedin.
My schools were in Dunedin – primary and then technical college where I did my best to learn to be a shorthand typist. The typing was fine, the shorthand hopeless. I used to make up stuff until my first job when I realised that wasn’t the best thing to do.
At twelve I wanted to be a model (with glasses, slightly chubby and a terrible giggle) uh – I don’t think so!
At eighteen I wanted to be a traveller (which I started at the age of 19)
At thirty (with two small children) I wanted nothing more a good night’s sleep and to be a ‘good’ mother.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That you needed money to do anything. So not true. I found this out when travelling and was broke.
Ballet and waltz music have always moved me. Especially Tchaikovsky and Strauss. There is something about that type of music that seems to connect with my soul.
As a nineteen year old in London seeing West Side Story. The movie for me was full of passion and colour, hate and love. Very powerful.
When I first started out ‘trying’ to be a writer I didn’t know how to do it, so I tried out a variety of styles like those from different and successful writers. But it felt all wrong. Then I read the novel The Spinster by NZ author, Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Her style was unconventional, simple and natural. That was the turning point for me and the adult short stories I was dabbling in at the time.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I have always loved books, or even more so the people in the books. Once characters choose me, I have no option but to tell their story.
Broken started out as a very different story. It was going to be a junior novel, straightforward about a girl who went into a comic to find her missing brother. Then for some reason or another I left the story where it sank to the bottom of my desk drawer.
Three years ago while I was searching for another piece of writing I found it and thought I’d take another stab at it. But the whole story was boring me, it was too straightforward, I wanted depth. I sat with it day after day but couldn’t ‘quite’ get it, until the character Trace appeared and when she arrived I instantly knew that her best buddy Zara was in a coma.
There are three layers to the novel. One in the hospital where Zara lies in a coma; two when she is in the comic and three the rising memories of when she disappeared as a child for six weeks.
It was an interesting, odd book to write. Broken came to me in ‘broken’ bits and I really did have to trust the writing process that it would all somehow fit together in the end.
A sense of hope. No matter what life throws at you, don’t give up.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
It changes all the time. But mostly writers, who are very original and write the way they want, not follow a well-beaten path.
Usually it is to finish the book that I am working on. Nothing more, nothing less.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read a lot. Try different books even if you aren’t sure if you will enjoy them.
Write as yourself, never mind if what you put on paper or onto the computer sounds a bit strange.
Try to find a small corner of time every day to write. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece… just write and see what happens. For it is only through the act of writing that miracles happen.
Elizabeth, 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.