author of The Watch
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, raised, and schooled in Jamshedpur, a small and very cosmopolitan industrial town in the Eastern part of India. It was founded by the Tata family, who’ve been in the news recently for buying up Jaguar in the UK. The town has two names, Jamshedpur and Tatanagar, both based on the founder, Sir Jamshedji Tata. It’s also known as the Pittsburgh of India, which isn’t saying much, given the latter’s present condition.
I got my baccalaureate from Presidency College, Calcutta, and then did my graduate studies in politics and philosophy, with a concentration in International Relations, from the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
At twelve, I was reading Tolstoy, at eighteen, struggling with science and engineering, because that’s what all Indian boys are supposed to aspire to, and at thirty, thankful to quit academia after I published my first novel, The Gabriel Club.
Yes, I came to writing late, but I’m glad I did, because my rather peculiar career path – squeeze in three years of corporate life in my early twenties in-between – meant that I’d tried everything else before returning to my first love, literature. Lesson learned: always follow your passion, and to hell with everyone else.
The specific turn to writing, however, came after I witnessed, at close quarters, the nine months of the Velvet Revolution. It was impossible to have lived through that history and then return to dry academe – for me, at least.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That contemporary American writers actually have something to say.
Book: War and Peace. I try to read it once every other year.
Painting: Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, a copy of which which hangs in my bedroom, rather to the distress of everyone who sees it.
Music: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony or Eighth String Quartet.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Only a novel can introduce a reader to sustained metaphysical experience, a necessary and increasingly absent endeavor in a world devoid of soul.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel, The Watch…
I transfer Sophocles’ Antigone to present-day Afghanistan, perhaps the closest parallel we have to ancient Greece, and bring her face-to-face with our closest parallel to the despot Creon, an American combat company. It’s an antiwar novel based on one of the founding myths of the Western canon, one whose message remains as resonant as it was more than two thousand years ago.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Every reader who takes this novel to that silent and private space where literary communion truly occurs, will – rather, must – emerge from it determined to resist the forces who drag us – all of us – into this hideous and senseless condition of perpetual warfare.
Julien Gracq, who refused the Goncourt, and Jean Giono, who preferred his rural Manosque to the careerism of Paris. Their writing affirms both the poetry of their existence, and their integrity, always a quality in short supply in the literary world.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
That I can make a difference in perception of the Other: of the world I come from by the world I now live in, and vice versa.
Nothing can substitute integrity. Hone your native vision in the privacy of your writing desk, and always, always resist safe choices.
Joydeep, 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.