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 in Kenya, raised in Bristol and educated at the University of Sussex for my BA and the University of Edinburgh for my Ph.D.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a vet because I loved animals and still do. At eighteen I wanted to be a journalist because I was hopeless at science and couldn’t be a vet. I wanted to be a radical campaigning journalist and improve the world. At thirty I wanted to be a successful novelist because I had published my first novel and could see no other way to make a living.
Interesting – I had an impression that men were better educated, knew more and were more powerful than women. Now I think it’s not necessarily so.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Books dominated my early life and are the most important form for me now. I love ballet and studied it and loved it especially the narrative ballets like Coppelia, and Swan Lake – and through ballet I learned to love music – mostly classical.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
This is very kind but no-one who has seen my water-colour of Rhodes Castle, done from a nearby cafe, which made the waiter laugh so much that he dropped the coffee, would dream that I had other artistic avenues. I am a word person, I am a narrative person, I think in paragraphs. I could only ever have been a writer.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel, The Kingmaker’s Daughter…
It’s the story of Anne Neville, the daughter of Warwick the kingmaker who is a counter in his game for power. He orders her marriage to Prince Edward of Lancaster (the former enemy) but dies fighting for her right to the crown. Left alone in the world she escapes from the control of her sister and brother in law, marries the man of her choice, and ultimately becomes queen of England. It’s quite a dark work, she is terrified of Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen) but it shows an Anne who is independent thinking, courageous, and active – a contrast to the usual victim of circumstances depicted by some historians.
(BBGuru: Here’s the publisher’s blurb –
The gripping and ultimately tragic story of Anne Neville and her sister Isabel, the daughters of the Earl of Warwick, the most powerful magnate in England through the Cousins’ Wars.
‘I have lost my father in battle, my sister to Elizabeth Woodville’s spy, my brother-in-law to Elizabeth Woodville’s executioner, my nephew to her poisoner, and now my son to her curse…’
In the absence of a son and heir, he ruthlessly uses the two girls as pawns but they, in their own right, are thoughtful and powerful actors. Against the backdrop of the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne turns from a delightful child growing up in intimacy and friendship with the family of Richard Duke of York to become ever more fearful and desperate as her father’s enemies turn against her, the net closes in and there is, in the end, simply nowhere she can turn, no one she can trust with her life.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I really hope that they have enjoyed the novel, been immersed in the story and setting and come away exhilarated and filled with the sights and sounds of the medieval world. If they come away with an interest in history that’s good too – but it’s not the point of the exercise.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I love writers who think deeply and write carefully and yet produce an absorbing story – so I love the writers of the books we now call classics: especially Austen, Eliot, and more modern: Murdoch, Forster.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Every time I start a new novel I have a vision of it in my mind and it is going to be written in the most limpid prose and give insight into the human condition. Every time I finish it, I know it is as good as I can make it – but it isn’t the perfection I imagine. It makes me try harder each time, but I know I don’t achieve my dream.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Please, please, for your own sake if not for your readers – don’t read something trashy and think that you can do something similar. Especially, in the current days don’t read mild pornography and mistake it for literature. Read good things and try to write well.
Philippa, 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.