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 Melbourne but raised in north-western Australia in the Pilbara region till I was 11, and then came back to Melbourne. Every winter I curse the cold here, but I wouldn’t be without all the restaurants and bars and cool things to do. (And the Wheeler Centre and the NGV and the DJs and food and bookshops and clothes.)
When I was twelve I wanted to be a vet, specialising in cats, because who wouldn’t? When I was eighteen I wanted to be an archaeologist because of all those wonderful SBS archaeology documentaries they aired in the late nineties. And when I am thirty (in three years time!) I don’t know what I will want to be, but it will probably involve a lot of reading and writing. Possibly – and I go out on a limb here – writing novels for teenagers.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Gee, this is a tough one. Probably that people are all the same. Then I thought that people are all radically different. I’m not sure what I think now. Both, if that’s even possible.
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?
I’m going to think hard here and not name any books. These three things haven’t directly influenced my writing, but they move me strongly and that’s what I’d like to do for my readers. So. The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It hangs in the NGV right now, but I first saw it when I was 11 at the NGA in Canberra. I remember the guide telling us the story behind it, that Cleopatra bet Antony she could host the most lavish banquet, right then and there. And I was amazed that a painting could tell a story. I visit it at the NGV every now and then. The last time was on Australia Day when I took my boyfriend to see it.
Number two would be the pas de deux from the Nutcracker. When I was a poor uni student I went to a free ballet concert at the Myer Music Bowl; by myself, as going to the ballet wasn’t a cool thing for beer-drinking science undergrads to do. This pas de deux is absolutely breathtaking. It’s incredibly romantic and poignant, both the music itself and the dance. Brings tears to my eyes every time.
And I know no one’s supposed to admit to using it for research, or even liking it, but Wikipedia. It’s not a work of art, but I find it incredibly inspiring. It’s my go-to spot for any time I think, I wonder what ____ is/was/for/did?” Glassblowing. Lists of serial killers. The Valley of the Dolls. Dire wolves. Isinglass. Knowing about stuff is very inspiring.
Because novels are the best and purest way to communicate something beautiful. Also, the simplest. No paint, no fabric, no musical instruments required. Only the written word. Plus once it’s right, you never have to do it again, and yet people can go on enjoying it. And you get to do it in your pyjamas with no one looking at you.
My latest novel is Blood Storm, out now from Random House Australia. It’s the sequel to Blood Song, which came out last year, and continues Zeraphina and Rodden’s quest to rid the world of a deadly, blood-drinking species of monster, which they happen to be themselves. Zeraphina, to her chagrin, also happens to be a princess of a small, wintry queendom, and is fighting her own personal quest to keep herself from a marriage her mother desires for her and that she is in no way ready for. It’s fast paced, lush, and even funny at times.
(From the publisher:
The rain wanted to be ocean; the ice in the mountain caps wanted freedom. I never knew that water held such longing. The clouds above my head rumbled like a growling wolf, impatient to release their burden. I held the rain there a moment longer. I turned to Renata, heard her gasp and knew my eyes glowed blue.
I spoke a single word. ‘Rain.’
In the Second Book of Lharmell, Zeraphina and Rodden must travel across the sea to find the elusive ingredients that will help them to win the coming battle against the Lharmellin – but shadows from Rodden’s dark past may come back to haunt him. And while she learns to harness her new abilities, Zeraphina still fights the hunger that makes her crave the north – not to mention avoiding her mother, who wants to see her wayward daughter married to a prince at all costs.)
I hope they take away a sense of burning excitement. It’s just how I used to feel when I was a teenager and I finished a book that I loved. Writing is my way of recapturing that feeling.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
People who’ve had an amazing life experience and get to put it into their novel. People who can interpret a classic myth or fable with a modern twist. People who can take a tired trope and turn it into something new and wonderful. People who are always doing something fresh and exciting.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Too many books. Lots of books. Diverse ones. And I aim to write them all.
Don’t get stuck on one project if it’s not working. Maybe it’s just not the right book for you.
Rhiannon, 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.