Ten Terrifying Question
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was raised in Fawkner, Melbourne, on a housing commission estate. In my early teens we shifted to middle class Macleod where I went to the local high school.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At the age of 12 I was still recovering from a bad head accident which had happened the year before. For the next few years I had to learn to speak, write and think clearly again. By the age of 17 I read a novel all the way through for the first time.
At the age of 18 I was at university, a very average student with no goals or aims at all.
By the age of 30 all this had changed. I had acted in a theatre group at university and went on to write a one -act play which was performed at La Mama theatre, Melbourne. It was dreadful and I became determined to learn about the art of playwriting and create something better, so I immersed myself in theatre and reading. At the age of 27 I wrote my first novel ‘The Misery of Beauty’ and had my first full length play, ‘Inner Voices’ performed in Sydney. Melbourne theatre was uninterested in my work so I shifted to Sydney and when I was thirty I had a play on at the Opera House, one at the Nimrod (now the Belvoir), a translation on at the Opera House (‘Cyrano de Bergerac’) and a radio play for the ABC/BBC.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I am probably more forgiving about human weaknesses but not my own.
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?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was one of the first novels I ever read and it remains a constant inspiration for the elegance of its literary style. Watteau’s paintings had a profound impact on me. They may be about pleasure but at their centre is always a troubling melancholia. As for movies, it was Orson Welles’s ‘Citizen Kane’ that made me realise films could be a true art form and I never tire of Talk Talk’s The Spirit of Eden and the Burial and his extraordinary dub-step albums
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I considered myself to be a playwright. My first attempt at writing a novel was driven by an inner impulse I had no control over. It just seemed natural to write one and once it was published I knew I would write more.
Into That Forest is about two young girls who find themselves alone in a Tasmanian forest after a boating accident. They survive by living with two Tasmanian tigers for several years. Later back in civilisation they find it hard to fit in.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb – From one of Australia’s foremost literary talents, this is an unforgettable and heartbreaking story about two young girls living in the wild with Tasmanian Tigers.
Me name be Hannah O’Brien and I be seventy-six years old. Me first thing is an apology – me language is bad cos I lost it and had to learn it again. But here’s me story and I be glad to tell it before I hop the twig.
So begins this extraordinary novel, which will transport you to Australia’s wild frontier and stay in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they see it as an enchanting, mysterious story that may or may not be true.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Nabokov because he has a superb prose style, a sense of playfulness and can tell a story. There is also the French author George Perec’s whose novel ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ has an astonishing mixture of playfulness, storytelling magic and fiendish sub-plots.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have no goals except to tell a story the best I can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
1) Read, read, read. 2) have a need to tell a story 3) develop unlimited concentration 4) Remember that to be a writer is not to be a sprinter. A true writer is in it for life, knowing it’s a marathon and that fame and money come to very few writers, so be prepared.
Louis, 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, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.