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 tiny town in South Australia named Tailem Bend. I have a curious attachment to having been born in a place with an interesting name.
We moved around a lot in the first few years of my life, then settled just outside Bendigo, a beautiful old goldmining town in Central Victoria. That’s where I was raised and did my primary and secondary schooling. After that, I decided it was time to move to a place where nobody knew me, and caught a bus to the other side of the country. I then did far too many years of higher education at the University of Western Australia, putting off entering the ‘real world’ for as long as possible.
At twelve, a teacher, so I could make satisfying ticks on large stacks of papers.
At eighteen, I had no idea, just a vague sense of hopefulness that if I kept doing things I loved, something would turn up.
At thirty, my only goal was to finish my neverending PhD. I had no idea what would come next.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
The belief that if I did ‘the right things’ – exercised, ate well, lived ethically and so on – that good things would necessarily follow, that there was some sort of transactional quality to the universe, a way of short-circuiting the ‘random’.
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?
The poetry of AA Milne – “Bad Sir Brian Botany”, “The King’s Breakfast”, and so on – which gave me an early love of, and ear for, the rhythms of language.
Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks, whose aphorisms showed me the value in collecting and recording fragments of observation, a habit that led me eventually towards writing.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Well, I don’t only write novels. I write poetry, picture books, fragments of observation, paragraphs of pointless prose. But some ideas present themselves as stories; it’s just the form they need. As for the ‘innumerable’ artistic avenues, they’re actually rather numerable in my case. The only thing I can do is write, so it’s just a question of what form that writing will take. No one wants to see me draw, sing, or perform interpretive dance…
Wreck the Halls is a novel for primary school readers. It tells the story of Nathan and his hapless mates, Ronnie and Weasel, who decide it can’t be that hard to win $500 in the local Christmas lights competition, and hilarity, of course, ensues. Or at least, I hope it does. Wreck the Halls is my third book for Walker Books’ Lightning Strikes series, and continues the adventures of the boys readers met in Going for Broke and The Big Dig.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
That depends on what sort of work they’ve just read – I suspect they’d get something quite different from my poetry than from my picture books. But in general, I guess I hope that my work would lead people to reflect, to look differently at what’s around them, even if that’s just by way of a wry sideways glance.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Tricky question. I think I’m going to say Harper Lee, because she wrote a single stunning book and then stopped, having said what she wanted to say. And also because she has refused all publicity for almost 50 years.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Not very ambitious, I suspect. To keep writing. To maintain the love of writing that drew me to it in the first place. To be led by myself and not the industry or the market.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read a lot. Write a bit. Reflect. Be in the world.
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.