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 Hobart, 11 minutes after my twin sister. We were brought up on a farm, along with our two older brothers, 11 sheepdogs, 300 cattle and 7,000 sheep. I went to a local country primary school, then travelled 1.5 hours each way to go to secondary school in Hobart, and spent two years at the University of Tasmania before transferring to Monash in Melbourne to finish my degree.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12, I think I was recovering from the realisation that I would never be an Olympic gymnast after repeatedly failing flexibility tests in gymnastics class. At 18, I was tossing up between becoming a French teacher or a foreign diplomat, both of which lasted about five minutes. At 30, I wanted to be 27 again.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That by the time I was in my 30s, I’d have a wardrobe full of Prada and Gucci. Instead, it’s full of Sportsgirl and Dotti – the same as it was when I was 18. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
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?
As this is my first novel, I freely admit I’m still developing as a fiction writer. Given my genre is chick-lit, I have to namecheck Maggie Alderson (also a former mag girl), Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella as authors I’ve enjoyed while lying on a sun lounger somewhere exotic with a cocktail in hand. I know chick-lit can be looked down on by some in the literary world but whatever gets people reading is a good thing in my opinion.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I didn’t actually choose to write a novel, it chose me – thanks to my publisher at Allen & Unwin emailing out of the blue to ask if I’d ever thought about writing a book (did someone say, ‘Lucky duck?!’). Having said that, given I’m a magazine journalist who writes for a living, pulling a novel out of my hat was the easiest option compared to singing/dancing/painting/acting, all of which I am spectacularly bad at.
It’s the story of Nina, an Aussie girl who squeezes her foot in the magazine industry door while living in London, before she moves to Sydney where her career takes off – but not without a few hiccups here and there. It’s an insider’s look at the Australian magazine industry (which, despite what many people believe, is very different to the world of The Devil Wears Prada!) and is best read lying on a beach, slurping on a rapidly melting Frosty Fruit while trying to guess which celebrities some of the characters are inspired by …
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Besides an inside look at the crazy, amusing and sometimes plain ridiculous stuff that can happen in the magazine world? I hope people realise that sometimes you can become so focussed on getting to where you think you want to be, that once you get there it’s hard to admit that it’s not the right place for you after all. Happiness is more than a job title or salary.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Geraldine Brooks, for writing People of the Book, one of my favourite novels. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, but after trying to write a couple of sex scenes, I have to give props to E.L James – it’s tricky (and really awkward)! And, last but not least, I really admire all the ghostwriters out there – after writing my own book and knowing how much time and effort it takes, it must be hard to stand by and watch other people get the glory.
To be honest, I’m not really a goal-setter – I don’t even take a shopping list when I go to the supermarket! I’m more of a ‘let’s just see what happens’ kind of girl when it comes to big picture things. Luckily for me, a lot of what has happened so far has been far beyond my wildest dreams, so I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read as much as you can – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction, blogs, tweets or Facebook status updates. And try to develop your own tone, as that’s what will get people coming back for more. PS – don’t try to write when hungover; you’ll just have to re-write it when your brain is functioning again.
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.