author of The Grimstones Series
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, the oldest girl in a very big family, and I immediately set to work bossing around all my younger siblings and cousins. I made up fantasy worlds and cast everyone in roles I deemed suitable, though I didn’t require them to audition, which I thought was nice of me. School was a bit of an intrusion, but since I couldn’t hear anything the teachers were saying, I was free to spend most of my time in imaginary worlds, and at lunch times I organised all my friends to join me in the wonderful land Id invented.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be a ballerina. I also wrote my first novel that year and got some ideas about being a writer.
When I was eighteen I definitely wanted to be an artist of some kind. Ballet was out, now, due to my deafness, but writing and visual arts appealed enormously. I decided to be practical and study computer science, so that I could work as a programmer to support myself in the arts. Happily, I only had to do a boring 9-5 job under fluorescent lights for a year, before I found a way to survive from arty-stuff only.
When I was thirty I wanted to be a circus performer. Actually I found the circus when I was 22, because I decided to conquer my fear of heights by learning trapeze. Alas it was not to be performing 13 metres high gave me heart palpitations and white knuckles. Just after I turned thirty I discovered puppets, and I couldn’t get off that trapeze fast enough.
I believed I was a city girl, that nature was somewhat uncomfortable, and that I was basically not very tough. It wasn’t until I decided to build my own house, at the age of 22, with absolutely no skills whatsoever, that I tested this. I had this idea that perhaps I could become a competent builder in the process. As it turns out, Im still hopeless at carpentry, but I did discover that I like being outside after all, that I could take on an enormous learning curve and see it through, and that I’m tough enough to live a pretty simple life. I still live in this tiny house, which looks like it should belong to Hansel and Gretel, and I spend a lot of time with filthy fingernails, up to my ankles in chook poo, and carting around buckets of humanure. Not only this but I enjoy it! The city girl life I used to aspire to seems rather sterile now.
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?
When I was a child I loved Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Not only did I enter the magical world of miniatures and Japanese dolls, but she showed me that I could make my own worlds as small physical creations. I started making dolls doll after doll since they never turned out exactly how I hoped. Years later, this led to me creating The Grimstones.
As a young adult, I visited a community of handmade houses in Northern NSW. The houses themselves were works of art quirky, tiny and magical. I fell in love, and that was when I decided to build my own house. Building my house really toughened me up, made me understand that I did have enough determination to battle through challenges to achieve what I wanted. And I needed this determination write Hatched.
The book Fortunes Rocks by Anita Shreve took my breath away I love her writing style, slightly old fashioned and formal, mesmerising and elegant. I’d love to be able to write with the detailed insight that she does.
Well, first I made circus and theatre shows, then I made puppets and miniature worlds to go with them.. Actually, very first, I made dolls, then I made my house, which turned out to be my largest artistic project, then came the performing arts. I loved writing but had decided it would need to be a retirement plan, since I was far too busy in other areas. But then I got a call from Allen and Unwin, because someone there had seen my puppet show, The Grimstones and I cant tell you how rapt I am that I didn’t need to wait until retirement age to become a writer, after all.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Grimstones started as a family of puppets and a series of giant books that open up to reveal the miniature rooms of the home they live in. Making them was probably the happiest year of my life, as I holed up in my tiny loft studio, sculpting, sewing, painting, making The Grimstones have now performed on stages all over the world, and sometimes I would come out of the dressing room to find Martha Grimstone hunched over her miniature journal, scribbling furiously. The Grimstones: Hatched is Marthas journal, her story told in her own words. Martha longs to cure her Mama of the lake of tears she cries every night, and she longs to get into her grandfathers apothecary to learn all there is to know about the casting of spells. Martha ends up hatching a plan that is a bit too big for her, that may have disastrous consequences.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that my readers are able to enter the world Ive created and immerse themselves in it, leaving behind the day-to-day. I want my readers to fall in love with Martha Grimstone, simply because I did, and because she was the first doll I ever made that turned out exactly as I imagined her. And I cant help but hope that a few of my readers will come over all inspired to create their own imaginary worlds.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire writers who write well, so smoothly and persuasively that you forget you are reading and are transported to the place they have created. Ive already mentioned Anita Shreve. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, are both books that I think are magnificently written. I also admire those writers who have managed to turn my world on end, through their non-fiction books. Sharyn Astyk’s Depletion and Abundance changed my life and the way I live, while Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig changed the way I eat and transformed my health.
My ambitious goal for this year is not to have any ambitious goals. Which is much more ambitious for me than it sounds, given my propensity to take on projects far, far too big for me. The trouble is, when I embark on something enormous and wonderful, such as happened with The Grimstones, I ended up so busy with touring and administration that I hardly had time to be an artist. This year is going to be about arts, but small arts: writing, collage, paintings projects I can finish within weeks, not years.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I don’t feel I’m in any position to go giving advice! But in general my approach to life is just do it, and I think this applies to writing too. If you want to write, write, and see where your words take you.
Asphyxia, 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.