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 Hampshire, England and raised in the village of Portchester. Much of my childhood was spent playing Normans vs Romans with my brother and our friends in the centuries old Portchester Castle, which stood near our home on a flat piece of land that jutted into Portsmouth Harbour.
Bicycles were our trusty steeds and, using brooms as jousting sticks, we charged each other on lawns where Saxons had lived and died. We also had a dinghy called Rowena in the creek and sailed her with Henry V to Agincourt, and within the fortress walls we poured boiling oil on Viking invaders from the top of the keep. Then we conducted funerals in St Mary’s churchyard for all those we had killed.
I have a clear memory of laying on a grave while Johnny (can’t recall his last name) performed a burial at sea by pouring cold sea water on my face. If I flinched, he had to do it again. When we were bored with reinventing history, we ran wild in the gentle rolling hills of the South Downs or cycled to Lee-on-Solent and swam in the freezing Atlantic. It was a pretty rough childhood.
Occasionally I was scrubbed up and packed off to Castle Street County Primary School, then to Wykeham House, which was a posh girls school in Fareham High Street near Soothills Bakery (world’s best lardy cakes), then off to Fareham Girls Grammar School. Looking back on it, I see now that formal schooling interfered with my education.
I had to look at my old diaries for this question. At twelve I wanted to be in charge of Fuchsia patrol in our local Girl Guides, I wanted my brother’s room when he went to university, and I wanted to be called Erica. But mostly I wanted to be eighteen. At eighteen I wanted to be a nurse. Shortly before my eighteenth birthday my lunch was wrapped in a London road map and I was dispatched to the big smoke to commence nurse training at Kings College Hospital. Those nursing years were fantastic. I loved every minute. At thirty, I wanted to be eighteen again. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
I can’t say why I wanted to be any of these things as my diaries are singularly lacking in explanations. I still wouldn’t mind being called Erica.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I don’t think I had any strongly held belief at eighteen. I don’t think I do now either.
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?
Apart from books by the three great writers I have listed in Question 8, I’m into most things creative – theatre, visual art, contemporary ballet, opera and live bands. I’ve eclectic tastes and I’m particularly drawn to the paintings and sculptures of Degas, street art by Banksy and the Gemini Twins, and innovative, edgy installations, but I can’t see how any of this has influenced my development as a writer.
a. Any Enid Blyton book as I’m sure they nurtured my love of mystery. We didn’t have a television until I was ten, so the Secret Seven books were a big part of my evening entertainment portfolio. I could never figure out how Ms Blyton managed to write a story using words with the exact number of letters so that those words fitted neatly on each line of a printed page. Duh!
b. A building – Portchester Castle, surely a great platform from which to launch a creative imagination. The castles outer defenses, built in the third century, are the most complete Roman walls of any fort in Europe. Inside the Roman walls are the remains of a Norman palace, an imposing twelfth-century keep, and St Mary’s church, which was built by the Normans in the 1120’s. I got married to Phillip II of Spain in that church. The bride wore the conservatory curtains, which were made of toweling and covered in garish flowers and bright green leaves. I can’t remember what the groom wore. Who cares?
Imagine my horror when I returned to the castle with my adult daughter in 2008 and we had to pay to get in. William the Conqueror would have been scandalised.
c. Now I think of it, maybe the street artist Banksy influenced my creation of The Guerilla Knitters Institute. Thank you, Banksy.
Ha! My artistic avenues are limited. I am tone deaf, can’t paint for toffees and if I was a dancer they’d have to have an ambulance standing by. But I could always write a good story and a great letter and I loved doing it. I’m fortunate to have been a successful columnist and non-fiction writer, but I’d always hankered after the noble title of Novelist.
In 2010 I cleaned out all the cupboards, rearranged the filing system, and when I had no more excuses I sat down to write my first Scout Davis novel, Mad Men, Bad Girls. To my eternal joy I loved every minute and had none of the anguished hand-wringing that I’d anticipated. Writing a novel is hard work though, and a real job that you have to do every day. While drinking tea.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Good News, Bad News is my second novel in the Misadventures in Paradise series featuring the intrepid investigative reporter Scout Davis. This time Scout is taking a holiday at home in Byron Bay when Hermione Longfellow, one of the eccentric Anemone Sisters from the hills, confronts her in the supermarket. Scout is wary, but sure that rumours of drinking chickens blood are just idle gossip, so she stops to listen.
When Hermione asks Scout to track down her sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago, but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout jumps at the chance to work a cold case. Meanwhile, Scout’s own sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behavior, and then receives a shock that has huge repercussions for her future.
But wait, there’s more. Scout’s journalist boyfriend is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible cop Rafe who may or may not have discovered Scout’s unusual hobby. And then … well, you’ll just have to read Good News, Bad News to find out what happens next!
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Basically, I see myself as an entertainer and the golden rule here is to always leave the audience wanting more. In other words, I hope my readers were entertained and want more Scout Davis stories.
Mark Twain – he was a genius. I’m a Twain fanatic and have visited his home at Quarry Farm in Elmira several times. I’ve sat on his front verandah, stood in his kitchen, breathed deeply the inspirational air in his study, which is now in the grounds of Elmira College, and visited his grave at nearby Woodlawn cemetery. I have a picture of Mr Clemens in a black frame on my desk.
Dick Francis – I don’t think anyone can touch him for creating male protagonists that every man would like to be, every woman would like to be with, and every horse would like to be ridden by. You could probably swap those nouns around and everyone would still be happy.
Robert B Parker – for his economy of words, characters, dialogue, humour, timeless plots and prolific output.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To sit in front of a blank piece of paper and transpose thoughts into words, then rework, rearrange and cut the words until that page and those that follow are something that gives other people pleasure. It’s quite a buzz.
Carry a notebook with you and jot down thoughts at the time as you will never remember them later. Try to write a good story rather than a great work. On every page, think of your readers and what they need to know. Never give up. When you are knocked down by rejections, pick yourself up and rewrite. Again and again until you have honed your skill.
Thanks again Booktopia for this opportunity – it was fun.
Maggie, 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.