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 and raised in Sydney. My earliest years were in Carlton, where we lived behind the local corner store, which my mother ran. When I was about eight we moved to the Sydney suburb of Como, though I distinctly remember thinking we’d moved to the bush/country. I went to Jannali Girls High, then Alexander Mackie CAE, studying Primary School Teaching, and for the past twenty-five years have lived in a gorgeous little coastal village south of Sydney. (So I haven’t ventured too far from my roots.)
When I was twelve I wanted to be a ballerina. Clichéd I know, but dance was my life. When I was eighteen my interests shifted to volleyball and I desperately wanted to be a setter for the Australian women’s volleyball team. This was never likely. When I was thirty I had a two year old and a newborn and all I wanted was a single night of uninterrupted sleep. But even in my sleep-deprived state, it was around this time that a tiny fire started smouldering in my belly, and my longing to be a published children’s /YA author began.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was eighteen I thought I knew just about everything. I now know that there is so much that I don’t know and I love discovering those things I don’t know.
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. Like many of my generation, I can thank the works of Enid Blyton for turning me into an avid reader, which led to a love of language and books and laid the foundations for my writing later in life.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. When I started out teaching, I immediately fell deeply in love with children’s literature. Where the Wild Things Are was my first crush, and what set me on the path to eventually becoming a children’s and YA author myself.
Memory – from the musical Cats. While not particularly fond of Cats, the musical, there is something about this song that evokes strong emotions in me. And whenever I hear it, my only thoughts are that somehow, some day, I want to be able to evoke the same intensity of emotions in my writing.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Up until I started writing in my late thirties, I truly believed I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I can’t hold a tune (ask my long-suffering family) and I can’t draw to save myself (ask anyone who has ever played Pictionary with me). So the desire to do something creative, like writing, blindsided me a bit. (Well, a lot actually.)
At the start, children’s picture books was my genre of choice. But over time, I started to get “bigger” and “longer” and “older” ideas and found myself embarking on writing novels. Which is ridiculous considering that I work full time and commute three hours each day! (What was I thinking?) But I adore getting to know my characters and then setting them free on the page and seeing where they take me. And despite the fact that it takes me a very long time to complete each novel, I know I want to continue writing in this form.
My latest novel is Portraits of Celina and is for readers 13+.
In this book, the grief-stricken Anderson family moves to a lake house in faraway Tallowood in search of a fresh start. My protagonist, sixteen-year-old Bayley Anderson, is anxious to get her life on track, and when she meets Oliver, the boy across the lake, she finally sees the chance for happiness. But the house was witness to an awful tragedy forty years earlier and Bayley becomes obsessed and then entwined in her murdered cousin’s desperate yearning for revenge.
The back cover blurb describes it as “A ghost story. A love story. A story of revenge.” It is atmospheric, suspenseful and a little creepy. And there is a twist at the end of the story that has taken early readers by surprise and has had them looking at me through narrowed eyes and saying things like “I didn’t know you had such a dark side, Sue!”
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope readers will become enmeshed in my characters’ lives and by the end of the book feel like they have enjoyed a thrilling ride. One day I want to write something that will leave my readers breathless.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I simply want my next book to be better than my last. And I work hard to try to achieve that goal.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I think it was Jodi Picoult who said something to the effect that you should write daily, and write until it’s like a muscle you can flex on demand. I wholeheartedly agree and have personally experienced the benefits of daily writing, and most days I can flex that muscle.
But being a writer involves more than the hours (or minutes!) you spend at the keyboard each day. Being a writer inhabits you. It becomes a way of life. You must observe – really observe. Listen. Experience. Live. Feel. Read. Be open, challenging. Curious.
And when you put pen to paper, always write from the heart and with absolute honesty.
Sue, 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.