author of Perfect North
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. I was schooled in the public system and enjoyed it immensely. It’s no wonder that I went from school to university to train to be a high school teacher!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a vet. Don’t all little girls want to care for animals?
At eighteen I hoped to be an English teacher. My education had been such a positive experience that I genuinely wanted to give back to the public system.
At thirty I had dreams of owning my own gourmet food shop in London. I had recently resigned from teaching in Sydney to pursue my love of food on the other side of the world.
That I’d always be happy staying in a dorm room at a backpackers hostel when travelling…
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?
Camille Monet on her Deathbed by Claude Monet. I had learned the story of the artist Monet and his wife Camille and the great love they shared. When I saw this portrait in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris I began to cry. It taught me that in art, back story is vital.
Memento directed by Christopher Nolan. This jigsaw puzzle of a film gave me a fascination with playing with time in the structure of a novel.
Possession by A.S Byatt. This wonderful novel about love and poetry, past and present, influenced the way I thought about the structure and boundaries of fiction.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I never dreamed of becoming a writer but without knowing it I had been training to become a writer for ten years. All my years of reading, teaching great literature, analysing books, plays and poetry and editing other people’s work, albeit that of students, had led me to one obvious career. When my husband suggested that I write a book the last decade of my career finally made sense.
Perfect North is a work of fiction based around a true story. When the remains of three explorers, lost to the world since 1897 are discovered on a frozen arctic island in 1930, the news makes headlines around the world. A brash young journalist is sent to report from the site and uncovers journals filled with love letters from one of the explorers to his fiancée.
Wanting to know more about the man who left his love to embark on a journey that was doomed from the start, the journalist embarks on his own voyage of discovery but soon learns that the woman he seeks out does not want to be found.
In a search that uncovers lost loves, deceit and long-buried secrets, the journalist discovers a story that has stayed hidden for decades and the people who have been concealing it.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope, first and foremost, that readers will simply enjoy reading Perfect North and will perhaps look forward to my second novel, The President’s Lunch – due out in 2014
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
My favourite author is Jane Austen. Her novels never failed to captivate and surprise me. I also have a passion for John Irving, A.S. Byatt and Hilary Mantel and I love certain American playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill – their work contains so many layers that each time I revisit them a new level of meaning is revealed.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal is to keep writing novels. I’d love to forge a career in the book industry as an author. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years to come.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
For me writing is about entertainment. I’m not attempting to change the world with my books. Primarily, I hope readers will enjoy my novels and that the narrative and character resonate with them. Consequently, I’d advise aspiring writers not to take the endeavour too seriously.
I’d also advise to trust in the story. Don’t plan too heavily. Give the narrative its head and see where it leads you. If one has a talent for writing and story telling then the book should develop quite naturally by itself.
Finally, write something every day. Even if you don’t feel like it or the words aren’t coming, attempt to get down at least five hundred words. If it’s rubbish you can refine it the next day (I guarantee there will be something you can use) but at least you can feel as though something has been achieved. But this is the way I write, it might not work for everyone.
Jenny, 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.