author of The Boy Colonel
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, attended Ryde Primary School before going to live in Leeton in 1960. I attended the local Primary School before being sent to boarding school at Trinity Grammar in Summer Hill for six years. In 1968 I started Arts-Law at ANU in Canberra and completed an Arts degree in 1971. In 1972 I started work at the Commonwealth Film Unit, travelled overseas (1975-76) worked in Hollywood and the BBC in Bristol before setting up my production company Look Films in 1977. Worked producing documentaries for thirty years before closing the office in 2010.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12 I wanted to be a lawyer and even talked about setting up practice with another 12 year old (who is now a senior lawyer in the Public Service) in the dormitory. By 18, still wanted to be a lawyer but two years of law at university totally killed that idea. At 30 I wanted to win an Academy Award and work forever in historical documentaries.
Probably a royalist-monarchist view of the Queen and the place of Australia in the Empire. I now look to the day we can be more independent and shed the “cultural cringe” which still exists, as does a British colonial (convict) attitude to Australians at some levels of British, or should I say English society. I do not feel this from the Welsh, Irish or the Scots however as they suffer also.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
I read history from an early age, glorious battles of the empire, “war books” from the Second World War, even historical comics and colouring in books. Three influential events: the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam War (Kent State killings) and the Great War.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
Books – those hard paper things – will never be obsolete. I love the feel and smell of books, the texture, the ability to jump about in a book, check an index, look at photographs or a map, get lost in the pages. I love them and buy too many.
The book is titled The Boy Colonel and is published by Random House (August 2013). This is the story of young officer who landed on Gallipoli on the second day, went right through the war, was badly wounded, decorated and became a Colonel at the age of 22, the youngest (I believe) in the Empire armies. He returned to Australia in 1918, became engaged in 1919 and was lost in the surf at Palm Beach (Sydney) in January 1920 trying to save a young woman from the undertow.
From the Publisher:
It was a blustery day on the 25th January 1920 at Palm Beach to the north of Sydney and the surf was wild. Two attempts had already been made to save a young woman caught in an undertow and dragged out when a young man; skinny, gangly and frail and known to be a poor swimmer, threw off his coat and shoes and raced into the surf. As his fiancée and young nephew watched, the sea closed over him and he disappeared. His body was never recovered.
This was the sad and tragic fate of a gallant, highly decorated and promising young man named Douglas Gray Marks. And it was a great loss to a nation whose manhood had been decimated and where the pain of the war remained evident and raw.
Douglas Marks was born in 1895 and educated at Fort Street High School. He had, like so many enthusiastic and patriotic young men, basic military training when he turned up at the drill hall in Rozelle two days after the declaration of war. Before embarking in November 1914, he had received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the AIF.
After a period of training in Egypt, he embarked for the Gallipoli peninsula and landed on the second day. Spending a great deal of time in the dangerous frontline trenches at Quinn’s Post where he was wounded, he remained on Gallipoli until the evacuation in December of that year. Just twenty years old, he was seen as an inspirational young officer, promoted to captain and given acting command of his battalion.
Marks then more…
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I think the understanding and appreciation of the Anzac tradition and the sacrifice of young men from all nations in the Great War of 1914-1918.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Martin Luther King Jnr. A couple of years ago, I travelled the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama, visited his house and joined the march over the Selma Bridge. (I remember that great line in the Barry McGuire’s famous protest song of 1965 Eve of Destruction which went: Think of all the hate there is in Red China, but take a look around at Selma Alabama) This violent history really affected me and Dr King triggered this interest.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I think I have achieved all that I have ever wished and even what was once impossible or long range goals, I have achieved. At 12 years old I was told I would never go to university. Getting a degree became a goal as did writing a book. My first book was a children’s series of environmental stories I had published in 1979 and have had eight books published to date so I’m okay with all that. My last challenge is to get a PhD and I’m well on the way to that.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I suggest they read, read and read more. Second, have a strong idea or a strong untold story to make the writing journey worthwhile. Self-publish as a first step so you have a book to show a publisher. Work on the books overall structure and the narrative arc before you write the first word. Don’t start at chapter one, but perhaps in the middle of the story so you can get you “voice” and write chapter one last. Good luck.
Will, 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.