author of The Whole of My World
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’m a Melbourne girl, born and raised. I got lost for a decade or so in various foreign locales — England, France, Japan, Hawaii, and, um, Canberra — but the first twenty plus years I spent about five kilometres from where I live now.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a mounted policewoman, due almost entirely to my love of horse riding. (The likelihood of having to carry a gun, enforce laws, and work ridiculous hours for very little pay did not factor in my reasoning.)
At eighteen: something political. I was quite angry and keen to find a cause, so it seemed only right I should pursue a political career. That lasted until I graduated from university.
At thirty I wanted to be a novelist. Honestly, I would have answered novelist for all three if I’d known back then that a person could do this as a job.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Right up until my twenties I was convinced I wouldn’t have children. I was under the ridiculous delusion that being a mother would prevent me from doing the things I wanted to do, cost more money than I could earn, and deform my body beyond recognition. Actually, turns out I was right. But I went and did it anyway.
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?
Just three? Hmmm. I spent a good chunk of my childhood plagiarising writers and musicians whose work I admired. My first “book” was a rip-off of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, though the fox was a mouse and Boggis, Bunce and Bean took the form of Fred, the neighbour across the road. But the story was a blatant rip-off. The next artist I regularly plagiarised was Don Walker from Cold Chisel, particularly a song called “Dresden”, the lyrics of which so impressed me that I would write them out in full, over and over, and steal phrasing to include in any story I wrote. Icy rimes and thistledowns didn’t slot easily into my Australian summer horse stories, but I almost always managed to find room for a sledge wing that dipped and played. There have been many other books, but one poem in particular — Robert Lowell’s “The Skunk Hour” — took hold of me at sixteen and never truly let go.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
For the longest time all I wanted to do was write a novel, due largely to my lack of imagination and the fact that I didn’t really think it could be a job anyway — just something to do in my spare time. But then I discovered screenwriting, the notion of writing visually, and I’ve been switching back and forth between these forms ever since. Novels will always take precedence though. I love the idea of starting with nothing and turning that blinking cursor on a blank screen into slabs of prose that tell a long and detailed story. I’m also a tad verbose, so can rarely confine myself to fewer than seventy thousand words.
6. Please tell us about your novel The Whole of My World…
The Whole of My World is a Young Adult novel about a teenage girl who’s obsessed with football. Despite this premise, hopefully you don’t have to be either a Young Adult or a footy fan to enjoy it. Set in 1980s Melbourne, it deals with issues of gender, fame, grief and friendship. And, yes, footy too. Chunks of it reflect my own childhood, but the biggest, most important bits are made up. It was so much fun writing The Whole of My World that it feels like it should have been illegal.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope my readers feel at least moderately inspired. That’s a fairly grandiose aspiration, admittedly, but this novel has been a long time coming and, at this point, anything less would seem a little unsatisfying.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Cormac McCarthy entirely for one reason: his novel, The Road, is as close to a perfect book as any I’ve read. Knowing I could never write anything as good almost drove me to give writing away. Instead I decided to celebrate the fact that the perfect novel was written in my lifetime and not, as I’d been led to believe, in the centuries before.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To always have readers. I’ll keep writing — I don’t seem to have any choice in that — but without readers, there seems little point.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write — and read — every day. And night if you can manage it.
Nicole, 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.