The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
author of Red Dust
and Blue Skies,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Well, I was born in Booleroo Centre, a stone’s throw from where I was raised, in the mid-north of South Australia. Orroroo was my home town for twelve years, until I was sent to boarding school in Adelaide in Year 8. Mum and Dad were fairly entrenched in the Orroroo/Carrieton community and I had a fabulous time growing up. In a small country town in the eighties, kids could wander anywhere by themselves and we used to spend our afternoons cruising around the creek, down the pool or up trees!
I didn’t like boarding school so much – the teachers at Annesley College were wonderful, but I hated the confines of the boarding house, the city and being in such close contact with other kids.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At Twelve: a singer! I did! And I studied music and singing for the five years I was at boarding school. (I didn’t make it in that area, but my brother is a professional musician now.) But I think I always knew I would be a farmer. My idea was that I hated maths and I didn’t think you needed maths to be one (I was very wrong and I’m lucky that my husband is very good at it!)
At Eighteen: a farmer, but I was wavering between being a farmer and a professional party animal at the local pub!
At Thirty: a farmer, although my interests had widened. I wanted to be a published author and the best mum I could possibly be.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Mm, this is a difficult one! I’m not sure.
I read this question to a friend, a friend who’s known me since I was nineteen, and she said, You didn’t believe in yourself very much, back then. But, she continued, you’re beginning to believe in yourself now!
Does that count?
I can tell you what I do believe in and what I live my life by – the three ‘F’s’: Faith, Family and Friends. These are the only things that matter.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
But I love most music and it’s all had some sort of an effect on my life. Country music is wonderfully inspiring to listen to while I’m writing these days and there is nothing better than a fantastic song belting out of the sound system in the car when I’m sitting behind stock!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Well, the characters told me to do it! They were swirling around, just waiting to come out and once I started writing Red Dust, I couldn’t stop. The words just flowed.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Blue Skies is in the same vein as Red Dust, although it is based in a different part of Australia. My main character has to battle through her mother’s death, potential sale of the family farm and a few other dramas. The trouble is, just as she thinks she is finally on top of everything she comes face to face with obstacles from a mysterious source.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they don’t want to put the book down. I want the reader to get so caught up in the story/plot, that to leave the book is a wrench. I’d like to think they might like to read it again and again!
On another level, I hope my novels can portray farming in a positive light, help people to understand that this is where their food comes from.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
You know, if I go back to my childhood days, it’s Enid Blyton and James Herriot. I think Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven is where my love of mysteries came from. I love reading them even now – especially to my kids.
James Herriot’s stories are just timeless and they talk about the things I love: country and animals.
Just to write – to be able to find the time to write and to still love what I’m doing in ten years’ time!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write, write, write. Sometimes it’s not possible to write every day, but you need to try. It’s the only way you’ll get better. Be critical of your work and try and improve every sentence.
Read – and learn from what you’re reading. Why do you like that character, does that setting work for you, why have you loved that chapter so much?
Never give up submitting your manuscripts. Good writing and a bit of luck is all that is needed in getting a contract and every publisher is aiming for different stories at different times. Just because you are rejected today doesn’t mean your manuscript won’t be wanted tomorrow.
Fleur, thank you so much for playing.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.