The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
author of the thrilling Mak Vanderwall Novels:
Ten Terrifying Questions
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Booktopia, you need to know straight up, I was raised on a diet of Stephen King, Edward Gorey and Patricia Cornwell. (Oh, and Monty Python.) Hence, nothing terrifies me. (BBGuru: Fight or Flight? NB. Ms Moss ticks Fight)
I was born in Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island in Canada. I left for Europe when I was 15, and was then vigorously schooled by life. (I haven’t yet graduated from Life, but my teachers tell me I am doing fine.)
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Novelist, novelist, and novelist, because writing is my compulsion and my passion. Writing for a living, then, is where I have always longed to be. Unfortunately it took me turning 23 before I recognised that I really was good enough to pursue writing as an occupation, and not just the personal hobby it had always been. Not counting my free writing, and book reviews, I was first published at 24.
I can’t remember what strongly held beliefs I had at eighteen, but I am sure I was wrong. (Now that I think about it further…yup, I was wrong.)
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?
I couldn’t say that any single painting or piece of music has influenced the development of my writing, although I did listen to the eerie soundtrack for Hannibal over and over while writing one of my early novels. Sometimes I play Bach while I write, but mostly the sounds of silence are best. I do, however, adore contemporary and modern art pieces, and a wide range of music. Everything I have ever read, witnessed or experienced has influenced my perspective, my writing style, and the catalogue of experiences I draw on for my fiction. Pinpointing any one novel, piece of art or experience would be an over-simplification. (BBGuru: Ouch!)
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
You presume that I had a choice? Writing is my compulsion and my passion. I have no choice – I must write. It has been that way for me since I was first able to hold a writing instrument in my fingers. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but mostly it is a gift, and the licence to live other lives and adventures, simultaneously. I wouldn’t rid myself of the compulsive writing disease if I could.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My latest novel is Siren, my fifth novel featuring Mak Vanderwall – a beautiful, street-wise daughter of a cop, graduate in forensic psychology, and now PI. In this novel she is hired by a widowed mother, to track down a missing nineteen-year-old who may have run off with a bizarre troupe of shady French cabaret artists sweeping through Australia.
Has the dark beauty of the burlesque, the magic, the mind-bending contortion, beguiled him? Or has he been seduced by the mysterious and amoral older woman who has a terrifying starring role in the troupe’s modern performances of the Grand Guignol ‘Theatre of Fear’, famous in Paris in the early 1900s?
I was set on fire by Hollywood stunt company West EFX and choked unconscious by Ultimate Fighter ‘Big’ John McCarthy for this latest novel. I also descended into the Catacombs of Paris, and immersed myself in the world of burlesque, vaudeville, contortion, and magic, and researched with magician Adam Mada, in addition to getting my private investigator credentials with the Australian Security Academy.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope my readers will come away from each novel having enjoyed the ride. Some will perhaps even be moved by Mak’s trials. And hopefully they will have learned a self-defence move or two.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Stephen King for his uncanny ability to tap into our most primal fears. Anais Nin for her daring, honesty and naughtiness. Albert Camus for his Absurdism. Margaret Atwood for her ability to write of psychological terror (in The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance) with such poetic beauty.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to live life to the fullest. I want to earn my pilot’s licence once day, and travel the world in a small plane. I want to write a novel every year or more, and have new learning experiences for each book. Life is too short to live the same day twice.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. Start writing today. Start writing right now. Don’t write it right, just write it – and then make it right later. Give yourself the mental freedom to enjoy the process, because the process of writing is a long one. Be wary of ‘writing rules’ and advice. Do it your way.
Writing is a gift.
Tara, thank you for playing.
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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.