The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
Sarah’s Heavy Heart
and The Important Things
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 in Brisbane and lived there until I was ten. My family then moved to Currimundi on the Sunshine Coast. I attended the local state primary and high schools. Living on the coast was much more enjoyable than Brisbane for me. Learning to fish and having the freedom to ride my bike around the suburbs were dreams come true for a ten-year-old boy.
When I was twelve I wanted to be in a band. That was the age I learnt the guitar (after giving up the violin to everyone’s disgust but my own). Being the youngest, I grew up with a lot of old records playing in the house and suddenly being able to play some of those songs felt amazing. At eighteen, I wanted to be much cooler than everyone else. This was going to happen through me becoming one of the greatest songwriters of our time. It didn’t happen, of course. Thirty? I turned thirty a few months ago. I want to be doing what I’m doing right now. Writing and illustrating.
I think I believed that a positive attitude didn’t make any difference. Years later, I don’t necessarily think a positive attitude will make things happen all the time, but it gives you a better chance and a more enjoyable way to go about things.
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?
Anything by Kurt Vonnegut. I pretty much gave up reading during my teens. Primary school was great for developing a love of books but I can’t remember reading one book at high school or a single teacher encouraging me to. Luckily a friend turned me towards Vonnegut when I was 19 and I fell in love with books again. It’s probably not to everybody’s taste but there is a deep humanity beneath all the humour and nonsense in his books.
Matilda by Roald Dahl. This came out at just the right time for me. I must have been in Year 4 or 5. Very, very different to Vonnegut, although Dahl also has that same beautiful humanity running through his work. It felt like he was writing just to me. Danny the Champion of the World was the same, although I enjoyed this as much for the way my Year 3 teacher read it to us.
Johnno by David Malouf. It’s a book about a place I know but from a different time. My favourite thing about this book is the way in which Malouf writes about memories and remembering. He also does it brilliantly in 12 Edmonstone St.
George Johnston did it just as well in My Brother Jack. Both books have similar and wonderful endings
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a picture book?
My ideas just seem to fit picture books. There is something magical about words and pictures coming together to create something that stands above the individual elements. That meaning, that wonder, cannot be achieved with words alone, or pictures alone.
The Important Things is the tale of Christopher, who lives with his mother. Christopher’s mother does everything, as his father has faded from their lives. When they give away a box of his father’s old things, a series of events takes place which reveals the different ways in which Christopher and his mother remember (or forget) the absent father.
I wrote this story because I love the stories behind the small things that are important to us all. You might keep an old shirt in the cupboard only because it belonged to your grandfather when he began courting your grandmother. There might be a vase on the shelf that you only keep for the memories you have of filling it with flowers as a child. All of these small, everyday yet important things are valuable to us because of the stories behind them and the memories attached to them. That’s the inspiration for this story.
Of course, it is also about a boy remembering his father, a bond between a mother and son, memory, parents, second-hand stores, slippers, coffee cups and a small orange dog.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope this book inspires children and grown-ups to reflect on the small and seemingly ordinary things in their lives that are actually very important, for the warmth that these things provide. I also hope that it encourages people to remember that we deal with difficult moments differently and that there is nothing wrong with that.
I admire anybody who is writing the stories they want to write.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My ambitious goal is to keep writing and illustrating books. I can’t think of anything more lofty or rewarding!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t listen to the people who tell you that it’s too hard to write, get published, etc. Lots of things are hard but you should never believe it’s too hard.
Peter, thank you 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.