Miles Franklin Literary Award Winner
…and now The Coming of the Whirlpool,
the first volume in a stunning fantasy series, Ship Kings
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born in the town of Dalby, a couple of hours west of Brisbane, in 1966, and raised very happily on a wheat farm near there, the ninth of ten kids. Went to the local Catholic schools in Dalby – St Columba’s and St Mary’s – up until grade ten, then it was off to boarding school in Brisbane for senior – Marist Brothers Ashgrove.
At twelve – a mad-scientist, with a white coat and wild hair and a laboratory to blow things up in. Why? Well, why on earth not? But I also already liked writing by then.
At eighteen – hmm, I was in first year Uni studying Arts and realising I didn’t want to be there, and that maybe I should just quit and start a novel right away instead of waiting till I was older.
At thirty – I wanted to be a novelist who could publish more than two novels, because at the time I was stuck on two, and couldn’t imagine a third ever happening.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was a sincere (if not particularly devout) Catholic at eighteen, and would’ve been surprised to be told that I would abandon it all only a year or two later. Mind you, I currently live across the road from a church, and even as I type this, a statue of Jesus is staring at me through my window.
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?
There are too many to contemplate, but here are a random three, taken just from my childhood.
The Muddle-Headed Wombat on a Rainy Day, by Ruth Park. In essence, the story is just the wombat and his friends mucking about in puddles during a rainy day in the bush, and then coping with some minor flooding – but it captures exactly that sense of novelty and possibility that all children (and some lucky adults) seem to find in a thing as simple as a bit of rain. I was enthralled by the book at age six or seven, and even now it remains a salient example to me of how a story of even the most modest scope can be fascinating if told well.
The Nargun and the Stars, by Patricia Wrightson. I would’ve been about eleven when I read this, and until then (despite Ruth Park’s efforts) I’d always thought of the Australian landscape around me as disappointingly dull, and Australia’s mythology as empty. I wanted Europe’s far more dramatic mountains and forests and castles, and Europe’s dragons and witches and ghosts. It was Wrightson who first made me appreciate how evocative Australia’s landscape truly is, and how populated it can be with magic and spirits of its own.
And then when I was about thirteen I had my first honest-to-god transcendental hallucination brought on by listening, one hot afternoon, to Pink Floyd’s symphonic ‘Atom Heart Mother’ – which was a pretty wild experience at that age. It made me realise – long before more adult experiences – that perception is a highly malleable thing and, most importantly, that it’s expandable.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Innumerable artistic avenues? What innumerable artistic avenues? Writing is the only artistic skill I remotely possess.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Coming of the Whirlpoolis a fantasy novel, the first volume of a series called Ship Kings – fantasy being a new style for me, but also something I’ve long been keen to try. It’s a seafaring tale, set upon an ocean that at a glance appears much like our own, but which in fact is subtly different, and vastly more dangerous. This first volume – as the title suggests – pits our young hero Dow against a gigantic whirlpool. But the heart of the story is not the whirlpool itself, but rather the dread and despair that the whirlpool has cast upon all those who have encountered it previously, and how it comes to be that Dow, and Dow alone, feels compelled to descend into its depths.
(BBGuru: publisher’s synopsis –
From the award-winning author of Praise and The White Earth comes a magnificent young adult series about destiny and desire, set in a brilliantly realised fantasy world.
‘If you go to sea, you will come to the attention of the Ship Kings. And if they discover who you are, they will kill you.’
Young Dow Amber is no sailor. But driven by a strange sea-longing he ventures down to the great grim bay known as the Claw. He hopes to learn there of seafaring, but he finds only a fearful people who scarcely dare sail at all, for they have been cursed by a monstrous whirlpool that haunts the bay, stealing away their sons.
Then the rulers of all the world – the proud and cruel Ship Kings – arrive in the Claw. Dow is fascinated by their fine tall vessels, and even more so by a mysterious girl who lives aboard their flagship.
It is a perilous attraction to be sure, but could it be that his future somehow lies with the Ship Kings? Or will he be called upon to descend to his death, when the terrible whirlpool rises once more?
The Coming of the Whirlpool is the first volume in a stunning series from Miles Franklin Award winner Andrew McGahan.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
For this book, just a sense of having been on an adventure – to somewhere cold and wet and bleak, maybe, and even dreadful at times, but also somewhere compelling.
Well, since we’re talking fantasy, I’ll confine myself to fantasy writers here. And there’s no going past the obvious – Tolkien. He’s such a titanic figure in the genre that he hardly needs me to sing his praises, but for one thing he can paint a landscape – especially a mountainous one – more vividly than any other writer I know. But what I love most is the sadness that imbues his entire creation; the sense of slow decline and fall from what might have been, and the very relevant lament he makes that every hope or promise of mankind can so easily be destroyed by our most foolish but abiding of sins – pride.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
At the moment, I’ll be happy just to complete the four books in the Ship Kings series. I know, I know, in the fantasy genre four books is nothing. Any self-respecting fantasy series these days has at least seven volumes, or even nine! Still, I’m only a beginner here …
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Oh, I dunno. How about this :– If there’s an exception to every rule about writing, then the exception might as well be you.
Andrew, 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.