author of Secrets of the Tides
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
My life so far seems to have been punctuated by travel and change. I was born in Canterbury, Kent, and then moved with my family to rural Buckinghamshire. In the mid-80s we travelled to Canada (with my father’s job) where I remember glittering skyscrapers, turquoise lakes and learning to ski (badly) down vast, snowy mountains. Eventually we returned to England, where I was teased for my strange accent and struggled to adjust back into village life and the all girl’s state school I attended.
After a term studying English Literature at Sussex University I realized, in a thunderbolt moment, that I didn’t actually know why I was there. I dropped out (much to my parents’ dismay) and worked as an Editorial Secretary at an old-fashioned publishing company in London while saving up to go traveling around the world. When I returned from the trip – browner and wiser – I read American Studies at Nottingham University and travelled again, this time to Vermont. After graduating, I returned to publishing, marketing a wide range of books and authors in London, until those itchy feet took me back to Australia at the end of 2005 with my boyfriend. We are now married and live in Sydney with our two young children. We became Australian citizens in 2010.
At age twelve I was really into animals so I think my ambition was either to be a marine biologist, a vet or a writer (or to combine all three in a Gerald Durrell-esque way),
At eighteen I was backpacking around Australia and all I wanted to be was an Australian citizen – I’d fallen head over heels in love with the place.
At thirty I was hoping to be made a Marketing Director at one of the big publishing houses.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I remember being told that you only regret the things you don’t do. Back then it seemed like a great way to approach life but as I’ve grown older I’ve seen plenty of people do things they then regret for a very long time. I now think the saying might just be a nice excuse to do the things you know might hurt others, but that you really want to do anyway. I don’t believe, however, in living a life where you beat yourself up over and over with regret. Say sorry. Mean it. Learn from your mistakes and then move on.
I am so grateful to my parents for reading to me as a child and giving me access to so many wonderful books. I could pick a thousand childhood reads that had an effect on me but perhaps the most powerful of all was a tatty old hardback of Greek Myths my Grandmother gave me from her own bookshelves. I adored those stories. I read them over and over and they inspired me to study Classical Civilization and Latin at school, fed my passion for language and words, as well as my ongoing yearning for stories with a real sense of tension and drama at their heart. I don’t think I would be travelling the writer’s path now if it weren’t for that early grounding in literature and storytelling and it’s no accident that echoes of the Pandora myth are buried in my novel.
Not long after my boyfriend and I arrived in Australia we discovered a TV show called Love My Way. Our social life on arrival was quiet (to say the least) and we watched that programme as if the characters were our new best friends. There’s a moment in series one where the scriptwriters turn everything on its head in one dramatic and wholly unexpected moment. When it happened, it split me open and as I began to think about writing a story myself, I wondered if it would be possible to create a different but similarly impactful moment half-way through a novel. It’s what helped to inspire the structure of Secrets of the Tides.
I love writing to music – particularly instrumental pieces or film soundtracks. I find they really help me conjure the mood of a scene or chapter. At the moment I am particularly enjoying writing to the soundtrack for Tom Ford’s A Single Man. The music is by Abel Korzeniowski and it’s gorgeous.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Ha, I love your optimism! The truth is that I can’t paint, am rubbish at playing musical instruments and have recurring nightmares about getting up on stage and forgetting lines, so really writing was the only sensible creative outlet for me. There is nothing quite like that feeling of losing yourself in a great book and I began to write as a personal challenge while I was on maternity leave. After those first few weeks of post pregnancy haze fell away, I felt a well of creative energy bubbling up. I wanted to see if I could get the seed of a story idea down in a compelling and interesting way and so really it began as just a private project, to keep my brain ticking over. Whenever my baby napped I sat at the kitchen table and wrote.
Secrets of the Tides is my debut novel. It’s a contemporary story set in Dorset and London and is about a family torn apart by the events of one day. The narrative is told through multiple viewpoints (a mother and her two daughters) and darts back and forth through time to gradually unravel the dark secrets that pull a family apart at the seams. It’s also a story about guilt and forgiveness and the redemptive power of love. It’s a fictional tale, but it’s inspired very much by my own journey as a daughter, a sister and now as a mother.
(From the publisher: Every family has its secrets. Some are small, like telling a white lie or snooping through a private drawer. Others are more serious, like infidelity and betrayal. And some secrets are so terrible they must be hidden away in a deep, dark place, for if they ever came to light, they would surely tear a family apart
The Tides are a family full of secrets. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, youngest daughter Dora hopes for a fresh start, for herself and the new life she carries. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you can forgive, can you ever really learn to love again?
Secrets of the Tides is the spellbinding debut from Hannah Richell, a rich and compelling family drama with a dark thread of suspense at its heart.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope Secrets of the Tides will move readers, perhaps even make them shed a tear or two, but ultimately I hope the reader walks away feeling uplifted. It’s a story that might make you grab your loved ones just that little bit closer and feel grateful for those precious family moments we can all sometimes take for granted.
Oh God, there are so many. Anyone who has ever sat down to write has my full respect and admiration, but to pick out a few… Stephen King for his dazzling imagination and prolific talent; David Mitchell for his breathtaking way with words; Tim Winton for the lyrical way he writes about the Australian landscape; Maggie O’Farrell for her pared-back emotional honesty and clever structuring; Toni Morrison and Carol Shields for entertaining and inspiring me through my university years; Jodi Picoult for her ability to write a string of bestsellers, completing each of them in just nine months, while also being a Mum; David Nicholls for his winning combination of humour and romance.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My current goal is nothing more complicated than to arrive at my September deadline with a cracking second novel and my marriage, family and sanity intact.
I’m pretty new to the writing game and feel a bit of a fraud even attempting to offer advice, but if I go purely from my own experience it would be:
Don’t wait for that Big Idea. Don’t wait for your Muse. Just get writing and do it for the sheer enjoyment. You might just surprise yourself.
Hannah, 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.