author of Troggle the Troll, Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch, A Pterodactyl Stole My Homework, The Very Naughty Velociraptor and An Allosaurus Ate My Uncle
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Hi there! I was raised and schooled in London, and spent most of my childhood battling imaginary dinosaurs in Hyde Park or flying imaginary dragons over Trafalgar Square. I left the UK after I finished University, and spent a good ten years working a nd travelling in different countries around the world. And then, in 2004, I ended up in sunny Australia!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I strongly believed I was going to be an astronaut. I even built my own spaceship out of tinfoil. Sadly, it didn’t reach the moon. At eighteen I was fairly sure I wanted to be a Doctor of some description (which I am now – a Doctor of Psychology), and at thirty I was pretty excited about trying to become a writer. I’m only 36, so it’s gone pretty well so far!
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Hmmm… Good question. I can’t think of any beliefs I had at 18 that I don’t have now (although I’m sure there are loads). But I do clearly remember when I was 8 being certain that dogs could communicate with each other telepathically. I am not so sure about this now. Cats can do it. This we know to be true. But dogs? Maybe not.
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 were three books that changed the way I approach writing – Mark Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’, David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ and Haruki Marukami (pretty much everything!) These books, for me, broke all the rules of writing. They dealt with complex topics in an exploratory, rather than explanatory, manner, and, in terms of story and plot, went precisely where they wanted to go (they didn’t stick to any predefined rules regarding structure). These books helped me learn that writing is not about ‘getting it right’, but about just writing for the love of it.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Partly because I have few other artistic talents! My seven year old draws better than me (although I draw a mean dragon), and my singing voice can kill a nested bird at fifty paces. I have worked professionally as an actor, but it’s not quite the same (you’re saying other people’s lines, not your own). Books, however, have been my friend since I was five years old. And I’ve been writing for just as long. So I guess I didn’t choose to write. Writing chose me.
I have four children’s novels coming out in early 2013, all about dinosaurs! It’s a series called Saurus Street, about a leafy suburban street that just happens to house a few Thunder Lizards. How did this happen, you ask? Well, I shall tell you. A scientist, terrified of growing old, experimented with time to try and stop the aging process. But instead of stopping time, he bent it… and now modern day Saurus Street sits right next to the late Cretaceous Period.
In Book 1, ‘Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch,’ Jack sees a shooting star and wishes for his very own T-rex. And Hey Presto, next morning there it is, lying right in the middle of Mum’s veggie patch. Great news for Jack. Bad news for the carrots… At first Jack’s delighted. Who wouldn’t be? But when the dinosaur sets its sights on Charlie the dog (a fine breakfast if ever there was one), Jack realises his new pet might have its downside. So he builds a time machine (simple really – all you need is some time and some machines. A few clocks and a robot claw should do), and makes a plan to send the T-rex home… What could possibly go wrong?
I also have a book coming out for younger children called ‘Troggle the Troll.’ It’s all about a young troll who won’t eat his tea. Every night Mummy Troll prepares him a delightful dinner – policeman pie, fireman fritters, cook crumble. What culinary delights! But Troggle turns his nose up. Says he won’t eat it! Says he wants vegetables instead. YUCK! What’s wrong with him? People taste delicious!! And when Daddy Troll is sick, and Troggle is sent out to catch dinner, he gets a chance to trick his parents into a change of diet…
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A sense of fun and adventure I hope! And free reign to imagine whatever they want… The books are fast moving, easy to read and beautifully illustrated (by the wonderful Tony Flowers), so my biggest hope is they will bring kids the same sense of wonder and excitement my first ‘self-readers’ gave me…
In terms of adult books, I’d go back to David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. Every book they’ve written extends my own horizons as a writer, and for that I’m extraordinarily grateful. In the world of children’s books, it would be Paul Jennings. I must have read ‘Uncollected’ to my own kids a hundred times – every story takes you somewhere you weren’t expecting to go. And that’s precisely where a bedtime story should take you…
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Hmmm… I’m not sure my goals are that ambitious. I have a number of other book series I’m working on, and I’d certainly be excited to see them follow Saurus Street out into the wild. But I’m not expecting to do a JK Rowling! So my ambitions are hopefully fairly grounded. Of course, I’d also like to finish that space rocket and make it to the moon (“never give up” is my motto!) but I realise that’s probably a bit over-ambitious. A successful orbit of the Earth will probably suffice.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
When I started writing, I went to a lot of different people and places to get help. I went to courses and workshops and writer’s centres. And I received all kinds of good advice on story structure, characterisation, appropriate language etc… And I have to admit, it didn’t really help!! I kept on trying to write stories that followed the rules, and were ‘well written’. Invariably, I failed. And then I decided to forget all the rules and just write the silly stories I wanted to write. And it worked! So that’s the advice I’d give aspiring writers – talk to people and get all the advice you can. And then ignore all that advice, and write whatever and however you want! Writing because you love it, that’s the secret.
Nick, 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.