author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation
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 and raised in that part of Australia that’s often left off the map and in true Tasmanian style headed off to the big smoke as soon as it was a legal option. I hung out with drug dealers in Kings Cross until someone I knew was murdered. After that I ran back to Hobart to play bass in bands, it was safer.
For three years I studied acting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne which helped me to realise that I preferred playing in bands. After years of being a singer/songwriter in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney I retrained in radio at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Radio is perfect, it combines my performance skills with a love of music and gives my insatiable curiosity a valid outlet. And I get paid more than I ever did as an actor or a musician.
When I was twelve I wanted to be liked. I always felt like an outsider.
At eighteen I wanted to be Jean-Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers.
At thirty I wanted to be a famous and well paid singer/songwriter instead of an obscure poor one.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought I was immortal, that nothing could kill me; not drugs, not knives, not dark alleys at the back of the Cross.
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?
When I was in high school we studied Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It confounded, frustrated and astounded me. It stretched my heart and my mind.
Seeing The Stranglers at the State Theatre in Sydney in 1979. I turned to the punk next to me and asked “What’s that sound?” He sneered at me, he was a punk after all, and said, “That’s the bass guitar.” I decided in that moment that I would become a bass player. From being a bass player I became a song writer. The lyrics to three of my songs are in Sex, Drugs and Meditation.
Sigur Ros, from Iceland. Listening to their music is like being in a cathedral made of ice and vines. I have written whole scenes of my unpublished novel inspired by this band. Two of my main characters and thousands of other characters become entwined in the epic beauty of their songs.
I feel as though I’ve lived many lives already; as a bass player, an actor, a singer/songwriter, touring the country with bands. A friend of mine once asked me why all the good stuff happened to me, why I had such an interesting life while he was stuck in a small town in a small job. I told him it was because I said, “Yes.” Yes to adventures and opportunities and new experiences. I never had any money but I did what ever I wanted. I lived like a 17 year old boy with a driver’s licence and no responsibilities. When my last band broke up and I realised I was in fact a 36 year old woman, radio was there to embrace me.
After working in radio for a while I had enough money to go to the USA and visit the places where much of the music I loved was made. When I came back my friends asked to see the photos. I hardly had any. I’d only taken twelve on a disposable camera. A colleague at the ABC suggested I write about my travels instead. I haven’t stopped writing since.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Mary-Lou’s dream job has become a nightmare. She knows Eliott Purvis, her young, ambitious, sociopathic boss, will not change. If Mary-Lou is to be free of the anguish and keep the job she loves, there is only one thing she can change. Herself.
Ten days of silent meditation is the solution she chooses. During these ten days Mary-Lou is forced to confront the demons of her past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion. She also has to deal with the demons in her mind; paranoia, self-hate, fear and murderous rage. She relives her time spent in Twelve Step programs, her years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of her former life as a musician and the journey that led her to work in radio.
For ten days and nights she battles her memories, mistakes and fantasies. The rigours demanded by the long hours spent meditating result in excruciating physical pain. The overcoming of this pain enables her to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.
She is shocked when an old wound she thought had healed demands her complete attention. A relationship so wracked with obsession and betrayal it destroyed her ability to trust. Through the eleven hours of meditation a day she finally releases the resentment and blame and comes to a place of forgiveness.
When Mary-Lou returns to work the challenges remain, but she went to the meditation centre to change herself, not her job, and the results are surprising. At a dinner party a week later, despite all her best efforts and worst habits, Mary-Lou meets the man she will marry.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Sex, Drugs and Meditation is a story of transformation. It’s the story of a woman who is at breaking point and very close to losing all hope. I went and sat in pain and silence for ten days and things changed. I changed. I’d like people to recognise that there is hope, no matter how dark things seem. I’d like them to consider meditation as a possibility for creating that change. But more than anything I’d like them to enjoy a really good read and feel uplifted after they’ve turned the last page, knowing that anything is possible.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Anyone who finishes writing a book. So many people say they want to write a book, some may even start, but to those who start, stick with it and finish it – I admire you, even if you never get published.
As far as published writers are concerned this is a tough one for me. Books pass through my hands like water. I have a regular books and writing segment on ABC Local Radio and I read like a fiend. It’s important to me that I read the book before I interview the author, which I’m told is rare. I admire every author I interview because their lives are usually ones of tenacity and inspiration, hard slog and brilliance.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’d love to inspire people to know that change is possible. I’d like my books to give people hope as well as being a really great read. The book I’m writing at the moment is the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation. It’s the truth about my happy ever after; the story of how I stayed married – against all odds. I’d love to see this book in print, as well as the novel I’ve written and the many others I have planned. Much as I love my work in radio, one of my ambitions is to make a living from writing.
I’m going to assume that most aspiring writers are already reading voraciously and writing compulsively, those being the basic building blocks of a writer. So my advice is to get yourself some writing buddies. People who will become your allies and your cheer squad. Friends who will give you honest feedback when you’re feeling strong and heap praise upon your writing when you’re feeling vulnerable.
A writing group who evolve together and whose bonds strengthen as the years go by. Writing can be lonely and people who don’t write often can’t understand why you won’t go out on Saturday because you have to write or why you spend so much time doing something that may never see the light of day. Your writing buddies will get it and they’ll get you.
Don’t be lonely, there’s no need to feel misunderstood. A small writing group of like-minded souls to encourage and to challenge your writing is the balm to soothe and sweeten this writing life.
Mary-Lou, 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.