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 father was a bush poet, a frustrated writer and a hoarder of old documents. When he died I inherited his diaries and a receipt for my birth at a private hospital in Echuca, Vic, where, for an eleven day confinement, the bill, including a laundry fee, was seven pound, ten shillings and sixpence. ($l5.05). He paid cash, and for this was given a sixpenny discount. My primary education was in a two roomed school in NSW. Thereafter, I travelled fifty miles each day (80 K’s), to High School, in an unreliable bus over unreliable roads.
As a nine year old I read The Shy One, by Frank Dalby. It broke my heart, but for the first time in my life I read of paddocks, not fields, of gum trees, not oak and elm, of dust and scrub and a land a recognised. I have been writing since about Australia. I recall no ambitions to become a nurse, teacher or other. I gormandised in libraries. A book from the shelves might absorb my mind for a day. Writing my own stories absorbed my mind for weeks, months – at nine, twelve, eighteen, thirty – and all of the years thereafter.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
There was no doubt in my eighteen year old mind that a writer filled his messy exercise books with an incredible tale, posted it off to a publisher and a few month later the publisher returned money and a bound book. I was to learn otherwise. It took umpteen rewrites and over ten years before I managed to squeeze Mallawindy in through a publisher’s rear door.
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?
Music soothes the soul. I tried my hand at an electronic organ but was unable to create the music I heard in my head. I tried a paint brush on canvas, but my brush could not reproduce what my eye perceived. I was into photography for some time. Then I bought a typewriter – and later a computer. My electronic organ died for lack of use, my paints dried up in their tubes and my camera now photographs the grandchildren.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I am musically incompetent, and drawing is hard. I do keep my hand in, though, creating the chapter avatars in the US editions, and directing the art on my website and having a lot of input on covers and the like. Some day I’d like to get back into it.
Ripples On A Pond, book five of the Woody Creek series, is the tale of a self sufficient little timber town and of the folk who live there.
The series opens in the twenties with Pearl In A Cage and the birth of Jenny. We watch her and the town survive the great depression, the second world war. In Ripples On A Pond, set in the late sixties and seventies, progress and unemployment are beginning to erode Woody Creek.
The saw mills, once the town’s major employers are closing, the town’s youth are escaping to the cities, reliable transport and a large town nearby is ripping the heart out of a once thriving little business centre.
Jenny is still there, watching the old brigade attempt to hang onto the glory days of the past.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Why do we pick up a book? I pick it up to escape for a time into a world that is not my own. When I close the book, I expect to care about the characters and for them to stay with me a while. That is what I hope my readers take away from each of my novels.
I believe I’ve answered that one at Question 4.
(BookGuru: Ta. )
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My most ambitious goal to date has been to complete the six books of the Woody Creek series in six years. One year and one book more and it is done. As to what comes later? No doubt something will come to me.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
The best advice I was given was to find a chair and apply my backside to it for elongated periods of time. I can’t improve on that, other than to add, don’t waste your time in seeking that perfect opening sentence. You’ll change it a dozen times. Far better to find a rough ending. This will give your work a focus. Without an end to aim for, many writers become lost in words, as do their readers.
Joy, 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.