When Hungry, Eat
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 Johannesburg, South Africa, raised during Apartheid, schooled in South Africa and the US, and moved to Australia in 2001.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be skinny and pretty because I was neither. At eighteen I wanted to be president of South Africa, failing that a judge because I was going to fix the injustices of my country – yes, all by myself. At thirty I wanted healthy babies.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I believed all men were bastards.
Under Milk Wood: a play for voices by Dylan Thomas – it made me fall in love with language
My dad, who is a political cartoonist, painted me a picture of Superman when I was twelve, with ‘Superman loves Joanne’ emblazoned across the sky. It really helped with self-esteem issues.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write?
I didn’t choose it – it chose me. I’ve been writing stories since I was six. And I can’t draw or sing or play a musical instrument. It was a bit of a no-brainer, really.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
It’s a memoir about losing weight and immigrating and letting go of the things that hold us back.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope the book will inspire people to feel less afraid of ‘hunger’ whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Poets – like Rilke, Rumi and my current favourite, Mary Oliver – a little goes a long way, like the lines ‘All things are inventions of holiness / Some more rascally than others’ (Mary Oliver, ‘The Wren from Carolina.’) I love Toni Morrison who sculpts language and Michael Leunig’s writing for its profundity and whimsy.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to understand human experience more deeply, and to go more bravely into the paradoxes of our lives so I can write truthfully about them. I’m writing about men next, with the help of a male friend who is a psychotherapist. My ambition is for my writing to continue to be a growing edge for me.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write and read every day. Celebrate the rewrite. Edit ruthlessly. Don’t bully the writing. Every rejection is a test of how badly you really want this.
Joanne, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.