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 in London, and moved permanently to Australia when I was about 9 years old, before that my parents couldn’t decide where to live so we moved back and forth a few times. I went to school in Croydon and later in the beautiful Yarra Valley and then off to college at the Victorian College of the Arts, where I studied music.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Music has been my greatest love for as long as I can remember, but at age twelve I probably wanted to do anything that involved horses. I was truly horse mad. I drew horses, dreamed about horses, and finally I was given one; an old, bay hunter called Sunny. By eighteen, although I still loved horses, I wanted to play in an orchestra because it didn’t require mucking out. And thirty? I wanted to be a mum, because my intuition told me it was time.
At eighteen, I believed that I needed to be right – all the time, about everything. I smile now as I write it. Thank goodness I dropped that silly idea. I’ve since realised that being happy is much nicer than being right.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Puccini‘s opera Turandot turns my heart into something warm and liquid whenever I hear it; I remember being in the pit at the arts centre, years ago, listening to the music around me, the voices above. I had to struggle not to cry, everytime we performed it. It still has that effect on me. Any of the piano music from the romantic period puts a pleasurable lump in my throat also.
And the Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on me. I was amazed at how this author had created such a large realistic world out of words on paper. I think the common thread running through these great works of art are their ability to expand one’s energy. Sounds strange, but looking at them and listening to them made me feel that I was bigger than the body I was sitting in.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Great question. I’ve given this some thought and I suspect it has something to do with control. With classical music you’re restricted to playing a set piece and have to follow the (usually wise) hands and heart of the conductor. Unless you can improvise, of course, and then there are other musical avenues open to you, but alas I couldn’t jam to save myself. But writing is sheer freedom. It’s hard to beat that. Okay, there are some rules to follow, but generally, writing has few barriers. And how portable is it? A pen. Some paper. What more does one need?
Milk Fever is a rather odd romance. There are two main characters; Julia a housewife struggling to adapt to life in the country and Tom, a handsome dairy farmer who experiences the world through extraordinary senses. They appear to have walked out of different books in the beginning; Tom’s voice is almost gothic while Julia is very realist, but as the novel progresses, they become more alike. Julia’s starts to hear a strange note whenever Tom is around and when Julia’s yoga-teacher husband, Bryant sets out to “cure” Tom’s migraines and memory lapses, their worlds are irrevocably changed.
Milk Fever is a novel of love, yearning, the fragility of modern family and forgiveness. And of how, despite our desire to remain separate, we are all incredibly precious, connected and, ultimately necessary to each other.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
My greatest wish is that anyone who reads Milk Fever will feel uplifted by the experience. I think if there was any message in the book it would be that we’re all doing okay, despite our flaws, mistakes and regrets, we’re all doing okay.
I love so many writers. I’d need pages and pages to list them all. But perhaps my favourite writer (if I could only name one) would be Rose Tremain. She is so talented. Her narrative is effortless. You know as a reader that you’re in good hands. Her writing is assured, devoid of clichés and compelling.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Promise not to laugh? The New York Times best sellers list. Phew! I must be mad. But I am a hopeless optimist. I rarely lower my goals even if they are set ridiculously high.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I wish I could give every aspiring writer a big hug, but failing that I’d like to wish them the following: inspiration, and joy in the writing process; there’s so much fun to be had and worlds to create – enjoy it. A thick skin and faith in themselves when a rejection letter comes in, and it will. And determination. ‘You can not fail, unless you quit.’
Lisa, 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.