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 Hornsby, in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and grew up in nearby Normanhurst. I went to Hornsby Girls High (and have been delighted to go back a couple of times to talk to the students about crime writing). I moved to Ryde when I became a paramedic then a couple of years later went to the far north coast of NSW. I now live on the Gold Coast.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Vet, writer, writer. I was obsessed with animals as a child but realised I didn’t quite have the marks to get into vet science at uni. I spent hours writing stories all through my teens and knew even at 18 that I wanted to write novels. I couldn’t quite see how to reach that place, however, so went to uni for a year studying agriculture, dropped out of that, then joined the ambulance service. I started a BA five years later, taking six years to finish it between shiftwork, all that time working on various short stories and terrible novels. By 30 a decent novel was still a few years off but I could see that I was improving so felt more determined than ever. My first novel, Frantic, was published when I was 37.
3.What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
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?
Books have always been really important to me. I am a repeat reader so some of my childhood favourites, such as The Wind In The Willows and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, I’ve read more times than I could count. I remember the first particularly for the worlds Kenneth Grahame built – his description of Mole’s little house, for instance – and the second for the stories and how the life of a girl living more than a hundred years before could still resonate with somebody like me.
I was a huge fan of Stephen King’s novels when I was a teenager, and in fact the first novels I attempted were imitations of his work. I don’t read them now but I’ve always admired the way he draws a reader into the narrative and makes just about anything believable.
5.Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Novels are my thing. I have written short stories in the past but nothing satisfies me like the range of a novel. I feel I can really get into it, stretch out, take my time telling the story, and let the world unfold around the reader. So really there was no choice – I fit novels and they fit me.
My latest novel is Violent Exposure. It’s the fourth in my series featuring Sydney police detective Ella Marconi alongside paramedics. When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? Is trainee paramedic Aidan Simpson telling the truth about his involvement? And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?
As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords’ fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it’s too late.
I was a paramedic for fifteen years and trained a number of junior staff so should stress right now that the character of trainee paramedic Aidan Simpson is based on none of them! He was lots of fun to write and that was nice because so much of writing a novel is sheer slog.
With each of my books I find myself mentally revisiting some of my best and worst times as a paramedic, and Violent Exposure was no exception. The situations paramedics deal with every day can be tremendously traumatic, and I still feel it’s a kind of catharsis to write about some of the things I went through, but at a distance, as I mould them to suit the story then give them to the characters.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
First and foremost I want people to enjoy them. I’m so pleased when readers tell me they couldn’t put the books down, that they stayed up all night or got in trouble at work or forgot to pick a friend up at the station because they were so absorbed. To be able to tell a story so enthralling so that people truly forget where they are is the best thing in the world.
I hope too that I’ve given them interesting insight into the lives and work of paramedics. When you’re in that job so many people ask what it’s really like, so I’m pleased that I can use some of my years in that position to pull back the curtain and show them.
8.Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire crime writers James Lee Burke, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Robotham, Lee Child, and Val McDermid. I’m inspired by their ability to tell great suspenseful stories full of interesting and real characters, and to do all that in a new book every year.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to keep writing a book a year and sell to increasing audiences both here and overseas. I’d love for the books to be picked up for movies or TV. I also want to keep improving my writing and developing my skill as a storyteller.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Never give up. Don’t expect to find a shortcut to publication – there isn’t one. It takes a lot of hard work to produce good strong writing. I wrote for seventeen years before Frantic was published, but far from seeing that as wasted time, I instead consider that my apprenticeship. And finally, publication is not the holy grail – if you don’t love what you’re doing for the work of the writing itself, publication itself won’t fulfil or sustain you.
Katherine, 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, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five 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 Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.