The Booktopia Book Guru asks
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 and raised in the rather trendy seaside resort town of Brighton in the UK, just a skip from London and so cosmopolitan when I was growing up. These days it’s a shadow of my teenage years. I’d like to say it’s because I left but it’s just become too crowded and lost some of its wonderful faded Regency elegance. I was schooled at the Hove County Grammar School for Girls – very posh and I had to wear a beret and indoor and outdoor shoes as well as a very nice terry towelling bright blue jumpsuit for gym and a short skirt on top for ‘Games’, as well as an apron for home economics and a special overall for chemistry and physics. All of these deliciously sexy items had our names embroidered on them by our mothers.
In spite of all the uniform tragedies, I loved school. I wasn’t terribly good at anything but I was enthusiastic about sport, captaining my tennis and hockey teams, and I was an average academic student so I slipped through those years in uneventful, blissful style. Teenage years were fun, no great angst that I recall except that I wasn’t allowed a boyfriend until I was 17. I worked from the age of 15 every Saturday in a fashion boutique in the high street and loved it!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12 I desperately wanted to be an air hostess as they were called then. Back in the early 70s it was a very glamorous job and I loved the whole idea of travelling to far flung destinations. I knew I was going to be a great traveller whatever I did.
By the time I was eighteen I knew I wanted to run my own business.
By 30 I’d been travelling the globe, was living on the other side of the world, I’d worked in advertising, marketing and travel and I’d already set up my own PR and marketing consultancy with my husband which we’d run for five years and we’d also just set up a new travel magazine that was very exciting. However, as I teetered on the brink of falling into my fourth decade there was only one thing I wanted at that point and that was to be a mother. So at 30 I was pregnant and our twin sons were born just before I turned 31.
I believed that I was right. About everything! And now I realise I was mostly wrong. And part of that sense of rightness was my judgemental style that saw the world in black and white with no shades of grey. I have learned that it’s only by walking into the shadows do you learn the most about life, about people, about oneself.
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?
The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. I love it, still do, it’s on my iPod and I often play it as an inspirational piece – it has such a variety of rhythm so I can play a quiet part or I can tap and hum along to the bright, sparkling crescendoes. I don’t listen to music when I write but a piece like The Four Seasons will put me into the right frame of mind to write a particular sort of scene.
I studied History of Art in my senior years at school and took a real interest in the work of the neoclassical painter, Ingres. I loved his paintings – they were so real it was hard to imagine that someone started with a blank canvas and had to create it with brushstrokes and paint. I forgot everything I learned at school as soon as my final exams were done but I did well in History of Art (shocking at practical Art!) and how extraordinary it is that I realised some three decades later that my series, Percheron with its opening volume of Odalisque was also the subject of Ingres’ famous La Grande Odalisque, his well known Turkish Bath painting, his Odalisque with Slave – even his Bather I now realise may have subconsciously fed back into my sudden notion to write an epic tale about a girl who becomes a slave in a harem. I still love looking at his work.
And bookswise, the dictionary. It is a work of art – a continuing work of art that has been there since my childhood to inspire me with new words and I cannot write a new novel without its comforting presence. I think if I had to take one book to a deserted island with me it would be the OED. Probably the historical one!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Natural born storyteller. Can’t help myself. Everytime I’m relating an event to family/friends, it turns into a grand tale, embellished and exaggerated until it is epic. Besides, I’m a control freak. With my books I control everyone. Lovely!
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
I have three, all in writing or editorial stage at this moment and all due for release during 2012. There’s the sequel to The Whisperer – a children’s fantasy; or there’s my new historical novel that I’ve loved writing, which is set in France during WWll. And of course there’s my new adult fantasy that I’ve just started writing and rather intrigued by. Let me tell you about that even though I know so little about it.
That’s how I write – to no plan, so each of the books emerge in a twisty-turny style because I don’t know what’s coming next. I do know that I’m taking readers back to the land of The Quickening. So we’ll visit Morgravia again and it will be more than a century later from when we left it at the end of Bridge of Souls. I think it will be Cailech’s and Valentyna’s grandchild who now wears the Crown. And of course that Crown is threatened and I don’t know why or by whom. We shall see.
Curiously though, I’ve written the first few chapters and I find myself in contemporary Paris! That’s what’s making it intriguing for me because I don’t know why we’re on the Left Bank and I don’t know who these characters are that we’ve already met. You see there’s a lot of ‘don’t know yet’ to my writing style. I can confirm, however, that this is my first standalone adult fantasy and I love the idea of being able to give readers a complete story in one hit and not make them sweat on other volumes over a couple of years. I reckon this is how I will be writing my fantasy from now on. It feels good for me too that I will write a whole tale in one book after ten years of crafting trilogies. My thanks to the Voyager team at HarperCollins for embracing this new format with me.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I write purely and simply to entertain. I don’t need readers to put my books down having learned anything. I’m adamant about that. Nor do I need to provoke any response other than perhaps a reader finding it hard to put down while reading it. I have no message, no agenda when I’m writing. I am producing pure story, pure escapism. I’d like them to finish the book with a sigh and a sense of satisfaction that it was worth the investment of their time and spend.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire many writers in various genres. But if I focus on fantasy I’m especially admiring of Guy Gavriel Kay because he writes the sort of fantasy that inspired me enormously when I was setting out. He can shock, make me cry, smile … so his ability to plumb my emotions while I read his stories is a wonderful skill that I hope I can emulate.
Likewise with Robin Hobb’s tales – and particularly her Farseer books it’s a very emotional read. You really fall in love with her characers. Fitz and the Fool – two of the greatest fantasy characters who walk with me, inspire me constantly.
And I’m going to throw John Connolly in there. He is writing crime apparently but I swear he’s a fantasy writer. And somehow through crime/fantasy his stories really unnerve me – I need to read them with more than just a bedside light on and I have been known to leave the lights on because I’ve been so rattled by his story. I love his writing style – his metaphors and dialogue, his whole creation of a scene in a few brief sentences is magical. In fact all three of these writers have individual writing styles that appeal very strongly to me and give me something to aspire toward.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Well the goalposts keep changing because I am a goalsetter. I’ve been writing and have been published for a decade now with 22 books in the vault, so a lot of the early goals I set myself have been achieved. But I do have plenty more goals to kick – I want to write a TV screenplay for my crime books, I’d be thrilled if one or more of my stories were adapted for the big screen, I want to write a cookery book, I want to learn French so I can talk to my legion of wonderful French fans in their own beautiful language, I want to write an all out, hands down, rip snorting best seller, I’d love to host a radio show about with books and writing a key aspect, I’d like to write a thumping great romance or walloping romp of a thriller … look, the list just goes on and on. And that’s healthy. I’d hate to be complacent!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Stop talking about it… do! Set writing goals, be disciplined and commit to the manuscript. And most importantly… finish what you start within a realistic deadline that you set before you begin. I meet so many people who tell me they’re writing a book and then I discover they’ve been working on it for years and years.
GET ON WITH IT! FINISH IT!
Fiona, 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.