author of Those Who Come After
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 a south-western province of The Netherlands, called Zeeland, not long after the end of the second world war. My parents and I arrived in Australia as migrants in 1959. My secondary schooling and university all took place in Melbourne.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I wanted to be a writer from the age of five. By the age of twelve I still wanted to be a writer but as I was learning to speak English that ambition had faded. I think at twelve I just wanted to be able to speak and write in English.
At eighteen I wanted to be a museum curator, or at least be involved in fine arts. However, I had to earn a living and so I joined the public service.
At thirty I wanted to be a writer again.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Eighteen? That’s nearly half a century ago for me! The right to an education and equal pay would have concerned me most at that age. When I joined the public service in the mid-1960’s women were paid half the male rate.
To learn as much as possible about everything is as important now as it when I was eighteen.
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?
(1) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
(2) The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
For me, the great enterprise in writing is the novel. Creating a world the reader can identify with, or a character that somehow touches an authentic chord is exhilarating. Frustrating too, but when you get it right that’s sublime.
Those Who Come After is about a woman who is at the end of her career as an intelligence specialist and diplomat. She has been recalled to Australia. The day before she is due to leave Europe she learns that her last relative is dying in The Hague.
Back in Australia, to the backdrop of drought and a crumbling marriage, she recalls the events that brought her family to Australia. Her father was a member of the Dutch Resistance, her mother ended up in Dachau. Juliana relives the family’s early years in Australia, the premature death of her father and her mother’s inability to cope. She recalls how a charismatic man, a psychiatrist entered their lives. Order your copy here.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that readers will enjoy the story first of all. Like Juliana Stolburg I consider myself a dinosaur, the last chronicler of a time and place that has disappeared. I hope that readers may find resonances in the book that reflect their own stories.
I’ll answer this question in several parts, if I may.
From the past: Cervantes because he dared to envisage a form (the novel) that didn’t exist yet.
From the nineteenth century: Tolstoy because he dared to question morality and put his support behind a fallen woman (Anna Karenina)
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To be allowed to keep on writing until I drop. At my age that’s enough ambition to be going on with.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read widely. Read and write outside your comfort zone. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, your only competition is you. Write everyday. Revise. Polish. Writing is a job – respect the craft as you would a job. Always respect the reader, give her/him room to savour the story and make up their own minds.
Elisabeth, 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.