author of Under The Influence
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, raised and schooled in Brisbane. My parents still live in the same house that I came home to after breaking the record in the maternity hospital for being the longest baby. Exciting I know. I had a carefree childhood and left Brisbane after I finished university to travel the world, drink too much cider in London and eventually end up working on a newspaper in Sydney.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12 I remember telling the local butcher I wanted to be a lawyer. I think because one of my older brothers had just started studying it at uni and I thought he was the ant’s pants. At 18 I wanted to be an actress – well, I did win the school drama prize and I was rather adept at pretending to have a range of deep emotions I had absolutely no clue about. At 30 I went through one of many ‘what am I doing with my life?’ crises. I was pregnant with my second child and wanted a change on the work front. If you don’t have flexibility with your time in journalism, it can become very limiting.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That men who are arrogant bastards with serious personality issues are really interesting, worthwhile and would love me if I just changed.
This is a hard one because I have always thought real people influence me the most. My friends’ stories about how they survived Christmas with the in-laws and a partner who is increasingly ‘mentally’ absent, the conversation I overhear at the café, a story in the paper about a grandmother killing a man when charges against him were dropped for sexually assaulting her grandchildren, a question one of my children asks when they are bored in the backseat of the car. But here goes: three works of art that I loved?
The Little Dancer by Edgar Degas. Known for his paintings of ballet dancers and ballet classes, this one is a rare sculpture and I found it both beautiful and ugly.
Chris Lilley’s Summer Heights’ High – so clever and laugh out loud funny. He has a clear vision.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Because I have no other artistic avenues open to me. Can’t sing, play a musical instrument, draw, use my hands to create. But I can dance. At night and with a lot of drinks under my belt so I don’t think that counts.
Under The Influence is about three friends, Eve (a cellist living in London), Meg (a country doctor) and Sarah (a mother) who went to boarding school together a long time ago in Sydney and share a secret that has changed who they are as women. It’s about ‘that girl’ at school – we all had one – in this case her name is Rebecca Thornton and she makes her mark. It’s about people who want to control and dominate those they say they love and care for. At the end of the day it’s also about the complexity of female friendship.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
People are flawed, but not all flaws are created equal. Also, when you are a woman make conscious choices about life. Don’t let things just ‘happen to you’. Try not to find yourself downstream one day drowning and have no clue how you ended up there.
I admire many, many writers. Those who write more lyrical novels, those who write satire or thrillers or historical fiction. Any genre, as long as, I want to turn the page.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
When you really love doing something I don’t know if it’s ambitious to want to get better at what you do or simply natural. I want to be a better writer.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Relax. Don’t try to write what you think someone wants to read, or write ‘literature’, write how you write and what you want to write. And then you have to keep writing for a long, long time.
Jacqueline, 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.