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 Sydney and raised on the North Shore, in a big, old, rambling house filled with books. I have an elder sister and a younger brother, both of whom are writers too. We had a huge garden and lots of pets, because my father was a vet. Apart from the usual dogs, cats, fish, and birds, we had a pony called Rosie, a wallaby called Christabel, a baby possum that fell down the chimney on Christmas Eve, ducks, turtles, calves, lambs … not all at the same time, though! My family are all great readers and storytellers and so we grew up listening to family tales and reading voraciously. I always wrote too – poems, stories and novels, all through my childhood. Many of them were published in my school magazine, ‘The Weaver’ (I went to school at Abbotsleigh).
A writer, a writer, and a writer. I’ve never wanted to be anything else. And why? Perhaps it’s because I always loved reading so much. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always loved making things up and writing them down. Maybe it’s because it’s in my blood – the first children’s book published in Australia was written by my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Mmmm, interesting question. ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was my favourite book as a child. I can definitely say that it has influenced my writing! My grandmother’s favourite piece of music was ‘Ode to Joy’ and since she was named Joy and that is my middle name, you could say that the idea of joyfulness is central to what I write. And I am writing a book at the moment in which the Venetian painter Titian is a character. I have been closely studying all his works, but key to my story is his early work ‘Woman With A Mirror’. I’ve just been to Paris to see it in the Louvre – behind me was a huge mob of people all taking photographs of the Mona Lisa while, to my mind, ‘Woman With a Mirror’ is a far more mysterious and beautiful painting.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I wrote my first novel when I was seven, and I’ve never stopped since. A novel is an artistic form that does things no other art form can do. It offers a depth and richness of experience that films or TV or static art forms simply cannot hope to match. It has all the emotional intensity of music, all the vivid colour and imagery of paintings, and all the narrative power of films. Because it offers a sustained narrative, so that a reader spends a much longer time connected to the world of the book, it makes the reader’s brain work much harder. I like writing in other mediums – I write poetry and picture books and articles, plus would like to try my hand at a film script one day – but novels will always remain my own true love.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
‘The Starkin Crown’ is a fantasy adventure story for children, set far, far away and long, long ago, in a fairytale world filled with valiant heroes, wicked villains, terrifying monsters and extraordinary magical creatures. I wanted to write a book just like the ones which had so enchanted me as a child – a book filled with adventure, mystery, romance, and magic. It tells the story of Prince Peregrine, heir to the throne, and his desperate search for the long-lost Spear of the Storm King which he hopes will help him rescue his parents and win back his father’s throne. I very much hope the children who read it will be fashioning themselves magical spears out of sticks and cloaks out of old curtains and playing games inspired by it, just like my sister and my brother and I used to play Narnia.
I hope that they will feel as if they have stepped through a magical gateway into another world for a while, a world that has made them gasp and laugh and cry and shiver, and which makes them want to set out to fight battles against giants and dragons, whether real or metaphorical.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I have so many writers whose work I love and admire. My favourite contemporary writers for children are Philip Pullman, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson, Robin McKinley, Geraldine McCaughrean, Garth Nix, Michael Pryor, Katherine Langrish … My favourite writers for adults are Tracey Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Geraldine Brooks, Sarah Dunant, Juliet Marillier, Kate Morton and Kim Wilkins. But really there are far too many to name!
I’d like to keep writing till I die. Preferably I’d die after I’d typed ‘The End’!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I think the most important things you need are imagination, a love of words and books, a strong desire to be the best writer you are capable of being, and a whole lot of courage. Courage to write what you want to write, courage to reach deep inside yourself and disturb your demons, and, of course, courage to face rejection and criticism. Otherwise, it’s easy: read, write, rewrite.
Kate Forsyth, thank you for playing.
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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.