author of The Scourge of Jericho
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 and raised in suburban Sydney until the age of ten, when my family moved to the small country town of Grenfell. Being the city-slicker, I was attributed – and very undeservingly, I must confess – celebrity-like status, and it wasn’t long before I knew how to handle a rifle, and was riding trail bikes and getting up to all sorts of mischief. Sadly, Grenfell wasn’t large enough to satisfy my plans for worldwide domination, and my family returned to Sydney the following year. Finally applying myself at school, I was awarded runner-up dux in my final year of High School, and went on to major in History and English at Sydney University.
When I was twelve I wanted to be an archaeologist. Why? How many twelve-year-old boys back in 1983 didn’t want to be Indiana Jones? At eighteen, influenced by some truly inspirational teachers, I decided to become an English and History teacher. Lurking in the back of my mind, however, was the childhood fantasy of exploring tombs, and the first subject I took at university was Archaeology. By the age of thirty I still wanted to teach, but had aspirations of one day becoming a published author.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I thought I was invincible. Now I’m older, wiser, and much more cautious. I’m less inclined to take risks.
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?
It was only when I read Ice Station I realised that novels can be even more fast-paced and action-packed than video games. Matthew Reilly taught me that a writer is only restricted by the limit of their imagination – and I have a very vivid imagination. Just wait until you read the impossible situations that face the characters in my novels.
The second work of art that has influenced my writing is Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean series. They are an absolute blast, full of swashbuckling adventure and rich historical detail. I love how Bruckheimer has taken elements of pirate mythology and blended them seamlessly into a real-life historical setting. And the clothing in the Pirates movies is just fantastic!
The third work of art would have to be Neuschwanstein Castle. This is a monument to romanticism, hearkening back to Germany’s rich historical past. I’m sure it’s a source of inspiration to many fantasy writers.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
You obviously don’t know about the violin I received for Christmas seven years ago and have only played three times!
I am a dabbler. I start many projects – all with the good intention of seeing them through to fruition – only to change my mind a week later (actually, sometimes only an hour later). Writing is the only artistic endeavour to which I have been able to commit. As a History teacher, I love the research involved in writing. It transports me back in time, allowing me to escape from the hustle and bustle of living in Sydney. Writing sets my imagination free, allowing me to explore locations in Europe from the comfort of my study.
The Scourge of Jericho is the first book in The Witch Hunter Chronicles; an action-packed, swashbuckling adventure series set in the seventeenth century. It’s about witches, a sixteen-year-old boy, grim-faced witch hunters, a French duellist with a shady past, edge-of-your-seat fight sequences, plot twists galore, a ruined castle, a forged letter, a hidden relic, secret subterranean passages, grimoires, demons, mercenaries, a French spy network and traitors. In short, it’s the book that I would have loved to read when I was a teenager.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I want readers – and in particular teenage boys – to feel as if they have been taken on the ride of their life, and cannot wait to sink their teeth into the next instalment in the series. I really hope The Witch Hunter Chronicles engenders a life-long love of reading in teenagers. It would also be nice if it gave readers an appreciation of the seventeenth century, which is truly the most amazing period in history.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
This is easy – Matthew Reilly. I have great respect for his resilience and perseverance. When he wrote his first book, Contest, and it was rejected by every major publisher in the country, he decided to self-publish and distribute his novel to bookstores from the boot of his car. He knew he had something fantastic to offer and never lost hold of his dream of becoming a published author. All he needed was one person in the publishing industry to notice him. As luck would have it, one of the publishers from Pan Macmillan bought a copy of his book – and loved it. Within a few years his books went from the boot of his car into bookstores worldwide.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I plan on writing a dozen titles in The Witch Hunter Chronicles. I’m therefore faced with the challenge of finding fresh ideas to keep readers engaged. I’m constantly researching events and historical personalities, and then incorporating them into the series. Trips down to the local library have become a fortnightly ritual, as so have weekends of internet research.
I also want each book in the series to be more action-packed than the last. Given the amount of fight sequences in The Scourge of Jericho, this is not going to be easy to achieve.
Oh, and I plan on writing a book each year.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Never stop following the dream of becoming a published author. We all have great stories to tell. It’s only a matter of finding a publisher who believes in you.
Writing is a hard industry to crack into, but doors do open. I’m living proof of that. I am not represented by an agent, nor did I send my manuscript to an appraisal service. Following Random House Australia’s guidelines for unsolicited manuscripts, I sent a query letter. Within a few days they had responded, requesting the entire manuscript. After a considerable amount of redrafting, the manuscript was resubmitted, accepted and a contract offered.
Be flexible and be prepared to take on board the advice of publishers, even if it means rewriting your entire book. They are the professionals and know exactly what the market needs.
Stuart, 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.