author of the Alice-Miranda adventures
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 Fairfield NSW and lived in Ingleburn until I was nine then Camden until age 17. I attended Ingleburn Public School where I had possibly the scariest third grade teacher in the world. He kept a selection of canes in the corner cupboard and he wasn’t afraid to use them.
I was glad when I moved to Camden South Public School in the middle of Year 4 and into the classroom of possibly the most wonderful teacher on earth. She played music during class time and made super 8 films with us as the stars, and she single handedly saved the school from burning to the ground when our class equivalents of Barry Hollis and the Eastside Gang (from Hating Alison Ashley) decided that lighting a campfire in the middle of the timber classroom floor was a perfectly acceptable way to spend their lunch time.
I spent my secondary education at Camden High School and all in all I was one of those kids who loved school (well except for Year 3 and a while in the class of a rather interesting Maths teacher with a pet goat in high school). When I was 17 my parents moved to Wilton (which I thought must have been punishment for something being that it was in the middle of nowhere).
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I was divided between a brain surgeon or a television newsreader, until I realised at about fifteen that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. At eighteen I wanted to be a primary school teacher and a children’s book author and that dream held fast through thirty.
At eighteen I was in the most unfortunate predicament of having an opinion about almost everything. Being a member of the debating team during high school I did love a good argument and I had for a while entertained the thought of being a lawyer. Getting older has taught me that life is certainly not black and white – there are many shades of grey. And I’m glad I never did become a lawyer – although I would probably be a lot better off financially.
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’s difficult to say but in terms of books, it’s more the authors than particular stories that have influenced me. I adored Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and wanted to write the kind of book they did, that appealed to a broad audience over a long period of time.
The music of Mozart inspired me to persevere as I learned many (at least what I considered) of his complex pieces on the piano. There has always been something about his compositions that I adore.
I don’t think I could name just one piece of art that has inspired me – there are so many I am in awe of.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Storytelling has always been part of who I am. My parents tell me I started talking at nine months old and haven’t stopped. I’ve always had a fondness for words and one of my favourite things is reading aloud and sharing stories with children that I teach. While I adore playing the piano, it’s personal, just for me and I completely freeze in front of an audience – unless they’re sub nine years old! As for art, forget it – it’s just not my thing.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
In Alice-Miranda At Sea, Alice-Miranda’s Aunt Charlotte is marrying the handsome movie star Lawrence Ridley. Their wedding is going to take place on Aunty Gee’s royal yacht Octavia and Alice-Miranda is taking her two best friends, Millie and Jacinta along with her. But there is an accidental stowaway on a top secret mission, a scary chef and a cranky ship’s doctor. When the passengers’ jewels go missing it’s up to Alice-Miranda and her friends to solve the mystery and set things to rights before Charlotte and Lawrence’s wedding day.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that my books leave readers feeling that they’ve been taken on a great adventure – that they’ve made some literary friends along the way and that they can’t wait for the next book to come out (I really hope that’s the case seeing that there are at least another four after this one!)
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton are two all-time favourites. Their stories have stood the test of time and they are still as popular today as ever. Both of them have had their fair share of adult naysayers but ultimately children adore their stories and isn’t that what counts when you’re a children’s author.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write entertaining and high quality books that children around the world genuinely enjoy reading.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t talk about it, do it! In my twenties I wrote stories, poems and plays for the children in my classes and I spent a lot of time saying that I wanted to be a published writer. I didn’t really do anything about it though until I met the man who would become my husband and he said to me, ‘well you don’t want to die wondering’ and that was true. I didn’t want to look back in another ten or twenty years and wonder if I could have done it. Every author will tell you that the journey isn’t especially easy and there’s a lot of hard work and perseverance involved. Writing is a bit like riding a rollercoaster – but ultimately having your books out there in the world, knowing that they are being read and enjoyed gives an amazing feeling of satisfaction. Don’t be jealous of others – celebrate their success, work hard and one day, who knows!
Jacqueline, thank you for playing.
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Heidi, by Johanna Spyri – a wonderful adventure which fueled a great desire to visit the Swiss Alps!
Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein – I loved this book because it was so real for me. I went to school with kids just like Barry Hollis and his Eastside Boys.
The Twits by Roald Dahl – a hilarious tale and great to read aloud to children (lots of scope for silly voices and accents!).
Matilda by Roald Dahl – another all time favourite – Matilda is clever and wise beyond her years, with parents who are so grubby and awful you just can’t help but cheer when they leave her with the lovely Miss Honey.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – still makes me cry every time I read it. A powerful story of friendship.
Pastures of the Blue Crane by Hesba Brinsmead – I love the imagery of the house at Murwillumbah and the powerful relationships.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – beautifully written, a very original perspective on a time in history of great horror and fear.
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.