author of The Pomegranate Pendant, In A Good Pasture and more
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 Dorothy Opas in 1931, in Melbourne. I was the youngest of 5 children, and born during the worst years of the world-wide depression so life was quite difficult. I spent my childhood in St.Kilda and was the only Jewish child in my school – St.Kilda Park State School; and then went on to Elwood Central and MacRobertson Girls’ High School. I was that unusual child who loved school, loved my teachers and enjoyed a structured lifestyle, even to wearing the unattractive uniform in High School.
From the age of 7, when I had my first poem published in the children’s pages of a newspaper (I think it was the Sun), on the back of Ginger Meggs comic page, I never thought of being anything but a writer. I won a green certificate which was worth 2 shillings and sixpence – a fortune to that little girl (about 25 cents) and thought being a writer would bring me fame and fortune. My ambition has never faltered – all my life, at every age, was focused on being a writer.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
My greatest wish at 18 was to live in London. I wanted to be in the land of Byron and Keats, Shakespeare and Dickens – English Literature, as taught to me in school. I lived there for 3 years from age 19 – studying and working. Now, although I still love London, my home is Jerusalem and feel it is a great privilege to be here.
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?
The artist Esther Patterson, an R.A., was a great friend of my family and I loved her and her work – I met her at 16 when she was probably about 60, and she took my dream of becoming a writer very seriously and encouraged me to pursue it. She was a brilliant artist and her still-life oil painting of a jar of chrysanthemums that she gave me as a wedding present still has pride of place in my Jerusalem home . My favourite book was the poems of Rupert Brooke, which I still re-read every few years. Music – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – even now it can inspire me and transport me to a different world.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I have had 11 books published in many different genres – poetry, essays, children’s books as well as novels. My novels have been “Esther” – a Jerusalem Love Story, published by HCI in Florida, U.S.A. and based on my experiences as a war correspondent for a brief time in the first Lebanon War as well as my life in London; “The Pomegranate Pendant” first published by Feldheim New York/J’em with the paperback publishing by Chaim Mazo Publishers Jerusalem. It is now a movie. I then wrote a sequel to it called “Seeds of the Pomegranate” and my latest novel “In A Good Pasture” – the latter books all published by Chaim Mazo, Jerusalem. I also write a lot of short stories, but a novel gives you a broader landscape to work on and to develop your characters.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My latest novel is “In A Good Pasture”Although all the characters are fictional, it is an authentic setting – the Mercaz Klita (Absorption Centre) where we lived for 5 months in 1971 when we made ‘aliya’ in Nazareth Illit. It tells the story of a beginners’ class in Hebrew at that Ulpan … 7 people from different backgrounds and countries who have nothing in common at all. But they are thrown together in class daily and their lives start to become entwined. There are crises, a divorce, a wedding and many triumphs and failures. I think it is a realistic story about life for new ‘olim’ in Israel and the challenges they must face.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they will learn to love Israel; understand what it is like to live in a country surrounded by enemies on every border; to feel what it is like for your children at 18 to be in the army for 3 years; to know the pain of terror attacks and the mourning that follows our wars which were never of our making. I hope they will also learn the magic of living among your own people in a country that is so beautiful and inspiring; and the special emotion that is Jerusalem which poet Yehuda Amichai once wrote that the air is so heavy with prayers and dreams that it is sometimes difficult to breathe. But living here is a life-changing experience.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I love all the writers of my youth, naturally … Dorothy Parker; Somerset Maugham; John Steinbeck. Contemporary writers I admire are many including Joanna Trollope; Pat O’Connor, Ann Tyler; Maeve Binchy – too many past and present to enumerate. I read at least one book a week and they are as necessary to me as food.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My only goal is to keep writing as long as I am breathing – and at 80 I must realistically admit it may not be too many more years. But I usually write several thousand words a day – I write for a lot of newspapers, as well as magazines in U.S.A. and U.K.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My advice to aspiring writers is not to talk about writing – just do it. Don’t let rejections stop you – the only writers who have never been rejected are those who never submitted anything. And remember the beautiful Chinese proverb: “Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come”!
Dvora, 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.