author of Shift
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 Melbourne and my family moved to various places while I was growing up, including Canberra, Adelaide and rural Victoria. Eventually we came back to Melbourne where I finished high school.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I’m not sure what my ambitions were at twelve but at five I wanted to be a tight rope walker – because I thought this meant I would get to wear a tutu and carry a frilly pink parasol. I was heavily into frilly pink things at the time you see. At eighteen I wanted to be an artist because by then I’d moved on to wearing black and looking serious. By thirty – after way too many years at art school – I realised that what I actually wanted to be was a writer.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That despite my clear lack of talent I would some day make it as an artist.
I can only think of one, but it was an important one. When I was about seven my dad had a non-fiction book published. It was called Australian Horse-drawn Vehicles and I was over-awed by the magnitude of his achievement. My dad had written a book and it had been published. The fact that the subject matter was of no interest to me whatsoever was irrelevant. I remember staring at my dad’s photo on the dust-jacket and reading the blurb that described how he was “married, with two children” and feeling all tingly with pride that I was one of those two children. I think I took Australian Horse-drawn Vehicles with me to school for Show and Tell about fifty times and it certainly made me feel that getting a book published was achievable and even something that I might do myself one day.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Sadly, I don’t think there actually are innumerable artistic avenues open to me. If my earlier career plans had come to fruition I guess I could have painted my ideas instead. Or ‘tight-roped’ about them. But as it is I have no choice but to write.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Shift is a YA psychological thriller that examines such themes as identity, loss and toxic friendship. It is told from the point of view of Olive Corbett – once part of the in-crowd at school, now overweight, reclusive and mentally fragile following the disintegration of her family life. When strange rumours start circulating about the soon-to-arrive new girl – Miranda Vaile – Olive and her (only) friend Ami initially seize upon this as a chance for some mindless distraction. But before long Olive starts to wonder what the hell is going on with Miranda. Bad things just seem to keep happening to the people around her.
Here is the official blurb:
Olive Corbett is definitely NOT crazy.
Not anymore. These days she takes her meds like a good girl, hangs out with her best friend Ami, and stays the hell away from the toxic girls she used to be friends with.
She doesn’t need a boyfriend. Especially not a lifesaver-type with a nice smile. And she doesn’t need the drama of that creepy new girl Miranda, who has somehow latched on to Olive’s ex-best friend.
Yet from a distance, Olive can see there’s something sinister about the new friendship. Something almost… parasitic. Maybe the wild rumours ARE true. Maybe Miranda is a killer.
But who would believe Olive? She does have a habit of letting her imagination run away with her…
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Mostly I’m simply hoping that my readers get an enjoyable chill from reading Shift and that they have some fun trying to work out what is going on with Miranda. But there are some serious themes in Shift too – ones to do with identity and self-acceptance and getting back on your feet after life has tripped you up. If my YA readers get something out of these themes I’d be very happy.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
The person I currently admire the most is an author friend of mine, Chrissie Keighery, whose latest YA novel – Whisper – I’ve just finished reading and loved. Whisper is the story of Demi – a teenaged girl who has been rendered deaf by an illness. Suddenly Demi finds herself shut out from her old life and her old friendships and she has to start redefining who she is. Having recently moved to Germany – but not speaking any German – this novel really resonated with me. I sometimes feel just like Demi as I walk around, not having the faintest clue what is going on around me! Not only is Whisper an incredibly beautifully written novel but Chrissie is an inspiration because she somehow manages to write while juggling a very busy life. She is also a tremendous writing buddy. Sally Rippin inspires me in similar ways – and her latest book Angel Creek is gorgeous.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goals are very dull. I plan to keep working at my writing and improving my skills.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I’m a big fan of ‘pitching’ ideas to friends and family. This always helps me figure out what is working with an idea and where the ‘holes’ are. I find that if I can’t describe my idea to someone in a way that is interesting then I generally can’t make it interesting when I write it down either. I’d recommend finding someone who is a patient listener… or lock the door so they can’t escape!
Em, 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 and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty 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 Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.