author of Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat
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 grew up on acreage right in the heart of Warrnambool, Victoria, and within walking distance of the beach, so it was a childhood full of adventure and inspiration. My family (I am one of seven) might best be described as creatively eccentric, headed by my mother who thought nothing of wearing mis-matched shoes if they were comfortable and three aprons because they worked better than one. I am a product of the public school system and part of that fortunate generation to receive a free university education which I used to graduate as a school teacher, although I have never worked as one.
12, a pop star, because I felt the world deserved to hear how well I could sing with a hairbrush; 18, a journalist, but I enrolled in teaching instead after I read that hundreds of hopefuls were seeking cadetships at The Age and I believed I had no hope; 30, a feature writer for one of the major newspaper magazines. I snuck into journalism at the age of 22 after deciding teaching a classroom of pubescent boys was not for me. Becoming a final-year cadet meant a huge drop in pay from what I could earn as a teacher, but it was the right decision.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That superannuation was for old people.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
First, as a teenager, I had a huge crush on Bette Midler, except I didn’t call it a crush back then. Bette made me believe that you could come from an imperfect, eccentric, working-class family and still contribute something to the world that made people feel good: I try to do that through writing.
Second, September 11. It brought what really matters in life into sharp focus and being true to yourself is one of those.
Finally, there are dozens of books which have inspired me over the years, but the piece of writing I treasure the most is my late father’s notes about his childhood – which was extremely poor – which he scratched into notebooks and on the back of envelopes and on old telephone bills. From reading them, I understood the need to write and to release the stories inside you.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Not at all! People love stories and storytelling will always be a part of who we are. What device we use to read is changing, but for my money you can’t beat a book on a beach, or in bed, or on the train: no glare, no batteries required and a comforting softness that only comes from paper.
6. Please tell us about your latest book… Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat
It’s a humorous memoir about my naïve attempt to set up a small hobby farm in Tasmania during which I realised I knew nothing about ducks, goats, bush rats, horses or fire pumps. I also try and capture some of the character of Tasmania which, at the time, was on the cusp of great change from being considered the daggy state, to a gourmand’s paradise. The characters make Tasmania very special.
(BBGuru: Publisher synopsis –
A hobby farm south of Hobart sounds idyllic but author Carol Altmann discovers a tree-change is sometimes not all it is written up to be.
A tree change is about finding a simpler life, right? And that’s what Carol Altmann and her partner were seeking when they moved to a hobby farm in Tasmania. But things go wrong in a surprising number of ways as they try to adapt to life on the farm surrounded by an odd assortment of animals-a goat that thinks it’s a dog, a bunch of amorous ducks, and a collection of vermin with teeth sharp enough to tear through a wall that are hell-bent on moving into the kitchen.
What looked from afar like an idyllic life turns out to be an education. Add an odd assortment of neighbours and friends and you have an amusing tale about leaving the rat race behind, only to discover more about yourself than you would have found in ten years of city living. )
To add a drop more laughter.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Many people, but Barack Obama is high on the list. After reading his two books, I felt inspired by his combination of ambition and commitment to social justice. He may not be the perfect President, but his arrival in Washington after the Bush years felt like the healing could at least begin.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I gave up on rampant ambition when I turned 40 and realised that there is no such thing as the ‘top’. I now look no further than 12 months ahead, which feels manageable, during which I hope to make progress on my next book which I think will be a collection of non-fiction stories. We shall see.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
To dive in and start swimming among the words. Standing on the edge of the pool will only leave you cold and uncertain. It takes courage to write, but if you jump in and start dog-paddling around, you will be surprised by how good it feels.
Carol, 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.