author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born and raised in Dublin, so I was, with a twinkle in my eye and a song in my heart and a pathological distaste for working on the family farm, which I ended up doing for ten years after I was kicked out of art college- which is, I think you’ll agree, a feat in itself. I had never been the best student in the world, preferring to daydream instead of, you know, actually doing stuff. But who’s laughing now, eh?
(Me. I’m the one laughing now. Just to be clear.)
I’ve always loved comics. Comics taught me how to read. So when I was twelve I wanted to be a comic writer and artist. I also wanted to be taller. So far, only one of these wishes has come true.
When I was eighteen I thought I was going to work in animation, and I was quite happy with that idea. Unfortunately, I was better at coming up with ideas than I was at actually drawing them, hence the ten years working on the family farm.
When I was thirty I wanted to write a book. I had spent the last ten years working the farm and writing screenplays in my spare time, and I had the good fortune to get two movies made. But neither of them radically changed my life the way I had been expecting, so I needed to do something new, something I hadn’t really tried before.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen, I believed I was immortal. Now I know I am.
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?
Spider-Man. I mean, comics in general, but my favourite was always Spider-Man. The things that comic writers, and I mean the great ones, can do in 22 pages never fails to astound me. I grew up with the quick-wits of Spidey, the black humour of Judge Dredd, and the clinical eye of Batman. Taking all that into account, I was destined to write the kind of books I write.
Mucho Mojo, by Joe R Lansdale. Lansdale has managed to write in so many genres over his career, and successfully blend these genres together, that he could not fail to be an influence. His characters are the toughest Texan good ol’ boys you’re ever likely to encounter, and they’re also the most decent and most endearingly flawed. And he writes the best fight scenes.
The Big Sleep. The prank call scene is one of my favourite scenes out of any movie, ever. I loved these old black and white movies, played on a Saturday afternoon when it was raining outside. It was this kind of thing- with the rapid-fire dialogue, characters who were impossibly smart and witty, that really appealed to a kid with a stutter. They made me appreciate the spoken word in a unique way, I think, and had a huge influence on my writing. If there’s one area in which I reckon I’m strongest, it’s dialogue.
And also, Lauren Bacall was HOT.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I had thought that my career would be as a movie writer, but after a certain point in the film-making process, the writer becomes the least important person there. I watched my script being taken from my hands, changed without my input, and damaged- and there was nothing I could do about it.
Because of that, any flaws in my movies I can shrug and say “That wasn’t me.” Because movies are collaborations, the writer can always shift the blame to the director or the producer or the financiers…
But with books, the writer is king. Yes, smart writers will listen to their editor and their agent, whose suggestions will hopefully make it a better book. But ultimately, it’s up to us. All acclaim, and blame, rests at our feet.
When you devote a chunk of your life to something, you want the responsibility for it to be yours and yours alone. That’s what being an author is all about.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Death Bringer is the sixth Skulduggery Pleasant book, and there’s not much I can say that would make any sense to anyone who doesn’t know the series. Skulduggery is a skeleton detective, Valkyrie is his teenage partner/combat accessory, and together they fight the forces of darkness while also fighting the darkness within themselves.
(BBGuru: The publisher’s synopsis – The Necromancers no longer need Valkyrie to be their Death Bringer, and that′s a Good Thing.
There′s just one catch. There′s a reason the Necromancers don′t need her any more. And that′s because they′ve found their Death Bringer already, the person who will dissolve the doors between life and death.
And that′s a very, very Bad Thing… Read an extract)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have known how to answer this, but then I got a letter from an American girl who thanked me for showing her that it’s okay to be different from everyone else- or in her words, “it’s okay to be a little insane”.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Lansdale, for reasons stated above.
Millar, Morrison, Ennis, Ellis and Bendis- comic readers will know what I’m talking about.
And also, JK Rowling. Before she came along, writing books for younger readers was not really a viable career move. It’s because of her that I make a living. So, you know, thanks JK.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
World domination. And I don’t mean it in a “I want my books to be successful around the world” kind of way. I mean, literally, world domination. I want to rule the world, preferably with an iron fist. I want to be feared and adored in equal measure, and then lusted after. I’d quite like to be lusted after. I also want a throne made from the bones of my enemies, but with a thick cushion, because the bones of my enemies would be pretty uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time while I’m ruling with the aforementioned iron fist. You’ve got to think about these things.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
If you knock me off the Bestseller list I will hunt you down and kill you with a spoon.
Okay fine, that’s more of a threat than a piece of advice, so I’m also going to say write what you know. I never knew what that advice meant when I was starting out. I always thought write what you know was very restrictive. But I’ve since come to interpret it as put a little piece of yourself in everything you write. No matter if you’re writing about vampires or zombies or, in my case, living skeletons, so long as you include a sliver of raw honesty from your own life and your own experience, your story will mean something to someone.
But most of all, if you knock me off the Bestseller list I’ll kill you. Seriously. I will.
Derek, thank you for playing. You were scary, but good.
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.