The Booktopia Book Guru asks
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 Bathurst, NSW and lived there until I was 8. After that we lived in a village called Penrose, near Bundanoon in the Southern Tablelands. When I was 12 we moved to Belanglo State Forest (yes, the place that became notorious three decades later because of the backpacker murders). Dad was in charge of the forest and I lived there until I finished high school. It was an idyllic place then, living surrounded by trees for miles, though a bit lonely because there weren’t any neighbours nearby. I spent a lot of time climbing trees, reading books and crashing my pushbike.
I went to school at Chevalier College, near Bowral. It was a good school and I don’t have any unhappy memories of my time there, though I can’t say I worked very hard. I was a rather lazy boy and spent most of my time up the back of the class, daydreaming.
At 12 – explorer, fighter pilot, space captain. A life of adventure, which is pretty much what I write about in my books, thus proving that I’ve never grown up.
At 18 – when I was 14 I decided I wanted to become a scientist, so in my final year I was studying hard to get into uni. I went to Sydney Uni and studied geology, then did a Ph. D. in marine science, studying pollution in the bottom of Sydney Harbour. That set the course for my professional life and, though I’ve been a full-time writer for 12 years, I still do some of that kind of work.
At 30 – having spent 10 years at uni, quite a few of them mucking around when I should have been working, and having a family and a mortgage, I think all I wanted was to earn some decent money.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was 18 in the late Sixties and, though I’d been rather a cynic since childhood, I did believe in many of the ideals of the Sixties. Make love not war and so forth. They were great ideals, too, though desperately naïve as it’s turned out.
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?
King Lear, because I studied it in great depth for the HSC and it was the first time I truly appreciated the literary qualities of a great work.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, because it portrays a triumph of the human spirit.
The Lord of the Rings, because it was the first fantasy novel I ever read and it created in me a great hunger to read all the epic fantasy I could, and to write it myself.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Who said there were innumerable artistic avenues open to me? I have no particular skills in drawing, painting, music, dance, theatre, sleight of hand etc. However I had been devouring books since the moment Mum taught me to read when I was 4, and I suppose most (or at least, many) people who love books dream about becoming a storyteller.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel,Vengeance: Book One of The Tainted Realm…
In Cython’s underground slave camps, only the timid and obedient survive – and Tali is neither, for she has sworn to bring her mother’s killers to justice. In Cython, having magic means the death penalty, and Tali’s gift is swelling out of her control.
Her dramatic escape precipitates Cython’s war on a weakened Hightspall and, when Tali is rescued by Rix, heir to Hightspall’s greatest fortune, they flee through a land in turmoil. But Rix’s subconscious is scarred by a sickening secret that links him to the killing, and before they can solve the crime, and defend the realm, Tali and Rix must learn to trust each other.
All the while, Tali is hunted by a faceless sorcerer who can only be beaten by magic, yet the one person who can teach her to use her unruly magic is the sorcerer himself.
As she unravels the ages-old conspiracy behind her mother’s murder, Tali’s quest for justice turns to a lust for vengeance. But how can she avenge herself on a killer who died two thousand years ago?
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I don’t write books to give people messages or to push my own beliefs or convictions. Personally, I believe this is the death of good storytelling. However, of course my stories are informed by my own views about how to live one’s life, and my characters struggle with moral ambiguities all the time. I like to write about characters who are underdogs or unlikely heroes who have to use their own wit, intelligence, courage and determination, plus whatever gifts they have, to overcome the obstacles in front of them and reach their goal.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Writers like George RR Martin, who is uncompromising in his determination to make his next book the very best he can, no matter how much flak he gets from impatient fans.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To make very book different to the last, and better. And to be the best storyteller I possibly can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
You need talent, first of all, but it’s not enough. Thousands of people can write well, but not many of them ever get published. What you need most of all is the determination to keep going no matter how many knock-backs you get, and to learn your craft no matter how long it takes.
But if you can write a great story, with real characters that your readers can empathise with, you’ll get there in the end. That’s what most readers are looking for – not beautiful writing, but great storytelling.
Ian, thanks for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.