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 Halifax, England. My family migrated to Western Australia when I was six. At eighteen I went to the Northern Territory and worked as a park ranger for a few years. I now live in Victoria where I work as an agricultural journalist.
At twelve I wanted to be a jockey or a show jumper.
At eighteen I’d just started my khaki years – working as a park ranger – and it seemed a good fit for a while.
At thirty I had two young children and was busy with kinder duties and dress-ups and making pirate hats. It was engrossing and for a few years I didn’t think of anything else. I started writing in my mid thirties.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would never be loved.
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?
I read Dickens when I was a teenager and I think his sympathy for people, his essential tenderness, really touched me. The South American writers like Borges and Garcia Marquez opened my eyes to the possibilities of the landscape.
More recently I’ve been reading Freud. In Mateship with Birds the character, Harry, conducts a sort of self-analysis through writing letters about his sexual history to a young neighbour. Freud claimed that his letters to his friend Fleiss (they make fascinating reading) had a similar function.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’m not sure I can answer this. I haven’t always written, I didn’t keep a diary as a child and I was never particularly good at anything at school. I have always read a great deal though and in my mid thirties I sat down and started writing some short stories. I also make pictures, but I don’t sell them.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel… Mateship with Birds
It is essentially a love story about the developing relationship between a middle-aged dairy farmer and his next door neighbour. Every love story is unique and I hope I’ve conveyed something about the ‘truth’ of their lives – the difficulties and obstacles that have brought them to this point. It is a small book with an intimate scale. There is sadness and loneliness and confusion (daily life!), but I hope there is humour and tenderness too.
(BBGuru: Here is the publisher’s blurb –
On the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a family of kookaburras that roost in a tree near his house. Harry observes the kookaburras through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song. As Harry watches the birds, his next door neighbour has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Ardent, hard-working Betty has escaped to the country with her two fatherless children. Betty is pleased that her son, Michael, wants to spend time with the gentle farmer next door. But when Harry decides to teach Michael about the opposite sex, perilous boundaries are crossed.
Mateship with Birds is a novel about young lust and mature love. It is a hymn to the rhythm of country life – to vicious birds, virginal cows, adored dogs and ill-used sheep. On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
With Mateship with Birds I’d like them to be thinking about the nature of families, about the ties that bind us together and our relationships with animals. Perhaps also about sex and their particular ‘sexual histories.’
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I don’t especially admire writers, but I admire their work. I greatly admire the works of E.L. Doctorow, Richard Ford, Marilynne Robinson, Alice Munro, Eudora Welty, Elizabeth Jolley, Patrick White and many others including several hundred poets both dead and alive.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’m not sure this is actually true. It is simply about getting up each day and returning to your sentences – trying to write the cleanest, truest sentences that you can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Just to write. Not to think about readers or publishers or marketing… to accept that it is the writing itself that matters. And to read and read and then read some more…
Carrie, 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.