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 outside Melbourne, lived there until I was 6, then moved to Canberra – which was a lot smaller then than it is now, just a large country town. We moved to a new suburb that had been sheep paddocks the year before, looking out over the Brindabella Ranges.
I went to a brand-new primary school, a not-quite-so-new high school, and an older secondary college, and had some enthusiastic teachers.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I was a voracious reader, and when I was twelve, I wanted to be a writer – some day. My head was often occupied with stories, and I even wrote a few down. (But we won’t mention the Lost in Space fan fiction, because that would be too embarrassing. Besides, they didn’t call it fanfic back then.)
By the time I was eighteen, I’d fallen in love with textiles and historic costume, and fantasised about being a costume designer for film and TV. I researched courses in the UK; however, not being independently wealthy or the type to acquire a Sugar Daddy, I couldn’t afford to study overseas.
Going to uni to become an English/History teacher was a more sensible idea – except that there was a glut of them at the time, and no employment prospects for years. So, I did what many young Canberrans did – I joined the Public Service. There not being many avenues for creativity as a payroll clerk, I volunteered with Canberra Rep for some years, doing wardrobe, backstage dressing, and occasional costume design – and discovered that my skills and talents aren’t in innovative and inspiring visual design, so I sadly threw out the brochures and prospectuses I’d collected from UK design schools.
By thirty, I’d made the move to Armidale, earned a degree in English and History, worked in assorted community services, and sometimes I wrote scenes and dialogue to give voice to the characters and ideas in my head… but the serious writing had to wait for a few more years.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
As well as thinking that I would be a great costume designer, I also had a fantasy that I would be a natural horse-rider. This fantasy was decisively shattered on a horse-ride on a tourist trek in Ireland when I was 20, when an old horse with wild, leprechaun eyes and four crooked legs jolted me all the way up a mountain and down the other side. Ouch.
As for beliefs of the more serious kind, I grew up in a family in which we discussed all kinds of things, read widely, and were encouraged to research – dinner table conversations would often see four or five volumes of the encyclopaedia brought to the table to verify or research things we weren’t certain about. (These days, we use the iPhone…) So my beliefs at 18 were all fairly well-reasoned, and I don’t think they’ve changed radically since – family, community, environment and personal conscience were all important to me then, and still are.
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 love the combination of character and landscape in D’Arcy Niland’s books, particularly The Shiralee and Call Me When the Cross Turns Over, but he wrote in a very different style, and very different era to me, so I’m not sure how much influence is evident.
It’s not really an influence on my writing, but a work of art that made me gasp and had me sitting in front of it for ages is Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of The Virgin and Child with St Anne and Saint John the Baptist. It’s a beautiful work in which the artist has captured a moment: one woman watching another adoring her baby – a beautiful moment of everyday life and emotion.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I was better at writing than costume design! Plus there were so many stories in my head that I figured I’d better give shape and life to at least some of them. After twenty years in a sensible management career, I decided I didn’t want another twenty-plus years of it, and started writing seriously with the aim of publication. I love being a writer – it’s a great combination for me, with quiet, solitary time at home working, but also occasions to travel and meet with readers.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Dead Heat is my third romantic suspense, and is set mostly in a National Park in north-west New South Wales. When National Park Ranger Jo Lockwood discovers the body of a man, she’s drawn into a complex murder investigation led by Nick Matheson – a detective new to the district, mistrusted by his colleagues, and with a past that might get them both killed.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb –
Trapped in rugged country in scorching summer heat, pursued by ruthless gunmen who can’t afford to fail, Jo and Nick will need all their skills and courage to survive.
The national parks where Ranger Jo Lockwood works, on the edge of the NSW outback, are untamed stretches of dry forest cut through with wild rivers. She’s often alone, and she likes it that way until she discovers the body of a man, brutally murdered, in a vandalised campground.
Detective Senior Sergeant Nick Matheson knows organised crime and gang violence from the inside out. He s so good at undercover work that his colleagues aren’t sure which side he’s really on. His posting to Strathnairn is supposed to be a return to normal duties, but the murder victim in the campground is only the first of Jo’s discoveries.
As Jo and Nick uncover drugs and a stash of illegal weapons, the evidence points towards locals young men already on the wrong side of the law. But as far as Nick’s concerned, it doesn’t add up. When the body count starts mounting each brutally punished before death he becomes convinced that one person is behind the killings, one person is manipulating the men to commit horrific crimes, forming them into his own private drug-dealing cartel.
Jo has seen the man’s face, and now she’s his next target. Nick’s determined to protect her, but trapped in the rugged outback he and Jo will have to act quickly if they are going to survive.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they’ll have enjoyed being absorbed for a few hours in a suspenseful and emotional story that affirms love and emotional courage. I hope they’ll like the characters and be fascinated by the landscape setting… and I hope they’ll go looking for my other books!
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Ursula Le Guin for her incredible imagination and the intricate structure of her stories; Nora Roberts and Stephanie Laurens for their dedication to their readers, their self-discipline and their consistently good work; Joanna Bourne for beautiful writing that stays true to her characters; and Kelly Hunter and Anne Gracie for characters who are witty and laugh-out-loud funny, and also deeply emotional.
Mine aren’t lofty – I’d like to build a career as a full-time Australian novelist. Of course it would be nice to hit bestseller lists, but I’ll be happy if my books keep selling consistently and readers enjoy them. I’d just like to be able to keep writing books!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. Write scenes, conversations, descriptions – whatever takes your fancy. Give yourself a lot of writing ‘play’ time, and discover how you write, what you like to write, and how it suits you to write. Write a lot of words before you actually start writing a novel, unless you’re a totally goal oriented person, and can’t do things out of sequence or without ‘purpose’ – in which case, start writing your novel. Today.
Bronwyn, 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.