author of Lucinda’s Whirlwind and Dying for Cake
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 Brisbane in 1970, the youngest of five children, four girls and one boy. My eldest sister had her first boyfriend over for dinner on the night I was born, but when mum went into labour at the dinner table he got spooked and never came back. My sister still blames me for breaking up her first romance – and my brother still blames me for not being born a boy! I was raised and schooled in New South Wales and in Brisbane. I went to Middle Dural Primary School and The Gap State High.
At twelve I wanted to be a novelist, like Ruth Park or Ivan Southhall or Judy Blume, because reading their books made me feel less alone. At eighteen I wanted to be a novelist like Daphne Du Maurier or Ruth Park or Harper Lee, because reading their books made me feel more alive. At thirty, my first novel had just been rejected by all the major Australian publishers so I decided to keep on writing and have another baby. When that baby was 12 weeks old, Pan Macmillan accepted my second novel for publication. It was called Dying for Cake.
At eighteen I believed that it would be easy to be married with three children and write books in my spare time.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Ruth Park’s, Harp in The South, is peopled with so many flawed and believable Australian characters. I read this book when I was sixteen and loved these characters, especially the women, and I have always tried to people my own novels with a similarily worthy cast. When I went to University, I studied literature and the novel that sticks in my mind from that time is William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. I think that novel, more than any other, opened my mind to the possibilities of a story told from multiple perspectives and influenced the shape of Dying for Cake. Lucinda’s Whirlwind owes something to Judy Garland’s rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow and the great sense of pathos and longing that song continues to evoke in my heart whenever I hear it played, either in its original form, or as a cover.
I’ve always loved the shape that novels take, the pattern of them and the way that pattern can leave an unexpected imprint of feeling that seems paradoxically right, as if you, the reader, have just been gifted the freedom to articulate an idea that you’d only ever grasped half-darkly before. Whenever I write I think it’s the pattern of the novel that I’m trying weave for my readers. Every good novel has a distinctive pattern that can be traced through the story itself and also through the hearts and minds of the characters. Unfortunately I don’t think that a pattern can be forced without destroying the integrity of your novel. If you want to be a great novelist, then I think that you have to be a great reader first with a long reading history because the truth is that you have to read a whole library of books before the art of writing novels becomes instinctual. And yes, I’m still reading…
Lucinda’s Whirlwind is the story of a woman who is brutally honest and who always says exactly what she thinks. Lucinda does not have a ‘knack for dealing with people’ and so she usually avoids people, even family, but when her sister, Jayne, unexpectedly goes to America, Lucinda is flung back into the devastating whirlwind of Jayne’s family life.
The funny thing about Lucinda’s Whirlwind is that I didn’t initially like the character of Lucinda at all. Infact, after six months work on the manuscript, I abandoned it for that very reason – simply because I thought that Lucinda was an unsympathetic character, who said and did the most appalling things – and whom I naturally assummed no reader would ever love. More fool me!
I worked on other manuscripts over the next few years but found – mostly because of second book angst – that I couldn’t actually finish any of them. In any case, I couldn’t stop thinking about Lucinda, because while all the other characters I came up with seemed wooden and voiceless, she seemed very much alive. Lucinda seemed to have a soul, so I went back to her and I eventually realised that the problem was not so much with Lucinda as it was with me.
Why is it, I wondered, that in this day and age, we are still so critical of those women amongst us who dare to be honest and speak their own minds rather than hide behind the veneer of ‘niceness’? Mmm, now that got me thinking…
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that readers, especially women, will be challenged to think about their own lives and relationships after reading my work.
I admire Marilynne Robinson. Her novels, Gilead and Home deal with the big questions and speak of the great yearning of the human spirit for God. Other than Robinson, I admire Tim Winton for Cloudstreet and Markus Zusak for The Book Thief. Great novels, both.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I would like to write a novel that never goes out of print, with characters that everyone loves.
Read more books and then go and write the book that you would love to read.
Louise, 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.