author of A Stranger in My Street
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 Perth, WA. I grew up in the riverside suburb of Applecross. It is now a rich suburb of mansions and posh town houses, but when I was young it had small houses on quarter-acre blocks and heaps of kids who’d play ‘cricket’ and ‘tennis’ on the virtually empty roads and spend summer in or beside the river. We were expected to ‘go outside and play’, and disappear until it was time for meals. It was a safe, happy environment. My schooling was the local primary school and government high school.
Sadly, my father’s experiences in World War II destroyed his health and he died in 1963, at the age of 42. As his death was classified as war-related, my mother was a war widow. She raised me and my three brothers alone after my father’s death and the debt we owe her is incalculable.
I completed a Law degree at the University of Western Australia. While working full-time as a lawyer I returned to UWA to complete an Arts degree, majoring in History. A few years later, still working full-time as a lawyer, I completed a Master of Philosophy in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
In 2000/01 I took a year off work and went to Oxford University to complete a Master of Science degree in Economic and Social History (History of Medicine).
Friends used to tell people that my hobby was collecting degrees!
At twelve I wanted to be a writer. At eighteen I thought I wanted to be a lawyer but really wanted to be a historian. At thirty I thought I wanted to be a historian but I really wanted to be a writer.
I realised eventually that what interested me about history was the stories, because you can’t be a good historian without using your imagination to make the past come alive. Then I knew that I really wanted to be a writer.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I believed that my mother would always be around. She passed away last year at the age of 91 and I miss her every day.
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?
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. I studied this poem at university. I loved the way he used other people’s words in new ways, and that you didn’t really even need to understand what he meant to wonder at the beauty of the images and musicality of the language.
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. I first read it when I was twelve and fell headlong into the world that Tolkein had created. I am still in awe of his ability to create a world that is so real to me, even now.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
When I came back from Oxford in 2002 I started a PhD in Law and History, looking at medical evidence in murder trials. I found it depressing and unsatisfying, which surprised me, until I realised that what I really wanted to do was to go behind the facts and arid evidence and let my imagination go wild. I wanted to create my own worlds and characters, rather than record and analyse historical facts.
The Second World War had always interested me. Not so much the battles or the strategies, but the tales my mother had told me about living in Perth during the War. I didn’t want to write a biography or memoir; I wanted to create a story of my own, entirely out of my imagination, but grounded in research and family stories. I wanted to recreate a Perth that has disappeared. And I wanted to write a murder mystery!
A Stranger in My Street is a murder-mystery set in Perth in World War II.
From the publisher: American troops are in town and they are the company of choice for local women. They have money, accents like movie stars, tailored uniforms and good manners and many Perth women are having the time of their lives.
Not Meg Eaton, who trying to come to terms with the death of her RAAF pilot boyfriend eighteen months previously. One hot morning she meets her dead lover’s brother and together they discover the body of her party-girl neighbour. Meg finds herself embroiled in the murder mystery and increasingly involved with Tom Lagrange. But is he all that he seems? And what exactly was his relationship with the dead woman?
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
The feeling of having experienced another time, another place and to have engaged with the characters and with the mystery. I hope that readers feel they have spent an enjoyable few hours in the world of my novel.
I read a lot, and my views alter with what I am reading at any time. I fell in love with Joseph Conrad’s writing when I was at university. He has an uncanny ability to evoke a sense of place. William Shakespeare always is an inspiration, as is Dickens. I adore Jane Austen, and in that vein, Nancy Mitford. Raymond Chandler is a favourite, and Agatha Christie. I couldn’t say just one writer. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll give a different answer, and a different one again, the day after that.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To keep writing, and to keep improving my writing. To entertain my readers while also making them think about some of the issues I have raised, and perhaps learn a few things they didn’t know before.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read. Read. Read. Listen to people’s stories. Look around you. Imagine. Start writing and keep on writing. No matter what.
Deborah, 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.