author of The Boy Under the Table,
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 and raised in South Africa. I came to Australia at eighteen and went through university here. I was a high school teacher before I had my first child and then I concentrated on writing and raising three children and renovating houses and helping my husband run his business. So just like every other woman-not much at all really. My youngest child thinks I go grocery shopping on a Monday and a Friday. He’s not really sure what else I do with my time.
At twelve I wanted to be left alone to read.
At eighteen I wanted to study literature so I would have a legitimate reason to explain why I wanted to be left alone to read.
At thirty I wanted another baby and to publish a novel that would make other people want to be left alone to read.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought I would have it all figured out by the time I got to thirty. Hah!
I have a print of a Salvador Dali painting of a figure at a window. The woman gazes across a blue sea and every time I pass it I wonder who she is and what she is doing in that room.
I don’t have a favourite book but rather a favourite writer or two. I wait eagerly for every new Fay Weldon novel and force myself to read them slowly. I also love Terry Pratchett. When I am working on a novel I sometimes need a break from the intense themes I deal with. Both of these writers allow me to take myself somewhere different and teach me a great deal about the craft of writing at the same time.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I come from a family with a strong oral tradition. My great Aunt used to tell me the story of the glass mountain with a princess at the top and both my grandmothers would tell starkly different tales of their childhoods. One of them grew up in middle class England whilst the other lived in a small Russian village. They were both inspiring characters.
The first time a teacher liked one of my stories I understood that I could connect with people through my own words. I have never wanted to be anything else.
The Boy Under the Table centres around Tina who is a young woman running from a life she could not live anymore. In order to survive Tina has turned to prostitution. One cold night she goes home with a client, even though she knows she shouldn’t. In his house she finds something that alters the course of her life. The novel is about the many ways it is possible to lose a child and about how one moment or one decision can change things forever. It also explores the grace and compassion that strangers are capable of and the human ability to hold onto hope when there seems to be no real reason to do so.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they feel as though they have wanted to suspend time so they can finish the story and that they think about the characters long afterwards.
When I had my first child and was very sleep deprived I had to take every opportunity I could to get some rest; but I gave up sleep so I could read.
So just a few of the authors I admire are: Fay Weldon, Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, Peter Goldsworthy, Douglas Adams, Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood. Every couple of weeks I pick a letter of the alphabet at the library and try to find a new author to admire.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to keep writing and I want each novel to be a little better than the last.
There are a lot of organisations you can join and competitions you can enter that will get your novel or short story in front of someone who can see potential in a writer’s work. Every time I wanted to give up on this journey (and it has taken me a long time) I would win a place in a competition or receive some positive words that allowed me to believe I would get there in the end.
Don’t get bitter about the journey.
When you read a book and decide that you cannot imagine why it got published when yours hasn’t been; remember that said novel has gone through many hands and taken many years to reach a bookshelf.
Believe that you will achieve your dream.
Keep working at your craft and read, read, read.
Nicole, thank you 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.