The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Howard L. Anderson
author of Albert of Adelaide
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 the American West, Denver to be exact. My grandmother had been a school teacher in the mining towns of Colorado starting in the 1890’s. I learned a lot from her. I have never had much respect for authority and was thrown out of several schools when I was a teenager. After I got out of the army I went to college and got a degree in History and Anthropology and after that a degree in Law.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
When I was twelve I thought about becoming a magician. I would perform magic shows for charities in Denver. I don’t think I ever thought about, “why” when I was 12 years old. It was an interesting thing to do, and that was enough. I joined the army when I was 18 and wanted to go to Asia. A year later I was watching armed men on elephants guarding silver shipments though the dirt streets of Udon, Thailand and watching the lights of Laos across the Mekong River. I was doing what I wanted. When I was 30 I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, so I quit practicing law and got a job selling guns in a sporting goods store. While I was at the gun store, I decided that I wanted to go to Hollywood and become a screenwriter.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
I was a cynic when I was 18. I still am but it doesn’t bother me as much. If I had any closely held beliefs, it didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted. The best advice I ever got was “don’t be immobilized by your own paranoia”.
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 a novel a week from the time I was twelve until I was in my twenties. I think I must have seen almost every movie made thru the 70’s and 80’s. My mother was a painter and I spend my summer months as a child in an art colony in New Mexico with some very strange people. All that had an effect on me, and I can’t choose three works at the expense of all the others. I think the film “Breaker Morant” stands out as high point from that period. I can still quote lines from the movie. Maybe that’s why I set my novel in Australia.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I came on writing a novel late in life. Before that, I had a lot of things to do. I wrote screenplays, produced radio commercials, and directed a low-budget movie. The rest of the time I practiced law and saw as much of the world as I could. I started the novel 20 years ago (all of 30 pages). If I hadn’t finished it, I would still be asking myself why not.
The novel is about a platypus named Albert following a legend to a place he didn’t expect. Initially, it is the story of one creature willing to die rather than be held captive one more day. It becomes a story of the obligations of friendship and the price of fame.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb – On a journey through the outback to discover ‘old’ Australia – a land of liberty, promise, and peace – the irrepressible Albert (a duck-billed platypus as it happens), learns about mateship, courage and the kindness of strangers. A funny, charming and delightfully old-fashioned novel about friendship and loyalty.
What does it take to become a hero?
Albert has escaped from the Adelaide Zoo to go in search of the ‘old Australia’, somewhere in the desert, north of Adelaide, a ‘Promised Land’ that he’s heard so much about from other animals. Unusually, Albert is a duck-billed platypus.
Four days north of Alice Springs and carrying nothing other than an old, almost empty soft-drink bottle, Albert has no idea where he’s going. One thing he does know, though, if he doesn’t find water fast, he’s going to be in all sorts of trouble. But when all seems lost, he comes across a wombat by a campfire who offers him a cup of tea.
And so begins Albert’s adventures, during which he meets two drunk, wise-cracking bandicoots (Roger and Alvin), a wrestling Tasmanian Devil (called Muldoon), escapes from a burning hotel (set alight by his good friend the pyromaniac wombat Jack) after a very lucky streak at two-up, and runs for his life from the dingoes.
Charming, funny and entrancing, Albert of Adelaide is a novel of mateship, adventure and honour. )
I hope people who read the book are also taken to a place they didn’t expect and that they enjoyed the trip.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Jack London comes to mind. He lived the life he wrote about.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My current goal is to live long enough to write a second novel.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Try not to be profound.
Howard, thanks 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.