author of Say It Again in a Nice Voice
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 a tiny New Zealand town called Foxton. It was too small to have a hospital, but it did have its own ‘maternity home’ where, my mother tells me, you were allowed to smoke in bed right after giving birth. Nothing says quality postnatal care like a new mother chaining it beside her sleeping baby.
At 8, I moved to Palmerston North, where Janet Frame lived at the time. I didn’t know she was Janet Frame, the famous writer, I just knew her as the funny ginger lady from a few streets over.
I moved from there to Sydney at 17, London at 22 and back to Sydney at 27.
At 12, I’d just sent my first typed out article to British Vogue from the Palmerston North post office, so I must have wanted to be a writer already. At 18, I wanted to be Sylvia Plath and by 30 I had two small children and wrote very sad things while they slept, so I was actually feeling a lot like Sylvia Plath.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That 18 was old.
A university history lecturer once wrote on my essay ‘you write so nicely, it hardly matters that you have nothing to say’ which made me realise that I cared about the writing part to the exclusion of everything else, including the Origins of the First World War.
Seeing my byline in a newspaper was beyond thrilling the first time and every other time it’s been an excellent opportunity to act jaded. But most inspiring of all, having babies, because it made me notice more, feel everything more and it finally gave me something to say.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Dude, you cannot use a blog as a coaster or chock a rattley window with online newspaper. Printed words are useful, beautiful and important and they always will be, which is why I went that way.
My editor calls it a memoir, which is industry talk for ‘exercise in oversharing’. It’s my life from 25, when I quit working at The Times to become a housewife, to 32 when I finally figured out what I was doing. I tried to make it dark and sad, to match my mood at the time, but I missed and it turned out funny.
(From the publisher:
Mothers. Those women with purses the size of meat trays that hold an entire deck of school portrait photos and a chequebook, make a casserole without a recipe, make the tightest bed you’ll ever sleep in and only swear under extreme duress. How, how, would I go from me to that?
At 24, Meg Mason was newly married to a man ‘essentially indistinguishable from a young Matt Damon’ after landing her dream job, writing for The Times in London. What could possibly go wrong? A holiday in Greece, an accidental shortage of birth control, and eight months later she was sobbing on the side of a road over trading her career for something she knew zip about.
On October 8, 2003, she invented motherhood by Having A Baby. On October 9, she discovered a bunch of women had done that already. But still they couldn’t tell her how to do it.
Thanks to a helpful neighbour she knew that convincing a newborn to take a bottle by letting it lick a Dorito first to ‘get more thirsty’ didn’t always work, but not what to do when your child won’t sleep for roughly two years in London or in Sydney, or how to remove your hand from a stroller – after you’ve superglued it to the handle.
Hair-raising, terrifying and hilariously funny, along the way she discovers that being a mother, however disaster-prone, just might be the only thing that she is truly irreplaceable at.)
The years that I wrote about were lonely. Really lonely. The loneliest. So I wrote a book for other lonely women, and I hope it makes them feel a teensy bit less lonely, for as long as possible.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Any woman who has ever lifted herself out of drudgery and awfulness by putting pen to paper. But then if she gets that writing published, I would stop admiring her and starting being jealous and threatened instead.
Those people are annoying though, don’t you think? My goal is to not get stuck talking to any of them at parties. And in between times, I would like to keep noticing, and keep writing down what I see.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read. All the time, everything you can. ‘If you don’t read’, the same university lecturer once told me, ‘how can you expect to write?’
Meg, thank you for playing.
That’s ok. Those questions were terrifying though, you were not kidding with that title.
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.