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 Dunedin, New Zealand – it’s the most Scottish city outside Scotland itself. It’s a very beautiful part of the world with hills, forest, ocean and islands. But cold, like Scotland! I was educated there, including completing two degrees at Otago University, one in music and one in foreign languages. I’ve loved mythology, folklore and fairy tales since I was a child, and was probably destined to be a writer. But it took a while to get there.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals. I discovered quickly that I was too soft-hearted (and not enough of a scientist) for that kind of work. These days I’m a dog rescuer.
At eighteen I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be; hence a last-minute decision to major in music rather than literature at university. Who knows how many more books I might have written if I hadn’t made that choice?
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That people mostly found me boring / unattractive / awkward and that it mattered.
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?
Firstly, traditional storytelling in the form of books of fairy tales, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Irish mythical cycle and so on. Those are by far the single greatest influence on my writing style.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë taught me the value of a great love story told with both wit and passion, and how effective first person narration can be when done well.
Music teaches us so much about rhythm, balance and flow that is directly transferable to writing. Without my years as a musician I’m sure I would have written very differently. I have many favourite pieces but can’t really name one that was more influential than others. Let’s choose Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Infanta and On the Edge by Scottish folk/rock band Runrig, which can transport me instantly to the Highlands.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I doubt I could ever have become a ballerina or a double bass player or a portrait painter – a person does need some talent for these things, not to speak of a suitable physique! My first novel was written more as personal therapy than anything else. But I’ve loved stories and storytelling since I was a very small child, and writing long fiction comes more easily to me than writing short fiction, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I eventually made a career as a novelist. Actually I’ve been down several of those avenues over the years: conducting, performing and composing music and writing short fiction as well as writing novels.
Shadowfell is set in an imagined version of ancient Scotland. It’s a story about tyranny and rebellion, and the cost of fighting for freedom in a world of fear and distrust. It’s quite a dark, gritty story, with high stakes and hard moral choices. This is the first novel in a three-book sequence, and I hope it will be a successful crossover, with appeal for both young adult and adult readers. The main narrator, fifteen-year-old Neryn, starts the story in a very dark place, alone, friendless and hiding a secret talent from her powerful enemies. Readers won’t find it hard to detect the influence of my Scottish ancestry in this story.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb – The people of Alban are afraid.
The tyrannical king and his masked Enforcers are scouring the land, burning villages and enslaving the canny.
Fifteen-year-old Neryn has fled her home in the wake of their destruction, and is alone and penniless, hiding her extraordinary magical power. She can rely on no one – not even the elusive Good Folk who challenge and bewilder her with their words.
When an enigmatic stranger saves her life, Neryn and the man called Flint begin an uneasy journey together. She wants to trust Flint but how can she tell who is true in this land of evil?
For Neryn has heard whisper of a mysterious place far away: a place where rebels are amassing to free the land and end the King’s reign.
A place called Shadowfell.
An engrossing story of courage, hope, danger and love from one of the most compelling fantasy storytellers.)
I hope my work entertains readers. I hope it engages both the mind and the heart – as a reader, that’s what I value in a novel. It’s a bonus if my readers can take away something that is useful or meaningful in their own lives. Maybe that sounds a bit pretentious, but it often does happen – readers write and tell me so. And I love it when readers tell me my work has awoken their enthusiasm for reading, or has inspired their own writing.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I’m interpreting this to mean people still alive rather than, say, Shakespeare or Dickens. Favourite contemporary writers: Iain Banks, Joe Abercrombie, David Mitchell, Rose Tremain, Margo Lanagan. Why? They all combine great storytelling ability with excellent craft and originality.
To challenge myself as a writer. To attempt new things. To keep on improving. To juggle those highfalutin’ goals with earning a living as a novelist.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read widely, not just within your own genre. Be prepared to work hard and deal with setbacks and failures. Learn your craft thoroughly. Write something every day. Don’t try to tailor your work to the market, write the story you passionately believe in.
Juliet, 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.