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 Sydney and grew up in the Western suburbs near Blacktown. I went to school at Nagle Girls High then John Paul II Marayong.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a journalist, at eighteen a novelist and at thirty a blacksmith. When I was twelve, my best mate Kate and I would pretend we were war correspondents. I read Press Story by Marjorie Riddell (1964) and desperately wanted to be a reporter. The book starts like this :
Marsha Welton’s first assignment as a reporter on the Nether Camden Times was to interview Mr. Tor. This was unfortunate, as Marsha was new and nervous and Mr was old and fearsome.
As I got older that plan got waylaid even though at eighteen I had started University in the attempt to become a journalist. I soon found out to become a journalist you need to be absolutely passionately committed to it. My problem was I also wanted to learn a trade, be an artist and write a novel. I was a bit distracted. In the end I gave up on the reporter bit and became a blacksmith, a writer and a curator. When I was thirty I did an industrial trade course in heavy metal fabrication and worked for awhile in an industrial forge in Melbourne. I really wanted to do something with my hands and this was a challenging and interesting thing to get messed up in. Later on I did Fine Art at University and that led to eight years as an arts administrator and curator. All these things have woven their way into my writing.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was eighteen I believed I knew everything. I do not hold that belief now.
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?
My friend Belinda Howden is an artist that skips between mediums according to whatever idea she has at the time. She makes meaning out of all sorts of situations, sites and stories. Above my computer is a very large photographic image, Captain No Beard, this work was part of an exhibition curated by Belinda alongside artists Lucas Grogan and Liam Benson. It’s work like this that makes me want to write stories, if I wasn’t writing them I’d be tempted to grab my camera and make art.
I’ve always been drawn to art that is full of narrative and although I can appreciate the colour, song and texture in abstraction, I am always pulled towards the possibility of story. Art has always played a big role in my life, and when I was younger I loved everything from wild baroque paintings to the cheek of the Guerrilla Girls.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
A novel lets you play with an idea and stretch it. I wanted to write something for young girls in particular and foster the joyous feeling of identifying with a story that I had when I was that age.
The Colour of Trouble is about fifteen year old Maddy who has a flair for making stuff. Her world is immersed in art and design and she’ll stop at nothing to get her own share of the limelight. For one thing, she hears colour – and this makes her see the world differently to everyone around her. She lives in a contemporary world where the boundary between fine art, design, music and fashion has merged and where her senses combine to see, hear and taste things like nobody else. Her desire for artworld notoriety gets her into all sorts of trouble and her best mate Darcy is only complicating matters….
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
This new book shares a few ideas that were embedded in my first YA novel, Surf Ache. It’s about young people passionate about the things they do. It shows the love of being involved in something to the extent that you can barely think of anything else. For Ella it was surfing and for Maddy it’s art. I really wanted to get young people thinking about the interesting stories that come out of a high school art room and aspects of art history they may have never heard of before.
I really love those American humorists like James Thurber, SJ Perelman and David Sedaris. I love the way they write about being human in such a self-deprecating and laugh out loud way. For YA, I love Margo Lanagan for her bravery, beautifully crafted stories and wild imaginings.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’d like to have another novel finished (now underway) by next year alongside another illustrated junior fiction. Although this may be challenging as I am doing an English PhD and I work full-time. Oh and I have two daughters. Phew.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Never let an idea get away. I let them brew in various notepads and sketchbooks and across the table at friends. Get a crew of really great mates around you interested in ideas and make some stuff. Conversation is the best thing for a creative life. It is infectious and productive and generous. It’s hard to work alone.
Gerry, 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.