author of A Year with Marmalade
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 a quiet suburb of Melbourne near the Yarra River. Everybody seemed to know each other, which could be good and bad. My primary school was at the end of our street and I spent many weekends with my friends being chased out of the playground by the broom-waving caretaker. I caught a bus and two trams to my single sex secondary school, which could sometimes be the highlight of the day. We saw boys. I’ve been studying on and off and have come out with a Masters in Creative Arts.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I knew more what I didn’t want to be. Blood and vomit make me queasy, so nothing in the health field. Looking back I think I always wanted to be a writer. Recently I found a newspaper I wrote that I had forgotten all about. My seven year old self wrote, Myer had burnt down and Sir Henry Bolte had broken his leg.
Eighteen, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be and started an Arts degree.
Thirty, I was busy living.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought there would be a nuclear war. I used to have recurring dreams of fighter planes flying over my house on their way to join a war. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will never happen. So things can definitely get better!
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?
When I was young, my dad read Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll to me and I can remember being amazed that you could write and imagine whatever you liked in a book.
I never thought I would say it as I loathed scales and those tedious five finger exercises I had to play on the piano, but I think they helped develop an appreciation and recognition of rhythm in words and phrases.
My grandmother was an accomplished artist and I have a few of her paintings. She painted before she was married and then put away her paintbrushes until she was in her sixties. I remember her telling me that her tutor told her that she could have been a really well-known artist if she hadn’t had such a long break. I think her paintings are fantastic, but they were also an impetus to me not to wait to take up an artistic career until I was sixty!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I write in many different genres. I enjoyed writing Marmalade’s story as a picture book, because I believe it was the best form for it. I also enjoy the discipline of writing a picture book with the economy of words and the added dimension of illustrations.
A Year with Marmalade grew from a meeting I had with the publisher, Poppy. She wanted a book about friendship set against the backdrop of the seasons. At first I dashed off a different book, but all the time I kept thinking about how important my two best friends/neighbours, Beth and Anne, were growing up. I also had a gorgeous black cat who I loved passionately. I kept thinking how the seasons change and other things can change, but sometimes it’s for the better. All these ideas twirled around in my mind and somehow A Year with Marmalade emerged in its current form.
The illustrator Heath McKenzie came up with amazing illustrations. I especially love how Marmalade’s personality shines through on the page.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb –
This is a story about friendship. It’s about losing old friends and making new ones. It’s about change, which isn’t always a bad thing…
When Maddy’s family relocate for a year, she must leave behind her cat, Marmalade, and her best friend Ella.
The story of the growing friendship between Marmalade and Ella is set against a backdrop of the changing seasons.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
That there is always hope and things can get better. I think many of us, including me, fear change, but it is not always a bad thing.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
My crit partner, Dee White. She has written a magnificent novel, Letters for Leonardo and continues to keep producing wonderful work in spite of setbacks. She also wants to make a difference to the world with her writing, which I really admire.
And she is brave enough to criticise me.
Once it was to get published. Ideally, to create books that I love. I would like to make lots of money as non-writers seem to think writers do, but I’ll be really happy if I leave the world a better place for me being in it. I’ve received a few letters about how one of my books was a trigger for a child to “take off” in their reading. That is so rewarding, and I also love to think that I entertain my readers. I’ve also been given the opportunity to do something worthwhile through my involvement with The Thin Green Line and the Ranger in Danger series.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. But I think that is a natural thing to do if you aspire to be a writer.
Write, write, write, then put the writing away and look at it after a break. The more you write, the better you get.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. No one has to see your first drafts, but you. I throw mine away!
Learn to accept constructive criticism, but trust your gut instinct. It is your writing.
And try to enjoy the journey. If you don’t love writing, there are much easier and less heart-breaking ways to try and make a living.
Alison, 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.