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 Tasmania, grew up and schooled in Canberra. I went to uni in Bathurst and, later did a second degree at the ANU in Canberra.
I’ve been a journalist for the past 25 years or so, mostly covering federal politics and international affairs.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a test cricketer. At eighteen I wanted to be a film director. At 30 I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Strangely enough, I was a pretty good cricketer and loved playing it, but it didn’t tick all the boxes. As I grew older, I became more and more interested in marrying together creativity with intellectual challenges. That’s why I became a journalist. I did become a foreign correspondent, travelling the world for SBS, but daily journalism, even long-form journalism, doesn’t give you the freedom or the canvas of writing a book: that’s something special.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I had all the answers – or at least had a fair chance of finding them. As if.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
Nothing. I grew up in a loving and secure family in Canberra in the sixties and seventies, so nothing ever happened. Ask anyone who was there. The world washed over me. Man landed on the moon when I was nine, but I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I was incensed at the injustice of the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, but that was a long way away from my own experience. I was simultaneously precocious and phlegmatic. Then puberty hit and the decline set in. I’ll never again be as smart as I was at age twelve.
But I was an early and avid reader. The books that caught my imagination at a very early age were the legends of King Arthur. I’m not sure the subject matter is as important as the fact that these were the books that hooked me. If I were a kid today, it would probably be Harry Potter.
My daydreams of retirement centre around writing and reading, that magical swirl of words.
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?
As a journalist/video producer I have worked for newspapers, television, magazines and on line. So I haven’t lacked opportunity. But none of them provide the freedom, the length or the purity of writing a book. The pleasure found in writing a book is similar in some ways to the pleasure derived from reading one: being able to engage your imagination and immerse yourself totally. I think that’s why books aren’t obsolete and aren’t likely to become obsolete: they provide an unrivalled immersive experience. Film and video can be powerful, but by their nature most of the imagining is done by the producers, not the viewers. With books, the imaginative process is more equally shared between writer and reader.
It’s called The Coast: a Journey Along Australia’s Eastern Shores. It’s travel writing, but travel writing with a purpose. I travel down the east coast of Australia, from the Torres Strait to Tasmania, exploring environmental issues. It’s not an essay. It’s more of a celebration of the coast and the people who live along it, how fortunate we are and why we should cherish it.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb –
The Coast and its people help define our identity. Most Australians live in suburbia, but our hearts are elsewhere.
From the winner of the ACT Book of the year Award for his first book, The River, comes this celebration of the Australian seascape, from its natural grandeur to the quirky individualism of those who live beside it. It is also the heartfelt and pertinent story of the issues facing our coast today and the resilience of communities at a turning point.
Chris Hammer travels the length of the east coast of Australia on a journey of discovery and reflection, from the Torres Strait to Tasmania; from an island whose beach has been lost forever to the humbling optimism of the survivors of Cyclone yasi; from the showy beaches of Sydney to a beautiful village that endures despite the loss of its fishing fleet.
This is a relevant, satisfying and highly readable book, imbued with a sense of optimism and humour. Even as new economic imperatives emerge and the shift in our climate becomes apparent, we can revel in the heritage and character of our shores, reminding us why The Coast is so important to all of us.)
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I don’t set such lofty ambitions for my books. If they provide readers with some pleasure, some food for thought, and some temporary relief from the mad vortex of daily life, then they may have assisted in some incremental way in our ongoing struggle against the banal, the vapid and the incessant noise of consumerism.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
I’m not much impressed by celebrity, material success or high office.
I’m more impressed by those selfless people who freely give of their time to care for others – I’m far more selfish.
But I guess I’m most impressed with people who are comfortable in their own skins, who don’t care what others might think of them, and who set their own priorities. There’s a certain grace in that, I think.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write books full time. In Australia, that’s pretty ambitious.
I’m not much taken by ambition as defined by the traditional notions of getting ahead. I work in parliament house in Canberra, which is chock-a-block with politicians (and journalists) who are more interested in personal advancement than in producing anything worthwhile. I’d much prefer to produce work that I’m proud of than getting ahead.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write what you’d like to read, with honesty and authenticity, rather than try to write what you think will appeal to publishers or readers.
Having a book published is a wonderful experience, but don’t let it be an aim in itself; what’s the point if it’s not written from the heart?
Chris, 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.