author of The Toe Tag Quintet
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born: Brisbane. Raised: In Brisbane then on the Gold Coast, which, for a book-loving kid with no interest in surfing, bucket-bongs, and more surfing, was a minor form of Purgatory. Schooled: Talking about Purgatory, I went to a variety of Catholic schools, and while inherently sceptical about any form of faith, took out the Religious Studies award in my senior year.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12: a novelist in the tradition of Wilbur Smith, because I had an embryonic ego and loved to write stories.
At 18: a novelist in the tradition of Jack Kerouac because I had developing sexual ego and liked checked shirts..
At 30: a novelist who hoped to publish more than two books, in whatever tradition, life having marginally battered the ego.
I was convinced that wire coat hangers were a demonic type symbol capable of bringing life-changing bad luck, and that the jingle-jangle music they made together in the closet was the symphony of the Devil. (That belief has not entirely evaporated, and may relate to me winning the Religious Studies prize all those years ago.)
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?
Book: My father gave me a book of the Goon Show scripts when I was very young and I found the humorous illogic terrifically attractive and somewhat anarchic. It was the unexpected take on the everyday that I always remembered.
Art: Nolan’s Ned Kelly pictures, a novel in its own right, and a great one.
“Moon River” composed by Henry Mancini, my parents’ personal “personal” song, popular when I was born, and a tune that has haunted my life.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I didn’t. I started writing a short story that turned itself into my first novel, and that was the end, or the start, of that. (But I have ALWAYS wanted to be a painter.)
The Toe Tag Quintet is a suite of novellas set largely on the Gold Coast and starring a retired Sydney detective who, in retirement, gets into more strife than he did in almost 40 years in the force. They are crime capers set in one of the most delicious and outrageous landscapes in Australia – the Gold Coast, to me, is a fictionally underutilised hybrid of Kings Cross and Las Vegas, an absurd city that has infinite comic possibilities. My ex-cop is rude, garrulous, shoots from the hip (with his mouth and guns) and has absolutely no consequential thinking. I hope I turn into him as I get older.
(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb – Retirement can be murder!
The adventures of a former Sydney detective from 21 Division who, in his prime, collared some of the most murderous criminals in Australian history yet, on retiring to the Gold Coast in Queensland, along with half of the criminal milieu he once pursued, is shot, king-hit, tortured, and thrown from buildings in his relentless pursuit of justice.
With his trademark wit, warmth and humour, Matthew Condon takes us on a crazy ride – in boats, kombis, peugeots and window-washing platforms – through art galleries, libraries, swampy islands and caravan parks to illustrate that we are never too old for adventures.)
Depending on the work, I hope in some cases a lot of heart, and in others a few laughs.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Almost impossible to answer, I like everything from Stephen King to Murakami (1Q84? Breathtakingly brilliant and at 1,300 pages, too short.) I am constantly astonished by Patrick White and to my mind his female counterpart, Thea Astley.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Great question, only because I have come to a place in my writing career where I have largely given up on that ambitious goal-think. I happily don’t want to be burdened by it anymore. The cliques, the prizes, the critics, the unnatural permanent eye on some form of posterity. Forget it. I want to write things that interest me and that hopefully some loyal readers will find interesting. I want to try different things. As for posterity, I already have it – 2.5 wonderful children. That’s all I need.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. And rewrite. Then don’t give up. Ever.
Matthew, 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.