author of Me and Rory Macbeath and Hell Has Harbour Views…
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, but my parents separated when I was very young, and my mother moved back to Adelaide. I grew up in the Adelaide suburbs, went to school there, then did law at Adelaide Uni and Sydney Uni.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12, I wanted to be a cricketer, a footballer, a tennis player, a golfer and an Olympian. Why? Because I really love sports. At 18 and 30, I wanted to be a writer. Why? Because I love books more.
Two things – first, I thought I was a grown up and knew everything. It’s gradually become apparent that I don’t. Secondly, I believed firmly in the existence of a progressive, left of centre political party called the Australian Labor Party. It’s rarely sighted these days, and has become extinct in my home state of NSW.
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?
First, a cliché I know, but The Catcher in the Rye. When I was 15, I was Holden Caulfield. It was the first book I read that I wished I had written. Next, another cliché, The Great Gatsby. I studied it in Year 12. Hunter S Thompson typed it out, because he wanted to know what it was like to write like Fitzgerald. I memorised long passages of it, and bored a lot of young women in my late teens and 20’s with it, almost always while I was learning to drink like Fitzgerald. Thirdly, Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. A wonderful novel about a disillusioned 20-something young professional in New York in the 1980’s. It was part of the inspiration for my first novel.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Can’t paint, sculpt, dance, sing, act, tell jokes etc. I am a hell of a cook though, but the hours would be awful.
Me and Rory Macbeath is the story of a growing friendship between two boys who meet at the start of one summer when they’re both twelve. They have the kind of fun together that kids did in summer in the 1970’s, but eventually their childhood is ended abruptly by a terrible event. In the trial that follows, the female defence counsel is the kind of barrister I wish I’d grown up to be, although I would smoke and drink less than her. The themes the book explores include friendship, bullying, domestic violence, and I think above all courage.
My publisher says it’s about this: Adelaide, 1977. The year Elvis died. And the year twelve-year-old Jake Taylor meets Rory Macbeath. Until then, Jake’s world was small, revolving around his street, his school, and the courthouse where his mum, Harry, was a barrister. His best friend lives only a few houses away.
For them daylight is for spinning a cricket ball, riding bikes around the neighbourhood and swimming at the pool until their skin is wrinkled and the zinc on their noses has washed away. But then Rory Macbeath moves into the red-brick house at the end of Rose Avenue and everything changes.
At first Jake has his doubts about Rory. But after long days and nights of swimming, fishing and daring each other into trouble, Jake discovers Rory has talents and courage beyond anyone he’s ever known. Then, early one evening, Rory disappears. And everyone on Rose Avenue is about to discover why.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they’re moved by the story, and that it stays with them for a while.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
For the greatness of their prose, Hilary Mantel and Cormac McCarthy. For making me fall off the couch laughing, Carl Hiassen. As a lawyer who loves legal thrillers, Scott Turow for being a very fine writer first, a master of that genre second. For creating the ultimate measuring stick for both a lawyer and a father, Harper Lee. For making my kids enjoy reading, I admire (but my admiration is not limited to) JK Rowling, Derek Landy, Lemony Snicket, Anthony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal doesn’t sound ambitious, but it is. I’d like to do more writing, less lawyering.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I’m arguably more qualified to give aspiring writers legal advice rather than writing advice. As legal advice is prohibitively expensive, and often wrong or confusing or both, I would use two simple words: “write” and “read”. It takes a lot of things to create a good novel, but you can’t write any kind of book without persistence, and a love of reading.
Richard, 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.