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 Traralgon, Victoria. The family travelled around when I was young, then we moved to Tasmania, Campbell Town, into a convict built house near the historic Red Bridge. I finished primary school at Campbell Town, attended secondary there, and moved into Launceston for year 11. Then I shifted back to Victoria for work.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
When I was 12, I wanted to be an actress. Stories played out like movies in my mind, and I assumed this meant I wanted to act in movies. At 18 I was working at a chemist and saving up to travel, not career-minded at all. At 30 I was in a difficult period of my life, recovering from an accident that damaged my spine, so I was only thinking day-to-day and not too far beyond that.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have 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?
The three books that were beside my computer when I wrote my first novel – James Dickey’s Deliverance, Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. I would dip into those books all the time, for a reminder of pace, or what good prose looked like, for clarity, for a warm-up, for feel and texture, different things from each book. Each novel I write I always have a couple of books I lean on in this way. But these three helped me create my first published novel, Red Queen, so their influence is especially profound.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’m not sure it’s something I got to choose. I didn’t study creative writing, I didn’t dream of being an author, all I know is I have stories turning in my mind, and the most enjoyable and natural way for me to get them out is to write. If I didn’t write, they wouldn’t develop fully. On the page is where they come to life.
Dark Horse is about a woman and her horse trapped on a mountain with a dangerous stranger. I was thinking about the idea of playing along with a dangerous person in order to lessen a threat. When fleeing or fighting isn’t an option, when you have to depend on the very person you fear, how far would you go to keep the peace? Intimacy, distrust, sex and survival, it’s about all those things. There’s also a twist. It’s the first twist I’ve ever written.
From the publisher:
It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.
Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.
She settles in to wait out Christmas.
A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.
But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Joyce Carol Oats. It might have more to do with envy. Stories pour from her, her themes are bold, she’s an academic as well as creative, nothing seems too hard for her, she can write on such a grand scale, her intelligence leaps from the page.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
For me, being an artist has a lot to do with being a realist. Fiction is more about being honest than what readers might imagine. Feelings, in particular, have to be true, you have to strip away the surface layer and get to the heart of things. It’s a revealing process, and the reason why showing your writing can be confronting. I’d love to have a worldwide bestseller, but it’s not a goal. My goal is to keep enjoying the writing.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Respect your reader. Write a story that will entertain them.
Honey Brown, 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.