author of The Russian Tapestry
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 London and spent my childhood years in Teheran, Iran where I attended a private International school. We fled Iran in ’82 in the midst of Iran/Iraq war to Turkey but were caught when crossing the border and spent time in a detention centre while our refugee status was decided.
We immigrated to Australia that same year, arriving in Sydney in August ’82. I was enrolled in the ESL school in Chatswood and later when my family moved to Sydney’s North-West, attended Pennant Hills High School.
I studied Bachelor of Information Science at UTS and later attempted a post grad in Accounting at Macquarie University.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
It’s hard to remember what I wanted to be at 12. We were still living in Teheran and in a middle of a war. I guess I woke every morning hoping my school is still standing.
At 18, I had grand notions of joining the corporate world after graduating from Uni. I loved marketing and economics (still do) and saw myself climbing the executive ladder to the very top. I may have also wanted to travel – but only first class!
At 30, I was more self-aware. I knew I did not have the personality for the corporate world. I had backpacked through Nth America, Europe and Russia (so much for travelling first class) and was deliriously happy in my new role as wife and mother. I had not taken a single step in climbing that corporate ladder but instead had joined the family business, selling books.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At 18 I was afraid of failure. I was paralysed by the fear of attempting anything outside my comfort zone. As a result I was reluctant to set goals or when I did, I’d give up as soon as I’d meet a roadblock. But failure is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as we learn from our mistakes and are willing to try again, we can achieve whatever we want. It also requires letting go of ego, to accept advice or constructive criticism without feeling slighted. It’s literally changed my life. It freed me to pursuit goals without fear of being judged or hitting roadblocks.
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?
Could we please change this to 3 life events?
1979 revolution in Iran was the first turning point in my life. That followed by our escape in ’82 catapulted my life in a direction that would have been vastly different had neither happened.
Marrying my husband and raising two beautiful children I count as my greatest life achievement. Having them in my life grounds me, forces me to take a closer look at my values and appreciate the simple pleasures in life.
The Children Overboard and the Tampa affair. Howard winning the 2001 elections on the back of fear campaign of the refugees was the single most influential factor in my decision to pen my memoir. I did not want my children to grow up accepting the unlawful imprisonment of refugees.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Innumerable artistic avenues? Are we still talking about me?
I tried acting at school but repeatedly bombed out at auditions for never remembering my lines. I also did art at school but somehow could not manage to convince the teachers my stick drawings were cutting edge in modern art. As for music, my singing prowess is a hotly contested issue in our household. My husband and kids are all musical and regularly accuse me of not being able to hold a tune – a point I passionately dispute.
The Russian Tapestry is a tale of love and turmoil based on the true story of my husband’s grandparents, a romance that spans the years of the Russian revolution and is set in the ballrooms of Moscow and St Petersburg, the streets of the rioting city, and the POW camps.
At the start of the war, Alexis Serov is a professional soldier in the Tsar’s Army and Marie Kulbas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is a Law student in Petrograd. Their story and eventual love affair is a tapestry of family and Russian history, a weaving of truth and imagination, fact and fiction.
I first became interested in the story of Marie and Alexei when I was dating my now husband. Visiting his house, I saw a painting of Alexei in his dress uniform, wearing a breast full of medals. As a long-time lover of Russian literature, I started imagining the glittering world they inhabited, their first meeting and love affair.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Aside from enjoying the story of Marie and Alexei, I hope readers take away with them a sense of time and place. There’s not much known or written about the Eastern Front during The Great War – at least not in the English speaking countries. I hope The Russian Tapestry gives the reader an understanding of the suffering the Russians endured during that period.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I adore Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders literally took my breath away and since then, I’ve read all her books. I love her skill in seamlessly weaving history (often choosing real life characters) into her fiction. Vikram Seth is another one of my heroes along with Tolstoy and Hugo for their sheer ability to write epic novels.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
The themes of my books – war, revolution, migration – have International appeal. It would be a great buzz to have my books translated into several languages and read by booklovers across the globe.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I once read a quote by an author (can’t remember now who it was) that there are 3 secrets to successful writing: except no one knows what they are. I regularly speak to authors about their writing and they each have a method that works for them. As a rule if you want to write, you must already be reading a lot. You also need to be disciplined with your time, making sure distractions (especially social media) are held at bay. After that it’s your personal commitment to yourself. If you’re committed to not giving up, then you’ll eventually succeed.
Banafsheh, 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.