An Interview with Sue Purkiss, author of Jack Fortune
Q. How old were you when you first started writing?
My first book was published in 2003, when I was 52. I’ve written bits and pieces ever since I was a child, but I didn’t ever think I could be a “proper” writer until I did a diploma in creative writing at Bristol University, and met wonderful children’s writer Vivian French, who was very encouraging.
Q. You write books set in a variety of places and times – do you have a favourite setting?
No. But setting is important to me. I have to know about the setting and find it interesting – inspirational, even. It helps if I can visit the place where a story is set, but it’s not essential. I’ve never been to the Himalayas, where Jack is set – perhaps one day!
Q. What was the inspiration behind Jack Fortune?
The plant hunters. They were so brave – crazily brave, and had such amazing adventures. I first became aware of them years ago when I read an article in a gardening book about the plant hunters who went off exploring and hunting for plants all over the world – before that, I’d never thought about where the plants we have in our gardens actually came from. And there was a really beautiful photograph of flowers growing wild in South Africa – I’ve just had another look at it now, and it’s still lovely. Later, I read other books – both novels and non-fiction – about the plant hunters, and I thought that the adventures they had were just as amazing as those of Indiana Jones, which my two sons always loved. So I thought, why not have a children’s book about them? Jack’s surname came from a plant hunter called Thomas Fortune, and once I had his name, his character came to life. And that was how it began. Then there was a LOT of research…
Q.What is the message of Jack Fortune?
I think it’s that if you just keep going, one foot after another, even if you’re really afraid, you’ll get where you need to go. But readers might find a different message!
Q. Out of every book you’ve ever written, which was your favourite and why?
I’m very bad at deciding what my favourite anything is – also, all my books are quite different. And if I said one was my favourite, the others might feel offended. So no – not going to do it!
Q. If you were to recommend one of your books for a child to read, which would it be?
It would depend on what sort of book they like and what kind of child they are. They’re pretty varied, so there’s quite a bit of choice.
Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?
See 5! But Heidi was a favourite, as was Anne of Green Gables. And when I discovered The Lord of the Rings, I absolutely loved it, and re-read it loads of times.
Q. What is your favourite book now?
Again, see 5! I read a lot, and I read very different kinds of books, so I really couldn’t pick one out. I’d have to make a list, and it would be quite a long one.
Q. Do you have a special place in which you write?
Yes. I have a hut in the garden, which is lovely.
Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young writer, what would it be?
Just write, and keep writing. Don’t think you can’t do it – just keep on, one foot in front of the other, like Jack when he’s crossing an ice bridge or climbing a rickety ladder up a steep cliff. And if you need inspiration, I find that a picture is brilliant. Just recently, I’ve started writing stories on the back of postcards. Often the postcards are reproductions of paintings, but sometimes they’re photographs. I look at the picture, and write a story to do with it. I love it!
Fancy a Jack-inspired adventure of your own? Download and print the free Jack Fortune Activity Book now!
An orphan child full of mischief, Jack lives with his crotchety widow aunt in eighteenth-century England. His naughtiness knows no limits, and when one day he goes a step too far, Aunt Constance decides that she’s had enough: from now on, his bachelor uncle can take care of him. Uncle Edmund is in no way prepared for a boy with boundless energy and an impish streak – and anyway, he’s off to the Himalayas to search for rare plants! But Aunt Constance is absolutely determined, and Jack’s uncle has no choice – he will have to take the boy with him.
What follows is a terrific adventure that will see Jack and his uncle – the most unlikely of all expedition teams – sail to India, cross the jungle and reach their mountainous destination, before returning to London to present their findings to the Royal Society. Along the way, Jack will finally come to terms with the great loss that has blighted his childhood years and discover, quite unexpectedly, that he and his late father have much in common.