John Boyne

An interview with John Boyne

by Elizabeth Rose Murray  (originally posted on Listowel Writers’ Week 2011 blog)

Thanks for answering these questions; I realise it’s an extra busy time for you with so many festivals and events – so let’s use this as our starting point. What does attending Listowel mean to you? And what value do events like this hold for writers and readers in general?

Listowel Writers Week is one of the higlights of the literary calendar and I always look forward to visiting. A brilliant programme of visiting writers, an audience which is always engaged with the books and full of questions and a setting second to none. Literary festivals are of enormous benefit for writers – how else would we get to meet the people who keep us in a job?

Good point! But now that you’ve had several novels published & gained such huge success – does it get any less scary or any less exciting when you launch a new book?

It’s always a mixture of excitement and apprehension. One always feels that the latest book is one’s best to date, but critics and reviewers can drag you down very quickly! But I still look forward to talking to audiences about a novel that I’ve spent 2 years writing; it’s a great relief to leave the solitude of the study and allow the characters and story to begin their public lives.

You wrote the whole first draft of ‘Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ in two and a half days and felt compelled by the story – how did ‘Noah Barleywater Runs Away’ and your latest novel ‘The Absolutist’ compare?

Of my 9 novels, that’s the only one that was written in such an intense period of writing. Noah Barleywater Runs Away took about a year to write; The Absolutist took two years.

What is the main difference between writing for children and writing for adults?

Writing for children is much more difficult, frankly. The writer has to be more aware of the audience and their reading level than when writing an adult novel. I enjoy moving between the two genres though and hope to continue to do so.

Colm Toibin described ‘The Absolutist’ as “a wonderful, sad, tender book that is going to have an enormous impact on everyone who reads it.” We’ve seen this in your previous novels. What is the secret to writing a book that can make such an impact? And how does it feel to have initiated such a response?

I’ve always been an emotional reader and writer. I want to write stories that move people and stay in the memory long after the last page has been turned. I don’t know what the secret is but I simply try to stay true to the emotions of the narrative voice, to allow my characters to go on a journey which reaches a natural conclusion, even if that conclusion is not always a happy one.

Speaking of journeys, every reader is interested in the life of a writer, of what makes them tick; do you have any particular routines or rituals when you’re writing?

I try to write every day and when I’m working on a first draft I prefer to be at home in my study in Dublin, writing from about 8:30 am – 2 pm every day, 7 days  a week, until a draft exists. Second and subsequent drafts get transferred to the laptop and I can work on them in hotel rooms or on trains and planes when I’m travelling.

(To view this interview on the Writers Week blog, click here)


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