John Boyne Interview

Interview: John Boyne
by Karen Roy

John Boyne was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1971, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where he was awarded the Curtis Brown prize.

His 2006 novel, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, was made into an award-winning Miramax film. The novel itself won 2 Irish Book Awards, the Bisto Book of the Year, and was shortlisted or won a host of international awards. Amongst other accolades, it spent more than 80 weeks at no.1 in Ireland, topped the New York Times Bestseller List, and was the bestselling book in Spain in both 2007 and 2008. Worldwide, it has sold more than 5 million copies.

His novels are published in 44 languages. His eighth novel, NOAH BARLEYWATER RUNS AWAY, a book for younger readers, was published in October 2010 and reached no.1 on the Irish Bestseller Chart. It was also shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year. His most recent novel, THE ABSOLUTIST, was published in 2011, and a new children’s book, THE TERRIBLE THING THAT HAPPENED TO BARNABY BROCKET, will be published in the UK, Australia and Ireland in August 2012.

I caught up with John the day after he’d just flown back from a literary festival in Sri lanka ...

We are looking forward to our travels with Barnaby Brocket. What inspired the character?

‘The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket’ was inspired very much by Jules Verne in that it’s a modern, if slightly different, take on the idea of Around The World In 80 Days. The fantastical element to the novel, the thing that makes Barnaby different to other boys, was something which came to me one day while I was walking my dog! Readers can discover what that is when the book is published on August 2nd.

Of all the awards you have received, which means the most to you and why?

Winning two Irish Book Awards meant a lot to me as they were presented to me in front of an audience of writers who have inspired me over the years. Even though I have not as yet written a novel set in Ireland, I consider myself very much an Irish writer so for my work to be recognised there means a lot to me.

What do you think of Lord Baker’s comments (Daily Telegraph, 24.12.11) that “British schools should no longer teach children about the Nazis because it makes them think less favourably of modern Germany”?

I think that’s a ridiculous comment. Children are more than capable of separating a nation’s past from a nation’s present and, should there be any confusion about that, the teacher is there to define that difference in clear terms. When I was in school, we never learned about the Holocaust at all which now strikes me as a terrible oversight. It’s hugely important that every child in every school understand this subject and discuss it. Education is not just about learning how to solve quadratic equations and speak in different languages; it’s about developing an understanding of the world, our role in it, and our history as a species.

Have you visited any of the concentration camps?

Yes, I visited Auschwitz. It’s always a difficult subject to speak or write about as I think that any visitor there has their own personal response to it.

What do you know now about being a writer that you wish you’d known when you started out?

When I started out I thought that a life as a writer would be simply about staying at home, writing books, publishing them and moving on to the next one. But writers also have to be performers these days. I spend a large portion of my year either on book tours or attending international literary festivals and audiences demand that, if they’re giving up an hour to hear you speak, you give them a good show. And this is a skill that a writer only develops over time. There’s such a dichotomy between the two worlds: the first is so private and solitary, a life lived in the mind, the second so public and theatrical. Fortunately, I rather enjoy both.

My own children will be the next generation of young adult readers. It is difficult to answer their questions about, to name two events, the Twin Towers and the tsunamis. Have you considered writing about either of these subjects?

I haven’t considered writing about those specific subjects as yet but I do think it’s important that novels for younger readers explore serious subjects in interesting and challenging ways. Children don’t need to be fed a constant diet of vampires and werewolves; literature is about exploring difficult subjects through words. There’s no reason why this should only be the case in adult literature.

Thanks, John, we'd certainly agree with that.

Visit John's site here.

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