Q&A with John Boyne
The author chats to one of his fans ahead of The Sun Comes Out on Moon Lane festival
Stevie Guest: I really liked reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [Boyne's novel about a German boy who befriends 'the boy in the striped pyjamas' on the other side of a concentration camp fence] but it is very sad, did you find it upsetting to write?
John Boyne: I think it's important to keep a certain distance as an author. If one feels too emotionally attached then the story will suffer. It was always going to be a sad story; there's no other way to tell that tale.
SG: Some people criticised The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas arguing that the plot is implausible, what would your response to that be?
JB: That it's a work of fiction. Subtitled a fable. I made the story up. If you want a work of non-fiction, then read one.
SG: I liked the film; what did you think of it?
JB: I liked it very much. I think writer-director Mark Herman did an excellent job at opening out the story from being completely about the boy to being about the entire family. The closing shots are harrowing and he did not pull back from presenting the novel on screen with as much bleakness and tragedy as there is on the page.
SG: Is there anything you are working on at the moment?
JB: I'm currently working on a new novel for adults. A ghost story set in 19th-century Norfolk.
My new children's novel, The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket, will be published in the UK on 2 August.
It's a story about a little boy who is different – he doesn't obey the law of gravity and floats. He's perfectly happy to be different, as are the other children who he knows, but the adults in the story, his parents in particular, do not feel the same way. They hate anyone who stands out from the crowd and can't accept that difference is part of the world. They're forced to carry him around on a lead to prevent him from floating away but one day they become so embarrassed by their son that they let the lead go.
SG: You¹ve written a lot of books, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
JB: My seventh novel for adults, The Absolutist, which was published in 2011. The three characters at the heart of the story are, I think, the most interesting characters that I have yet created and of all my novels, it's the one I'm proudest of.
SG: You write for adults and for children, do you find one genre easier than the other? Which do you prefer writing?
JB: No, they're both quite difficult and they should be! I enjoy the change of pace between the two but I work in exactly the same way, with the same amount of focus and diligence, on both. Looking to the future I hope to continue moving between the two.
SG: What kinds of things inspire your stories?
JB: Ideas come to me all the time, from day to day life. Most of them aren't very good but every so often one seems so interesting and powerful that it becomes a novel. I think there's a good range of subjects in the novels I've written to date while hopefully they're connected to each other as a single body of work.
SG: Did you always want to be an author? What brought you to writing?
JB: Always. From the time I was a child. I loved books, I loved our local library, I read constantly and I wrote stories every day. I never had any Plan B. This was the only thing I wanted to do.
SG: Do you like meeting your readers?
JB: Yes, very much. One of the best things about being a writer is travelling around the world to literary festivals and meeting the people who enjoy my books. It's always interesting to hear what they think of them and answer their questions.
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne is published by Doubleday Children's on 2 August.
John Boyne will be appearing at The Sun Comes Out on Moon Lane festival on Wednesday 4 July.