‘Fulfilling, exciting and creative.’ 3 words award winning author John Boyne uses to describe what being a writer feels like. Having published 11 novels for adults and 5 for younger readers, Boyne is an extremely accomplished author and has been translated into over 50 languages.
Many of Boyne’s novels tackle important and difficult issues such as racism, sexuality, and gender. Identity is an important theme across Boyne’s work and his novels have been widely influential across multiple communities. On discussing the educational outcomes of his novels such as The Heart’s Invisible Furies or The Boy in Stiped Pyjamas, Boyne claims these were not his priority whilst writing: “I’ve never thought of how they might be used in schools, for example, while writing them. I don’t think it would be a good idea for a writer to think in those terms, in the same way that it’s not a good idea to think about potential adaptations of one’s work either. But I always try to write the best novel I can write and one that will emotionally effect the reader.” He does however explain how there are some novels, such as A Ladder to the Sky, which he writes knowing that they are “intended more to entertain and make the reader feel a mixture of laughter and horror at the actions of the central character”
When discussing how much goes into the work behind the titles of his novels, Boyne claims that, “Every word in a novel counts, including the title. Yes, some have come earlier than others. I remember with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, for example, writing the words down during an early chapter when Bruno looks out his bedroom window and sees people wearing what he perceives to be uniforms of striped pyjamas. The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a quote from Hannah Arendt that I came across while writing the novel and it seemed particularly apt for the book. My next young adult book, coming in April, is called My Brother’s Name is Jessica and I had the title before I had any idea of what the book was about!”
In response to a question asking whether he would have been able to write A Ladder to the Sky to the same standard 15 years ago, without the literary experience, Boyne answers “Definitely not. I’ve been publishing novels for almost 20 years and without that experience, A Ladder to the Sky would not have been what it is. I’ve travelled widely on the festival circuit and met pretty much everyone in the publishing world as well as seeing people come and go with short careers, so all of these experiences came together to form the basis of the novel. That said, I’ve written novels before where the subject matter is not one that I’ve been intimately acquainted with and I’ve had to do a lot of research so I know what it’s like to do that. But I think this one needed my own personal experiences of the publishing world to make it work.”
John Boyne will be in conversation with Jean McNeil at the 2019 Spring Literary Festival on March 13th.