Sunday, January 17, 2010

Author Interview w/ John Connolly

I am very pleased to introduce my very first author interview here at The Next Best Book Blog!!

John Connolly, creator of the Charlie Parker series; The Book of Lost Things; Nocturnes; and most recently The Gates, kindly agreed to answer a few questions. So let me first start by thanking him for his time and generosity.

Here is a bit about John, taken from his website

"John Connolly was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper, to which he continues to contribute. John Connolly is based in Dublin but divides his time between his native city and the United States, where each of his novels has been set."

I understand that you started writing stories at a young age. Was your family always supportive of your gift? Who were your biggest critics?

Er, I'm not sure about the word 'gift', but it's very nice of you to say. My mother was a big reader, my father less so. I think he probably felt that writing was a hobby, but that I was never going to make a living at it. He was from a very working class background, and also from a generation that had had a lot of its ambition knocked out of it. He didn't live long enough to see Ireland come out of recession - or, indeed, to see me become a published writer, or even graduate from college - and I think his main priority was that I would find a permanent, pensionable job. He would have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that I'm a writer, I think.

What is the life of a writer like?

Well, it's much better than working for a living. On the other hand, there is constant doubt, at least for me, and a fear that at some point I'll be found out and dumped by my publishers. It's also close to madness at times. When I'm working on a book, the book is always with me, even when I'm at a movie, or having dinner, or just reading someone else's book. In a way, writing it is just a way to get it to shut up.

The Charlie Parker series can be categorized as Crime Fiction. How would you categorize your stand-along novels, like The Book of Lost Things and The Gates? Did you have a certain age group or genre in mind as you wrote them?

I've always preferred 'mystery fiction' as a description for the Parker books, as I think it's a little wider in scope than 'crime fiction'. Then again, there are those in mystery fiction who don't think that I write mystery fiction at all. Generally, they're the purists, and they hate the supernatural elements, but I think that's down to a misunderstanding of the nature, and purpose, of those elements. After all, I have yet to write a novel in which 'the ghost did it'.

As for the other books, The Book of Lost Things is, I think, an odd one, in that it contains elements of fantasy but isn't really a fantasy novel. It's a book about books, I suppose. It's fiction. I didn't really have an age group in mind when I wrote it, but what is interesting is that adults and teenagers respond to it in quite different ways. For teenagers, it's quite immediate, as they're living through some of the some problems that David, the central character, is trying to come to terms with. Adults, by contrast, pick up on some of the sense of loss, and the disjunction between the hopes and expectations of a child, and the realities of the adult world. Some teenage readers get that too, but often because they've suffered an equivalent loss too early in life. A young girl came up to me at a signing in Arizona, and told me of how her mother had died less than a year before, and how she had read the book in the aftermath of that loss.
There's almost nothing that one can say in response to that. I just wanted to give her a hug, and I hoped that life would be gentler with her from then on.

The Gates is different. That's very much a book for smarter kids that an adult can also enjoy, but I hate that term 'crossover'. There's something cynical about it. I wanted to write a book that my 11-year-old stepson and his brother, who is 17, could both enjoy. That was it.

How long does it take for you to write a novel - from start to finish? Do you know the basic plot before you write, or do you develop it as you go?

About two years. I'm usually thinking of the next book while I'm writing the book in hand, and I'll often be doing bits of research for that planned book along the way. I tend to know the beginning of the book, and one or two incidents along the way, but that's about it. The actual process of writing is very slow, mainly because I don't know exactly what's going to happen. I write a little every day, and when the first draft is done I go back to the first chapter and start again. I'm a compulsive rewriter, which is no bad thing.

Who are you most influenced by?

Oh, other writers, like most writers. We're the product of the writers whom we've read and admired, in my case everyone from Dickens to Ross Macdonald and James Lee Burke, with a detour for P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster novels.

When reading The Book of Lost Things, I fell in love with your version of Snow White and the Dwarves. In The Gates, I found myself most drawn to Nurd - The Scourge of 5 Deities. Which of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?

I think there's a little bit of me in all of them, more in some than in others. There's a lot of me in Charlie Parker, but I've also found a way to give every one of my sins to characters in the books. I'm in the bad as well as the good, but that's the only way that I can be certain of the truth of those characters. There's also a lot of my own childhood tied up with David in The Book of Lost Things. That's probably the most personal of my books, but the narrative voice in The Gates is probably closest to my own voice.

In both The Book of Lost Things and The Gates, you lighten up some dark moments with well placed humor. Are you a naturally funny guy, or do you tend to be more serious?

Dark moments with well placed humor sounds like a pretty apt description of me, I think. I'm probably melancholic by nature, but that's true of most writers, in part because we spend so much time living in our own heads, and mining that life for our work. The Parker books are dark, but are leavened by touches of humor. The Gates was a chance to let the humorous side run riot, but it was written in the same year as The Whisperers, which is shadowed by pain and loss.

Which novel are you most proud of? Was one easier to write than the others?

I'll always love The Book of Lost Things. Whatever its flaws, it's probably as good a book as I'm ever going to write. The Gates was probably the most enjoyable writing experience, but The Book of Lost Things is probably the most fulfilling.

What is your take on E-books and E-readers, as an author and a reader?

I love the artifact of a book, and I think that's true of most of those who love reading. A book is also perfect technology, a bit like sharks and spiders. There's a reason why those species didn't evolve to the same degree as others: they were perfectly adapted to survival from the start. In a way, then, e-readers are an answer to a problem that didn't really exist in the first place. A writer friend of mine was extolling the virtues of her e-reader, pointing out to me that she had 100 books on it, so that if she was in the queue at the post office she could just take it out and start reading. But if I'm in the queue at the post office, I can also just take out something from my bag and start reading, and that thing is a book. Also, how long is her post office queue that she needs to have 100 books with her? If you ask me, her current postal needs are not being met, and an e-book is not the answer to her problem . . . After all, how many of us are really going to head off for a year with a backpack and require that many books? You can just buy another book. It's not that difficult. They sell them in lots of places, I hear. Ultimately, I think e-books will co-exist alongside traditional books in a way that CDs are struggling to do with downloads, because in the latter case there's no affection for the technology, and that technology wasn't great to begin with. The issue for authors and publishers, though, as for musicians and record companies, is how to ensure that they're paid for their work if books are downloadable and copyable.

What authors/ novels/ websites would you recommend to our audience?

Oh dear, I hate that question. If you haven't read Ross Macdonald, then you really should. And Bleak House by Charles Dickens is probably the greatest novel in the English language. The Three Musketeers is great too. As for websites, Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog has been very good for Irish crime fiction, and I rather like a website called, which is a music site that offers a chance to download legally, and for free, remixes, obscure tracks, and new music by a range of independent artists. For me, music and books are the two mainstays of my life. I'd hate to have to choose one over the other.

I want to thank John Connolly again for taking the time to answer these questions. It really has been quite an honor to be in contact with him - for a book lover like myself, it's been a dream come true!

Check out my review on The Gates down below, and click here to see my review on The Book of Lost Things! Must reads for all ages!

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