Brought to Book: John Boyne on Noddy, Homer Wells, ‘Birdsong’ and a Kindle tip
‘I am at my happiest when I have completed a first draft of a novel and am about to begin a second’
John Boyne: “Life is short; I feel no compunction to finish a novel that is boring me. I’ll read something else.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
John Boyne’s latest novel is Stay Where You Are And Then Leave. His new novel for adults – his first set in contemporary Ireland – will be published by Doubleday in September, titled A History of Loneliness. His version of James Joyce’s Araby has just been published by Tramp Press as part of Dubliners 100, a reimagining by contemporary Irish writers of Joyce’s classsic short story collection to mark the centenary of its publication.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Enid Blyton’s Noddy books. I wanted a Noddy outfit of my own. I still do.
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Silver Sword by Ian Seraillier. Frightening and eye-opening to the horrors of the second World War.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
Dickens’ David Copperfield; John Irving’s The Cider House Rules; LP Hartley’s The Go-Between.
What is your favourite quotation?
“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice” – EM Forster, A Room With A View
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Homer Wells in The Cider House Rules.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
I’m not sure if she’s under-rated but Deirdre Madden doesn’t always get the attention she deserves. She is easily one of our most accomplished novelists.
Which do you prefer: ebooks or the traditional print version?
Traditional, of course.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
A limited edition hardback copy of A Widow For One Year by John Irving, signed for me by the author.
Where and how do you write?
Usually in my office at home but I can write anywhere, on a plane, in a hotel room, in a hot air balloon… I complete a first draft in a relatively short space of time without ever going backwards and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
In recent years, I would say Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway, which defies categorisation and is an extraordinary and experimental work of fiction.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
I wrote half of The House of Special Purpose – the part that takes place in St Petersburg – in various rooms of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage one cold winter a few years ago. It was a wonderful writing experience.
What book influenced you the most?
When I was in my mid-20s, before I was published, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks made me think about how to combine history with powerful story-telling.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
Ulysses. Then I wouldn’t still have it sitting on my shelf, staring at me, unread.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Read more than you write.
What weight do you give reviews?
It depends on the newspaper, the reviewer and the tone in which the review is written. But bad reviews can often wound. They can often be unfair. And, alas, they can often be right.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
To revitalise sales of hardback novels, I would like to see a free download for Kindle with them, for people who travel a lot but like to have novels they have read on their shelves.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
I’ve noticed a lot of debut novels that are so heavily influenced by the writer’s heroes that they come across as a bad imitation. Also, there seems to be a lot of novels about young boys who have suffered a trauma and end up in an institution.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
That life is short; I feel no compunction to finish a novel that is boring me. I’ll read something else.
What has being a writer taught you?
That I am at my happiest when I have completed a first draft of a novel and am about to begin a second.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
What A Carve Up by Jonathan Coe is easily the funniest novel I’ve ever read. Unlike most alleged comic novels, it actually makes the reader laugh.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
Well I’ve written quite a number of them, but I’d quite like to write something about Paris as it entered the 20th century.