It took an intervention by the late film director to rescue my writing career, writes John Boyne.
IN 2003, I was down on my luck. My first two novels had come and gone with little attention and my publisher at the time was showing scant interest in receiving a third. I was miserable in my job and desperately unhappy in my personal life, suffering a catastrophic crisis of confidence at the start of the year that led me away from Dublin and towards Wexford, where I rented a house on Blackwater beach in a desperate attempt to rebuild both my life and my happiness.
I was working on a novel about the American murderer Dr Crippen, fully aware that I was back at square one, without a publishing contract, without an editor, without a hope.
And then one day I happened to hear an interview with Anthony Minghella on the radio. I listened carefully. He was talking about his films and his plays, about the importance of believing in one's work and maintaining responsibility for it, regardless of its commercial appeal.
I had been an admirer of his films for many years: Truly Madly Deeply, one of cinema's greatest depictions of grief; The English Patient, a desperately sad story of love during the war; and most of all The Talented Mr Ripley, an adaptation of a novel I loved - the chilling story of a sociopath, Tom Ripley, who combines charm and kindness with a tendency for murder. Something he had in common, I believed, with my depiction of Crippen.
And as I listened to Minghella speak, it became clear to me that this was a man who loved the arts, who loved being part of the arts, and who wanted nothing more than to produce great work. To contribute in some way. It was exactly how I used to feel, how I wanted to feel again.
Something in that interview struck a chord and I wrote to him that afternoon, expressing my admiration for his work, describing my own books and ambitions for my writing, telling him in some detail about the novel on which I was working. A few days later, to my astonishment, an e-mail arrived. Come see me in London, he said. Let's talk about it.
A week later I was sitting in Anthony's office, discussing his films, explaining the idea behind my book, listening as he spoke with warmth and authority about all manner of disparate subjects, which somehow combined fluently to provide a sense of who he was as a man and as an artist.
Over a few days he had taken the time to read a manuscript copy of my novel and liked it; we spoke about a potential screenplay, although he was careful not to raise my hopes too highly. He offered suggestions, constructive ones. I listened, I went home, and I got back to work.
We met again in London at Abbey Road, a few months before Cold Mountainwas released. Although the score for the film was being recorded in the studio next to us, he was generous with his time and interested in what my plans were for the future.
For my part, I couldn't quite believe that the Oscar-winning director was drinking coffee with me while a hundred professional musicians waited for his approval next door. But this was who he was, I decided. He had invited me for breakfast and breakfast we would have. Harvey & co could wait.
Shortly after this, with no small assistance from the fact that he had taken such an interest in the project, Crippen found a publisher and I found a way to get my life and my career, two things which were entirely connected in my mind, back on track.
I believe absolutely that without his support and endorsement, I might not have retrieved my confidence and the work that I have done since would never have appeared.
My life would have been different; it would have been less than what it is now. And for that, I owe a debt of gratitude to Anthony Minghella. Over the last few years we communicated sporadically. Last month he dropped me a note to congratulate me on the film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which shared two things in common with his last film, Breaking and Entering- cinematographer Benoit Delhomme and actor Vera Farmiga.
I'm only sorry that he will not get to see the movie as there's a very good chance that neither the novel nor the film would have existed without the support he extended to me, a complete stranger, at a crucial time.
Anyone who believes that the world can be improved by conscientious works of art will feel grieved by his untimely passing, as will anyone who admires decent, honourable men.