Writing for the unknown reader: An Hour with John Boyne

After interviewing John Boyne yesterday morning and asking mostly about his writing for children, I was curious to find out more about his adult novels. I’ve often seen them on the library shelves and wanted to read them, but when you hear an author talk about their books that you haven’t read, it often inspires you grab hold of the books immediately. This was certainly the case with John Boyne’s adult novel The Absolutist.

John focused on this novel  which is about conscientious objectors during the First World War.  He shared an extract from this book and talked about why he wrote this story.  He mentioned that he hadn’t read much about conscientious objectors prior to writing The Absolutist.  Most conscientious objectors would be involved in the war effort in some way, such as working in field hospitals, but John came across the term Absolutist (meaning those conscientious objectors who refused to absolutely anything connected with the war) and he thought it would make a great title.

John wanted to write a novel about the First World War, but didn’t want to recycle any ideas used by other authors.  I think this is something that makes John’s writing stand out, his stories are always unique and he looks at historic events from a completely different point of view.

We also got an insight into writing life of this very disciplined and focused writer.  Each author approaches their writing differently and John is one of those authors who writes every day, grabbing a quick bite to eat as he types. His first three books were planned out before he started writing, but for the last five or six books he only knew the general idea of the story. He mentioned that this approach doesn’t work well for a lot of writers, but with time, it’s much more important to just write and see where it takes you.

He writes short stories occasionally, but finds these incredibly difficult to write, especially the really good ones. He really enjoys the process of writing and “being taken where your imagination leads”. John says that one of the most important things you need to remember as a writer is to “write for the unknown reader” so there can be no in-jokes.  He tends not to return to the same subjects for his books and says ” don’t do sequels”.

When writing for children, he says he wants to write something for a positive message for children and you would never find him writing “something like Twilight”. John is also very active in social media, using his blog, Facebook and Twitter to interact with his fans.

John’s is now working on a 19th century ghost story.  He had been writing  that morning in his hotel room. In it he wants to take all the ghost story cliches and make it something fresh.  He also plans to collaborate on more books with the wonderful Oliver Jeffers. I certainly hope we have many more books from him to look forward to.

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