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In conversation with… author John Boyne

Author John Boyne 

Author John Boyne 
(Photo by Chris Close)

John Boyne is an Irish author and he was born in Dublin in 1971. He studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin and then went on to the University of East Anglia, Norwich where he was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize, which was established in 2006, in memory of agent Giles Gordon (1940-2003). Worth £1,500, it is awarded annually for the best writer of prose fiction on the University of East Anglia MA in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) course. John himself now offers a scholarship for Irish students who undertake the MA programme at UEA.

He has written 11 novels and has just published a twelfth My brother’s name is Jessica, which is aimed at younger readers much like his earlier work The boy in the striped pyjamas  Notably, The boy in the striped pyjamas was the book chosen  for the very first NI One Book in 2007. This inter-board collaboration predated the establishment of Libraries NI and John Boyne who was very supportive at that time, has remained a long-term friend of the public library service in Northern Ireland.

No matter what age his audience it has to be said that John Boyne is a rare breed of writer who can take on the challenge of writing adult and children’s fiction and excel in either form. We have plenty of his work in our catalogue.

His novels have been published in over 50 languages, and he loves to read as well as write as I discovered when we caught up with him by phone as he prepares to come to Belfast to the Crescent Arts Centre for the upcoming Belfast Book Festival which runs from Friday 7 to Sunday 16 June.


Here's our interview with John:

Paula: I see you will be up in Belfast on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 June for the Book Festival and you are involved in a panel discussion and also a talk about My brother’s name is Jessica. What can we expect from you?

John: I really enjoy going to festivals and meeting up with other authors and keeping up to date with what is happening. The Politics of Fiction discussion is with good friends and fellow writers Roddy Doyle Kit de Waal and Paul Mc Veigh. I know all of these people well and am looking forward to it. It should be informative and fun too for the audience. It’s a great bunch of people to be involved in a discussion with.

Paula: There has been a bit of a reaction to My brother’s name is Jessica - how do you feel about that?

John: I was really quite surprised by the whole drama that had occurred. I was also disappointed that some of these commentators had not actually read the book, and also that they were hiding behind false names and fake profiles. I suppose that’s all part of the social media scene these days. I did take my Twitter account down as I found that there was no real conversation taking place, and it was all very one sided.

However, I did give My brother’s name is Jessica to some of my friends in the trans community and they gave me a lot of very positive feedback. When writing about any life experience I aim to be supportive and empathetic.

Paula: But generally you do enjoy getting feedback about your work?

John: I am very much looking forward to the Belfast Book Festival as it is always great to get to meet the readers face to face and interact with them and to listen to what they have to say. It is also great to meet other authors and keep up with all that is going on in the book world. I especially am interested in new and debut authors. In fact I have just read When all is said by Anne Griffin who is a debut writer. Also coincidentally I was given my first job by her when I worked in Waterstones, must be 25 + years ago now.

Paula: Have you plans for another book?

John: I do but I like to keep it all to myself until I am ready with a first draft that I present to my editors. I myself may work and rework the text several times until I am no longer able to see what I have written and need to step back at this point.

Paula: I see from your website that you are a voracious reader, how do you select what to read next?

John: I read many books and am always keeping up with what has just been published. I read and write book reviews and I am always listening and hearing what other people are recommending. I am always keen to read new novelists.

Paula: Do you keep all the books you have read and have a library of your own so to speak?

John: I do keep most if not all the books I have read. I have about 3000+ books in my house and I like the physicality of them. I like to have them around me. However I do have to cull every so often.

Paula: Do you read online or do you like to physically hold the book?

John: I like to read actual physical books, probably because I spend so much of my time at a computer screen. Also I do think if you read online it somehow all becomes the same. Yes I prefer physical books.

Paula: Do you have an all-time favourite adult novel?

John: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, I love the whole story of the life.

Paula: Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?

John: The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier was written about the Second World War and it has always stayed with me.