Q&A with John Boyne
John Boyne is one of today’s most prolific authors. His books attack difficult subjects head on. His novels open up conversation and discourse about topics that are often passed over because of the difficulty of discussing sensitive subjects like race, sexuality, and ways society needs to do better.
A few months ago, John approached us with the hopes to create a custom set for his body of work. We are thrilled with how his custom project came out, and are thankful he took the time to share with us, and you!, his thoughts on writing, books, and the meaning of success.
Juniper Journal: You are an incredibly prolific author – what keeps you motivated to write and where do you find inspiration?
John Boyne: Although I’ve been publishing novels for 20 years, I still enjoy it as much as I ever did and I still find it incredibly challenging. I love the process of crafting stories, developing characters and bringing them to audiences. It’s all I ever wanted to do with my life and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity.
JJ: What does your writing process look like?
JB: I’m always working on the next book and I try to write something every day. I’m very disciplined and approach the work like a day job, at my desk every morning by 8:30 and reading and writing throughout the day. I usually do about seven or eight drafts of a novel before showing it to my editor and then, after receiving his notes, I do a couple more.
JJ: Many of your books deal with subjects that are heavy, and for many can be uncomfortable to address – do you ever worry that a subject is too heavy, or worry that people will be upset with the content?
JB: No, I write about subjects that are my preoccupation at the time, whether that’s the sexual abuse scandals in the Irish Catholic Church in A History of Loneliness, the changes in society that led to the Equal Rights Marriage referendum in 2015 in The Heart’s Invisible Furies or the insecurities that plague many writers in A Ladder to the Sky. It’s not my specific aim to upset people through my books but occasionally, as with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the subject matter demands a strong reaction.
JJ: For you, what has been the most difficult topic to address and write about?
JB: Probably the subject of transgender teens in my most recent young adult novel My Brother’s Name is Jessica. While the transgender community was incredibly supportive and receptive to the novel, the online virtue signallers threw a collective hissy fit over me writing about a subject that I had not personally experienced. It was a dispiriting experience to receive so much abuse from people who admitted that they hadn’t even read the novel but I don’t regret a word of the novel. It’s one of my proudest achievements.
JJ: Many people have incredibly heartfelt, emotional responses to your books – is that important to how you gauge the “success” of a novel?
JB: Yes, as a writer I want the reader to have an emotional response, whether that’s to make them laugh, cry, or be scared. If the words are to have any meaning, if the story is to have a purpose, then the reader should be lost in the novel and believe in it entirely. That’s how I feel when I read a novel that I love.
JJ: What is your favorite book you’ve read in the last year, and why?
JB: I loved Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, his first novel since the phenomenal The Book Thief. His descriptions of five Australian brothers growing up in the shadow of a difficult father are very powerful and the story itself is compulsive. In my view, Markus is one of the finest writers at work today.
JJ: How did you find Juniper Books?!
JB: I came across the website online and was immediately struck by the beautiful jackets that Juniper creates. Looking through the catalogue I wanted them all on my shelves!
JJ: Why did you want to work together to create custom jackets for your major works?
JB: I loved the collections of books that Juniper had created for different authors and thought it would be wonderful to have a collection of all my own books, both the adult and young adult titles, on my shelves. This is how I have spent my entire adult life and seeing them gathered together like this in uniform editions is a wonderful feeling. I hope to continue the process as my writing career goes on over the years ahead.
JJ: What’s next?
JB: I’m finishing a new novel at the moment and it’s scheduled for publication in mid-2020.