Author Interview with John Connolly

johnconnolly I have just had the incredible opportunity to have an interview with one of my favourite authors, so unashamedly I need to say this: I AM HAVING A FANGIRL MOMENT. I should be way more mature than this but I figure anyone reading this will get over it.

Every time I read a John Connolly book I am transported and entranced. If you try to talk to me I will say whatever I need to, to get you to go away as quickly as possible so I can keep reading. I will not have heard or registered a thing, I once agreed to watch a Spice Girls DVD and the blame sits squarely on John Connolly’s shoulders. I was engrossed in Every Dead Thing at the time.

I cannot tell you the glee, excitement and sheer joy I exuded when he agreed to be interviewed and the agony of wondering what questions to ask… you see, it’s one thing to be fangirl but you don’t want to come off as such. Suffice to say, I took two weeks to work out the questions to ask and whittle them down from 147 to 10. John was absolutely wonderful in answering them comprehensively and with great speed, further deepening the awe devotion respect I hold for the man.

I hope you enjoy the interview and the insight we get into a fantastic author. John has a new book due out in May called Hell’s Bells which is the sequel to The Gates, a young adult series I can thoroughly recommend.

Thanks again John, hope you can come to Australia soon as I would love to buy you a drink!

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John, you write crime, psychological thrillers (sometimes with a dash or two of supernatural) and now you have started a series for young adults with The Gates and the Hell’s Bells. Do you have a preference for one genre over the other?

No, not at all. I suppose I view them all as being part of the same undertaking.  Most writers only have a limited number of subjects that interest them, and to which they return over and over.  Childhood is one of my subjects, so The Book of Lost Things, The Gates/ Hell’s Bells, and many of the Parker books are concerned with children and childhood.  In the Parker books, it’s often how the sins of one generation impact on the next, while the other books are more directly concerned with childhood experience.  I suppose, too, the supernatural connects them all.  It was a genre that I loved as a boy, and I still have a huge fondness for old ghost stories, most English 19th/ early 20th century.  In the end, I think I’m a genre author, in the sense that I’m curious about the possibilities of genre fiction, and I’m not snobbish about it, unlike some of my fellow mystery authors.  It’s curious that there remains a deep distrust of the supernatural among more traditional practitioners of the crime novel.  It harks back to the genre’s rationalist roots, I think, but the reluctance to countenance experimentation with other genres is very depressing.

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What was your inspiration for The Gates series?

I had the idea for the book around 2000 or 2001.  Basically, I thought it was a lovely idea: a small boy discovers that his neighbours are trying to open the gates of Hell.  I just couldn’t quite figure out how to do it until I began reading about the Large Hadron Collider, and suddenly I thought, ‘Hey, that’s it!’  It gave me what Hitchcock called the McGuffin, the thing that powers the plot, but it also enabled me to bring in all kinds of odd science, and that in turn gave birth to the footnotes, and the twin narrative in the book: the story being told, and the slightly sarky commentary on it by this author figure who is both me and not me.

What would you graffiti on the Large Hadron Collider?

‘Warning: Not To Be Used Without Adult Supervision.’ 

The Gates and Hell’s Bells are both hilarious and full of quirky logic and physics. Is physics a personal passion or something you looked at purely for the book?

I studied physics in school, but I wasn’t very good at it.  It’s only lately, returning to it as a adult, that I’ve begun to get a handle on it.  In the end, the books are anti-magic, in a sense: the universe is quite extraordinary enough as it is without the need to bring in wizards and dragons.  I think, too, that all authors are magpieish by nature: we look for shiny things that interest us, and we hope that they might interest other people too.  These books are full of little shiny things that I just find fascinating, or odd, or funny.

Religion and aspects of it feature in a lot of your books, does that stem from an Irish upbringing?

Well, I was raised a Catholic, and that’s still my faith, although I don’t go to church very much anymore.  I still drop in occasionally when passing, though.  I suspect I just don’t like being preached at anymore, and it really doesn’t matter what religious form that preaching takes.  I think that a lot of mystery fiction I love – and I’m thinking of James Lee Burke in particular, although what I’m about to say equally applies to a lot of the heroes of darker mystery novels – concerns individuals who are searching for redemption, and for me that word comes freighted with a certain amount of spiritual baggage.  Also, someone once said that all crime writers are secretly moralists and, again, seen from a certain angle morality casts a certain spiritual shadow.

Music features heavily in some of your books, with The Unquiet having an accompanying CD. Do you listen to music while writing? What are your favourite artists to write/listen to?

No, I can’t work in anything but silence.  I can’t even read while listening to music, or certainly not music with lyrics.  But music and books are my twin passions, and compiling the CDs for the books gave me a way to combine both, as well as pointing readers in the direction of artists whom they might not have encountered before, and songs that resonated with me as a writer, either lyrically or thematically.  As for favourite artists, I’d take A Walk Across the Rooftops by The Blue Nile on to my desert island, and most of Neil Young’s work.

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Your characters over the years have been quite diverse, do you have a favourite?

There’s a lot of me in Parker, and he’s become a means of examining the world.  On the other hand, David in The Book of Lost Things is very much me as a child, and I have a huge fondness for that little book.  I suspect it may be the best thing I ever write, and I’d be quite content if that judgement was passed on me.

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You were a journalist before you started publishing novels, did you always want to be a novelist or was it a progression? Basically, did you always want to be an author?

I saw journalism as a way to be paid to write, but I got frustrated after a few years.  Basically, there were better journalists than I on the paper (The Irish Times) and better feature writers too.  I’d like to think I was good enough for the newspaper, because I still think it’s the best newspaper in Ireland, and it was very supportive of me.   Had I stayed on I’d have been happy to be a journalist, although I think there might always have been that niggling sense of incompleteness.  In the end, I wanted to write fiction.

Who are your favourite authors? And do you derive inspiration from them and their writing?

The greatest novel in the English language, for me, is Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  After reading that, all other fiction felt a bit thin.  Ross Macdonald and James Lee Burke are probably the greatest influences on my mystery novels – Macdonald for his empathy, and Burke for the beauty of his prose, and the depth of his compassion.  But I’m the product of every author I’ve ever read and loved, from Enid Blyton to E.E. Cummings.  It would be hard to pinpoint their inspiration directly, though: I just know that they’ve made me the writer that I am.

I know this is a hard question, but if you could only have 5 of your books forever – which five would they be?

Mine, or those of other writers?  I don’t think mine are going to last forever.  None of us is writing for posterity; we just have to write as if we are.  But other writers?  Hmmm.  Bleak House, certainly.  The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  The Collected Poems of E.E. Cummings.  And, because they make the world a brighter, happier place, the Jeeves & Wooster novels of P.G. Wodehouse.  A desert island existence wouldn’t be so bad with those writers for company.

Tanya Caunce for TLC Books

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One Comment on “Author Interview with John Connolly”

  1. Mary Preston says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the interview thank you.


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