John Connolly Interview

John Connolly is an Irish author best known for his Charlie Parker Mystery/Crime Fiction series. After finding success in a whole other genre with his dark novel “The Book Of Lost Things“, John produced a second Fantasy novel in 2009, “The Gates“. Here John tells us a bit more about it.

Q. When did you decide you wanted to write novels, and how did it come about?

A. Without wishing to sound like one of those dreadful kids who came out of the womb dancing, I’d always written, ever since I was a boy. It just seemed a natural progression from reading stories to trying to tell stories of your own. I pretty much stopped doing any creative writing at all after I went to college to study English – which is odd – and then went into journalism, where I got pretty frustrated after a while, and returned to fiction. The first thing that I began writing was the prologue to Every Dead Thing, so that’s how it began, I suppose.

Q. What authors did you read growing up, and who most inspired you? Can you name a particular book that left an impression on you?
A. Enid Blyton was the first author whose work I ever read unaided. I remember reading a Secret Seven book and sounding out the difficult words phonetically, so that for years I thought ‘cupboard’ was pronounced ‘cup-board’ instead of ‘cubburd’. My mother must have thought that I’d metamorphosed into Little Lord Fauntleroy. After that, it was anything I could find: novelizations of movies (my generation’s equivalent of rewatching movies on DVD); ghost stories of every stripe; Alistair Maclean books; H.G. Wells; John Wyndham. I came to mystery fiction quite late. I was probably well into my teens when I read my first Ed McBain book, but then only really read Ed McBain books. It took me a while to branch out.
In terms of my own writing, Ross Macdonald was a bit influence on me, particularly The Chill. Most mystery writers are either Ross Macdonald or John D Macdonald fans, but rarely both to the same degree. James Lee Burke was another writer who hugely influenced the way that I write in terms of demonstrating that mystery fiction doesn’t have to adhere to that pared down, sub-Hammettian prose that seems to be the default mode for a certain type of mystery writer. After that, we’re looking at Dickens (Bleak House), P.G. Wodehouse, and all sorts of odd people.

Q. On to your own work – generally what do you find to be the easiest and most difficult aspects about writing a novel?
A. The first chapter or two will always be easy, as you’re writing in the first rush of enthusiasm. The rest are hard. If I were to go around and look at all of the unfinished manuscripts that have been left in drawers by budding writers, I guarantee that most would be abandoned somewhere between twenty and forty thousand words, as that’s when most writers hit the wall and start doubting the value of what they’re working on. It’s a natural part of the creative process for most writers, I think, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it occurs. That first draft is always a long, difficult haul for me, as I write very slowly, and I don’t plan my books out. Rewriting I love. I don’t tend to go back over what I’ve done until I’ve finished the entire draft, and by that stage I know that there’s a book there, and all it needs now is to be honed.

Q. Where did your ideas and inspirations for “The Gates” in general, and characters like Samuel and Nurd in particular, come from?
A. I have no idea. Like a lot of writers, I think I’m afraid to go looking for the source of my inspiration. It feels like a candle flame that might very easily be extinguished. Characters pop up seemingly out of nowhere, and I’m just grateful when they appear. I do realize, though, that there is a lot of me in each and every one of them, even the bad ones. So that’s where they come from: me, with all of my flaws.

Q. Why the Large Hadron Collider? In other words, “The Gates” takes a very factual, explanatory approach to telling a fantasy story. Why the use of quantum physics and (fantastically informative) footnotes to back a story about the opening of Hell?
A. I’m just curious about the world, and I have a magpie attitude to bits of knowledge: I’m always on the lookout for shiny things that I can appropriate. I was curious about the Collider, and I’d had the idea for The Gates for a long time. The two just seemed to connect naturally, and the book came together easily as a result. There is a tension, too, between science and the supernatural that I thought I could explore in the book. The footnotes simply became another aspect of the narrative voice, which is very different from the one in the Parker books, or even The Book of Lost Things. It’s probably closest to my own voice.

Q. You’re well known for your extensive music collection, and you included two ‘mix-tapes’; soundtracks of a sort with two Parker novels. If you had done the same with “The Gates”, how different would the music be? Do you have any loose soundtrack in your mind for it?
A. Not so much for that book, but I really would like to do one more for the next Parker book. In fact, there was one ready to go with The Lovers in 2009, but it fell apart at the last minute. In a way, it’s very frustrating to do those CDs. They’re expensive, arduous to put together, and the bookstores haven’t been very supportive of them, but they’re real labors of love on my part.

Q. Both “The Gates” and your previous fantasy novel, “The Book Of Lost Things” contain extra information; the regular footnotes in “The Gates” and an entire section about fairytales in “Lost Things”. Do you do extensive research to support what you want to write? Or is it the other way round – that fairytales and quantum physics interested you independantly – and these novels provided an outlet?
A. Oh, it’s definitely the latter. I tend to have subjects in which I’m interested at the time, and then they become the source material for the books. For The Whisperers, the next Parker book, I used a lot of material about post-traumatic stress disorder, and the aftermath of conflict, as that was something about which I’d been reading over the previous year or so. I try not to shoehorn knowledge into the books for its own sake, but it’s an inexact science.

Q. You’ve said of “Lost Things” that it wasn’t as massive a departure from your Parker novels as people might think at first, because you’re still dealing with similar themes, just in a new way (forgive the poor paraphrasing). So just how different, or similar, is it writing fantasy books like “The Gates” and “Lost Things” compared to your Parker novels, and what appeals to you most about each style?
A. Well, The Gates is obviously much lighter, and I could let my imagination run riot in that book in a way that I can’t in the Parker books. Lost Things was a little more literary, I think, and is probably the book to which I’m closest, and of which I’m most fond. If there’s a common theme in my work, it’s a fascination with childhood. That runs through all of the books, even the Parkers. There are other minor themes running through them as well, but that’s the significant one.

Q. Will we see more from either world, or any more non-Parker books in the same vein as “The Gates” (and “Lost Things”)?
A. I think I’d like to write a sequel to The Gates, which will probably be the book for next year. I love writing the Parker books, but not every story that I want to tell is suited to them. In addition, by moving away from them for every second book, in some form or another, I return to the series refreshed, and that enables me to make each book different, I hope, which is the challenge when you’re writing a series. The downside, I suppose, is that my sales suffer every time I move away from Parker, but it’s worth it. I have very tolerant publishers, and I get to write whatever I want to write at any time, and so far they’ve been willing to publish everything that I’ve given them.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about upcoming projects or plans, in the short or long term, for novels or novel adaptions?
A. Well, The Whisperers is out in May, and sometime this year I hope to deliver the sequel to The Gates. The movie of The New Daughter, one of my short stories, came out in the US before Christmas on a limited release, although I have yet to see it. After that, well, I’m not sure, but it seems like enough to be getting along with . . .

Find out more about John at his website.

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